Supporting the underserved in the community

classroom thailand teacherChatter and movement, culminating in an excited echoing noise in the room. Perhaps an uncommon response from a teacher with thirty-plus students in an eighth grade chemistry class, but to Mr. Sittipong Tummuthit, this is a good thing. This is the energy he strives for in the classroom. Into his second year of teaching since graduating with a major in education and science, Mr. Sittipong is trying out the high-impact teaching practices from the Inquiry-based Science: Properties of Matter workshops with his students.

Situated in Rayong’s industrial area, Wat Sakaew is an opportunity-expansion school that supports the underserved in the community. A middle school subject, chemistry has been lacking in both teaching materials and equipment. “[Before the training], we used to rely on verbal explanations,” Mr. Sittipong said, “and while some students understand 70 to 80% of what is taught, many understand less than 50%.”

With that daunting situation in front of him, the teacher training implemented by Kenan Foundation Asia in partnership with IVL Foundation, has “opened up the world” for young teachers like Mr. Sittipong. The training workshop covers lesson plan design and effective teaching practices specific to chemistry, and also provides professional learning community sessions to foster sustained teacher professional development.

Mr. Sittipong’s experiences during the professional learning community session, from being the observer of fellow teachers’ interactions with their students, to getting feedback during his own teaching session by expert trainers and colleagues, helped him understand more deeply what benefits his students. That he gets ideas that can be applied in the classroom right away is only part of it. The session gives him the space to strengthen the connection between fellow teachers and his own students, encouraging him to keep developing as a teacher, and ultimately, creating a self-sustaining loop of learning for teachers and students at the school.

Equipment for experiments also changes the game, of course. Not only is it necessary for the hands-on learning of the students—it is a vehicle with which they see evidence of chemical and physical properties of matter—the equipment also matches the subject content that is being taught, lending assistance to teachers when it comes to lesson preparation. Generously provided by IVL Foundation, the equipment kit comprises a variety beyond the basics: test tubes, beakers, tripod stands and alcohol lamps, as well as chemicals that can be difficult for remote schools to procure.

Imagine being told that by adding an effervescent tablet into a glass of water, the tablet will dissolve, gas will form, and the mass will stay the same. Now imagine actually holding a test tube closed with your own hands, seeing the tablet becoming smaller, the bubbles forming, while the measurement registered on the scale remains unchanged. Almost identical information being conveyed, completely different experiences.

Or this: black ink separating into blue, orange, yellow. Hearing versus seeing. Tactile experience reinforcing memories. Imagine the students’ delight at making the connection between the weight of each dye and the distance of its movement: the difference between being told about chromatography and seeing the properties of the solvent. Our understanding and perception of what is possible in the world changes. And then, the question from the students: how is this possible?

This too, is what Mr. Sittipong wants to happen in the classroom, for the students to witness the wonderful and undeniable logic and causation of chemistry.

Teaching practices go hand-in-hand with the equipment, all of which have resulted in changing the way students learn. Mr. Sittipong explains, “they think more independently, are more involved and alert; they become more open, more engaged. Consequently, students are able to absorb information and learn effectively.” The program is about hope, and belief in education. It’s about students knowing that they deserve the resources and the opportunities, that their skills and their future are worth investing in, that they too, as much as anyone, can learn from qualified educators who care about them.

Kenan Asia

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