Leveraging Hands-on Learning to Build Knowledge in Science

Leveraging Hands-on Learning to Build Knowledge in Science 1Teachers play one of the most important roles in a student’s life, this makes teaching jobs challenging and full of responsibility, while still being rewarding in many ways. Mr. Nopparat Buranathavorn, a science teacher at Nikhom Sang Ton Eng School in Rayong Province, knows this very well.

Finding ways to inspire students is not easy. In many public schools in Thailand, resources are still limited and teachers are beholden to an outdated key performance indicator (KPI) system that is not centered on applied learning. This means that teachers are unable to gain access to learning tools, ultimately preventing them from effectively running learning activities.

Mr. Nopparat, like many Thai teachers, was looking for a better, more engaging way to teach students in his class. “The biggest challenge as a teacher is to develop a teaching methodology, or pedagogy, based exclusively on the school’s key performance indicators (KPIs). If we focus solely on KPIs, we run the risk of limiting students’ creativity. Learning science in the 21st century must be through hands-on experiments. Students do not need to agree with everything. The teacher should act as a coach to offer suggestions and motivate them to think independently, and then they can find the answer by themselves.” While his fellow teachers at his school had heard about teaching methods such as Enhanced – Project-Based Learning (E-PBL), they lacked the capacity to use these techniques in the classroom.

Although Mr. Nopparat faced many obstacles, he was still determined to maximize the resources available to empower his students to succeed. His desire to learn and improve led him to Kenan’s Teacher Professional Development program and, with support from his school director, Mr. Nopparat joined the program along with 60 teachers from other schools.

In 2020, Kenan Foundation Asia joined hands with the Caterpillar Foundation to expand the “E-PBL Teacher Professional Development Program” to Rayong province. The goal of the program is to develop science and math pedagogy, leveraging 21st-century learning, in order to transform education in Thailand. As part of the Caterpillar Foundation’s focus on building thriving communities, it invests in the skills people need to join the modern workforce. Through the project, Kenan will train 80 teachers and 30 school leaders, benefitting the lives of over 10,000 students.

Reflecting on the training, Mr. Nopparat was impressed with the results, “At our school, we now focus on E-PBL to prepare lesson plans that promote STEM education. For example, our airplane creation project is designed to build students’ analytical thinking skills. In this project, students have to think and analyze what components the plane should be made from and how each piece can be put together. They have to collaborate and analyze the whole process, from beginning to end. The teacher will act as a coach, guiding, encouraging, and asking questions along the way. We do not focus on learning by memorizing everything from the book anymore. For the concluding project activity, students have to present to the class, to the teacher, and their peers.”

The impact on his students was clear, “Finally, I could see my students becoming more assertive and confident. No longer did they keep quiet or avoid eye contact. They became proud when they found the answers by themselves.” He went on to say that, “My students have learned to think for themselves. They are more confident when presenting their work and answering questions. They now enjoy learning and this reflects in their improved results.”

Building knowledge in science through hands-on learning is a proven and sustainable education methodology. It’s time to reconsider if the KPIs used in our education system relate to the real world. “The 4C skills taught in the E-PBL program (Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication) are essential to success in 21st Century. We should share this knowledge with other teachers to grow a ‘learning community’ to build the capacity of our teachers and students,” Mr. Nopparat said.

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