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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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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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.

A Call to Help Students Find Purpose

I’ve never really thought about this, but it’s so true: one of the most beautiful parts about teaching is helping our students find their own meaning and enabling them to help others.

Each trimester, I take my students on a service learning field trip. We spend a morning volunteering at a local homeless shelter. In the afternoon, students pick up trash at a local park and do random acts of kindness. It can sound unglamorous, especially in the winter. But most students love it and look forward to it for months. Some of the most meaningful moments of my career happen on this trip. And, apparently it means something to the students as well.

After each trip we debrief the experience. It was during this that a student cried. Her words are what motivate my philosophy of teaching:

“I have never felt like I had purpose in school until today.”

Those words are both the most…

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