Who is Thailand? – a D-PREP Middle School Learning Expedition

About this Learning Expedition

These past few months the D-PREP Middle School students have been very busy with our Learning Expedition “Who is Thailand?” Students were inspired to do this project when two journalists from the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) educated us about their work documenting the life of rural India. They told us a few different stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. 

Journalists from PARI presenting to our Middle School students
Journalists from PARI presenting to our Middle School students

A few weeks later, a journalist named Mr. Peter came and talked to us about his job and said that he needed help with a mission. He told us about his news page, LICAS News. He said he needed our help in telling the stories of the people in Thailand from a student’s perspective, and that if we completed high-quality work, he would publish it on his website.

We accepted his request and vowed to do our very best. From both PARI and LICAS News, we saw examples of how written narratives were combined with pictures to create powerful portraits of individuals. We decided we would do the same and do our own journalistic work, capturing “portraits” in images and words of a diverse range of people in Thailand. 

Licas News with D-PREP Middle School students
LICAS News with D-PREP Middle School students

In deciding on the focus of the journalistic work we would do, we focused on answering an essential question for this learning expedition:

“How have people’s life experiences in Thailand, particularly during the reign of King Rama IX, developed “life skills” and prepared them to be resilient, active citizens who can persevere through difficult times?”

To build our background knowledge and develop our research and writing skills, we first did a case study where we researched about the late King Rama IX, and then another case study where we each researched about an influential Asian person. We studied about their experiences, their obstacles, and how they developed the life skills to persevere through difficult times.

When thinking about the life skills of King Rama IX and each person we researched, we used the D-PREP Life Skills framework. We looked at each individual’s self-knowledge, their social knowledge, their livelihood, and finally how they practiced active citizenship.

After these case studies, we went on our first fieldwork to the Box Shot Studio and met Mr. JoJo, who is a photographer there. We observed him taking black and white portraits, and learned about the equipment that we would need for our own photography work.

We also learned about the life skills used by each member of the team at the studio, from the model to the owner and the lead photographer to his assistant, and how these life skills helped them to become successful professionals. This gave us the perspective on the professional skill sets that we would need in order to complete the work of the learning expedition, as we were going to be photographers too.

Students on fieldwork to Box Shot Studio

At the same time, we also conducted an in-depth investigation in science about the physics of wave motion in light and sound. We learned how waves travel, their speed, and what is the difference between light and sound waves.

In order to understand more about how the science of light is applied to the design and functioning of a camera, we conducted fieldwork at the Museum of Imaging Technology at Chula University. Here we also found out more about the camera and its long and interesting history. 

We used what we learned in the science in-depth investigations and fieldwork at the camera museum to design and build our own working pinhole camera. We followed the D-PREP Design Thinking Process. First, we had to research and think of a plan. Second, we needed to find the box that would be used for the camera, and then we had to measure it. After that, we had to cover the part that light can come through, and then we used a pin to poke a very small hole just for the light to come in. We made a shutter to close the hole and after we were done, we decorated the box. Lastly, we tested it. We use photographic paper and most of our experiments took about 15 seconds to let the light come through to make it work. We were able to see the image after we developed the paper with special chemicals. 

In order to answer the essential question about how people developed the life skills to overcome challenges and persevere through difficult times, we had to develop our professional skill sets as journalists, including interviewing, writing and photography. 

Interviewing was a big part of the learning expedition because we needed to do original research, like the PARI journalists did, in order to write our articles. This was not something we could search for on the internet. We started learning how to conduct an effective interview and started preparing by interviewing our classmates. We wrote lists of questions to ask the interviewee and interrogated our friends and a couple staff members. After attentively studying and preparing, we were able to conduct a successful interview with the people we met.

Minsong, Ja-ae and Prin interviewing Khun Suchon

During the fieldwork, interviewing the inspiring people in Thailand, each group prepared a list of questions to interview the person they were assigned. Each group had a different experience. Some groups found that the person they were assigned was open and friendly, while other groups found that they needed to make the interviewee feel more comfortable. Additionally, a lot of students discovered that they did not need the script because interviews do not always go as planned. The interviewing fieldwork was exciting, fun, and a new experience for all of us. 

To further develop our professional skill set as photographers, we had the opportunity to work with another expert, Khun Nin, who taught us about lighting in photography. There are two basic types of lighting: soft lighting and hard lighting. Soft lighting is when the lighting is soft and dim, for example, in the shade behind something. Hard lighting is the opposite of soft lighting. The lighting will be bright and hard. 

Students learning about soft and hard lighting from Khun Nin
Students Practiced taking Portraits of each other.

We also had to spend time practicing our photography skills. First, we took portraits of teachers at school. We took many different shots of the person, talking to them and trying to make them feel comfortable by asking them simple questions, as the professional photographers had taught us to.

Talking and interacting with them is important because it helps the model to relax and forget that they even have a camera in front of them. After we had our images, we worked in the ICT lab to edit the portrait we took to be black and white. Mr Alex taught us how to use Photoshop to edit our photos to be professional and high quality. 

During our fieldwork when we did our interviews, we would take photo-journalistic photos, as well as the formal portrait of the person we were interviewing. Photojournalism is taking pictures of the things that are linked to our interviewee, such as the location of the interview, the things they showed us and pictures of them in their everyday lives. This will be put into our website to help the reader visualize what each individual does for a living or what their occupation is. 

After the interview, there was a detailed process we needed to go through before we wrote our article. As we had recorded our interview, we listened to it again and transcribed the interview word for word. Transcribing the article was a slow process, and it took about 2 weeks. When the transcribing was done, we started the first draft of our article. We used all of the information from our interview to write an article that captures the experiences that the individual went through and tells an inspiring story about the person. Our goal was to answer the essential question of the learning expedition for each of the people we interviewed. 

After we wrote our article, we chose a related geography topic to research that was connected to the person in our article. Then it was time to build the website. The website is where all of our work will be posted as published. The first step to make the website was to look at different examples of websites and decide on the design criteria for our own.

We practiced how to make a website by creating one about our darkroom. This helped us get familiar with the tools to build a website. After all of us were familiar with the interface, we started to make the actual website. The process of making the website took some time, but in the end, we all have an inspiring website about the person we interviewed, ready to show the world.

You can see all the articles that we created for this project at our Who is Thailand website: whoisthailand.com.

We have also created and published a printed version of our “Who Is Thailand?” learning expedition. Please check out this pdf or book version of “Who is Thailand?”

Students experimenting with homemade pinhole cameras.

We learned and grew throughout this learning expedition because we got to have many new experiences. We did not just learn from books, but we also really got to do and explore the world by ourselves. This is the first time that most of us have ever done anything like this. As it is the first time, it may not be perfect, but we got to learn many new skills, develop our own life skills, and it will help us to do even better work the next time. We hope you enjoy our articles, portraits, pictures and websites. We hope that they will leave you inspired, and you will see how everybody has the opportunity to develop the life skills to overcome challenges and persevere, just like the people in our articles. 

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