Emu spent a ridiculous amount of time putting together this video highlighting our experiences teaching at Yeomyung School in Seoul. I think it’s absolutely wonderful and surprisingly effective considering that we weren’t allowed to show students’ faces. Please watch the video!
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.
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 🙂
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, considering that many of them were accustomed to following step-by-step instructions. However, we were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was for students to come up with their own projects. I was in charge of the students who wanted to code using Scratch or Turtle. They all churned out beautiful projects if I must say so myself.
Other students focused on learning more suturing techniques, adding additional commands to the Google Voice Kit, building models of bridges, revamping the Raspberry Pi robots, and using the Pi Camera to create stop motion animation.
On Day 10, the students made posters for the projects and gave poster presentations in front of the class. They all presented in Korean, so I had no idea what exactly they said, but based on body language, the students seemed proud of their work.
After seeing how diverse the projects were, I felt especially proud of my team for putting together the workshop. So much planning went into the workshop, but it definitely paid off in the end. Never underestimate how much time and effort it takes to acquire supplies for hands-on activities. I probably missed a lot of major attractions in Seoul, but at the very least, I got to spend a lot of time at Daiso, Yongsan Electronics Market, and Emart 😛
Learning about Korea
Teaching an intensive two-week STEM workshop in a foreign country is hard work, but lucky for me, having amazing teammates made it that much easier. Emily and Emu were both Yeomyung School veterans, so they had a good idea of what challenges we would be up against. Before we even started teaching, they knew which questions to ask the science teacher, as well as what sort of curriculum and teaching styles would work best with our students.
Outside of the classroom, I also had the opportunity to learn about the Korean culture and language. I’ve traveled abroad several times in the past, but to be honest, this was the first time I actually felt like I truly learned something about the country’s culture. It had everything to do with having Shine around all the time. Shine was an endless source of information about Korean history and traditions, and she was patient enough to teach me some phrases in Korean even though I “slapped” the pronunciation. (Note: “Slapping” is a step up from “butchering” the pronunciation.)
Needless to say, I’m going to miss my team dearly, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.
Connecting with Students
I mentioned in my first blog post that my biggest concern was overcoming the language barrier with the students. As it turns out, all those years going to Chinese school paid off because I was able to communicate with nearly half of the students with my broken Mandarin! For the students who didn’t speak Chinese, a combination of using Naver Translate and Shine’s brain usually did the trick.
Also, remember the Sonic Pi fiasco? Well, turns out that the students really appreciated the program I wrote to play Yiruma’s River Flows In You. I’m not sure if it actually made them more interested in computer programming, but at least it showed them that I cared about them and that I honestly wanted them to have a good time with the workshop. As corny as it sounds, sometimes we just want to be cared for, and students at Yeomyung are no different.
Teaching at Yeomyung these past two weeks has been an incredible journey of ups and downs. Although I may never see my students again, I am grateful for our shared experiences of laughter and frustration, and I wish them all the best during the upcoming school year and beyond. To my students: if any of you are reading this, remember: “Mistakes are okay. Just try again!”
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.
Three students were absent, so Emily kindly stepped in and played as all three of them.
For the second internet simulation, I put together a mini network complete with clients, servers, and routers. The activity went something like this:
- Each of three servers served a different type of candy, and the students acting as clients needed to consult a Domain Name Server table to look up the IP address of the desired candy server.
- Student clients wrote the candy server IP address on a Ziploc packet and passed the packet to the nearest router.
- Each router had their own routing table, which told them the next destination of the packet (e.g. another router, client, or server) based on the destination IP address.
- Candy servers placed candy into each packet they received and revealed the client (source) IP address.
- The packet would make its way back through the network and arrive back at the original client.
I’m actually not sure how much the students understood from the activity, but based on the number of candies students were accumulating, I think it’s safe to assume they at least understood how my internet abstraction worked.
The next day, we introduced the students to virtual reality using Google Cardboard. My original plan was to use Google Expeditions to lead virtual class field trips to places in America and Europe and to explore human anatomy from the inside. Unfortunately, the school’s poor wifi connection forced us to ditch this plan. Instead, the students chose their own virtual reality apps from the Play Store/App Store and explored their own interests individually.
Afterward, Emu led dry ice experiments using dry ice that Baskin Robbins gave us with our ice cream cake purchase. Dry ice was a hit, as was the ice cream cake 🙂
The final Raspberry Pi activity was actually a leftover activity from the first week. Students were supposed to make an ultrasonic theremin by building a simple circuit and connecting it to the Raspberry Pi. By connecting an ultrasonic distance sensor to the Raspberry Pi, Sonic Pi can play different sounds based on how close or far your hand (or any object) is to the sensor. For reasons still unknown to us, we couldn’t get the Raspberry Pis to output meaningful values from the ultrasonic distance sensors. We even stayed in during lunch time to debug but to no avail.
Although the theremins ended up not working, we were very proud of the progress the students had made since day one when they were first introduced to Raspberry Pi. By week 2, students knew how to connect all the computer peripherals as well as navigate Terminal and Python IDLE windows with relative ease. Even though some students might not be huge fans of using the Raspberry Pis, at least they are better equipped to work with computers in the future if they ever need to do so.
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.
For the next activity, students learned about viruses and built their own models of the HIV and Zika 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.
We were fortunate enough to eat lunch with the Principal of Yeomyung School. Over lunch, we learned more about his professional background in education and more about Yeomyung. After lunch, he had a meeting with someone from Germany, which made a lot more sense after Shine explained to us Korea’s relationship with Germany after the Korean War.
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 with assorted filters.
Biology day was a huge success, and I know for a fact that our students who were less technology-inclined really enjoyed the break from computer-related activities.
After class, the team enjoyed fried chicken at BHC (Better & Happier Choice) for dinner. Emu underwent some harsh criticism for ordering orange juice, though I heard it tasted delicious.
To end the day, Shine introduced us to coin karaoke. It’s just like normal karaoke/norebang, except you pay by song rather than by the hour. It’s perfect for smaller groups and youth.
Oh, how I wish coin karaoke existed in the US… Anyway, that’s a wrap for week 2 day 1!
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 an activity where we wrote our names in Hangul using the fancy calligraphy brushes.
We also enjoyed some bulgogi hot pot at one of the restaurants nearby. I’m proud to say that we got by even though Shine wasn’t there to translate for us.
In the morning, when we were back at Gyeongbokgung Palace, Emu and I noticed a really pretty-looking pagoda but realized it was disconnected from the palace grounds. It turned out to be part of the National Folk Museum of Korea, which we finally visited after lunch. I don’t think we actually visited the permanent exhibition halls, but we really enjoyed exploring the street from the past.
On our way back to the subway station, Emu and I stopped by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. We didn’t have time to enter the museum, which was unfortunate because Emu is actually really into art. However, we did stop by the nearby Osulloc Tea House, where Emu enjoyed a lovely green tea latte.
In the evening, we split up and did our own thing. I had dinner with my cousin-in-law in Gangnam followed by green tea ice cream from Baskin Robbins.
All in all, I’d say it was a pretty productive Sunday. Stay tuned for updates from week 2!
The reason why I’ve been so bad about being on top of blog posts is because I’ve been spending most of my time working on this video of our camp.
Please watch it in HD since it took me several extra hours and attempts to upload!
Anyway, it’s still hard for me to believe that camp is actually over. For the past two weeks, we’ve spent all our time preparing, running, and debugging lesson plans. This is definitely one of the most tiring times I’ve had for a while. It’s also invigorating though. I’m not sure how coherent I am to write a full post, so I’ll just post some of my thoughts on different topics.
Much of our curriculum and our budget were spent working on different Raspberry PI projects. Part of the reason why I’m exhausted is the constant debugging that we had to do. We purchased entire monitor and wireless keyboard sets as well as Google Voice Kits and Pi Cameras. We spent evening soldering Voice Hats and class time making sure the students didn’t insert batteries backwards. The amount of technology we used in the classroom this camp was unprecedented.
The goal of using the Raspberry PIs was really two-fold. We wanted to find curriculum that all of the students didn’t have experience in—since our students range in age from 17-30 and are from various parts of China and North Korea, this can prove a challenging task. We also wanted to provide the school with durable materials that they could use in the classroom in the future.
That being said, we ran into logistical issues in that the school was unable and unwilling to store and use the PI kits that we set up. Consequently, we were scrambling on the last day to figure out what to do with all of our materials. At the end, we decided to offer the students a choice after their final presentations: they could either decide to take home a PI or a box of cookies.
To be honest, due to several debugging issues during the projects, including malfunctioning hardware, many students were pretty frustrated with the Pis by the end of the camp. We weren’t really sure if any students would even want a Pi to experiment with on their own. To our surprise, and delight, multiple students took home Pis and were very engrossed with them to the point where they ignored what we were doing as a class. Although I was teaching that day, I forgave them.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, our students ranged in age from 17-30. Although you can generally tell which students are oldest, it’s hard to guess the age of students. The students usually are either half Chinese-half Korean or from North Korea. The ones from North Korea tend to be older.
Although I’ve found administrative details to be frustrating this year, the best part of camp has always been the students. I must admit that our students are not the most attentive bunch that I’ve ever taught—since they are on break and we are a winter camp, phones and naps are frequent. Furthermore, due to the stresses that many of our students have gone through, Yeomyung tends to be very lenient with student discipline. Still, we’ve been able to engage at least each student in several activities.
It’s also wonderful to see their confidence grow throughout the two weeks. On the first day, several students refused to speak in English in front of the class. By the last day all students spoke. One of my bright spots was when one of our really quiet students, Jon, who never spoke pretty much the first week, actually smiled and told us that he enjoyed programming on the last day. Another student was so excited she would yell “YAY” after everything we did.
I do feel that I connect better with the half-Chinese students due to the fact that we are able to communicate. (The limiting reagent in this is my lack of proficiency in the language). I also connect with them in that they share with me that they feel in between Chinese and Korean cultures. Most of them were born in China and some are having difficulty learning Korean. I tell them that even though I’m ethnically Chinese, I was born in America.
I was speaking to one of the Chinese students on the last day, Daniel. I asked him if he was excited that it was the last day of class. He asked me what “excited” meant and I told him that it meant that he was happy. He was at first like “yeah!” and then thought a second and said “No! It means that you’ll all be leaving soon.”
I thought about incorporating this in the student section, but I feel that Bill deserves a section to himself.
Bill was one of our Chinese students. He was probably our student with the biggest personality. Every night, we (the teachers) would come home and reminisce about our days over takeout while doing lesson prep. Someone would always have a Bill story.
I remember that when were doing the Voice Kits, he would get frustrated that he couldn’t fully pronounce “Ok, Google” and kept yelling “OK, Goole, I LOVE YOU!” He was also very strong-minded. In one lab, I was wondering why his group was taking so long to finish. I found out that every time he made a typo, he would slam the backspace key until the typo was removed. I demonstrated that he could instead use the up arrow, but he insisted on doing it his way. Luckily, his partner Daniel thought it was hilarious and didn’t mind.
In a country which values uniformity, our students stick out. It’s hard to tell as an outsider, but they have older names and a different dialect. They tend to be shorter and tend to be older than most of their peers. Even though Bill had such a large personality, he tended to eat by himself. We were confused as to why, but our Korean speaker Shine told us that he doesn’t appear Korean at all. Consequently, even amongst North Koreans, he doesn’t really fit in either.
What I Learned
I didn’t really mention this in my reflections last year, but when I first came to Korea, I really became aware of how different Asian cultures are. In America, I feel that a lot of those differences are smoothed over to the point where we are all grouped together under the category of “Asian-American.” But each culture is so different. For example, Korean culture has an extremely strict age and status hierarchy that Kelsey touched upon before. It’s incredibly important to be polite and respectful. Everything is recycled properly. Chinese culture, on the other hand, is not nearly as polite. Shine told us that Koreans consider Chinese to be rude and crass.
A teaching tool that I really took away from this year is the value of focusing on an individual student. Teaching a classroom of 16 to 20 students with low English speaking ability and varying knowledge and attention spans is difficult already. From last year, I thought it would be best to find curriculum that appealed to the majority of students in terms of difficulty and interest and that would be enough. I would try not to spend more than ten minutes with a single student for the sake of the group. One skill that I’m still working on is having the patience to work with a single student for an extended period of time. I’ve seen shy students grow in confidence and ability with individual work and I want to be better at considering the value to the individual student when planning lessons. On a lighter note, also wordsearches are amazing. If you ever want a quiet, focused hour, do a wordsearch.
In any case, there were definitely new challenges and frustrations but I’m grateful to have been able to spend two weeks with these students and now my flight to London is boarding soon. Thanks for following our journey and I’m also so incredibly grateful for this amazing team.
On Saturday, we headed out super early to join the rest of Korea Global Teaching Labs on a pottery excursion to Icheon. I must admit that waking up was especially difficult since we were all so tired from the week. Still, by the end of the day, we were glad that we had gone.
We started by visiting several display halls and viewing works by master potters. The very first stop was at a large pottery kiln run by the son of a famous potter. The next stop was at a combination display hall and store since we were ahead of schedule. The third stop on our itinerary was at the workshop of a master potter who specialized in Celadon doubleware. Celadon pottery was created during the Joseon dynasty and is this gorgeous blue-aqua color. In fact, the color of Korean pottery was listed as one of the hundred most beautiful things in the world by a Chinese writer at the time–the only item on the list that was not Chinese.
While we were in his display hall, we watched a documentary about the pottery process featuring his son and himself. His son had made the documentary as a sixtieth birthday present for his father. In the video, he mentioned that he was a fool, because he pursued the perfection of his art for so many years without visible return. I think that a part of me would like to be a fool–I would like to find something that I cared about so much that I was willing to pursue it beyond what an average person would consider reasonable.
We then visited another pottery master who specialized in painting. He mentioned that Korean pottery was special because they only fire it at most twice. In fact, even the masters shatter 80% of their work because it isn’t up to standards. He mentioned that the fire made the judgement call on whether the pottery was good enough and not the potter. We were also fortunate enough to see a live demonstration of his work.
After a wonderful lunch, we went to a pottery village. We “made” our own pots, which means that a potter held our hands in the right shape and we tried our best. We also made cute mugs since only two of us could make pots at a time. This consisted of color a sheet of paper and baking it onto a mug. Afterwards, we explored the pottery village and I got myself a beautiful Korean teacup and sake jug.
After we got back to Seoul, Shine’s friend from work this summer was kind enough to take us to dinner and to Namsan Tower, which I had never seen before. Apparently, Namsan Tower at night is THE place for young couples and families. The entire walkway was covered with love locks.
By the time we finished at Namsan Tower, it was pretty late and so we all went home and slept to prepare for the next day.