What, exactly, sparks into being our love of learning? Is it our sense of touch? Holding a test tube while seeing the colorless solution slowly turn a deep yellow? Our sight, then? What is it that pulls us through the array of information to be memorized, and bring in its place a sense of anticipation for the students?
These questions occupy the mind of Ms. Pikulthong Srisangorn. She feels it strongly—science helps us make sense of the world. Here at Ban Khok Kathiam Ratdamri Bamrung School in Lopburi, Thailand with its acres of land and trees, this is what she wants to impart to her students: the intertwining of science with our daily lives. With more than 20 years of teaching experience, and a major in science, Ms. Pikulthong brings with her a passion, enthusiasm and open-mindedness often associated with a fresh graduate.
But on the first day of the Teacher Professional Development program organized by Kenan Foundation Asia in partnership with IVL Foundation, things were looking a little uncertain for Ms. Pikulthong. Standing among 29 other participants and, being used to large spaces with a minimal number of people congregated in one area, she admitted she wanted to leave. “I was terrified of COVID-19,” she said, explaining that she is the primary caretaker of her elderly mother. Chuckling, she revealed that she half-jokingly whispered to her school principal, “can I go home, right now?”
The struggles of an opportunity-expansion school like Ban Khok Kathiam Ratdamri Bamrung are unfortunately not surprising. Located in a remote area with vast grassy fields, the school is part of a small community. Ms. Pikulthong longs to bring the wider world to her students, to let them have at their fingertips the educational and technological resources they deserve. The lack of access to laboratory equipment can take the life out of science, and only watching YouTube videos of experiments deprive students of the skills gained through practical experience, and of an appreciation for the scientific method.
The quality and variety of the equipment provided generously by IVL Foundation, such as test tubes, beakers, tripod stands and alcohol lamps exceeded her expectations. Chemicals that were hard for the school to procure were also included in the kit. Ms. Pikulthong thought she was going to fall over when everything was unpacked. It was all very fancy, she said, grinning as she imagined how thrilled her students were going to be.
Inquiry-based, hands-on learning through laboratory equipment makes abstract concepts more interesting and accessible to students, such as the applying of heat to a beaker with iced water, complete with a tripod stand, a lit alcohol lamp and a laboratory thermometer.
And Ms. Pikulthong believes continual teacher development is needed to conduct classes in a way that encourages this type of learning environment.
The professional learning community session has exactly those aims. While Ms. Pikulthong knows high-impact teaching practices from her decades of experience, she stressed the importance of retraining with a group of fellow teachers and experts. It was invigorating for her to build her skills as part of a community. “There’s this point that I didn’t consider, this perspective that I didn’t see, and these are the things I can do differently in the classroom,” she would say.
Very tellingly, the session improved the rapport between fellow teachers, helping to build the school’s independent and sustained development of teachers and students. Ms. Pikulthong’s humility puts younger teachers at ease, insisting that “it does not matter which year you started teaching, we are all teachers here.”
And so it was perhaps knowingly that her school principal remained silent to Ms. Pikulthong’s request to go home on that first day. In fact, it was not mentioned again by him. “I’m so glad that I didn’t leave, I would have shut this door completely otherwise.” Ruefully, she added, “If I were able to participate in a program like this earlier in my career, I would be an even better teacher now.” Right here, long-held hopes are born into new beginnings for both teachers and students.