In November 2014, all our YAC dreams came true in Bangkok and Phnom Penh, where, following the initiative of Datuk Dr. Ting Kueh Soon (Institut Kemia Malaysia, and former President of the Federation of Asian Chemical Societies), we were able to hold the 39th and 40th Young Ambassadors of Chemistry (YAC) events.
For those unfamiliar with YAC, it is a project that trains teachers around the globe to help students communicate the benefits of chemistry. A typical YAC event encompasses two to three days of teacher workshops, followed by a one-day, public event where students—the Young Ambassadors for Chemistry—share their enthusiasm and interest with the public at large, either in a public square or as part of a science festival. That last day of the YAC event is usually a festive time and fun for everyone involved.
During YAC’s lifetime, we have organized 40 events, both small and large, in 29 different countries. Thailand and Cambodia represent events number 39 and 40. Since 2004, 14 YAC events were facilitated by two projects supported by IUPAC and its Committee on Chemistry Education (CCE project 2007-005-2-050 and 2003-055-1-050), while 26 further events were supported by other organizations (Science Across the World programme, British Council, Life Long Learning projects of the European Union, National Chemistry Associations and National Science Foundations).
Train the trainers
During the course of each event, the YAC team aims to train the participating teachers (Thailand: 40, Cambodia: 36) to organize more YAC events with students after the YAC team has left.
We focus on the chemistry of local daily life products: their composition, production (techniques), and application in relationship to the curriculum. Although we all speak the universal language of chemistry, we try to avoid language problems with adapted methodology: teachers research the chemistry of a local product in a group of 4 to avoid language problems. They present drawings with their ideas and results. Teachers love this group work as they use their mobile phones to find information and discuss the results in the local language.
Next, we discuss how to organize this way of teaching and learning in classrooms with all local ‘difficulties’: a strict curriculum, no time to prepare, and not all colleagues willing to change.
Augmented reality (AR)
Mei-Hung updates the participants on the possibilities of Augmented Reality (AR). As the number of smartphones and tablets dramatically increases across the world, the school science curriculum should embrace this new innovative technology for scaffolding students’ learning of complicated chemistry concepts. In both countries participants were enthusiastic to use the app and to learn about the benefits of new technologies.
During YAC training, we pay a lot of attention to the practical work the teachers will have to guide during the event. Teachers (and later the students) are asked to design, produce, and market an innovative local cosmetic line. They begin following instruction about possible pitfalls during the production and theories about suitable raw materials, such as polymers, detergents, oils, emulsifiers, colors, and perfumes. All necessary ingredients, packaging, and decoration materials needed for a TV promotion campaign are available. Teachers collaborate in groups of 4 and share the workload.
After 90 minutes hard work, each group presents their cosmetic lines in a 30 second TV spot. These spots show that teachers are a creative species, able to act, dance, and sing! Juries have a hard job choosing the winning groups after considering: (1) the outlook and quality of individual products, (2) cohesion in the line, (3) quality and originality of labels, and (4) originality of the TV commercials.
We end by reflecting on the expectations of the participants that they wrote down at the start of the course. All teachers receive a certificate of attendance with the signature of the IUPAC President.
On the last afternoon, the trained teachers guide the many students (70 in Bangkok, 50 expected, 120 in Phnom Penh, 50 expected), who love to participate in the YAC event. As the various roles are divided at the end of the training course, the teachers know exactly what to do, resulting in ‘stations’ for raw materials, colors and perfumes, packaging, and stationery.
In Thailand, the venue was an open space on the 1st floor of the Chamchuri Square Shopping Mall. In Cambodia, we worked in a covered open space in front of the Royal University of Phnom Penh, where soon three TV stations began recording the activities of 120 very enthusiastic students and 40 teachers!
All groups start designing and producing their innovative cosmetic lines by following instructions in the local language. Some students act as roving reporters. They ask the visiting public to fill in a questionnaire about their image of chemistry before and after other students in the group demonstrate their activities.
After the students finish their practical work, including their TV spot with accompanying promotion materials, we show the results to the audience. Most groups contain a number of great actors, so their performances generate great enthusiasm, as the audience cheers them on!
In Bangkok, two speakers, who were the best actors during their own presentations, did a great job warming up the audience.
The winning groups received presents from Taiwan and the Netherlands before a group picture with students and teachers was taken.
Dow Chemicals Thailand (cosponsor of YAC Thailand) helped to collect clippings of publicity around the 1st YAC Thailand. Between November 24 and December 29, 2014 Prof. Tantayanon received 17 clippings from 11 different media publications on paper, blogs, and websites with pictures, picture galleries, and a few videos, including an interview with Prof. Tantayanon.
YAC results in Taiwan
After YAC Cambodia we traveled to Taipei, YAC’s place of birth in 2004. We visited a junior and a senior high school with teachers who took part in our first YAC course/event. In both classes we experienced dedicated teachers who apply many YAC ideas with their enthusiastic students, making. YAC activities sustainable events in those schools..
Evaluations: Positive public image of chemistry
Our roving student reporters managed to collect many completed questionnaires from the public: 85 in Thailand and 63 in Cambodia.
The audience during YAC events is most probably not representative of the general public. The image of chemistry is already quite positive (80% in Thailand, 75% in Cambodia), possibly because there are mainly relatives and friends of our enthusiastic teachers in the crowd.
The public in Thailand and Cambodia consider chemistry important in their daily life. They mention preparation and preservation of food, vitamins, medicines, and drinking water. The main channels of knowledge about chemistry are the internet and TV, with newspapers and radio occasionally mentioned. 30% think they would know more about chemistry if they could have done activities like the students experience through YAC! The public in both countries highly values this activity, and they also often mention the relation of chemistry to other subjects in daily life, such as art and marketing. Guiding people about the role of chemistry in daily life seems to be strengthened in school instruction.
The general opinion is that the YAC event helps students understand chemistry, how to use it and how to connect theory and practice. It shows that chemical substances and products are useful. The presentations of the students’ work are also appreciated as very creative.
Our questionnaire is about the image of chemistry:
Which one of the following pictures shows best what you think about chemistry? Number the pictures in your order of preference, with 1 under the picture that reminds you most of chemistry and a 5 under the picture that reminds you least of chemistry.
Results in Thailand and Cambodia show simlar results to those shown below the pictures, with luckily the picture showing blowing gases or an explosion least preferred. Participating students in Thailand and Cambodia choose more or less the same order of preference—they all prefer working alone like in the 3rd picture above!
Gap between school learning and contextualized learning
Students provide promising feedback to the YAC events. They write down their favorite new knowledge about products present or useful in daily life and ways to acquire new knowledge. They love to collaborate with other students. Last but not least, a lot of fun is often mentioned: ‘I want have this event to be continued. Please often organize this event.’
Feedback from the teachers show the same picture: a lot of new knowledge and new skills learned, and exciting possibilities to teach students exciting chemistry related to their daily lives, e.g. the chance to use local herbs and extract local dyes.
Communication skills enhanced
Many teachers also mention improving their skills in communication, presentation, and using the internet. The teachers appreciate learning about international science projects and how to join and exchange experiments with students in other countries/cultures: ‘Our new skills are not only important to chemistry teachers, but to all students and teachers in other subjects’.
New (Young) Ambassadors for Chemistry
A few teachers mentioned plans to study how to be an ambassador for chemistry and to acquire or share information related to our daily life and how to persuade students who have the wrong image of chemistry.
In Thailand a few language teachers also took part. They were positive about the course. As teaching and promoting chemistry concerns content and communication, they can be our best ambassadors!
All recommendations to local organizers and the YAC team are very clear: more frequent, longer courses with more practical work related to students’ daily lives. Other recommendations are to include more examples of simple hands-on activities and new ways to teach. A longer course can offer more time to reflect, more time to train the teachers and develop activities, and more opportunities to practice English with the trainers.
Prof. Tantayanon will introduce the Thai report to the national meeting of Chemistry Department Heads and discuss possibilities for more YAC events. She will present the results of our evaluations with the public, the participating students (during the YAC event) and with the teachers (during the YAC event and the 1.5 day YAC course). Prof. Tantayanon managed to obtain substantial financial support for the course and event from Dow Chemical Thailand.
Dr. Huy Sieng will publish the Cambodian report in Cambodian Chemical Society‘ annual bulletin. The CCS staff will continue to share this knowledge with other teachers in the provinces through the CCS’ training programme. She would like IUPAC, CCE to provide Cambodia with more practical work and handouts, as well as with materials and chemical substances. Moreover, she would like IUPAC, CCE to organize more (YAC) events for students, because Cambodia lacks laboratory equipment and chemicals for students’ lab work.
IUPAC for facilitating travel expenses of Mei-Hung Chiu and Lida Schoen;
Barentz Pharma & Cosmetics, the Netherlands for donating the Chinese emulsifier Tinci (Guangzhou Tinci Materials Technology Co., Ltd. (www.tinci.com);
Sasol Germany for donating the detergent for the shampoo (www.sasolgermany.de);
Florale Haircare Group for donating professional ‘cream’ jars (www.floralehaircare.com).
Department of Chemistry, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok for facilitating and organizing the YAC course and event;
Chemical Society of Thailand (CST) for facilitating the YAC course and renting the venue;
Dow Chemical Thailand for overall financial support;
National Science Museum (NSM) for providing the training room;
Prof. Tantayanon and her staff for perfect organization, Prof Sairoong Saowsupa for translation and analysis of the questionnaires.
Royal Academy of Cambodia (RAC) and the Cambodian Chemical Society (CCS, H.E. Dr. Neth Barom, Chairman of CCS’s board of directors) for facilitating and financing;
Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) for providing the venue;
Provincial Department of Education, Youth and Sports, RAC and CCS for financial support;
Dr. Huy Sieng and CCS’s Executive Committee, including Dr. Sotha Chek for organization and Sotha also for translation and analysis of the questionnaires.
Special thanks to many helpers for corrections and translations from Thai/Khmer on the questionnaires, and Phana Cheng (Cambodia), for additional photos.
For more information and for links to recent YAC accounts online or in CI, see www.iupac.org/project/2007-005-2-050
©2015 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston