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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Where There's Smoke

Asia, Nepal
Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
Environment, Health, Service Learning

Students examine how people can effectively bring about positive change in another culture, focusing on the introduction of ventilated stoves in Nepali homes.


After studying the letter and engaging in activities, students should be able to explain how or why

  • Technology and economics are interconnected
  • Technology can influence health and comfort
  • Problem-solving is a multi-step process
  • A single individual or organization can make a big difference to a society  


  •  Photos of Nepal



  1. Show students pictures of a rural Nepalese village. Include pictures of indigenous housing and, if possible, images of cooking fires. Give students any additional information about Nepal that would help enrich their understanding of the area and the Nepalis' way of life.
  2. Ask students to close their eyes and imagine living in a house made from packed clay and cow dung. Then have them imagine that their sole means for cooking is an open fire in the middle of a room with almost no ventilation. Ask them to imagine the following: "Smoke fills the room every time you try to cook a meal. It fills your nostrils and causes you to choke. It burns your eyes, making them red and sore. You can't leave the food on the fire untended because it could burn and your family would then have nothing to eat. This is a daily task you have to endure because your family must have nourishment." Now ask the class to identify a problem Nepalis are facing in their homes. Ask students to briefly brainstorm ways to solve this problem.
  3. Introduce the letter by explaining to students that they will be reading about this scenario occurring in Nepal and how a Peace Corps Volunteer decided to solve the problem. If students are unfamiliar with the Peace Corps, give them some background information. Pass out the "Problem-Solving Steps" handout and ask students, as they read, to record each step Iams took to arrive at a feasible solution.
  4. When students finish reading, ask them to compare their original solutions with the author's. Ask them to generate the list of steps Iams took to achieve a solution and record their responses on the board. They should include the following:
    • Identifying the problem
    • Researching to define the problem
    • Researching what others have done to solve the problem
    • Developing possible solutions (solutions need to be feasible to those who are directly impacted by the problem materials are cheap and available, women must be self-sufficient to build them)
    • Considering limitations and obstacles to effective implementation of a solution
    • Developing ways to overcome the limitations and impediments
    • Implementing the solution
    • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution
    • Making adaptations as necessary
  5. Explain that technological advances can impact the economy and society of a region. Pass out the flowchart and ask students to fill the first blank with "Make new stoves for safer cooking." Then ask students to fill in the next blank with the result of making stoves (produces less smoke). Have students continue to fill in the flowchart so each box shows the effect of the box before it. A sample chart may include the following items:
    • Make new stoves makes people healthier (no eye, sinus, and lung disease) promotes greater productivity increased opportunity for surplus possibility for commerce.
  6. Follow up the flowchart activity by having students explain in their journals the relationship they see between the technology and economics. Share responses.
  7. Ask students to consider other characteristics about rural Nepalese life implied in the letter, such as lack of electricity and running water. Ask students to consider plausible ways of changing these conditions. Remind students to consider the steps to problem-solving, particularly that the solution must be "doable" by those affected.
  8. Conclude the lesson by asking students to consider how an "outsider" can change or influence traditional cultures. What care must be practiced by someone entering another culture and implementing change?  Stress that a person must carefully evaluate the culture and what the effects of change might be?both positive and negative. Point out that the women in Iams's village became trained and empowered to improve their quality of life; however, this was a side effect of the stove-building rather than direct action to address the fact that the women had not attended school. 

Frameworks & Standards

 Enduring Understandings
  • Little changes in technology can have a significant impact on productivity and quality of life.
  • A single individual or organization can make a big difference to a society.
Essential Questions
  • How does technology change things?
  • What's the most effective way to introduce a new idea?
  • How can outside factors influence an established culture?

National Science Education Standards
Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry
Content Standard E: Science and Technology
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives 

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