My Favorite Experiments Ghana 2021 – Volta School for the Deaf and Kpassa Technical Senior High School


Thursday April 22nd – Volta School for the Deaf

To maximize impact, when possible I try to work with groups of teachers and on creating/sharing resources which can be used in many classrooms, but it’s always nice to get back to spend some time in the classroom.  These past two days were an opportunity to interact with some excellent teachers and to see and share ideas.

We started off Thursday at the Volta School for the Deaf, to see HINTEGRAM Ambassadors use the donated laptops in a classroom setting.  It was great how they used Phet simulations to support lesson plans, and the techniques they used to manage a small number of computers.  Seeing these young teachers in the classroom increased my confidence in our decision to both renew and extend their laptop loan, to now have 10 computers between the three of them, which they are instructed to share amongst their school community and neighboring schools.  Their fellow teachers were also thankful for the increase in laptops, and keenly made a wish-list of new software to try to find.  I’m listing this in case anyone reading this blog post has any ideas or recommendations to share.

Rachel signing instructions for the Phet ”Building and Atom” simulation
Software Requests for Volta School for the Deaf – Please get in touch if you have any recommendations to share.
General –Science videos with explanations in American sign language
Biology – carbon cycle  photosynthesis, dentition and digestion in humans, life cycle of mosquitos, reproduction in humans, diffusion and osmosis, heredity, circulatory system, the cell, pest and parasites, food and nutrition, soil and water conservation, weather seasons and climates, respiratory system
Chemistry – acids and bases, mixtures, water, chemical compounds, atoms and elements, metals and non-metals, hazards, matter
Physics – solar system, light energy, heat energy, magnetism, basic electronics, electrical energy, machines, force and pressure

Rachel taught about the structure of the atom, first with a review of the Rutherford atom, involving discussion and writing on the board, then using the Phet “Build an Atom” simulation.  It was interesting to see a silent lesson in sign language, and the process they used to collectively name (choose a sign for) anything they did not already have vocabulary for, such as proton, neutron and electron.  It appeared to be a very good lesson, however many students were unable to answer comprehension questions asked at the end of the lesson. 

Figure 1: Students counting to 15 together in sign language in Dominic’s lesson

I was impressed by Dominic’s engagement and enthusiasm in his lesson on area.  There were several techniques like collectively counting and shouting responses in unison.  This was the first time I’ve seen him in front of a class, and it increased my confidence in our choice of chief ambassador. William also had a great lesson using the “Forces and Motion” simulation, and demonstrating concepts of force using volunteers from the class. I would have liked to stay at the Volta School for the Deaf longer, but the road to Kpassa is long and parts are in bad shape, so we rushed to leave at the end of the morning.  I hope to spend more time there on future visits, and I really hope that we are able to make more use of our ambassadors as examples of excellent teaching.

Figure 2: William’s lesson on forces

Friday April 23rd – Kpassa Technical  Senior High School

After the long, exhausting road to Kpassa (5-6 hours with long stretches of rough, dusty road), it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted by our friend Gustav Brempong, who had moved there as headmaster last September.  Chris had kept it a surprise every time I had asked why we were going so far out of our way for one school, and Gustav and his school made the trip worthwhile.

Kpassa is a remote district capital in the northern part of the Oti Region.  The main resource for the district is yam production and other agriculture, though it is a hot, dry area so not all crops can thrive here.  Most students don’t continue studies beyond high school, and few see a need or interest for science.  In his short time as headmaster, Gustav has already managed to increase enrollment in the science program from 2 up to 30+ students, and they have new labs in construction specialized in biology, chemistry and physics.  Chris and I were invited to further interest students in science and peak their curiosity with low-cost experiments.

Due to short time, and the desires to include all students and to create an exciting event, we held experiments for whole year-groups at a time, 250-300 students each, in their brand-new dining and assembly hall. I am very glad that I insisted we start with a session for teachers, to introduce ourselves, meet them, go over a few experiments and let them make suggestions and requests.  This valuable time was great to get to know each, to see their needs, and get them on board to help and support us throughout the day.

Figure 6: With nearly 300 2nd-year students together, Chris and I took opposite ends of the room in hopes that most students could see or hear at least one of us.

We were spread pretty thin, with 15-20 sets of materials for 12 groups of 20-30 students each.  Each large group was about the size of a whole class back in France, and even just being heard and seen by so many students was a challenge.  I would have liked to do more demonstrations with large visuals and opportunities to guess or predict by raising hands, shouting out, etc., to attempt to make it easier to see and have an element of interaction, but Chris and the teachers were eager for the kids to get to make their own microscopes and thermometers.  Despite the logistical problems, noise and chaos of having such a large group, there was a good energy and enthusiasm, and it was a lot of fun having such a big group.

We finished the day with a session for the science groups – 30 in year 1 and another 30 in year 2.  Chris took the year 1 group through cardscope (which Chris has named “Michaelscope” my honour).  With the year 2 I went over a series of small experiments to study how facemasks work.  Interestingly, in Ghana “facemasks” are usually called “nose-masks” – a good reminder that they need to go over your nose to be effective. We finished off the day by presenting the HINTEGRAM Ambassador and laptop program, and the whole science department eagerly accepted the loan of 5 computers and want to share ambassador responsibilities.  We discussed our desire to support them to create a science club, and proposed to meet regularly with my YES! For Young Enthusiastic Scientists club at my school in Paris via Zoom to share homemade experiments.  I’m hopeful and excited to see what becomes of their science club and this collaboration.

Beer-Bottle Thermometer (first adapted from lab gas thermometers during my first experience with volunteer teaching – in Cusco, Peru, 2013)
Materials: empty glass bottle (ex. Beer bottle), balloon, cork, tube/straw Optional: coloured water (for increased visibility), rubber bung (tighter seal than cork), for calibration – lab thermometer and access to water of 2 or more different temperatures
Method: Pass tube through cork (this make take some effort to make watertight if you are making this from a re-used wine cork or similar). Insert balloon partway into top of bottle and fill with (coloured) water, being careful to leave some space for air to leave the bottle (otherwise balloon will not fill, because it would need to compress the air).  Once balloon is reasonably full, place around mouth of bottle. Insert cork with tube into mouth of bottle.  The water in the balloon should rise slightly into the tube.  The thermometer is now  ready to test/calibrate. Testing – the easiest way to make the thermometer rise is simply to heat it with warm hands.  Even on days when the temperature is near body temperature, we’re able to get several cm rise by rubbing our hands together to test the thermometer.  For big, noisy groups and for younger crowds, this demonstration of how a gas thermometer works is usually enough.
Further Ponderings: Calibration – takes a bit more time, but isn’t particularly difficult.  Fixed points can be created using water baths of two known temperatures, measured using a lab thermometer.  For most bottle sizes/diameters, each degree difference will cause a rise/fall of a couple cm, which is great for demonstration, but limits the range that can be calibrated to about 10 degrees or so.  For more details, including calculating absolute zero, see my more detailed write-up from a few years ago: For video explanations, you can see my students teach a lesson on it at Saint Francis College of Education in 2019:, or myself presenting it in Spanish at the DDD:

Cardscope (I first adapted from this viral Instructables, which I saw at the Exploratorium in 2015.  Back in Paris, I ordered a class set of lenses from overseas, and was surprised when they arrived early. I didn’t have any of the other materials ready, but was eager to make microscopes, so I used some scrap cardboard.  I was happy with the result, and preferred the low cost and preparation time of my cardboard model.  To date I’ve shared this in nearly a hundred schools, museums, and workshops.  I’ve given away thousands of lenses, and will happily mail a set of ten lenses to anyone who sends me photos of any of my experiments being repeated.)
Materials: small acrylic lens (for more info, see cardboard, elastic bands
Method: cut cardboard to size of phone or smaller make hole in cardboard to align with phone camera insert lens into hole, place in front of camera hold in place with elastic bands observe samples with microscopic details – fingers, fabric, money and pixels are some of the easiest ones to start with.  In Ghana we often do an onion skin observation, because it’s in their curriculum, and very few students have had the chance to directly observe cells with a microscope of any kind. (Red/pink onion does not need a stain to observe the shape of the cells, but it would be rare to observe any organelles.)

Further Ponderings:
– For more detail, including sourcing notes for lenses, see:
– For a how-to video, see: Focus – objects will be in focus about 8 mm away.  When zooming in (ex. To observe onion cells) it can be hard to hold still, so it’s worth propping up on a pen, pencil, stack of paper, etc.  A book works well, and pages can be turned to raise or lower the lens to adjust focus – this is one of the best uses I’ve found for textbooks. (Textbooks also work well to prop up ramps, to drop, etc.)   Light – in a well-lit room, there is usually no need for additional light, however in darker rooms it may be worth adding a 2nd hole for light from the camera’s flashlight, or to use a 2nd source of light from the side or behind.

A selection of pictures is the author’s own (Attribution CC-BY)

About the author: Michael Gregory is a Scientix Ambassador for France, coordinator of science programs for students of particular capacities at a bilingual school in Paris, and an active member of numerous teacher groups. In his spare time, he travels to give workshops to teachers and guest lessons at schools, always looking for more ideas to share forwards.  He has crossed over 30 countries by bicycle to connect with science educators and share ideas, many of which are shared on his YouTube channel. Once travel becomes easier again, he hopes to undertake another long bike trip, possibly from Paris to Ghana or Iran.

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