That’s All Folks!

Teaching STEM in Korea

It’s only been five days since our STEM camp ended and already I miss my students, my team, and Seoul. I’m proud of my team for putting together a successful workshop, and I’m proud of my students for working so hard during these past two weeks.

DSC02587.jpg Two of our students made us a thank you poster!

For my final blog post, I thought I would highlight some of the most memorable parts of this trip for me. Obviously, if you want more details, you should just read the rest of the blog 🙂

Projects

During the afternoons of Days 7 through 9, we had the students choose and work on their own final project. We wanted to give students the opportunity to explore their favorite workshop activity in greater depth.

There were some concerns with regard to how successful an open-ended project would be with this particular group of students…

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Internet, VR, Dry Ice, and More

Teaching STEM in Korea

During the next two mornings, we covered a variety of topics including the internet, virtual reality, and dry ice.

My first internet simulation activity (adapted from Code.org) was based on the game Battleship. However, rather than have multiple ships and only one opponent, this version allowed a single player to place one battleship for each of three opponents. Because this was an internet simulation, students had to communicate their intent to attack a particular board space by passing notes with To/From fields and the board coordinates. The message recipient would then indicate whether the chosen board coordinate was a hit or a miss. Once the students got the hang of the game, some actually got really into it.

IMG_5457.jpg Battleship internet simulation

Three students were absent, so Emily kindly stepped in and played as all three of them.

IMG_5458.jpg Emily playing three games of Battleship

For the second internet simulation, I put together…

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Biology Day

Teaching STEM in Korea

Week 2 started off with a morning dedicated to biology activities. Emily whipped out her signature microscope lab, which has been a hit for three consecutive years. The students had a blast competing against each other to locate specific objects on various bills and coins.

IMG_5392.jpg Students competing in the money-search competition

For the next activity, students learned about viruses and built their own models of the HIV and Zika viruses.

DSC02208.jpg Paper models of viruses

The students also tried their hand at performing surgery…on bananas. Practicing interrupted and continuous stitches on bananas was definitely a crowd-favorite. Some students loved the activity so much that they wanted to know exactly when they could suture bananas again.

DSC02224.jpg Interrupted stitches on a banana

In the afternoon, Emily taught the students how to use the Raspberry Pi camera. With just a few lines of code, the students were able to create their very own photo booth complete…

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Spontaneous Sunday Excursions

Teaching STEM in Korea

On Sunday of Week 2, Emu and I originally planned on visiting Gyeongbokgung Palace for an hour or two before returning back to the apartment to work. Instead, we ended up staying out for more than five hours because we kept finding new attractions to explore in the area.

After leaving the palace, we crossed the street to visit the statue of King Sejong the Great, the creator of Hangul. We noticed there was an entrance to something called King Sejong Story at the base of the statue, so we decided to check it out. We expected to see a single room showcase highlighting his life accomplishments, but instead, we discovered an entire exhibition with 9 different sections covering 3,200 square meters.

The exhibition also linked to the KT building and the Sejong Center for Performing Arts. I’m not sure exactly where we were at the time, but Emu and I found…

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Making things move

Teaching STEM in Korea

On Friday, Shine started off the day with mousetrap cars. The students seemed to enjoy putting all the pieces together, and we just so happened to have duct tape that matched the colors of each time (i.e. pink, yellow, green, and blue). Emily sacrificed a pen to show the students what would happen if someone’s finger got caught in the mousetrap. I think that demonstration sufficiently scared the students and made them work more cautiously.

Once everyone had a working mousetrap car, we raced them. I even drew a makeshift checkered flag, green flag, and a diagonally divided black-and-white flag. In case anyone is interested, a diagonally divided black-and-white flag is used to indicate a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, at least according to Wikipedia. I felt super cool waving around my flag, but I think Emu and Emily carried their flags just to appease me.

The next activity was nail…

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All hands on deck

Teaching STEM in Korea

Even the most controlling one realizes that the others can be employed as labor.

—Emily Damato (January 11, 2018 at Yeomyung School)

Day 3

In the morning, Emu taught a module on circuits, which included an activity where students deconstructed a flashlight, made their own flashlights, played a game to learn how to read resistors, and built simple circuits using a breadboard. The flashlight activity was a big hit with all the students, though, for some reason, none of them actually wanted to keep their flashlights after they made them.

Some students were more interested in circuits than others, and some students also came in with much more experience building circuits than others. The group that I worked with got pretty frustrated with all the wires, but when we finally got the button to turn on the LED light, I could see how surprised (but happy) they were that it actually…

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Murphy’s Law Strikes

Teaching STEM in Korea

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

–Dwight D. Eisenhower

We’ve officially made it through the first two days of camp! It has been an exhausting two days, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know our students, and we’ve accomplished a lot already.

IMG_5107 Classroom all set-up and ready to go!

On day 1, Emily spent the morning teaching the students basic English words like “help” and “repeat.” Most of the students were already familiar with the words, but they seemed to enjoy playing our word games anyway. We played a modified version of tag that transfers the role of “it” to different players when various vocabulary words are said aloud.

I also got a chance to practice the four sentences of Korean that I knew! Apparently, the question “Do you need help?” sounds pretty similar to “Do you need money?” because…

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Efficiency and the Honor System

Teaching STEM in Korea

Our team split up in the morning so that we could purchase supplies from different stores in parallel. Shine and I were in charge of electronics, so we made another trip to Yongsan Electronics Market to buy extension cords. We’re starting to become usual customers…

IMG_4980 Day 2 Breakfast at Paris Baguette

On the way to the market, Shine shared more of her Korean culture knowledge with me. Here are a few selected tidbits:

Hanja: Chinese characters in the Korean language. Before Sejong the Great created Hangul, most Korean documents were written in Hanja. When Shine was growing up, students learned how to read Chinese characters starting in the first grade. Learning Hanja is useful for understanding the etymology of Korean words that are based on Chinese words. Also, Hanja is sometimes used instead of Hangul when it is more convenient. For instance, sometimes 男 (“boy” in Hanja) is used in place of 소년…

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Touchdown in Korea

I’m in Korea now…

Teaching STEM in Korea

As of yesterday, our entire team has landed safely in Seoul and moved into our Airbnb apartment! For our first team dinner, we had garlic fried chicken—more flavor than generic fried chicken but not too spicy either—and complimentary corn pops (unofficial name).

IMG_4920 Day 0 Dinner: Garlic fried chicken and corn pops

Today was our first full day together in Korea, and I’m super proud of how productive we were. We left the apartment around 9 AM and grabbed breakfast on the way to the train station.

IMG_4921 Day 1 Breakfast: Paris Baguette

Up until today, our biggest concern was purchasing 9 sets of computer monitors, keyboards, and mice for under $900. A significant portion of our curriculum involves working with Raspberry Pis, which meant that finding or not finding these monitors would make or break our workshop. After browsing online, we quickly realized that computer monitors under $100 are pretty…

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Let’s do this

Spending a month abroad has not only opened my eyes to new perspectives and realities, but it has also helped shape the person I dream of becoming. That being said, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to redefine my goals for the spring semester, similar to the way I did last fall.

Backstory

If you didn’t know this already, I spent the month of January teaching computer science to Israeli and Palestinian high school students in Jerusalem and Nazareth. It was an incredible experience for me; if you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out my team’s travel blog. What you probably didn’t know was that I had a one-day layover in Brussels, Belgium.

What was different about traveling in Brussels was that I wasn’t surrounded by my friends and coworkers like I was in Jerusalem. In Belgium, I was traveling solo in a foreign country with just my high school French to get me around. (I exaggerate—most people in the tourist areas spoke English anyway.)

I spent the morning walking to all the famous attractions like Mannekin Pis, Jeanneke Pis, and Zinneke Pis.

And after that, I decided to visit the Atomium, where I met someone that made this trip a ton more memorable. When I was in line to get my ticket, I met another college student visiting Brussels for the weekend. We ended up talking the entire time we were in the Atomium and continued to hang out the rest of the day. He was unlike anyone I have ever met (and probably would ever meet) at MIT, which made learning bits and pieces from his life story all the more enjoyable for me.

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And this brings me to my first goal of the semester:

Invest time in people.

When we travel to new places, almost everyone sees the same monuments, the same museums. It is the people we meet and the unique experiences we share with them that differentiate all our trips. For me, I don’t think I’ll be able to think about Brussels without also thinking about what a great time I had making a new friend completely by chance.

Even though I probably won’t be traveling far from Boston this semester, there are obviously still people on and around campus. I did a pretty good job of making time to spend with friends last semester, and I want to continue doing so this spring. As an added bonus, I’d like to get to know more people outside my current friend group.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

While I was abroad, my stress levels were quite low, especially in comparison to what I’m used to when I’m on campus. Instead of worrying about my own classes, I was trying to keep my students in Jerusalem and Nazareth from stressing too much about assignments and exams. Some of the brightest students I worked with also happened to be the ones who worried the most. This semester, I’d like to take my own advice and realize that I can work hard at my classes without having dangerous levels of stress from worrying about the outcome.

Communicate effectively.

Working with the year 1 computer science students was surprisingly difficult because I had to take a step back and explain concepts I take for granted like input variables and function return types. Fortunately, I got tips from my coworkers regarding how to explain certain concepts, which I then incorporated into my own explanations.

As a first-time TA this semester, I want to continue learning how to effectively communicate my ideas and explanations to students. I know it will be challenging, but I also know it will be worth it in the end.

Be willing to ditch your plans.

I had planned out my entire day in Brussels ahead of time, but when I made my new friend, I was willing to ditch my plans and just wing it. As a result, we stumbled upon the 7th Magritte Awards completely on accident.

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I’m not advocating to forgo making any plans at all, but rather I think it’s important to be open-minded and flexible, which requires a willingness to deviate from what is planned.