Sunday, May 18, 2014

Welcoming New Faces: Teacher Training

by Rebecca Shoer

               Earlier this month, we were thrilled to welcome our three new Thai teachers to the Think Elephants International (TEI) team. Mai, Gib, and Tangmo just completed their undergraduate degrees in Biology and Natural Resources at Mahidol University located just outside of Bangkok. All three are former students of our founder, Dr. Plotnik, who is a professor in Conservation Biology at the university. As members of the TEI team, our teachers will be responsible for identifying and contacting schools, as well as running our curriculum in these schools. Before they could start working in schools, however, the girls came to the field site in the Golden Triangle to learn all about the work we do here with the elephants.

Visiting the elephant camp. Photo by Rebecca Shoer

               First was a crash-course in elephant biology and research with the research assistants. Having been students of Dr. Plotnik, Mai, Gib, and Tangmo are well-versed in animal cognition experiments and elephant cognition specifically, but this was an opportunity for them to see our research site in person, and discuss the process of designing and implementing studies. They also participated in a standard behavioral observation session, a veterinary health check, and toured the elephant camp. This was a great opportunity for the teachers to learn the basics of how we observe elephant interactions, and to interact with elephants themselves. 
Gib (left) and Tangmo (right) observing elephants. Photo by Rebecca Shoer

               We also had a number of discussions with the teachers regarding the ivory trade, threats to Asian elephants, and captive elephant management. Not only did we discuss the origins of the many problems faced by both Asian and African elephants, but we also brainstormed possible solutions and mitigation techniques for these issues. Having grown up in Thailand and understanding threats to elephants from both a scientific and a cultural perspective, we have challenged our teachers to create activities and games that will help their students understand just why it is so important to protect elephants.
               Having finished their elephant boot-camp with the RAs, it was time to work with our Thai education manager, P'Tom. Over the next few days, the girls learned about how to develop curricula, including identifying learning objectives and creating activities that are both fun and develop critical thinking skills. They watched video footage from our previous classroom pilots, and discussed with P'Tom the delicate art of managing a classroom. Finally, it was time to put their skills to the test: together, Mai, Gib, and Thangmo created an hour-long lesson to run in a local orphanage.
               Tangmo led the children in a number of new and fun activities, exploring the differences between Asian and African elephants, learning elephant body parts, and discussing the habitat needs of elephants. The rest of the TEI team had a great time watching our new teachers working with children.

Gib spending time with Lakheng and Pumpui. Photo by Rebecca Shoer

               Our teachers are now ready to start working with individual schools to run our curriculum.  Currently they are locating and contacting schools in the Bangkok area, and we hope to also reach schools in the Kanchanaburri area, a province with high incidences of human-elephant conflict. We are excited to have three new members in the Think Elephants team, as we move to expand our conservation program into classrooms throughout Thailand!

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