Using everyday items to teach physics in Uganda

19 August 2013

The main physics teachers’ courses in 2013 ran from 6 – 16 May based at the IOP Centre in Bukinda. They comprised a four day residential course from 6-9 May and two one day courses at schools at Rukungiri and Kisoro.

Mark Johnson taking participants through electromagnetism experiments.

Stephen’s contribution mostly required paper, plastic cups, bubble solution, marbles, dice, water and elastic bands. 

The main topics covered were chosen from the Ugandan Physics syllabus such as the Rutherford nuclear atom, 100 years after its conception and publication, Bernoulli’s theorem, radioactive decay, surface tension and extra items to fill the gap left by the linear air track’s languishing in the TWAM store in Kampala.

Mark Johnson, who has recently joined the team as a volunteer coordinator, introduced the teachers to the possibilities open to schools from the supplies of cheap solid state devices with very small power requirements and the learning opportunities available from CD players, mobile phones and TV remote controllers.

 The teachers wound their own coils and tested the magnetic fields surrounding them with very small powerful permanent magnets.  An incidental benefit was the opportunity to practise or learn how to solder.

Teachers at the Rukungiri workshop practicing on Bernoulli’s Theorem. Air pressure differences into play. Stephen and Mark take them through.

We formed an effective coalition of complementary talents.  Next time we hope to exploit much more fully the opportunities for the teachers to make simpler, cheaper and more robust devices from solid state components which they can take back to their schools.

We received brilliant feedback: “The course was excellent and a brilliant one! Thanks to the IOP donors…”; “The most useful part was electronic appliances like diodes, resistors and transistors by MJ”; “This workshop was an eye opener”; “The present course was so much interesting only that time was a limit”: “They are grateful people and resourceful.  May they live to blow a 1000 candles.”

We hope to increase the time we spend in Uganda because there is so much to be done but the long term future must lie in the hands of the Ugandans themselves.  

We are indebted to the Rector and staff of the Seminary in general, and Gonzaga, the Centre Manager, in particular, for organising the domestic arrangements and the timetable for the 51 participants of the courses.