Personalized Learning Tools

My opinion of the education technology scene has changed quite a bit over the past few years. Whenever people hear that I’m interested in both computer science and education, their default response tends to be something along the lines of, “You should work for edX or Khan Academy!” When I was a freshman in college, I was totally on board with that idea. However, after realizing that my favorite part of teaching was getting to know my students on a deeper level and pushing them to achieve more, I became less interested in the idea of building technology that put curriculum online because I thought it seemed impersonal.

I was also somewhat influenced by Dan Meyer’s blog post “Problems with Personalized Learning” from March 2017. In the blog post, Dan highlights some of his concerns about an article written about personalized learning.

Personalized learning is only as good as its technology, and in 2017 that technology isn’t good enough. Its gravity pulls towards videos of adults talking about math, followed by multiple choice exercises for practice, all of which is leavened by occasional projects. It doesn’t matter that students can choose the pace or presentation of that learning. Taking your pick of impoverished options still leaves you with an impoverished option.

I’ll be honest—reading this blog post made me question the effectiveness of all the personalized learning tools I had heard about. However, after reading Sal Khan’s The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, I realized that there was nothing wrong per se about the tools themselves. The problem was assuming that the simple act of incorporating “personalized learning” tools in the classroom would automatically make students learn better. The tool itself is not the solution. Rather the tool makes it possible for teachers and students to have more meaningful interactions in the classroom.

Sal explains that by having students watch lecture videos on their own time, teachers can invest classroom time in working one-on-one with students and personalize the explanations they give them. Student performance tracking on platforms like Khan Academy help teachers identify which students are struggling and on which concepts, which in turn allows teachers to address specific pain points for students.

Another way in which tools like Khan Academy pave the way for personalized learning is by making mastery learning possible. Students should not move onto more advanced topics until they have demonstrated mastery of the foundational concepts. Mastery learning is generally not feasible with the traditional school system because the entire class moves together from unit to unit regardless of whether or not the student has actually mastered the previous unit’s material. However, by letting students move at their own pace, Khan Academy opens the doors to mastery learning, which I would argue is a key to truly personalized learning.

Just having the right tools doesn’t mean that the problem will be solved. It’s equally important, if not more important, to use the tools properly. Funnily enough, this lesson helped me realize that tools that might seem impersonal on the surface can, in fact, open the doors to more personal interactions.

The final countdown

There’s a little more than a month left of school, which means nostalgia is beginning to set in. As I look back at my college years, I’m somewhat overwhelmed by how much I’ve learned and grown since I first stepped onto campus my freshman year.

I think I’ll wait until I’ve actually graduated before doing my whole “look back on college life” post, so in the meantime, I’m just going to reflect on a few things that have happened this past semester.

To drop or not to drop

I dropped a class around four or five weeks into the semester, which is the latest I have ever dropped a class. My team was having some team dynamic issues, which really stressed me out. Every time we had an assignment due, all I would ever talk about with my friends was how frustrated I was with how my team was working.

At some point, I decided we needed to have a team meeting to discuss how things were going. I voiced my concerns and asked for ways in which we could alleviate the situation. I actually left that meeting feeling quite optimistic about the rest of the semester. Long story short, things didn’t get much better, so I decided it wasn’t worth the continual stress to remain in that class.

Dropping that class was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make because I didn’t want to abandon my team, and I didn’t want to feel like I was just giving up when the going got tough. However, I realized that sometimes I have to choose my battles. I don’t have to fight the hardest battles every time just because they are the hardest. If what I’m fighting for is not worth the struggle, then it is okay not to go up for that fight.

Turns out that decision was probably one of the best decisions I have made this semester. I quickly went from being miserable all the time to feeling the happiest and least stressed I have felt during my four years in college. (Also, it just so happens that the class structure changed, and the teams were disbanded soon after I dropped the class. Fortunately, my team did not suffer the consequences of being short one member.)

Showing up

Back when I was a freshman, a professor once told my class that opportunities are everywhere, and all you have to do is show up to learn about them. Someone in my lab emailed out about a Science of Learning Journal Club meeting, and I decided to go. Even though I had to shift around some other commitments and skip lunch to read the journal paper, I’m really glad I did so because I had a blast at the journal discussion.

I’m proud of myself for going even though I didn’t know a single person who attended that discussion. I was the only student among a bunch of Open Learning staff members, so I definitely felt out of place at first. Fortunately, they were actually super excited to have a student’s voice join their discussion. I’ve never felt so special just to be a student.

During the span of one hour, I met some incredible people who all care deeply about education and participated in some thought-provoking discussions about learning science concepts. I can’t wait to see everyone again next month because even though we represent very different demographics, I still felt like I had found my people.

Final semester goals

I’m more than a week into my last semester at MIT, but I figured now is as good a time as any to think about my goals for the semester.

  1. Prioritize spending time with friends. Most college graduates whom I’ve spoken to explain that what they miss the most about college is how easy it is to have impromptu hangouts with friends. Once people start working, it’s much harder to coordinate times when everyone is free. Also, this goal will help me justify doing fun things when I just don’t feel like working. Senioritis is real…
  2. Be patient with myself when classes get challenging. I’m taking 6.824 (Distributed Systems) this semester, which has a reputation for being a very difficult class. Instead of getting really worked up and anxious, I’m making it a goal to be patient with myself, slowly identify areas of difficulty and/or confusion, and work through them one by one.
  3. Go to talks and read books. I’m taking a relatively light load this semester, so during weeks when I don’t have to spend as much time on MEET and CodeIt, I want to make sure I “broaden my perspective” on the world by attending talks on or off campus and/or read books from my evergrowing list of books to read. Just last week, I attended a two-hour talk given by two formerly incarcerated individuals, and I’m so glad I did. I think this was the first time I’ve ever attended an event where all the participants were engaged throughout the full two hours.
  4. Make time to exercise and practice clarinet. I’ve learned that exercising and playing music reduce my stress levels, so even when I feel like I’m crunched for time, I need to prioritize these two activities. I have found that even 10 minutes of stretching in the morning makes me less anxious throughout the day.
  5. Limit the sugar intake (maybe 2 times per week). At some point last semester, I was eating green tea ice cream from the dining hall almost every morning for breakfast. I’m going to do that less often this semester.

Okay, so that’s that. Now we just have to see how well I can stick to these goals this semester 😛

What I learned from taking a class in prison

This past semester, I spent more than 30 hours in prison as part of my non-violence as a way of life philosophy class. I was one of 9 MIT students who made the hour-long drive from Cambridge to Norfolk every Thursday to attend class alongside prison inmates. I’m still trying to make sense of my prison experiences, and though I can’t say that I’m necessarily a changed person because of the class, I can certainly say that this class has made me think more about issues I hadn’t thought about before, and it has helped me learn more about myself and my own beliefs.

Each week, we covered a different non-violence-related topic (e.g. anger, forgiveness, honesty, and punishment). During our breakout sessions, we would split up into groups of 3 MIT students and 3 inmates and discuss the week’s topic. As the semester went on, many of the inmates started opening up more about themselves, and something I really appreciated was their honesty. The forgiveness discussion was a particularly riveting one, and I think it was primarily because seeking forgiveness from others requires demonstrating vulnerability and opening oneself up to the judgment of other human beings. I think it was at this point when I started developing a soft spot for my inmate classmates.

For my final class assignment, I wrote a paper on how the criminal justice system should prioritize educational programming for the prisoners because it helps rehabilitate offenders and sets them up for success upon their return to society. My initial thesis also mentioned releasing prisoners early if they could convince a panel of judges that they were ready to contribute positively to society. Looking back, I realize that I wanted so badly to believe that all my classmates were wonderful people and that they all deserved a second chance. After all, I listened to them tell their stories, and many of them seem hungry for the chance to help make the world a better place.

To be honest, I’m struggling a lot with writing this blog post because I’m not entirely sure what I think anymore. Transitioning into “stream of consciousness” mode…

My cousin’s three-year-old daughter has nightmares whenever she watches movies or TV shows with bad guys in them, so her parents simply stopped showing her movies and TV shows with antagonists. It occurred to me that I was doing the same thing to myself by convincing myself that there are no truly bad people out there in the world. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and believe that there is good in everyone. I guess it makes me feel safer, and because I’ve been living in a bubble all my life, that way of thinking has been completely fine for me. But maybe that’s not the smartest way to think.

Many of the prisoners are serving life sentences. I know what some of them are in for, and I still struggle to comprehend how anyone could commit such atrocities to other human beings. Like I said earlier, I have a lot of respect for all my classmates, so it makes it difficult for me to understand why or how they could have committed those acts. I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance for sure, and quite frankly, I don’t think it will ever go away.

I guess if anything, this class has reminded me just how complex the world is and how much I don’t know about it. I’m sorry this post doesn’t have a “punchline” or anything. I just wanted to get something out there before I forgot all my thoughts.

last first day of school

I can already tell this semester is going to be incredible. After several semesters of taking classes simply to fill requirements, I’ve finally made it to the part where I get to fill my schedule with only classes that I actually want to take.

I was talking to a sophomore friend the other day about whether or not she thinks she changed a lot during her freshman year, and I loved her response. She said that she doesn’t think she necessarily “changed” a lot, but she definitely discovered more about who she is as a person. I love that description because it really resonates with me and how I think being in college has transformed me as an individual. For the most part, my interests actually have not changed that much since high school, but the process of trying out different things has made me more conscious of what I really enjoy and care about.

Without further ado, I hereby announce the class lineup for the semester, as well as my personal goals to kick off my last year as an undergraduate student.

  • 6.809 Interactive Music Systems: About 70 students pre-registered for this class, which has only 18 spots. I am so grateful to be one of those 18 students, especially after attending the first class today. The instructor Eran Egozy was not only one of the adjudicators during my clarinet audition last year (and probably this year), but he is also one of the founders of Harmonix, the company that created Rock Band and Guitar Hero (no big deal). My friends who took this class last semester had nothing to say but good things about both Egozy and the curriculum itself. From what I can tell from the first day of class, 6.809 is going to be awesome. I mean, what better way to combine computer science and music than to learn how to enable everyone to experience the joy of making music?
  • 6.828 Operating Systems: We’re taking it a notch down by exploring how operating systems work. My computer systems class last semester (6.033) gave an overview of the Unix file system, virtual machines, and the shell, but we pretty much covered all the OS-related topics from 6.033 in one 6.828 lecture. Needless to say that this will be quite a challenging journey, but fortunately, I have a bunch of friends in this class with me.
  • 6.175 Constructive Computer Architecture: My sophomore fall, I took computation structures (6.004), which introduced the building blocks of digital systems. 6.175 is a follow-up class that focuses on implementing different versions of pipelined machines and culminating in implementing a multicore processor. Pretty gnarly stuff. Other than the fact that only 10% of the class is female, this class seems super interesting, and I really like Professor Arvind’s lecture style. Today he drew an analogy comparing Picasso’s 75 or so recreations of Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas” to our own recreations of pipelined processors. This class will also hopefully make me a more useful lab assistant for 6.004 this semester.

Other highlights from today, which I will use to segue into two of my major goals for this semester.

  • Be kind. One of the first things I did when I moved in a few days ago was put up some banner paper so that I could create the Sharpie mural I’ve wanted since last year. At the top, I wrote the words “be kind” in big letters. Those are the words I wake up to every morning and remind myself of throughout the day. To me, it’s a reminder to be kind to others and to be kind to myself. Quick example: Today I bought lunch at Stata, and when I asked the checkout person how he was doing, he said excellent and gave me a smile. After paying, I made sure to wish him an excellent rest of the day, to which he responded, “Thanks. I appreciate it,” and gave me a smile in return. It took no more than two seconds on my part, and I won’t claim to have made a huge difference in the world or anything, but it felt good to have contributed to making another person smile at least once more today.
  • Relax and make time for friends. In stark contrast to freshman year when I was frantically trying to make friends, I actually have an incredible support system now. Everywhere I turn, I see familiar faces. It’s still the beginning of the semester, but since it’s the last time all of us will be living on campus together, I want to prioritize making time to hang out with my friends.

Stay tuned for thoughts on my other two classes, which have yet to start… 🙂

my time at square

Yesterday was my last day at Square. Looking back at this summer, I can say for certain that it had many more ups and downs than my previous summer at Google in Irvine, but the experience overall was a net positive. I learned about Java best practices (I feel like I have to read Effective Java now), as well as the frustrations of working on a project without having gone through the proper planning.

Some of the highlights from this summer:

  • Hack week. Every so often, teams at Square will drop what they’re doing for a week, and engineers will work on hack projects of their choosing. Fun fact: Square Cash was originally a hack week project. Hack week was one of my favorite experiences from this summer because I met some awesome engineers on other teams, one of whom would become my best friend (and idol) at Square. I also got the opportunity to tackle a different part of the Register POS codebase, which was challenging but fun.
  • Intern hack week. Even though we didn’t officially have full-timers on our team for intern hack week, we had a tremendous amount of support from full-timers who were eager to help us out via Slack or in person. Most teams only have one intern, so this was a neat opportunity to work with other interns on a project while still benefiting from the knowledge of the codebase experts.
  • Meeting Square’s leadership. Throughout the summer, we had Q+A sessions with Jack Dorsey (CEO), Jackie Reses (Capital Lead and People Lead), Sarah Friar (CFO), and Gokul Rajaram (Caviar Lead). I was inspired not only by the amount of knowledge and experience they each brought to their roles, but also their commitment to using the company’s purpose of economic empowerment to drive business decisions.
  • Company-wide focus on learning. Jack Dorsey talks a lot about the importance of learning about machine learning in order to better prepare ourselves for the future. At one of the recent town squares, they announced that every engineer will be expected to go through ML Bootcamp, and non-technical people will have the chance to take an ML class for non-engineers. Don’t quote me on this, but I think at some point, they’re going to make this resource open to the public, too.
  • Square Speaker Series. One of the office hallways is lined with portraits of all the speakers who have given talks at Square, including Sal Khan and Nora Poggi. This summer, I had the privilege to hear DeRay McKesson talk about civil rights activism.
  • My project. This was by far the biggest internship project I have ever taken on, and I was surprised by how much responsibility they gave me. As an intern on the Checkout Experience Android team, I worked on a new feature for the Register POS app. The app is several years old now, so, over the past year, a team of engineers designed a new “futures” architecture to address some of the pain points of the current implementation. My feature was the first feature to employ the futures architecture, which was exciting but also frustrating at times. I could go on about how the management of my project could have been improved, but I’ll save that for a later time. Bottom line: I learned the hard way just how important it is to have a PRD and a design doc before diving into a project.

Lastly, and quite frankly the part I’m going to miss the most,

  • The top-notch human beings I met. It was pretty much like working with celebrities. Prior to this internship, I wasn’t aware of Square’s open source presence, but it’s there all right. It felt crazy to be going to the authors of mortar and dagger for help on my project, but they were always patient with me and more than willing to share their expertise. In addition to their programming prowess, Square engineers blew me away with their interests outside of work and their past lives. I worked with someone who used to teach ancient Greek literature in a prison, someone who practiced law before becoming a programmer, and even an aviation fanatic who also happens to be a Quora celebrity. As I hinted before, my project came with many challenges, but thanks to the incredible people around me, I made it through the summer in one piece, breaking the master build only a handful of times 🙂

This post originally appeared as an answer on Quora and has been edited to fit this audience.

Lessons Learned

I’m in the final four weeks of my internship, so a post about what I’ve learned this summer is probably long overdue. Last week was a rather turbulent week for me, so I figured it would be worth compiling a list of my key takeaways from the incident.

Here’s some context. My project is to implement a new feature for the Android app. Another intern has been working on the same feature for the iOS app; however, because the iOS team started implementing the feature long before the Android team started its own implementation, the iOS feature is much closer to completion than the Android counterpart.

It was always clear to me how far ahead the iOS team was with the feature, but I didn’t realize until last week that the way the Android team had originally intended to implement the new feature was completely unreasonable—it would have required rewriting large chunks of the app, which was definitely not happening anytime soon. As soon as my teammate and I came to this realization, we had a sync up meeting with the product manager and designers to redefine the scope of the project. We ultimately decided on reusing much more legacy code, which greatly reduced the scope of my project.

To be completely honest, when we first decided to re-scope my project, I was really disappointed. I was disappointed that some of my code would be completely scrapped. I was disappointed that we wouldn’t be implementing some of the cooler designs according to the original plan. But most of all, I was disappointed in myself. As the intern assigned to complete this project, I blamed myself for not keeping my manager better up-to-date on the progress of the project. I blamed myself for not pointing out how behind schedule we were according to the roadmap. I blamed myself for not realizing sooner that the game plan I was given was doomed to fail.

When I told my manager how I felt during our 1:1 meeting, he told me not to blame myself. While I do understand that I am not completely to blame, I can’t help but think of what I wish I had done differently. Here’s the list:

  • Make milestones as fine-grained as needed. Sometimes that means making your own milestones, too. I was given three large milestones for my project, but what I didn’t realize I needed was smaller subtasks for each of those milestones. My strategy has always been to do as much work as I can each day. It’s worked great for me in the past, but unfortunately, for this particular project, that strategy failed me. It made me blind to the fact that I was way off track and prevented me from evaluating my progress accurately.
  • Make it a priority to know who is involved with your project and in what capacity. One of the biggest problems I faced was not knowing who to voice my concerns to. Early on, my gut was telling me that I wasn’t working as effectively as I could be, but I wasn’t sure who to go to for help. If only I had established a point-of-contact for big picture questions, maybe things would have gone down differently.
  • Write a design doc. Last summer, I wrote a design doc for my feature but didn’t really think much of it. I thought it was just something everyone had to do as part of the process. Now that I look back, however, writing that design doc was a crucial planning tool that probably saved me a lot of trouble down the line. Even though no one explicitly told me to write a design doc for my feature this summer, I would have benefited greatly from doing so, even if only informally. My teammates could have given me feedback on the game plan and perhaps even foreseen the roadblock earlier.
  • Don’t be afraid to question the game plan, and certainly don’t assume that what you are given is correct. My most harmful assumption was assuming that because it was an intern project, someone else must have done a thorough job scoping out the specifications and creating the game plan. Full-time employees are not always given perfectly scoped projects, so it doesn’t make sense to assume that my project would be perfectly scoped either. As an intern, I had the additional handicap of being unfamiliar with the codebase. There’s no penalty for questioning the feasibility of certain approaches, and I should, by all means, question the validity of decisions being made. In the end, we’re trying to build the best product possible, which requires thinking critically and being able to back up our decisions.

People usually think of software engineering internships as opportunities to learn new technologies and to discover what it means to write production-worthy code. That’s certainly what I expected to get out of this summer, and it’s true that I did gain some exposure to writing Android apps—though in a distinctly Square manner. However, it’s going to be a long time before I forget how disappointed and frustrated I felt when my project was re-scoped so late into the game. Moving forward into the future, I’ll be sure to keep the lessons above in mind so that I never find myself in the same situation again.

Kindness

The other day, I was in Japantown hanging out with a friend of mine. We were in one of the public squares, and we happened to see two Asian men who were at least fifty or so years old. They stopped walking when they saw a cell phone that someone had misplaced. To be honest, I was quite cynical—probably as a result of having someone pickpocket my phone in Jerusalem—and thought they would have taken the phone, left the phone, or dropped it off at a nearby store at best. What I saw instead made me feel warm inside and made me wonder what the world could be like if everyone looked out for each other.

The two men looked through the phone to see if they could find any information about the phone’s owner. They found a college student ID and quickly realized that the student was from out of town and would need identification to return home. The easy, most convenient thing to do would have been to leave the phone at a nearby store and just assume the owner would return and ask the stores if someone had turned in a phone. Instead, the two men took the time to find a phone number to call so that they could tell the owner they had the phone and waited for him to pick it up.

What struck me the most was how genuinely concerned the two men were about returning the phone to its owner. They certainly saved him a lot of time, energy, and worry over a missing phone.

I know I was resentful when my phone was stolen in Jerusalem, but the thing is that I know no one dreams of stealing phones for a living. Maybe I’m just naive, but I would like to think that if the person was living under different circumstances (e.g. was better educated), he would have chosen another career that made the world a better place. I don’t see myself as a particularly philosophical person, but I do wonder if everyone somehow had all his or her basic needs satisfied and could live comfortably, would we be more inclined to treat others better and show the same concern the two men did for an unknown phone owner? Or is that a hopeless dream?

The jury’s still out on that one, but marching in the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade has given me more reason to think that when communities and allies come together and support one another, something beautiful results.

Junior Spring Postmortem

This is my usual end-of-semester postmortem. I’ll try to address some of the goals I outlined at the beginning of the semester and gauge how successful or unsuccessful I was at achieving those goals.

Invest time in people.

Meets expectations.

  • Although many of my friends were occupied with their busy schedules this semester, I still managed to show my support by attending their dance performances and the like.
  • I also shared a lot of meals in the dining hall with friends. Rather than eat all my meals alone, if I felt up for having company, I made it a point to text at least one or two people to join me.
  • I’m also glad to say that through my diverse set of classes, I met some new friends, who were able to share personal experiences of theirs here and there.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Exceeds expectations.

  • I think I did surprisingly well with this goal. In fact, I might have gotten dangerously close to apathy. Whoops.
  • My attitude this semester was generally to do the best I could at each step of the way without stressing too much about the details.
  • For example, I used to care a lot about getting every single question correct on exams, but this semester, my strategy became to study as much as I needed to feel confident going into the exam. I carefully answered each question to the best of my ability, but I wouldn’t dwell too much on those that I wasn’t sure about. This lowered my stress levels significantly, which allowed me to move on to my next task immediately after taking an exam.

Communicate effectively.

Meets expectations.

  • My Voice and Speech for the Actor class is pretty relevant to this goal. One of the most mind-blowing discoveries I made this semester was the realization that delivery is just as important as content. In fact, some would argue delivery is more important than content. You can express two entirely different ideas by adding different vocal choices to the same sequence of words.
  • When I made this goal, I was mainly concerned with my ability to explain concepts to my 6.042 students. In the end, I think I did quite well. The part that made the biggest difference was preparation. When I looked through the problems ahead of time, I found that it was much easier to give coherent explanations on how to solve the problems. This was true even when I held my review sessions.
  • My computer systems engineering class was my first technical communication-intensive class. Although it was a lot of work, I certainly learned a lot about reading technical computer science papers and writing system critique and design papers. I certainly have lots of room for improvement, but I think I made good progress this semester.

Be willing to ditch your plans.

Exceeds expectations.

  • I had my fair share of ditching plans to study in favor of going out with friends on Friday afternoons. I still managed to complete my work somehow, and I’m glad to say that I feel just that much closer to the friends I spent more time with.
  • It’s fair to say that I pretty much “winged” it this entire semester.

Conclusion

Honestly, this past semester was probably my least favorite out of the six I have completed so far. I ended up taking a lot of classes simply to fulfill requirements, and unfortunately, I simply didn’t enjoy some of them. On the bright side, during my remaining time in school, I’ll have the freedom to take classes I’m actually interested in!

My biggest achievement this semester was teaching the inaugural CodeIt App Inventor class. There are things I’d like to change for the future, but I’m quite happy that nothing crashed and burned entirely. I have a running list of improvements to implement for next semester, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much better we can make the program within the next year.

Believe it or not, taking the acting class made me a better musician. Although I am still far from ever becoming a professional clarinetist, I now have a better sense of what it means to make “vocal choices” in the context of music. At least my chamber teacher seems to think I have improved a lot this semester 😛

Lastly, I wanted to say a few words about participating in the engineering leadership program this year. Although the leadership classes were not my favorite, taking the end-of-year cumulative quizzes made me realize just how much content we covered over the course of eight or so months. I’m by no means an expert in everything we learned, but at least I’ve had some exposure to the various concepts. As with many things in life, leadership takes time and practice to develop, but through this program I was able to soldify my foundation just a bit more.

Play

A childhood devoid of play is not a childhood. I never thought much about how integral “play” was to my childhood, but after hearing Scot Osterweil give a presentation to my education class yesterday, I have a much deeper appreciation for the art of inspiring play through games.

In his talk, Osterweil discussed the “Four Freedoms of Play,” which unfortunately are stifled by the traditional school structure:

  1. Freedom to Explore
  2. Freedom to Fail
  3. Freedom of Identity
  4. Freedom of Effort

Although these four freedoms are not generally found in schools, they are actually quite inducive to learning. Osterweil’s projects are founded on the idea that by engaging children in play—actual play, not just educational content disguised behind some game mechanics, we can give children opportunities to learn and to enjoy themselves while doing it.

Games like Lure of the Labyrinth and Vanished create learner-centered environments by building on the knowledge that children already have. These games validate the kids’ identities and train the children to see themselves as learners. They set students up for success rather than knock students down with each new concept introduced.

Osterweil also introduced us to the concept of Fermi problems, which are estimation problems that involve making guesses about certain quantities. The example he gave was “How many cups of coffee are consumed in a day in the US?” The idea is that students can pool together their knowledge and come up with a reasonably accurate guess. It gives students the opportunity to think about not only what they know but also how they know it. It’s beautiful.

This sort of organic learning environment reminds me why I love outreach programs. With outreach programs, there isn’t as much pressure to conform to a predetermined set of standards and teaching methods. As a teacher, I can choose to teach with whatever tools I want, which usually means figuring out what the kids enjoy and finding random ways to remind them that learning can be fun.

Side note: I thought it was interesting how my acting teacher also stresses the importance of “play” in theater arts. I think this lines up especially well with “Freedom of Identity” since acting involves committing oneself completely to an entirely different character or identity.