CosmoAmautas: Virtual teacher training in vulnerable regions in Peru

Countries in Latinamerica are going through the worst educational crisis in their history according to UNESCO. The case of Peru is particularly critical, with the highest reported mortality per capita due to COVID-19, more than 85% of schools closed throughout 2020 and 2021, and the entire public education system declared in a state of emergency till mid 2022. The pandemic has severely intensified inequalities in education, which was already well below the standards in developed countries, in particular in the areas of science and maths (PISA). This is most critical for the most vulnerable populations, building up on the acute problem of social and gender inequality and the centralisation of infrastructure, teacher training, and outreach activities to the capital.
Given the importance of STEM for social development and economic growth, in the second edition of the CosmoAmautas program (amauta=teacher in the Quechua language) we will bring teacher training workshop in Astronomy and STEM education for 100 high school teachers in rural areas in Peru. We have selected 6 of the most vulnerable regions in the country, which have been most impacted by the pandemic in terms of poverty and education. Our education model focuses on inquiry-based learning, and includes lectures, hands-on activities, and motivates the creation of self-sustaining high school Astronomy Clubs led by the teachers and hosting motivated students. The virtual format enables an easier scheduling, logistics and gender balance, given that most female teachers are limited for lengthy in-person meetings as heads of their households. One crucial focus of our program is to continue the development of open-access online material, including a platform of educational video games to reinforce the learning process. The multiplicative impact of our project expects to enrich the science education of >5000 students within one year, and is tailored for the current virtual format forced by the pandemic.
  • Improve the teachers’ scientific competence and knowledge: Achieve an increase in scientific literacy and STEM education in the country. Our teacher training promoted the integration of scientific methodology in the school plan through inquiry learning, providing a lesson plan and experiment set-ups with inexpensive materials adapted to the official Peruvian teaching plan. Participating teachers have completed one entry test before our planned training sessions and one exit test at the end of the last session. Participants were tested on both their content knowledge and their scientific competence, based on questions tailored from our curriculum and designed by our pedagogy experts. This data collection was done with Quizizz; a game-based learning platform that allows us to conduct our tests in a more engaging way. The results show a significant increase in both in their content knowledge (average score in the pre-test: 8,8/17; average score in the post-test: 10,4/17; p < 0,001) and in their scientific competence (average score in the pre-test: 2,2/10; average score in the post-test: 3,8/10; p < 0,001). These results demonstrate the successful outcome of the workshop in terms of scientific content.
  • Scientific activity beyond the program: A few months after the program was over, students from schools participating in CosmoAmautas from two distant regions in the country teamed up to measure the earth diameter using the activity guidelines by our program. Their teachers were then selected to present the results of their initiative in the National Scientific Meeting (ECI2023), which was broadcasted nationally. Finally we organised events and have worked together with teachers and the students of the 21 AstroClubs (2021 & 2022) in bimonthly meetings, supervising in this way the continuous progress of students in the AstroClubs directly.
  • Equitable Science Classrooms: We aimed to increase the number of girls who are interested in astronomy and other sciences, by exposing them to female role models (mostly female team, empower female science teachers) in science and encouraging participation in the science club. We included presentations and conversations around girls and women in science as part of our efforts to encourage and promote diversity in science. In particular we emphasize to the teachers opening Astroclubs, that it was important to encourage their female students to enroll to achieve a gender balanced classroom. We have then measured the fraction of female students enrolling in the AstroClubs, which was 48%. While we do not have the fraction which would have been achieved without the targeted efforts from the teachers, we are confident they have had a big impact there.
  • Integration of digital tools in the classroom: We have promoted the integration of digital tools as resources that support learning by offering a platform of free online educational video games and follow-up workshops that focus on the application and impact of such resources in a classroom and beyond. To evaluate the success of the games developed by Cosmoamautas, we review some of the numbers provided by the platform that hosts our games. In total, our games were viewed 606 times and played 354 times. These numbers suggest a conversion rate (CVR) of ~58%, referring to the percentage of people who engaged (plays) with the game after exposure (views). According to this recent article, our CVR is about twice as high as most Apps on the Google Store. However, we do need to consider that, unlike most apps on the Google Store, the exposure of these games was very targeted, and only our target audience was exposed to them. Regardless, their numbers are still a good CVR and speak to the appeal of the games we developed and the potential of their impact as educational tools. It was outside our scope to evaluate these games’ educational impact as that would have required a more controlled study and potentially additional longitudinal studies. The long development time and small team working on these games would need to be accounted for in future projects to provide a more in-depth assessment of their impact. At this stage, the potential of games as educational tools is supported by the high conversion rate of our games and our qualitative assessment through feedback that the games were very appealing to our audience.
  • We have mentored three new undergraduate instructors to participate in effectively communicating complex information and inquiry-based education. The success of the mentoring of our undergraduate volunteers is shown by their professional progress. One of the three new instructors has been accepted for a PhD program in Chile and the other two are finishing their studies in their universities.
  • The teachers’ expectations were exceeded or met, in 60% and 40% respectively, and 93% of the teachers affirmed having learned not only new content, but in particular, new educational approaches to apply to their scientific classroom. All of them would recommend the workshop to their colleagues, and on average they rated the workshop with a score of 9.43/10. They considered the workshop length was ideal in 72% of the cases, whereas 19% considered it too short and 9% too long. 62% and 35% of the teachers indicate the workshop has strongly (5/5) or very much (4/5) improved their methodologies to teach STEM courses in in general. 49% and 38% of the teachers strongly (5/5) and very much(4/5) felt they understood the concepts taught in the workshop well enough to transfer them to their students. 61%(5/5) and 35%(4/5) indicate that they have learned how to increases the interest of their students in science. 71%(5/5) and 21%(4/5) is very motivated to apply the inquiry based learning method in other subjects they are teaching. Finally, 63% and 35% of the teachers felt that CosmoAmautas changed their perspective on the role of women in science, and they indicate they will actively look for and apply strategies to encourage their female students to participate in STEM activities (65% strongly (5/5) and 31.6% very much (4/5).

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Teacher Training