By Antyka Xayaphone and Tan Eng Kanchanith (and all of the YSEALI STEM Tiger Toolkid Team Members)
“We should focus on math. As a math teacher myself, I sometimes get complaints from science teachers about how students don’t have a strong enough math foundation to do important calculations in science. Besides, I think there aren’t many learning tools out there for mathematics compared to science,” Annisa (our Indonesian teammate) mentioned during our group discussion.
Our team agreed with her. We believe that students need a good math foundation in order to excel in other STEM fields (Technology, Engineering, Math and Science). But, how can they be good at math when it is too abstract, complicated, and boring for them? So, to reduce the fear of learning math from a young age, math has to be fun and easy to learn.
Our diverse team of youth from all over ASEAN came up with a solution called “Tiger ToolKid,” a set of low-cost, fun and easy-to-use math teaching tools. With a seed funding of USD$2,000 from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh through the YSEALI STEM Education Regional Workshop, we were ready to build our tools: Algebra Tiles, Geoboard and Value for Money Board Games.
Building our Toolkid
Our team developed a proposal and budget plan, prototyped the tools, and designed a manual as a guideline on how to use the tools. We designed the evaluation and monitoring plan and our Tiger Toolkid logo!
We started off with “Algebra Tiles” a tool to help students learn algebraic concepts. Each set of “Algebra Tiles” has 4 big squares, 8 rectangles, and 20 small squares which makes 1780 tiles in total. All tiles are made from cardboard and different types of tiles are labeled with different colors. The process of measuring, cutting, and sticking colored papers to the tiles took us about five days to finish.
Next, we created the “Geoboard”, a board that aims to help students learn geometry in a fun and visual way. For this tool, one of the team suggested we should make it out of wood and nails instead of cardboard and pegs like our initial prototype because it would be cheaper, easier for teachers to replicate and last longer. The making of the Geoboard was exciting since we got to use a wood cutting machine and learned how to hammer the nails into the wooden board.
Our final tool is “Value for Money Board-game”, a monopoly-like game that improves students’ math skills in counting, decimals, percentages and fractions using money games as a tool. Together as a team, we gathered in a coffee shop to develop some math problems for this game. The boards were designed to be more attractive by adding cartoon pictures and more colors to them.
Now the Toolkid is ready
The Tiger Toolkid was first introduced in Laos at the Phonmee Secondary School on April 29th, 2018. Our team members Antyka XAYAPHONE, from Laos, and Chalongvudhi Junhorm, from Thailand, conducted a workshop with 25 teachers and showed them how to use the tools so that they could use them in classrooms.
In Cambodia, a team of YSEALI STEM alumni and volunteer engineering students from the Institute of Technology of Cambodia went to Tonle Kontil secondary school in Kompung Speu to conduct a demo and tryout session of the Tiger Toolkid with teachers and students. We also went to Prey Pdav primary school where we shared the tools with about 50 teachers and students from four primary schools. We were really surprised by how fast the students could grasp the math concepts even when we tried to explain a completely new lesson to them.
What we learned from this project
In Cambodia, the toughest work was contacting and communicating with schools. We did not have enough time to ask for permission from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and had no connection with the schools where we conducted the project. Eventually, we went to District Office of Education to request for help to invite teachers and students from many schools to join us.
Secondly, we found that the prepared math problems for Value for Money board-game were too hard for primary students. But we explained to the teachers that these exercises could be adjusted to fit the students’ level of study.
In Laos, some teachers told us that the ToolKid was shared with the teachers too late as the school term was already coming to an end. These are valuable lessons for us to improve and adopt our ToolKid at the right time.
It was an awesome experience. It was my first time organizing a formal workshop. I had to coordinate with the Provincial Office of Education, set up the agenda, assign responsibilities to volunteers and pay attention to every little detail. This has taught me that even a little detail is vital. I also noticed the enjoyment of the teachers as they used the ToolKid because it was really new to them.
To see what once was just an idea turning into reality was a dream come true for every one of us. We have learned a lot about responsibility, commitment, friendship, teamwork, and team spirit and encouragement. We also got to see how enthusiastic and welcoming teachers and students in the rural areas are to learn and accept new ideas. The whole project is also a proof that youth are not too young to lead nor too young to make an impact.
Thank you, YSEALI STEM EDUCATIONAL REGIONAL WORKSHOP, for giving us the opportunity to be on this amazing journey together.