By Rommel Santos
What does it mean to be a school teacher? One can commonly say that teachers are people who bestow a wealth of knowledge to students. Don’t get me wrong, that’s what they do! However, I learned firsthand how meaningful it is to be a teacher during my time with Pueblo Science’s Rural Initiative for Science Education (RISE) in the Philippines. There’s so much more to drilling a math equation or a biology theory into a student’s head. A teacher’s impact influences future generations of young people to think creatively, with the hope of inspiring creative minds to take the initiative and change the world for the better.
I have worked with Pueblo Science for over a year developing collaborative science experiment demonstrations as part of their science outreach events. These interactive science demos are presented for teachers in developing countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, India, and recently, Guyana. Using simple items from the kitchen, Pueblo Science lesson plans and demonstrations are designed to help educate students in classrooms where poverty prevents instructors from effectively teaching curriculum material. I draw from my PhD research experience for inspiration when prototyping Pueblo Science experiments. For example, inspired from my work in the lab, I helped designed a simple gel electrophoresis experiment using kitchen items. The experiment utilizes a low-cost affordable setup and demonstrates the idea of how gel electrophoresis separates macromolecules according to molecular size and charge.
Last spring of 2015, as part of Pueblo’s RISE Program, I traveled to three major cities in the Philippines, to perform the gel electrophoresis science demonstration and led interactive discussions with the local middle and high school teachers. For each city, we hosted over 100 to 200 science teachers who were seeking to improve their lesson plans. The teachers I met were the nicest and funniest people to talk to. My most memorable moments were the times the teachers and I were just laughing at all the silliest jokes we made, while still managing to learn science. Now that I think about it, I never realized how much laughing was involved in the entire trip. Additionally, I had the privilege to share my PhD research in neurobiology with the local teachers and how I applied gel electrophoresis in the lab. It was such a treat for me to hear the teacher’s “Oohhs and Aahhs” as I was nerding out and explaining the cutting edge work biology researchers are pursuing in the United States.
Interacting with local Filipino teachers also exposed me to educational issues they commonly faced – where the quality of education remains outdated, public school enrollment rates exceed classroom sizes, and student dropout rates are high. Being a first generation Filipino American, I was emotionally moved by this current issue in the Filipino school system. Recognizing the need for educational improvement in a developing country such as the Philippines, I am dedicated to volunteering with Pueblo Science. I aim to inspire the next generations of young scientists in STEM, making sure to help underserved students from struggling communities. I look forward to working with Pueblo Science with the many years to come!