As the school year turns, we are celebrating the success of our Explore computer program running at Chey. This program gives a head start to middle schoolers on the digital skills they will require as they move up through the grades, as well as onwards into adult life. Developed also as a tool to improve retention amongst middle schoolers – especially boys – it enables discovery of the digital world in a fun and engaging way, with an emphasis on encouraging them towards the STEM side of their capabilities. Lessons are designed to enhance learning in their government school classes, while developing their research skills and presentation practice as they share work with their classmates.
How It Started
Building on the success of the Explore mini pilot that we ran in 2022 with a small group of Grade 7 students, Explore level 1 has now completed its first full curriculum year. To accommodate this, at the beginning of 2023 we unveiled a whole new lab for Explore class, kitted out with 14 brand new terminals – bringing capacity for 42 students across 3 daily classes, all led by teacher Saveth.
How It’s Going
As with the pilot, students navigate subject-themed apps based around the school curriculum. For example, science subjects with NASA Science, Chemistry 4 Kids, Physics 4 Kids; for math they can use Kahoot, Arcademics and Khan Academy; and social subjects are covered with Geography 4 Kids and AMNH.
The students themselves cite that the primary benefit from Explore is supplementing their government school studies, and enhancing academic knowledge:
- My favorite lesson in Explore is Math because this lesson can help me with my lesson in Khmer school.
- I like chemistry, physics, and math because they can help me fill in the blanks in my knowledge.
- The Explore lesson that’s my favorite are lessons about history because they teach me about how communities lived in the past – I really like learning about that.
And because the classes are project-based, they’re also increasing “softer” skills:
- I like Sketchpad because it improves my use of the mouse and use my imagination.
- I like google translate because it helps me be able to research.
- I like google search because I can search any lessons that I don’t understand.
And it has been wonderful to watch the additional progress being made in Explore 1!
Saveth’s confidence has really grown as he is more familiar with the curriculum and project-based learning. And from rigorous data collection from the pilot, we have been able to tweak and refine the program. This is all reflected in the quality of the students’ work – not only in the increase of their skills, but also eagerness to fully explore and utilize each app presented to them, inspiring creativity as they go.
A few examples show this combined progress:
Typing & App Utilization
During the pilot, the students were given free choice on warm up activity each class, and they always chose to practice their English typing, which resulted in no significant improvements in Khmer typing. Now with a more structured rotation of warm up activities among Khmer and English typing (as well as math games and English language practice), we’re seeing a remarkable improvement in their Khmer typing ability:
Mid-way through the year, students reached the app review project where they spent some time revisiting apps they’d learned and diving deeper into their favorites. While the majority report the academic apps as being their favorite, compared to last year’s pilot, we saw a rise in popularity for the art and music apps:
The myths & legends project is the first where they combine everything they’ve learned: write a myth, illustrate it, organize it in Pitch, add background music, and record a narration. During the pilot, each student re-told a traditional Cambodian myth, but this year, three students (two males) wrote their own original stories:
Scenes from ‘Sothy the dragon slayer’
We also loved to see that some lessons that flopped during the pilot – for example, using the Comix Builder app – started to work this year. This is such an encouraging development. To see students – who are taught by rote in their government classes, with little encouragement for original ideas – begin to explore their creative expression and independent thinking is something that we will be building upon in the coming year.
In June, we began piloting Explore 2 with the original students from the first pilot. In this level, there is a larger focus on how to research, and understanding how to judge the credibility of what information is found online. We’re also giving them more freedom in choosing what to learn by introducing “Explore X Projects” such as “Explore Science,” “Explore Celebrities,” and “Explore Geography” in which they choose their interest within a broad topic to learn about and teach the other students.
We also added English language education across both levels as part of our mission of showing how the internet can be used as a self-study tool. We bought Rocket Languages which has several modules of mini lessons so students can study at their own level. And the students report loving using it.
Based on surveys from the end of the 2023 school year, overall the students have given very positive feedback on their appreciation of the classes.
It’s particularly interesting to see that E2 students – who have seen more of the flow of lessons – have given generally higher ratings. And also very encouraging that the male rating is on a par with, if not higher, than the female rating.
Where to next?
At opening day in December for the 2024 school year, Level 1 students (now Level 2) presented to new middle school students about the benefits of Explore class. The sessions were packed, and we begin the new school year with all 70 seats filled. We can’t wait to see how these budding explorers do!
Want to walk alongside our students in their journeys but not sure how? Here are some of the really useful ways you can support our mission!
For as little as $10 a month, you could contribute to the ongoing education of our students. $120 goes a long way in Cambodia: that’s 5 village children on the road to education, with access to school and clean drinking water for half a year. Or a million other things, all of which coalesce into the tools needed for life to change for the better!
Have some questions?
Email us for a chat at [email protected]