Ghana, U.S. teachers meet during Western Accord 13
July 3, 2013
ACCRA, Ghana -- While in Accra, Ghana for exercise Western Accord 2013, 1st Lt. Matt Nielson and "JJ" Fankhanel, 141st Menouver Enhancment Brigade, North Dakota National Guard, befriended Noble Kofi Nazzah, a local teacher who was a senior prom chaperone at the hotel where the Soldiers were staying.
Fankhanel works with special needs students at Pelican Rapids High School in Pelican Rapids, Minn., and Nielson teaches chemistry at Valley City High School in Valley City, N. D.
Nielson spoke for several hours with Noble, a two-year chemistry teacher at Roman Ridge Private School, and was eventually asked if he would like to visit the school and possibly teach a small lesson.
"I was thrilled when I was asked to visit," Nielson said. "Initially I was concerned because my primary focus was the mission. However, Col. Gigi Wilz [141st MEB brigade commander] recognized what a great opportunity it was and ok'd the trip."
While visiting, Maj. Gen. David A. Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota's adjutant general, expressed his interest and encouraged Nielson to visit the school.
When Nielson arrived at the shool, he was immediately greeted by the staff and noticed the difference in surroundings compared to his local North Dakota.
"I was overwhelmed with how different the school was physically than a North Dakota school," Nielson said. "It was so open to elements; students eat outside and you travel around buildings rather than through them to get to class."
Nielson met with Nazzah and was shown to the room where he would be meeting the students. He then explained his own excitement in having a guest teacher.
"I wanted my students to have the experience of meeting a U.S. teacher," Nazzah said. It's a good opportunity for my students and myself to see a different style of teaching."
The Ghanaian chemistry teacher also expressed interest in partnering with Nielson online.
"It would be wonderful to exchange materials and science experiments with Matt, and mine with him," Nazzah said. "I'd also like to have my students work with him via Facetime or other types of teleconferencing."
When the students arrived, they were more than a little surprised to see the foreign visitors. Neilson and Fankhanel introduced themselves to the students and talked briefly about their own teaching positions in North Dakota and the role of the National Guard.
After a short geography lesson for the A-level chemistry students Neilson and Fankhanel opened it up for questions. The students didn't waste any time and Nielson quickly found himself fielding questions about deployment, his military occupational specialty as a chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear officer, number of schools where he's taught and about his coaching tennis.
After questions, Nielson couldn't pass-up the chance to teach his lesson on unit dimensional analyisis with"boom-boom, tap-tap" method. The students had been exposed to unit dimensional analysis previously in the year but this would be a new approach.
The students, reluctant at first, warmed to Nielsons fast paced style of interaction and worked through the equations with him. Flany, a female student in the class, was the first student to approach the board and Nielson thanked her for her courage with a North Dakota legendary pin.
Soon, everyone was envolved in the "boom-boom, tap-tap" lesson. As Nielson continued to teach, heads began to nod and the familiar look of "light bulbs coming on" showed on the faces of the young learners.
As quickly as it had begun, it was over and it was time to return to the hotel where the two teachers met days before.
"The students have definitely learned something new, Nazzah said. "They truly seemed to enjoy meeting Matt, and I do think they'll remember 'boom-boom, tap-tap' and hopefully some of these students will see him again if we can can co-teach online."
After leaving the school, Nielson remarked that it was surprising to see just how similar it was.
"The student reactions and the engangement was so different, but so similar," Nielson said. "Getting up front and meeting a group of kids from a different country was probably one of the best teaching experiences I've had."
Western Accord 13 is a mutually beneficial exercise hosted by U.S. Army Africa that brings together the Economic Community of West African States and the U.S. Army to have increased capabilities to support regional peacekeeping operations.