Once again, MSD Thailand (MSD), in collaboration with Kenan Institute Asia, the Office of the Basic Education Commission, and the Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology, organised the "MSD In-Step Fun Science Camp" (Fun Science Camp) at Rajaprajanugroh 35 School in Takua Pa district in the southern province of Phangnga.
Students enjoy experimenting with MSD In-Step teaching devices.
More than 100 Mathayom 1 (Grade 7) students and 20 teachers from all over the province took part. The camp was also graced by the presence of guest scientists, MSD employees and campers from previous years, who helped supervised the camp's attendees throughout the event.
The Fun Science Camp is part of MSD In-Step (Inquiry-Based Science and Technology Education Programme), which aims to improve science education in Phangnga by utilising the experiences and expertise of the Merck Institute for Science Education in the US along with the collaboration of the aforementioned partners.
According to Kittima Sriwatanakul, PhD, external affairs director of MSD, the programme encourages teachers to employ inquiry-based learning in their classrooms by providing equipment and teaching tools and arranging extra-curriculum activities such as this camp.
So far, MSD has already injected 40 million baht into the project since it began in 2007, according to reports.
In-Step has reached stage 2 (2010-2012) with 58 schools, and over 120 teachers. About 10,000 students have participated in the project as the organisers expand the project to other provinces.
"Previously, my teachers taught mostly theory, and so students often got bored," said Thanita Jankaow, a student at Rajaprajanugroh 35 who usually reads sci-fi novels and biographies of famous scientists in her free time, explaining the teaching and learning system in science classes before she joined In-Step. She admitted that the project has increased her interest in science.
"Alfred Nobel is my idol," the Pattani-born girl said.
Thanita will be in Mathayom 4 (Grade 10) next semester. Passionate in science, she spent her summer break as a student supervisor at this year's Fun Science Camp. This young scientist first took part in In-Step three years ago.
Anond Snidvongs na Ayutthaya, PhD, shares his experience with, and gives advice on career paths to, campers at the third MSD In-Step Fun Science Camp in Phangnga province.
At the Fun Science Camp last year, the weather did not allow campers to explore the wonders of astronomy. This year, the weather was favourable. Stargazing was the camp's very first activity, and it was conducted by Nibondh Sai-bejra, an astronomer and fellow of the Academy of Science at the Royal Institute.
Before taking campers outdoors, Mr Nibondh taught students the fundamentals of stargazing using the "Stargazing with ICT" activity. He made use of the programme "Stellarium", a free 3D planetarium tool that replicates the scenario where the users stand in a field and gaze at the sky at night. The users are also able to zoom in, as if they are using a telescope.
That night, campers learned and saw important stars, planets and constellations such as Sirius, the brightest star that can be seen at night; Canopus, the second-brightest star; Orion; the winter triangle and many others.
Mr Nibondh taught campers how to determine degrees, which is used to find the distances between objects in the sky, by using their hands. For example, the width of an average fist is equal to 10 degrees, and the tip of the little finger equals about 1 degree.
"Stargazing does not have to be done outside the city, where there are no distracting lights. It is possible to engage in it inside the city, too. And it is good because the stars that we can see from the city are the important ones, such as Sirius and Canopus," Mr Nibondh suggested.
Similar to last year, students had the opportunity to handle In-Step teaching devices and conduct exploratory trips near their school, which included navigating through an evergreen forest, water sources, a mangrove forest and the Morgan village, which "Education" reported on in the article "Science under the open sky," on page E1 in its July 7, 2009 edition.
The new activity for this year is "Career Clinic", wherein the organisers had brought in professionals from various fields related to science and local settings to share their experiences by discussing them with the student-campers.
"This activity enabled us to know the duties in each career and gave us a hint of the end results of the fields that we can choose from in the future. It also showed that science can be applied in other occupations and that it is not confined to scientists only," said Thanita, reflecting on this year's new activity.
Speakers included Montri Thonnagith and Sumitra Thonnagith, a doctor and a nurse at Phangnga General Hospital, respectively; and Methinee Petchju, a dentist at Bang Sai Hospital, Takua Pa . All of them gave an insight into medical science and the career paths available in this field. They reminded the campers to be diligent and patient and of the sacrifices expected of those who want to become medical practitioners.
Dachsakda Tiensai and Veerapong Jitpram, dive masters at Padi (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and Sea Bees Diving, alumni of Rajaprajanugroh 35 School, revealed how biology and environmental science relate to their career and their job of guiding divers through the underwater world.
"To anyone who wants to pursue a tourism career, especially those who aim to work in our home province of Phangnga: I want to remind you that you need to be conservation-conscious and to always try to save our natural resources," Veerapong advised the younger generations
"The richer the natural beauty, the more people will want to appreciate it. However, some people do not care as this is not their home. They just spend time here and then leave," said the young dive master, urging the campers to be watchdogs for their hometown.
Thanita Jankaow, a Rajaprajanugroh 35 School student.
"Career Clinic allows students to explore themselves, so they can intelligently choose their field of study or career," Thanita emphasized, adding that although the speakers gave the campers information on many available careers, the students need to decide what they want to do.
"First, they should decide what they like and what they are good at. Frequently, my friends do not dare to make a decision or are not confident of the decision that they have made," she added.
Thanita said that if she could be a chemist, she would be happier than a lottery winner. She also has great interest in becoming an electronics expert.
"In the past, although I knew what I wanted to be, I was afraid to make up my mind. I feared that my decision would be wrong. Now, I am not afraid. Besides, if we never try, how can we know that we will fail? We might achieve success. Even though we face failure, it can be our teachers and experience," she said.
For first-time camper Warisra Yotarak, who is a Mathayom 1 (Grade 7) student in Tarbiyah Islameyah School, this was her first chance to meet professionals in the sciences.
"I'm very impressed with medical science," she said, and she has even made the initial decision to pursue a doctor's career in future.
Another guest scientist who talked with students during Career Clinic was Anond Snidvongs na Ayutthaya, PhD, an oceanographer, global warming expert and director of the Southeast Asia Start (System for Analysis Research and Training) Regional Centre, Chulalongkorn University.
In addition to explaining the paths available to those who want to be scientists, he also gave the students some hints on how to be a successful scientist.
"In order to be a good scientist, it is excellent practice to take copious notes and to pay attention to key points in your readings and to study the highlights in the documentaries that you review," he suggested, adding that sci-fi movies can also play an important part.
The marine scientist recommended to the students that they watch sci-fi movies to trigger their interest in science. After viewing a movie, the student should ask what concepts and ideas were conveyed by the movie, discuss them with friends, and try to find the truth.
A scientist, he added, should also exchange information with other scientists and lay people regularly. Mr Anond suggested that some movies portray scientists as segregated persons who are always totally absorbed in their research.
"Scientists need to be very sociable. They need to be able to communicate their ideas in a comprehensive way to others, as well as be good listeners, so that they can put the knowledge gained into practice.
This means communicating with not only other scientists, but with everyone. A scientist cannot know everything," he said.
He also invited interested students to witness his and his team's 10-day scientific field research at the marine border between Thai and India on the Phangnga coast. Mr Anond also delivered a presentation on natural disasters and global warming at the camp.
"When I lived in Pattani, I saw people grasping at weapons to fight against terrorists to protect our nation, but they usually got hurt in the end. This might have been because they did not have defensive weapons and strategist of protection. If I can invent something to help them, it would be great," said Thanita, revealing how her passion in science started.
"Even though I won't be able to fight in the front line, I can support them from the rear," she added.
In the future, she hopes to invent scientific tools that can stop or alleviate the unrest in the southern-most provinces.
Who knows, with the right support and education from In-Step and other concerned sectors, Thanita and her fellow campers might become Thailand's Alfred Nobels in the near future.
More information on MSD In-Step is available at http://tinyurl.com/yh4rjzy .