An exciting week in Moshi

When we arrived at school on Tuesday, the school was closed and there were hundreds of people on the dirt field behind the school and there were lots of soldiers and police and other military looking people. When we walked to the edge of the field the people were in a large circle and there were children in uniform and military were standing around a fire torch. There was lots of ceremony and speeches and national pride stuff going on. It was for what they call Mwenge or the Mwenge/Uhuru (freedom) torch, which is a torch that was lit on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro when independence was declared in the 1960’s and it is traveling around the country right now. It has been here in the Moshi area from Tuesday to Thursday. Here is a picture and video.



We have officially finished the assessment phase. There are a few stragglers who have not been to school in a while, but we are moving to the next phase. We are reviewing the results and identifying students who we have some concerns about and preparing to talk to the parents to gather additional information. The school has been really welcoming and the principal said that we are part of the school and doing this work is doing the school’s work so that is refreshing. We have one more week of school before the mid-year winter vacation (this is their winter because we are south of the equator and the school year is January to December). During vacation, we will be gathering additional information from the teachers and working with Veronica on ways she can support the children in the classroom and through pull out instruction.

On the other hand, we have spent today and some time earlier this week following after some additional information and meetings to assure everyone necessary that they know Sarah is here and the work her organization is doing. Today, we had to leave school to follow up with a few offices again and get our ducks in a row, but we are all good now. Just the typical stuff to make sure all are happy and supportive.

Finding the first finish line and planning for the next phase….

Today has been a long day, and yesterday was also long, but we have finished 150 assessments. Because a few students moved, we have 5 left that Veronica will work on. I have started to do the data entry and analysis and we are also in the process of starting interview with parents for whom we want to gather more information about their child or their family and home situation. Hopefully, we will start those interviews next week. In the meantime, I will spend the rest of the week doing data entry and analysis and looking at trends and other to be concerned about.

On other notes, I am including a picture of my breakfast from yesterday. Yes, that is a huge avocado, which I got for $0.31, and muesli.

I am also going to try to upload some video I took while Sarah was driving between Moshi and Arusha. This is just a bit of a view for people who have not seen Tanzania. Click the link below.

Arusha Moshi Trip

Time to process and enjoy the weekend

After a long, hard week with lots of peaks and valleys, it is finally Saturday. I will share the Friday afternoon story in a moment, but I just woke up after sleeping 10 hours. I went to bed at 10pm and got up at 8am, but was falling asleep on the couch as we watched some TV shows Sarah had. We have been getting up between 5:30-6:30am and working at the school from 8-3 and then going and doing work on our computers and then organizing assessment sheets in the evening. Today we are going to see a friend of Sarah’s who lives in Dar is coming to Arusha on her way to a safari. Tomorrow, we have lunch, or dinner as my Iowa family calls it, at a family Sarah knows well, because she taught the student in kindergarten when she first came to Tanzania. He is know a student at the primary school we are at and we see him everyday.

On Friday afternoon, we went to look at another car (Sarah is trying to buy a car for her work here, but we are currently using a car borrowed from a friend) and met with Baba Ngowi, Sarah’s Tanzanian father to talk about some business things like a letter from the district education office the headmaster asked for. I also had a problem with my modem, because I was trying to be preventative and that is not the right attitude. So, when I got the modem, you get three days free unlimited internet. Not being sure if it was three business days or 72 hours, I went and put a new bundle on it to cover me after. Two problems happened. First, you can’t be preventative. You can’t have overlapping bundles. So after I did that, the “bundle” started being applied on Wednesday afternoon, not my free time. Second, the lovely gentleman at the stationary store did it wrong and put it on as just 20,0000 shillings of a voucher for internet. As a per MB rate, I went through that quickly, because I thought I was doing free stuff and trying to download a few things. Anyway, I used my voucher for 20,000 quickly and when we discovered the problem there was sill nothing to be done. So, the lesson is always go to Zantel and not a stationary store and that we can add a new bundle toward the end of the month to prevent having a modem that doesn’t work, which is what happened to me on Thursday. I was skyping with a friend and we were basically done, but then it just failed and I know now that it is because I had no credit or bundle.

As you can read from the blog, things are going well at school and it is great and amazing data. I excited to write more in depth about what we are seeing. On thing we want to do now is have an in-depth conversation about expectations on many levels and about beliefs and thoughts on disabilities and children in the classroom with disabilities with the classroom teacher. I am compiling data to look at the mean, median and mode percentage of correct answers on the assessment and at sections and individual questions that were difficult or impossible for most or all students.  This assessment is based off of all the sections in the standard 1 syllabus or curriculum for these students and what the Tanzanian government says they should be able to do at the end of standard 1. But, we already threw out some sections I had included and questions, because we know that they have not studied it or it was just not the most important thing to know to determine was kinds of challenges some children are facing. For example, I am interested to see if the children who are having trouble with reading or math are able to answer other more practical questions from the science curriculum or demonstrate certain executive functions skills that help to differentiate more between learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities. Because we do not have the diagnostic assessments to compare cognitive and academic achievement, we are actually looking at how we can employ the newer system in the US, RTI or response to intervention. I am starting to think about interventions we can consider and then assess the students again after time and that will also be a real indicator.

But, I clearly remember talking with my dear friend and colleague Rama, about her work in India and children with autism and how when they talked to parents, they often didn’t use the word “autism,” but talk about strengths and challenges and things the family and school could do. Labeling is not critical and figuring out what their challenge or potential disability is not the goal, but rather to find ways to help the children to succeed in this situation. That is the real goal and huge challenge.

After we finish the assessment, we will look at the children seem to be experiencing the most challenges in school as determined through the assessment and Sarah and Veronica’s extensive observation period. We will then have a meeting with each family and talk about our concerns based on the data, and refer them to various specialists in the area for additional assessment. We are going to work with places here that provide free or cheap services for various health issues and disabilities.

I do not promise a daily blog next week, but I wanted to write out my thoughts. I will keep this as part of my research as I worked out some ideas in my head as I was writing. Happy reading!

Exhausted and ready for the weekend

After four days of assessment, we have finished 95 students, out of 159.  It was 158, but a new girl joined the class yesterday and I tested her today. She was very interesting, because she wanted to answer all my questions in English, but I was asking in Swahili. And I was surprised that she was able to do most of the test in both English and Swahili. I really wonder where she went to school before.

Sarah and I are very tired and going to relax this weekend and do some other stuff and make a list of the kids left to assess. I am still seeing great Kili views as we drive around town. Today, it was really brilliant. Anyway, this is short, but I will direct you to Sarah’s post and some pics of me assessing.


Kids say the darndest things

As I mentioned in the last post, we started the assessment process on Tuesday of 158 children, all of the children in the Standard 1 (grade 1) class. At the end of day three today, we have assessed 65 children. We hope finish the assessment by next week Tuesday or Wednesday and then spend a few days analyzing the data and looking at what we are working with and make a plan for the next phase of data collection. We were very worried about getting this assessment phase finished and the time involved, be we have been very efficient. Yesterday was hard, because the students were still making lots of noise and watching us, but today, after a strong lecture from the teachers, the children were well behaved and stayed away. We are also becoming more efficient in giving the assessment and my Swahili is improving so I am not looking at the sheet for some of the questions to make sure I say them correctly. Conversationally and assessment wise I am doing fine, I just need to continue to improve my vocabulary.

So, I thought I would share some of the more interesting answers we got and those that show some of the cultural differences. On the assessment, we have shapes and colors.  In the Tanzanian national curriculum for standard 1, students are expected to learn and know these, but they are seldom actually taught. So, when we ask the kids about them, they usually tell us what the shape looks like from the real world or the color that it is similar to in their world.

For example, red and sometimes purple is “rangi ya damu” or the color of blood and pink or red can also be “rangi ya damu mzee” or blood of an old person.” Orange is sometimes “moto moto” or fire. Brown is almost always “rangi ya udongo” or the color of the ground, but that is also sometimes orange because they have red or orange clay here that is a deep orange or maroon.

The square is almost always TV, but sometimes called a radio or a computer and they use those words, which are used in Swahili the same as in English. The diamond is sometimes “nyoka” or snake. Octagon is a ball because they see the octagon on the soccer balls, but sometimes they say the octagon is “hela” or change because the 50 shilling coin is in a septagon, so that is really interesting. Our favorite shape answer though, is for the heart. When we point to it, most every child says “I love you.” If we ask again, they said “ni I love you,” or it is an I love you, as an object. We chuckle when we hear it.

At the end of the test, we ask questions on information from the science curriculum, which is really a lot of information on health, cleanliness, safety, and nutrition. Cleanliness is taught and Sarah has witnessed science lessons about cleaning in the classroom. On of the topics is also on how to safely carry heavy objects.  For readers familiar with African countries, they will know the correct answer is to carry things on their head. Several children said head, some said bag or hands. But two clever children had more creative answers. When asked? How do you carry heavy luggage or bags? One boy said he would get a friend to help and another young girl said that she would reduce the load. I laughed that she would reduce the load, because I hadn’t thought of that as an answer, but it makes a lot of sense.

Standard 1 math test for the first half of the year

Finally, in our picture for the day, here is the test that they gave for math for the end of the first six months of school. As you can see the test is handwritten and then photocopied. The first column says questions, the second says work, and the third says answer.

On our mark, get set, GO!

Today was our first assessment day. Overall, I believe that it was very successful day, despite several challenges. When we arrived, we set up in an extra building on the school campus and started setting up and organizing.  Sarah, Veronica**, and I are doing the assessing. Veronica is a kindergarten teacher that Sarah worked with in the past and who is familiar with the community.  At the beginning of the day, I started by training Sarah and Veronica to give the assessment. Then, we assessed five students today. Because we wanted to make sure we were working taratibu (carefully), one person would assess and the others word watch, and ask questions or support. After working with the first two or three children, we made some adjustments to the assessment to increase the cultural responsiveness and to cut down on some questions, they would not know because they have only been in standard 1 for six months. Because this is a curriculum based assessment, based on what the children will know at the end of standard 1 and not a norm-referenced assessment, this abbreviation was appropriate.







I originally created this assessment for my dissertation work and a different group of students, but have modified in several times to fine tune it to use as an assessment for standard 1 children in public primary schools. It is an interesting process just to look at the cultural difference in education and in what kids know and don’t know at a given age. For example, students who can read sentences fluently in English, have generally mastered a good number of sight words and some additional vocabulary. In Kiswahili, because it is phonetic with rare exceptions (if any), students can read sentences by sounding out words and may or many not know the meaning. This is also evident from watching the methods of teaching in each country of literacy. The phonetic nature of the language or lack there of as well as resource issues have dictated teaching methods. But I digress.

The students were well behaved and cooperative during the assessment and tomorrow we move on to each person assessing on their own so that we can get through a lot more kids and push through the work. It is kind of scary, but exciting at the same time. My Swahili is slowly coming back, but I am sure after a full day of assessment, I will have many words back out of necessity. Today we worked through some kinks and tomorrow it will be much smoother. Also, the teachers were in a meeting most of the day so there was less supervision, so sometimes children would want to come and watch us during the assessment and hang out around the door opening. Tomorrow, we will need to diligently ignore the children when they are on break and keep working. But we have begun and that is what is most important.

Kesho tutajitahidi sana! (Tomorrow we will work very hard!)

**I have permission for the pictures, her name as been changed to comply with my IRB.

Karibu, Msaranga! and the mountain

Today was my first day at the Msaranga Primary School. As expected based on the wonderful Tanzanian hospitality, I was given a very warm welcome and spent the day observing the standard 1 (grade 1) class and getting to know the teacher in the class, the assistant, and the other teacher who is working with the Toa Nafasi Project. The day started for the morning group children at 8am and goes until 11:30, with the break for chai (tea) from 10:00-10:30 and then the afternoon group is there from 11:30-2:30 with a break for a small lunch in the afternoon. Today, the students had math, literacy (Swahili), and English.

Tomorrow, we will start the assessment part of our project. We will be assessing all the children in standard 1 and looking at the trends in curricular achievement after about six months of grade 1 and then looking for any children who we are concerned might need more assistance in school or tutoring or a referral to other professionals. We have the school’s permission to do the basic assessment and then will work with parents to discuss concerns. It is a big group of children with about 75 in each class (morning and afternoon), but this is fairly standard in Tanzania.  We had hoped to have a little more time, but because their vacation is coming up in a few weeks, we need to get started right away.

After school, we ran a lot of errands, including getting me my own modem and picking up the extra supplies we need for the assessment. Going to the school was the first highlight of the day. Getting a modem was really nice. But, the second great highlight was my run this afternoon. I started running up toward the International School Moshi and then was going to loop back and right before I got to the school I was able to have a perfect view of the whole mountain, yes Mt. Kilimanjaro. I could see all the snow on the top, which is actually quite a bit at the moment because it is the end of the rainy season and going into the coldest season of the year. I ran a loop and on my way back toward the house I could see the mountain again and again ran a little farer toward the ISM to get that one last view. It was amazing and so awesome to see. I definitely plan to climb the mountain sometime soon, but not this trip. I want to try and be at the summit because I am just in awe of the mountain.

Arrived in Moshi

I arrived safely in Tanzania and Sarah picked me up. The airport was super easy. I am still adjusting the to schedule, but I have had a very relaxing Saturday morning. Sarah and I are talking, planning, working, and drinking tea. The weather is gorgeous. It is probably about 75 degrees and sunny. In a little bit, we are going to go to town and run errands to get my phone, groceries, little things for my room, etc. We will relax this weekend and plan and then go to work on Monday morning.

Here are a few photos from Sarah’s house. Mostly they are of the beautiful garden.

Down to the wire and the pound

I am down the less than 24 hours until I leave. Given my normal anxiety around travel and just making sure I have everything, I am fairly calm. I love to travel, but I always worry I will forget something that is critical. My bags are packed and I am enjoying a relaxing evening with my kitty and my husband.

I am very happy that I managed to get all my stuff into two bags and my carry-ons and that at the moment, they are just underweight or on target, but the airlines view will depend on the calibration of the their scales. I am thrilled that I got all the answer sheets, training manuals, and materials for the assessment in the bags and they are still within weight limits.

I am thrilled that the all copies, training manuals, and materials for the assessment are in the bags. We are ready and able to get started next week on the work. I am excited to finally get there and get going after talking with Sarah and planning so much over the last several months.

I have to thank Deo Tungaraza and Dr. Alwiya Omar (my KiSwahili teacher) at Indiana University and the IU Swahili Flagship program for the wonderful work on the translation of the assessment. They did a wonderful job and were able to do it so quickly so that we could start working this summer. Asante sana kwa kazi nyingi!


In 72 hours……I am leaving for Moshi, Tanzania.

In 72 hours I will be in the air and on my way to Tanzania to work start my work with the Toa Nafasi project. So much to do…

Where am I going? I am going to Moshi, Tanzania, to work in a village called Msaranga. it is nearby Moshi and accessible by daladala (small buses) and cars. Here is a map.

Map of Northern Tanzania

Moshi is located on the right side of the map in the center. It is right next to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I will be working with the Toa Nafasi Project, who have their own blog. Sarah Rosenbloom, the founder and director, is awesome and has graciously invited me to work with them. This is the first time I am going back to Tanzania since completing my dissertation research in 2009. I can’t wait to get there, but grading must get done before I can leave. Off to that. Here is a view from Moshi of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

A rooftop view of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Moshi.