Thursday, 26 March 2015

Satit Patumwan Academic Conference 2015

Last weekend saw my school’s annual academic conference in Pattaya, Thailand. 

This event is held at the end of each school year, and involves various seminars and workshops to reflect on the previous academic year and consider new approaches for the coming year.

In the morning there were seminars on classroom action research and the development of a student information database.

In the afternoon we met by grade level to discuss classroom management issues – what worked for teachers in the previous year, and what new strategies teachers may adopt the following year.

There was also a discussion at the end around the use of mobile technology in the classroom. A range of opinions was shared and it became apparent that this is an area that will be generating new and unexpected challenges and opportunities for the foreseeable future. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Citizen science in the classroom

Citizen science is science that involves amateur or non-professional scientists. It can take various forms, e.g. it may involve online tagging of photos taken by field scientists,  drones or camera traps, for example Zooniverse's PenguinWatch: Other citizen science may be game-based, for example the protein-folding game Foldit (, which led gamers to solve the structure of a retrovirus enzyme in a matter of weeks - professional scientists had been trying to solve the puzzle of its structure for over a decade! (

I'm interested in using citizen science in the classroom. Roth and Lee ( have long advocated incorporating citizen science into the school curriculum as a way to increase science literacy, leverage lifelong learning, and foster participation in community issues. I recently had some of my Grade 10 students participate in Project Noah (, an online tool for documenting biodiversity around the world. It is specifically aimed at citizen scientists, with an active community of enthusiasts and experts ready to offer suggestions and advice for identifying species.

I had the students go out into the school grounds to take photos of the different organisms they found, then they returned to the classroom and uploaded their spottings to the Project Noah website. 

Student feedback was positive following the activity, with one student remarking that it was their favourite biology activity all year. If I were to plan it differently next year, I think I would introduce the project earlier in the school year, and encourage students to download the Project Noah app to their phones. They would then be able to hopefully spot a larger variety of organisms than we might expect to see around our campus in the centre of Bangkok! 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A unique ecosystem - but for how long?

Prek Toal bird sanctuary is located on the Tonle Sap lake, not far from the renowned Khmer temple complex Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. It forms part of a unique and fascinating ecosystem, but enormous upstream changes on the Mekong River are casting doubt on its future. 

Spot-billed pelican

The sanctuary is home to an incredible variety of birds, many of which are increasingly rare. The spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) is a near-threatened species which currently has breeding colonies in just three areas of the world, Tonle Sap lake being one of them. 

Greater adjutant

Rarer still is the greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius), an enormous stork that grows up to 1.5 metres tall, which is restricted to just two breeding populations in the world. 

Painted stork

A good way to visit the bird sanctuary is to combine it with an overnight homestay in the nearby floating village of Prek Toal.

Prek Toal floating village

The area's unusual ecosystem arises from the yearly seasonal rains and a unique relationship between the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap, which increase the size of the lake over five times, flooding areas which only weeks before had been dry and dusty. This pulse of the rivers and lake is known locally as the "heartbeat of Cambodia", such is its importance for humans and wildlife alike. 

Traditional fishing methods remain important

Any buildings in the area which do not float are built on high stilts, to keep them above water during the rainy season. 

A stilted building

When your house floats, it's easy to move it!

Moving house

Water hyacinth is an invasive species in Tonle Sap lake, and a major problem. One of the local community projects involves drying these invasive plants then using them to weave mats and other products which can then be sold. 

Weaving mats from water hyacinth

The company we used, Osmose Day Tours ( were an excellent choice, providing responsible and knowledgeable guides, as well as supporting various community initiative projects. Food is provided in a community-run restaurant, serving delicious and fresh local dishes. 

It is unclear what will happen to the ebbs and flows of the Tonle Sap in the future. Further upstream the flow of the Mekong is being interrupted by the construction of dams, and it is uncertain what impact this will have on downstream ecosystems (

Now is the time to visit this unique ecosystem, and experience the heartbeat of Cambodia.

Sunset over Prek Toal floating village

For more images, please visit my Flickr page: