Dr. Rochelle T. Papasin: 2016 PFCS Awardee for Chemistry Education – Secondary Level

As a high school chemistry teacher, Dr. Rochelle T. Papasin brings into her classrooms meaningful insights from her experiences growing up in a university town with parents who were both university science professors, from her industrial background as a research chemist, and from her formal academic training.

Rochelle has won many awards such as the Metrobank Outstanding Teacher Award (2009) and International Leaders in Education Program Fellowship (Clemson University, South Carolina, 2010). Her academic credentials include a PhD in Education (University of Immaculate Concepcion, Davao City), Master of Chemistry (Ateneo de Manila), MA in Science Education (University of Southeastern Philippines, Davao City), and a BS in Chemistry cum laude (Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City).

She started her professional career initially as an agricultural chemist at International Rice Research Institute (Laguna) and at the Cocoa Investors, Inc. (Davao del Sur). With the opening of the first PSHS campus outside of Metro Manila, she decided to re-enter the academic world as a chemistry teacher at the Philippine Science High School – Southern Mindanao Campus in 1991. She earned all of her graduate degrees while working at PSHS – SMC.

Rochelle continues to live and breathe science to this day. In addition to supervising her high school chemistry classes and research teams, she and her husband Sem are busy raising a family of three college-age children who are also into science and mathematics.

Acceptance Speech
To the honored guests, the officers and members of the Philippine Federation of Chemistry Societies, good evening.

It has been sometime since I referred to myself as a chemist. For the longest time I have considered myself as a chemistry teacher. It is a job title I feel most comfortable with.
My entry into the chemistry profession started with DOST. Back then and I reveal my age here, it was called NSDB which later transformed to NSTA and then DOST. My having passed the NSDB scholarship made me choose BS Chemistry for two reasons: my mother was a chemistry professor in the university and my high school chemistry teacher ( in the University of Southern Mindanao, Kabacan , Cotabato) inspired me and was proud of my good scores. It was a choice I never regretted. I thank DOST for the opportunity offered to me. I would like to thank my mentors in Ateneo de Davao and Ateneo de Manila for my training in chemistry. I would to specially thank Dr. Nestor Valera who was my adviser and who nominated me to this award.

When I began teaching in high school, I found an eager audience among my students. I felt and still feel the compulsion to fuel this enthusiasm. I realized it was not only the content that mattered to the young learners. The delivery of the lesson was equally important. So I have embraced the idea of being a lifelong learner, always trying to find ways to make the lesson click. I was once asked, “What is your philosophy in teaching?” I had no answer back then. But the question rankled in my mind. So my teaching philosophy began to take shape. I decided that I teach so that my learners will not only acquire the desired proficiency but also to love learning. That said, I have been in a continued pursuit of ways to get the students attention and to make the lessons relevant. It hasn’t been easy. High school kids can be harsh. In one of my recent evaluations, I read the line, “I don’t understand why you have to compel me to count the number of particles in a spoonful of sugar. I am very sure I will not use this knowledge in my life”. Another one said, “I was excited to take Chemistry. I thought we will have fireworks and explosions like they show in cartoons. How come our experiments are boring?”. So I learned to use You Tube to show the explosive reactions. That was a poor substitute but it seemed to satisfy. After sometime in class, the kids begin to acknowledge the significance of our lessons. Whenever I see at least one of my students visibly reacting with an “Aha!” moment, I know I have succeeded. Still more fulfilling is when some years after graduation, they visit and express thanks for having understood the lessons I taught especially the ones they didn’t like in high school.

My other mission as a teacher is to encourage my students to take up BS Chemistry. I tried to inject stories about people and scientists. In one lesson, before I introduced the Law of Conservation of Matter, I showed an elaborate presentation of the life of Antoine Lavoisier and the events that led to his death during the French Revolution. I remember my audience was in rapt attention and some of them engaged me in conversations in the hallway. This was a lesson in second year. After their four year stay in PSHS, the students had an exit conference and one of the questions asked was, “What was your most memorable lesson?” One replied, “I learned about French Revolution in my chemistry class”. I share this story to emphasize that scientists are not images in lab coats but real people living real lives. That made sense to the students, prompting a good number of them to take up BS Chemistry.

Recently, I linked up with UP Mindanao to help my students in their research projects. It was quite an easy arrangement as the College Dean was a parent, while the College Secretary was a former student. While we were in the lab, I demonstrated to my student how to use the pipet properly. The research assistant suddenly blurted out, “You know Ma’am, you were the one who taught me how to pipet. In fact, I took up BS Chemistry because of you.” At that moment, I knew I have come full circle. A high school teacher encouraged me to take up BS Chemistry and now, I have returned the favor. In fact, among my students, I see a good number of them doing valuable work and others have PhD’s now. When I try to read their researches, I realize that I am unable to understand the high level chemistry that they do now. That knowledge amazes me and makes me happy. I understand that my role in life is to be high school chemistry teacher. I open the doors for my students to begin their journeys into fulfilling careers in chemistry. It has been said, “When your students have surpassed you, you have succeeded as a teacher”. I thank the Philippine Science High School Southern Mindanao Campus for providing me the opportunity to fulfill my role as a chemistry teacher. I am proud of my students. This award belongs to them.

Thank you and good evening.