Monday, 22 August 2016

Linking learning to the real world

This week we held a second day-long workshop on mathematical modelling of infectious diseases for my Year 13/Grade 12 students. The workshop was run by team of researchers from the Mahidol University-Oxford University Tropical Medicine Research Unit here in Bangkok. The team were from the Mathematical and Economic Modelling Group headed by Professor Lisa White (who also happens to be my wife!) The workshop was arranged by myself and my colleague from our maths department, James Sayer. 

The rationale behind the workshop was to provide a cross-curricular STEM event, which aimed to give our students an opportunity to see how what they are learning in the classroom may be applied to real-life, and in some cases life or death, situations. For example, one of the areas the team has worked on was the recent Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa. Additionally, our students gained insights into life as an international researcher, with role models, both female and male, representing a variety of nationalities - Thai, Myanmar, Laos, and British. 

Although this event was a success when we held it last year, based on students' feedback we made a few tweaks for this year's workshop. In the weeks prior to the workshop, James focused on the necessary mathematical topics with the students, such as differentiation. In my classes I spent some time with the students looking at epidemiology and infectious disease, and also bringing them up to speed with some of the technical vocabulary they would need. I also had them give small group presentations based on different aspects of pandemic influenza, such as why do these pandemics often originate in Asia, the link between humans, animals, and influenza, and the economic consequences of pandemic flu. 

The day was also structured slightly differently. There was the same mixture of practical activities, talks, and computer-based exercises. However, throughout the day this time each scientist gave a brief 10 minute overview of their own research and why it was relevant. For example, Dr Sai Thien Than Tun spoke about his individual-based modelling to investigate malaria epidemiology in Myanmar villages, PhD student Peeradone Srichan discussed his work looking at the distribution of Dengue fever cases in Bangkok, and Research Assistant Nattwut Aekaphirat talked about malaria infection in the individual. Divaree Franssen was once again on hand to provide assistance and support, and big thanks also go to my colleagues Ajarn Gahng, the students' homeroom teacher, for her help, and Khun Adun, for videoing the day's events.