The Living Machine: Transforming the Teaching of Science at ALA

The Living Machine, a sustainable wastewater treatment system designed and implemented by African Leadership Academy alumni Wuntia Gomda ’17 of Ghana and Jesse Forrester ’17 of Kenya in 2019, has become a central component of teaching and learning in the Biology classroom at ALA.

The Living Machine: Transforming the Teaching of Science at ALA

Head of Science and Technology Department, Hans Sowder, who has been leading The Living Machine installation, has incorporated this machine into his curriculum. “At the beginning of the Biology class year, one of the first things I did was take students down to The Living Machine, explain it to them, and then have them come up with a mind map with Biology chapter summaries and how they link to The Living Machine,” says Sowder.

With this teaching method, Hans explains, students are able to work with something tangible to which they can attach biological concepts. “Yes, we could draw on paper what happens when an enzyme meets a substrate and we can memorize the drawing, but it becomes a whole new thing when we can go down to The Living Machine to see this mechanism in real-life and learn in that way.”

The Living Machine has proven incredibly useful in providing many examples in which biological concepts can be seen in action. Designed to mimic the very best of nature, The Living Machine provides a unique opportunity for students to see how living things are connected to sustain life. “With each chapter, we go through, from how blood carries oxygen, to how organisms strip proteins and carbs from food, I always seek to ask: where do we see this at play in The Living Machine?” 

The Living Machine: Transforming the Teaching of Science at ALA

There have been other class components that have incorporated The Living Machine. The Science Research class, for example, has been tasked with testing the water from The Living Machine in order to capture and analyze data. This exercise has started conversations regarding the value of The Living Machine in the chemistry syllabus. In addition, science faculty members (some of whom have PhD’s) are able to make use of their valuable knowledge in this project too.

This kind of learning feeds into ALA’s five-year strategic objective of becoming a learning, innovating, leading school.  “If you think of our 2023 goal, from a learning standpoint, we have a tool that 0.01 schools on the continent, and possibly the globe have access to as a learning vehicle. Our future leaders are learning to be better stewards of resources; they’re learning how to seek project funding; they’re learning how to respond to crises. It’s a powerful learning tool. We’re leading the way in how our students learn.”

When reflecting on how schools can continue to seek best teaching practice, Sowder says, “Always ask yourself this – what are ways that I can bring the outside world into my classroom? Also always observe those around you and see what they’re doing, adopt practices that you see are worthwhile, and always seek ways to bring in the student voice and student ownership into the work.”

To learn more about The Living Machine, watch this video.

The Living Machine

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