Field trip to RPI

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Photo Gallery

Twenty-four eighth grade students from North Albany Academy, a K-8 school in the Albany school district, visited Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. They participated in four major themes, “What is college?”, “Smart Lighting”, “Turning Ideas into Reality,” and “Tour of campus.” 3Helix fellow, Chris Shing with help from teacher pair Kerry Welcome organized the outing. The goal of the day was to enhance student’s awareness about higher education opportunities through demonstrating examples of cutting-edge research impact and by identifying associated career paths . A student life panel consisting of four current RPI students spoke about their college experience and answered questions.

Student Agenda

Welcome to RPI, North Albany Academy!

Jobs Counts

Translating Ideas into Reality

How to make Bucky Balls (aka Hexastrip Weaving)
Additional Activities and Online Resources
Preparing for College

Feedback and comments on activities
Read more in fellow Chris Shing’s blog

At the end of the visit students were asked to fill out an exit survey (included in Appendix A).  Of the 24 students who came, 15 students responded to the survey.  Survey Responses from NAA visit.

First post, update

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So, sorry it took me so long to get something up here, but let’s backtrack through all the ground I’ve covered since the year began.

I’ll break into four parts:  observations in the classroom, activities I’ve design, activities I’ve participated in, and impact on me.  The first day was a real eye opener into what I got myself involved in.  So, I’ll start from there and work through the different parts I’ve outlined.

First an overview:  Me

I am studying electrical engineering at RPI.  I am currently in my second semester of graduate studies, but have completed my bachelors in electrical engineering at RPI.  My research focus is on bio-sensor systems, specifically water based bacteria sensing systems.  In that realm I worked on ultraviolet photodetectors before moving to fluorescence enhancement.  Now I am working with a nanoscale plasmonic coupling effect that could enhance the overall emission generated by a bacteria cell.  Overall I am attempting to extract more light from bacteria so I can detect it with a sensitive photodetector.

Overview: North Albany Academy

I go to North Albany Academy located in Albany, NY.  It is a PK-8 school with an average student-teacher ratio of 11.5.  The majority of the students are of African American decent (81%) and the total school population is about 400 students.  I work with Kerry Welcome, the 7th, 8th, & Living Environment teacher at the school.  Her average class size is about 20 students.  I am there for all of her classes; though my schedule permits I only meet each class once a week.

1) Observations in the classroom

The classroom can be broken up into several subsets, namely, those that want to learn, those that do not, and those who are easily distracted by the chaos of their teenage lives that they are unable to learn.  I find the majority of students are in the last category, where their lives and the lives of their classmates dominate their thoughts.  This is very prevalent in the “queen bee” effect, where there exists one or two personalities that will take hostage the classroom conversation and prevent the rest of the class from either participating or learning through means of starting and argument or speaking out of turn.  These personalities are easily identifiable in their absence when the class moves along well.

Beyond that the students can also be divided into those who are engaged and learning, those who are not engaged and not learning, those who are engaged and not learning, and students who are not engaged but are learning.  For me to do a demonstration in the classroom you can see who are the students that want to be engaged, but until you test the students you cannot tell if they learn.  Lately I’ve been finding many of the students are drifting towards the not engaging/not learning phase as their June approaches.

Last observation is that most of the students do not care about school.  Unless the student actively participates in their learning process, they will not learn.  Most of the students in the classes I attend are failing at least one subject because they do not do the work for the class.   Based on their test grades many of the students are smart, but they lack the motivation to do well in school.  Many of the school’s faculty feel that while we can provide them with the knowledge they need to go somewhere in their lives, unless the students could find a motivation to learn they will not succeed in their future lives.

This lack of motivation is a very difficult problem to solve.  It is an internal problem of the students themselves, but has many external factors imposing on it.  I think, although the school tries to do many things to encourage the students to work harder, unless they receive similar encouragements at home or elsewhere they will not pursue their educational career further.

2) Activities I’ve Designed

Of the activities I’ve designed, we’ve implemented my supplemental microscope lesson and my weather activity lab with varying degrees of success.  The microscope lesson involved using a Dino-Lite digital microscope along with some discussions of how I use microscopes in my research.  The kids didn’t really become engaged with my lesson until I introduced the microscope, which they played around with looking at their skin.

The weather activity was more pen and paper.  I wrote up a long lab describing how to read the weather and created worksheets that the students used to record the weather data.  It was less successful due to the time commitment involved in recording the data every class.

There are a few other activities I’ve attempted to design, but none that I’ve been able to complete into full lessons or half-lessons/demonstrations.  These include the homemade ECG and Newton’s laws with robots.

3) Activities I’ve participated in:

Kerry’s has designed several experiments over the years which I helped the students with.  These range from graphing data, convection currents, mineral identification, Newton’s laws, and changing states.  From the various labs, I think the students got the most out of the changing states and Newton’s laws, but did not absorb a lot of information from the convection currents, mineral identification, or graphing labs.

Currently I’m trying to help the 8th grade students prepare for the lab part of the NYS science exam.  The first part is using the microscope.

4) Impact on me:

Let’s break this into two parts:  how it has affected me personally and how it has affected my research.

How I was affected by being present in the classroom.  Being back in middle school reminded me how much I disliked that period in my life.  The drama between whose doing what and what happened to so & so… I’m kind of glad that my life has moved beyond that.  But, being in the middle school classroom brought about one part of my personality I did not realize.  I know I am naturally a shy, soft-spoken person, though there have been moments where I can be a loud and forceful person.  I found that going back to middle school I cannot find that loud, forceful voice.  I just don’t have the personality that’s needed to control a large group of people.  For example, once Kerry was absent but I was in the classroom, I did not have the ability to get the students to calmly work on the assignment Kerry had given.  But that hasn’t led me to give up.  I just work need to work a little bit harder and learn a little more about teaching.

Last, how has being in the classroom affected my research?  If you look at what I’m working on now and what I’ve done in the classroom, you’d find there exists a big disconnect.  I was thinking about something David had said regarding the GK-12 conference he attended.  If you had asked me what I do I would respond with my research, not what I do in the classroom.  It just comes naturally since the work I do in my lab will make my career, not the work I do in the classroom.  But, I can say that stepping into that classroom has changed the way I think about my work.

Before starting, I had an overall idea about what my research was about.  I was working towards finding a method to improve the monitoring of water based bacteria contamination.  How I was going to do that I wasn’t a hundred percent sure about, but I believed I would figure it out.  Being in the classroom helped me to recall all of the different bits of information I’ve learned over my life.  It helped me remember how bacteria work and what kinds of interactions occur in the cell.  It also helped me realize how distinctly different each sensor I was researching was and led me to narrow my research focus, for sanity sake.

So, this is an overview of what has happened with me in the classroom.  I know it sounds kind of rushed and I apologize for that.  Lately, with my research picking up I’ve thought less about the classroom or how to merge the two.  But I enjoy being there, working with the students.  These kids are going to become a part of our society someday and I only want for them to have all the opportunities to succeed in life.