How an Eager Young Teacher Learned to Make STEM Education Fun for Students
Mr. Kriangkrai Sungthong began his teaching career as an assistant professor at a university, where rising rows of eager students attended his lectures. For most people with advanced degrees in microbiology, this is a dream job but Kriangkrai, although passionate about education, found that the lecture hall wasn’t for him.
Kriangkrai’s vision for his future career changed after he began tutoring younger students in his spare time. Invigorated by the opportunity to share his passion for science with kids at a critical point in their lives, Kriangkrai felt called to leave the university ranks to become a teacher at the secondary level.
Shortly after completing his Master’s degree, Kriangkrai started his new journey as a 7th-9th grade science teacher at an educational opportunity expansion school (a school designed to meet the unique needs of underprivileged students in rural Thailand). While he had worked with kids before, he was unfamiliar with teaching this age group in a formal setting.
“I had never taught young students in school before,” recalls Kriangkrai. “I was so nervous because I wasn’t sure if my students would understand me or not.”
Kriangkrai’s fear was soon a reality – his students didn’t understand what he was trying to teach. Unlike the ambitious students he had tutored and taught at the university, most of his new students came to his classroom without strong learning foundations, confidence, or interest in science. While he had more than enough expertise on the subject matter, he didn’t know how to engage his students and make them care about science. After all, if his students’ hearts weren’t in the classroom, there was no way they were learning.
The question was how could he develop the ability to make the subject he found so exciting resonate with his students? There was no easy solution, and so he slogged on with the same teaching practice (i.e. working from a textbook and adding detailed explanations as needed) he had used with his tutoring group.
The disconnect between Kriangkrai’s teaching practices and his students lasted throughout his first years in the classroom, slowly draining him of his once overflowing passion for teaching. A stroke of good fortune struck, however, when he transferred to a different school in Samut Sakhon, Thailand that was participating in Kenan’s professional development program for teachers. In the program, Kenan’s experts and team of master teachers (experienced teachers with a proven record of success in the classroom) introduced him to Inquiry-based Science, which combines a student-centered pedagogy with high-impact learning modules matched to the Thai curriculum.
Unlike the traditional, passive learning approach he had favored, Inquiry-based Science empowers students to explore their curiosity, draw connections between textbook content and the real world, and conduct experiments – lots and lots of experiments. Students, regardless of their background, find that this type of learning is more accessible and engaging because the content becomes meaningful to their lives. Inquiry-based Science, furthermore, blends content knowledge and 21st century skills (communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking), both of which are critical to students’ future success in the dynamic, modern world.
Designing and delivering Inquiry-based Science may sound simple because it uses a student-centered approach; however, in reality, it requires a highly skilled teacher who knows how to facilitate experiments, ask good questions that rouse students’ curiosity, and assess students’ understanding in real-time.
That’s a lot to ask, but through his dedication to teaching coupled with the support he received from Kenan (training, mentoring, and equipment), Kriangkrai honed the skills he needed to deliver hands-on lessons that captured the interest of all of his students and helped even struggling students grasp critical science concepts.
“After I joined the program, I changed my teaching style,” says Kriangkrai. “I understand my students better. Some of my students didn’t understand when they learned from the textbook. But they do now because we use inquiry-based, hands-on learning in class.”
Since Kriangkrai joined Kenan’s program, his students have become more engaged in the classroom, improved their test scores, and developed key 21st century skills. Critically, Kriangkrai’s enthusiasm for teaching has been restored, and he looks forward to continuing to share his passion for science with hundreds of students in the years to come.
To learn more about our work to transform education in Thailand, visit www.kenan-asia.org/21st-century-education