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Pivot Academy: Replicating a High School STEM Teacher Training and Student Academy through an Online Platform and Tablet Technology

Pivot Academy training that leverages Tablets will expand interactive STEM across Rwanda and to conflict-affected Burundi and South Sudan.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

Education officials in East African countries from Kenya to South Sudan are emphasizing that they can't depend solely on NGOs to solve problem. They see shifts in STEM education for young people, including for girls, as the way to accelerate and sustain development. The challenge is the gap in teacher knowledge of competency-based tools and technology to support interactive STEM learning. This gap is pronounced in emergency and conflict zones where hands-on labs and equipment are unavailable.

Explain your innovation.

Drawing on expertise of award-winning US educators in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Math and Learning Management System applications, we developed Pivot Academy to combine a week-long Boot Camp-style teacher training, followed by a Student Academy, reinforced by online lessons provided on Android Tablets and aligned with each country's mandated national STEM curriculum and IB standards. The content includes videos and hundreds of demonstration experiments that can be conducted with simple materials or on the Tablets themselves. Supplemental tools such as group discussion threads allow teachers to share progress with one another and virtual coaches from the US. Teachers can easily understand and track which experiments link to mandated curriculum progress. In low-tech environments, the content can be accessed without WiFi and with low energy/charging demands. Because the countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan are all part of an East Africa bloc, education standards are increasingly aligned, making it possible to replicate Pivot Academy broadly across school districts, countries, and urban and rural environments. The initial pilot involved high school teachers and girl students in a rural District 90 minutes from Kigali the Capitol. The impact on the absorption of complex ideas was immediate and evident, leading to a local Ministry of Education-endorsed expansion of the training and tools to 40 teachers and 750 select students at 5 high schools.

Who benefits?

Students between the ages of 15 and 18, with a disproportionate population of girls among them, will be the primary beneficiaries, as well their teachers. In the first year of target expansion in Rwanda, a controlled pilot in Burundi, and an emphasis on four all-girls high schools in South Sudan, we anticipate training and implementing with 150 teachers and 2,500 students. Girls will be targeted through our select invitations to schools with large or "all-girls" populations where the school places an emphasis on what are called "science combinations." Success will be measured by completion of teacher and student academies at each school; online analytics monitoring of content, lesson plans and hands-on experiment use by teachers; and knowledge growth assessments of students based on pre- and post-program assessments.

How is your innovation unique?

There is a growing emphasis on STEM education in East Africa. However, outside facilitation usually involves bringing outside speakers and Academy-style presentations. Android Tablets with online content are generally not involved/available. And there is no group that we have encountered that takes the national curriculum and designs specific lessons and experiments to shift the way teachers teach. One unique advantage is that content has been designed by US teachers who understand Advanced Placement and IB standards, and have worked/volunteered in Africa. Also, because we have country directors and education facilitators in places where we will expand, teachers and students are more likely to have learning reinforced through observations and coaching. Regarding similar approaches, we ourselves had an unsuccessful experience in South Sudan a few years ago when we offered Kindle readers to primary school teachers and they blew up the Kindles using a generator to recharge them.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

We don't know how consistently teachers will use the content and tools over time. It is common in East Africa to assume that it's important to have an outside presence monitoring and measuring to avoid the phenomenon of training that is never quite implemented. We have country directors and education facilitators in each area where we envision expansion (Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan). We don't know if this will have significant impact on use of lesson plans and experiments. Also, content to date focuses on the first year of high school (S10). We must develop content for Years 2 and 3 (S11 and S12), which will have an increasingly stringent set of learning requirements including use of Pivot to help students plan STEM-based service projects.

Tell us more about you.

I (Patricia Shafer, Chief Catalyst and Exec. Director) have an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management and MSc. in Consulting and Coaching for Change, Oxford University, UK/HEC France. Catalyst Deb Semmler is an award-winning high school Physics teacher nominated for Global Teacher of the Year. Country/Regional Director Jackson Vugayabagabo has led large-scale technology-based training programs at Kepler University in Kigali and youth programs in three countries.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Other (please specify in next question)

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Of the three countries where expansion is planned - Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan, two (Burundi and South Sudan) are in prolonged armed conflict and displacement. Within stable Rwanda, longstanding refugee camps exist to serve youth and families from neighboring countries. At the same time, the locales that we have chosen involve schools and or educational structures that are well-established with disciplines in place that allow us to control and monitor project implementation.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

In Rwanda, we will expand from one District and five schools to other Districts. In Burundi, we will follow the Rwandan example and begin with one all-girls high school and expand in the following year. In South Sudan, we will focus on an all-girls strategy with partners at four high schools in four states: Juba Girls School in the Capitol, Maridi Boarding School in another Equatorian state, Loreto Girls School in Rumbek, and St. Bakhita near the Ugandan border.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

We have in-coountry experience in Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. We also have existing networks in-country including Bridge to Rwanda, Solidarity with South Sudan, and Comboni and Salesian missionaries. We also have good relationships in-country representatives of Save the Children, Solidarity with South Sudan, Windle Trust, and Bridge to Rwanda.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

Personally, I (Patricia Shafer) have 8 years of experience implementing education projects in East Africa, and I led school project development serving nearly 3,000 students in Rwanda and South Sudan. Team members have worked in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and South Sudan. My expertise in education innovations for girls and women, in particular, led to my nomination in 2016 for a UNESCO prize. Other team members have been recognized by UNICEF for their Education in Emergencies expertise.

Innovation Maturity

  • Roll-out/Ready to Scale: I have completed a pilot and am ready or in the process of expanding.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Pivot Academy is a program of Mothering Across Continents in the US. We have NGO status and partnerships in Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, Burundi.

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Attachments (2)

Pivot Academy Overview 2016.pdf

This PDF provides an overview of the need for Pivot Academy, why it was initiated in Rwanda, who was involved, and the key components of the training curriculum offered to teachers and students during the 2016 pilot.

Pivot Academy 2017 Program Overview.pdf

This PDF describes the further development of Pivot Academy as it broadened in 2017 to include more participating schools in Rwanda, as well as a structured outlook and framework that - over the typical three years of high school in East Africa - can shift a school to a new way of teaching STEM that focuses on design thinking, team-based experimentation, and community-focused problem solving.


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