Enjoy Science and Partners Make HRH Princess Sirindhorn’s Vision for TCU a Reality
For a seed to grow into a strong, towering tree, it needs plenty of water, access to sunlight, and fertile soil. Students are no different, as they, too, require a proper environment in order to prosper. The Chevron Enjoy Science Project strives to build the ideal environment inside and outside the classroom that will push students to reach their full potential in STEM fields. In 2016, the project supported Thailand Children’s University (TCU) events, an initiative launched by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in 2012, as part of its push to spark young people’s interest in science.
Consistent with the vision of Enjoy Science, TCU provides students the opportunity to perform engaging, hands-on activities that teach them how to use scientific thinking to solve challenging, real-world problems. At TCU events, professors, university students, and STEM professionals guide primary and secondary students through these activities, helping the students develop critical thinking and inquisitive skills, and, most importantly, gain an appreciation for science and its possibilities.
Enjoy Science collaborates with the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPTST), and 18 Thai universities to bring TCU to fruition. Seeking to increase the impact of TCU, the partners brought experts from the LUMA Centre in Finland to share their experience about using project-based learning to strengthen science education. Moving forward, the partners will utilize the LUMA Centre’s lessons about integrating STEM concepts into project-based activities to enhance Thai students’ knowledge about and interest in science.
The partners have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents and students about TCU, and early results show that participants are more interested in and informed about science and its career possibilities. In the long-term, the university partners will conduct research on the impact of TCU on the career choices of participants.
TCU is one of several initiatives carried out by Enjoy Science to raise awareness about the importance of STEM education among students, parents, policymakers, and the general public. Enjoy Science also supports Enjoy Science Careers, NSM Science Caravan, Young Maker Contest, and the Bangkok Mini Maker Faire. In less than two years, 7,886 students have participated in Enjoy Science awareness raising activities.
New Curriculum Enhances Learning Experience in Thai Vocational Classrooms
In less than two years, the Chevron Enjoy Science Project’s TVET component has made tremendous strides in promoting comprehensive workforce development. The TVET component’s early success stems from a focus on strengthening teachers through high-quality professional development training and the provision of high-impact, research-based curricula. To this end, the project recently localized the Active Physics® curriculum with It’s About Time®, a leading STEM publisher in the United States, for the benefit of Thai vocational schools. From 10-28 October 2016, the project organized a training course led by Dr. Arthur Eisenkraft, a Distinguished Professor of Science Education at the University of Massachusetts – Boston and the lead author of Active Physics®, who detailed the curriculum to 20 master trainers and 35 TVET teachers. The curriculum provides teachers with project-based learning approaches that encourage students to think like scientists and engineers, cultivating genuine interest in the subject matter in the process.
The training was part of the continuous professional development that Enjoy Science delivers to teachers from TVET Hub schools. These teachers will bring high-impact practices to their own classrooms along with hands-on learning materials to support highly engaging and authentic “real-world” projects that guide instruction and serve to organize their learning. To date, 16,324 TVET students and 4,060 workers have benefitted from the project. For more information about Active Physics® in Thailand, view the video: http://bit.ly/DrArthurIAT.
On-going Professional Development Critical to Building Enjoy ScienceTeachers
Raising the STEM skills of students is one of Thailand’s most pressing needs, and the Chevron Enjoy Science Project is working diligently to strengthen teachers as the primary drivers responsible for creating an internationally competitive workforce. The project has developed a core group of Master Teachers who transfer best practices in science and math education to their peers throughout Thailand. From October 16-18 and 21-28, the project and local university partners led workshops for Master Teachers from Khon Kaen, Samut Prakarn, Chiang- Mai, Songkhla, and Nakhon Si Thammarat that detailed how to design effective Professional Development (PD) training for other teachers.
To help teachers create a powerful learning environment, the project engages school leaders, Mentors, and even student laboratory assistants into its robust support system. The project ensures that each group understands and can fulfill its role in an effort to enable teachers to focus on what is most important: developing STEM and critical thinking skills among students. Through its current five STEM Hubs, Enjoy Science is administering professional development training to teachers from 371 schools across Thailand. In addition, the project now has 60 Master Teachers and 27 mentors that provide continuous support to Hub teachers.
Effective Strategies Boost Student Learning, O-NET Scores
Although acute educational disparities exist between rich and poor schools in Thailand, one teacher in Samut Prakarn is proving that, with the right strategies, disadvantaged students can reach the same level of achievement as their more affluent peers.
For years, Mr. Ratanasak Thongpunya (Tae) toiled to find the best tactics to raise the achievement of his students at Watlaemfarphar Middle School (an extended school participating in the Chevron Enjoy Science Project). As a new science teacher, he struggled to get his students to understand complex topics, such as energy, mechanics, and motion. After joining the project, Tae was introduced to several pedagogical techniques that have proven effective in contexts around the world. Once he started using these techniques in his classroom, he quickly realized that if you use the right strategies, any student can learn.
Tae’s new strategies emphasize student-centered learning, where children are asked to apply content knowledge to solve project-based problems. This allows students to experiment with the subject matter and interact with their peers to answer challenging questions. One strategy Tae now uses, the Gallery Walk method, asks small groups of students to visit stations around the classroom and work together to solve the problem presented at each station. Gallery Walk promotes active student engagement and allows the teacher to evaluate student understanding of the subject matter. In addition to being more time efficient than traditional teaching pedagogies, Tae has found that his students learn more when they discuss topics with one another than listening to him lecture. Moreover, he believes student-centered learning develops the critical thinking skills of students, and gives them confidence to express their opinions and ideas with others.
When Tae began teaching five years ago, the average Ordinary National Educational Test (O-Net) score of his students for science was an unsatisfactory 29. Utilizing techniques taught at Enjoy Science workshops have proven effective for Tae as his students’ average score shot up to 37 (the average score out of the 656,463 students who took the test this year was 37.63). Furthermore, the percentage of his students that go on to pursue vocational or high school education has risen from 70% to 90%. Tae’s story illustrates that applying proper teaching methodologies can accelerate student learning rapidly. Now an Enjoy Science Master Teacher, Tae hopes to share the tactics he has found so effective with other teachers, enabling more students in Thailand to receive a high-quality education.
Disappointing PISA Results Reinforce Need for Better STEM Education
Results from the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), recently released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), revealed that Thai students are failing to keep pace with some of their ASEAN peers and many nations around the world. Thailand’s scores declined in each of the three areas that PISA measures (math, science, and reading) compared to the last assessment in 2012. Out of the 72 countries that participated, Thailand ranked 55th overall, and placed 57th in reading and 54th in both science and math.
More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world, including those from 273 Thai secondary schools, participated in the 2015 PISA evaluation. While elite Thai students consistently perform well on PISA and other international academic competitions, educational inequality in Thailand is conspicuous, as the PISA results illustrate. Because participating schools are chosen to represent the effectiveness of a country’s education system as a whole, it is crucial that all schools (urban, rural, poor, and affluent) within a nation are able to perform well in order to receive a high PISA score. Nearby countries, such as Singapore (1st), Vietnam (8th), and China (10th), have been far more effective than Thailand at bridging geographic and economic divides between students.
The 2015 PISA results serve as a clear reminder that the Thai education system has a long way to go to compete internationally. A major impediment to educational progress in Thailand has been the unequal distribution of resources and well-trained teachers to disadvantaged schools. The Chevron Enjoy Science Project recognizes the severity of the problem, as well as its implications for the future development of Thailand, and is working diligently to raise the achievement of students from poor, rural schools by providing them with innovative, research-based STEM curricula and strengthening teachers through continuous professional development.
Since launching in 2015, Enjoy Science has been bringing cutting-edge STEM resources to Thailand from the United States. These materials were developed after decades of research from educational experts at leading institutions, including Columbia University and the National Science Foundation, and have been proven effective in diverse contexts. These resources promote the development of 21st century skills through inquiry-based learning, which helps students apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Chevron Enjoy Science has been able to localize the learning materials to adapt to the Thai learning context and existing national curricula. At the same time, the project has organized regular workshops to increase the capacity of teachers to maximize the efficacy of the curricula.
Although the recent PISA scores are disappointing, Enjoy Science aims to show that all Thai students are capable of high educational achievement if they are given proper resources and support. The project hopes that other institutions will follow its lead and commit to deploying the resources necessary to narrow educational inequality in Thailand.