Sam Thanapornsangsuth is a recent Ed.D. graduate from the Instructional Technology and Media program in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (October 2020). She is currently serving as a tenure track lecturer at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. A native of Bangkok, Sam has focused her research on maker education and constructionism for students in urban Bangkok. More specifically, her work explores the ways in which low-income public schools can leverage informal learning opportunities through media and technology to enhance educational experiences.

While traditional education encourages a didactic setting, the philosophy behind maker education and constructionism opposes this structure to foster a learner-centered culture of “learning by doing.”

Formally, Sam has dubbed this approach to learning as a Culturally Relevant Constructionist Design Framework (CRCD). This framework consists of two components. The first engages teachers and community members in student makerspaces. From a practical standpoint, this means teachers participate in teaching and fostering creativity and the community participates in problem identification. The second component involves the design of maker activities that align with student goals and values. This second goal is largely dependent on the community’s culture.

Merging theory with practice, in 2014, Sam co-founded a social enterprise called Little Builders. Initially an afterschool program in one school, Sam has since expanded Little Builders to include multiple schools integral to her dissertation work on how CRCD can be applied across urban Bangkok. With the support of governmental and private investors, the Little Builders team supports unconventional learning for public schools across urban Bangkok. Central to the mission is reframing problem-solving and instead utilizing a community-based approach. She now engages with classroom teachers to incorporate maker education and constructionism into school curricula. Students spend two hours per week using math and science to solve problems.

When considering the ways in which local communities have over-relied on governments and legislatures to problem-solve Sam notes, “They never thought of [things] as their problem... they never see it as a problem they should solve and expect that the government should support them.” Little Builders aims to empower students and communities to solve their own issues collectively. Students incorporate a design thinking process; rely on community cultivated knowledge and brainstorming; participate in prototyping; and eventually create tangible deliverables that can help solve community problems. Since the inception of Little Builders, students have collectively solved issues ranging from managing the overabundance of trash to supporting local vendors in marketing their goods using technology.

At the end of the academic year, schools host or join district-level competitions meant to showcase students’ inventions and creations. In doing so, Sam hopes to create a sustainable model for schools and through this, ensure that the curriculum and design processes are able to continue through her pioneering work even if a teacher leaves the school. She notes, “You must be flexible. Culture is fluid and we are dealing with people and children, so we need to allow those flexibilities to happen.”

In the future, Sam hopes to expand and implement this model of CRCD in schools across Thailand and beyond.