Over the course of this year’s STEMteachersNYC 2019 Summer Institute, we hosted three interns from China and the US. Goals of the internship were to learn the structures and functions of teacher-led workshop approaches, the essentials of starting their own organization, and developing teacher portraits using new skills in filmmaking and Adobe Suite. They were astute, disciplined, worked hard and learned much – but we thought why not let them share the experience in their own words!

From left to right: Angela Zheng (Worked in the lab of Prof. James Hone, CU Mechanical Engineering), Tony (STEMteachersNYC Intern), Yi Li (Internship Coord.), Sydney (Intern), Alina (Intern), Fernand Brunschwig (Pres. STEMteachersNYC).

Tony (Hongyi Lu). Rising junior, Cranbrook Kingswood High School, MI.

The first week at STEMteachersNYC marks the start of a brand new experience for me, providing a fantastic opportunity to intern at Teachers College in Manhattan, the heart of the world. I have learned a lot during these first three days from sitting in class with teachers as they discussed standard-based grading. Granted, I have been studying in the United States for two years now and have become familiar with discussion-based courses, but this lesson was still rather challenging for me to grasp, especially because of the abstract nature of the subject. Nevertheless, this experience has shown me some key skills to be a successful workshop leader, such as the ability to bring participants together and facilitate discussion. Also, this workshop has also demonstrated what it takes to be a good participant, which requires active participation and constant output, instead of solely being a listener. The speakers did a good job leading the workshop, the participants were great, and the experience of listening to the workshop would be very beneficial in the future. 

Other than cultivating leadership, the workshop was also a great practicing ground for my photography and filmography skills. It is a first for me to film in an academic environment, since most of my work in the past only required still photography skills outside of class. Not only is it a change in environment, but more importantly a challenge for my current skill set. So far, I’ve collected several clips for practice and got to play around with the new editing software, and I feel a lot more confident with filming in the upcoming weeks. In the afternoons, we discussed missions statements and research questions, as well as getting a basic knowledge of the Adobe creative suite. The research for my project was a totally new experience. It takes quite some mental labor to think of a good mission statement and research question and refine them. What excites me most is the opportunity to be working with the Adobe suite. As a photographer, I am aware of the importance of post-production software, but have never had the chance to try it out. Liam (Heinbokel) demonstrated the various features of Lightroom, which makes me even more excited about this program.

It has only been a week since the initiation of the program, but already I’ve gained precious new knowledge about leadership and post-production that you cannot get from most other places. I know my journey has just begun, so I am hopeful about what’s to come and hope to progress even further. 

Sydney Zhang. Senior, Briarcliff Manor High School, NY.

My experience so far has been somewhat eye-opening to the whole education system and how the teachers approach it. Having been a student for the last eleven years, this week made me realize that my time in the classroom teaches me much more than I think. Even though I found it somewhat challenging to understand some of the jargon and concepts that the teachers had used, I feel that being in this program taught me about how teachers incorporate concepts like critical thinking, data analysis and discussion into the forty-five minutes that I am in the classroom. 

I noticed that reversing the roles and having teachers act as students, finding ways to improve their curriculum and teaching, was effective in creating a consensus about what effective teaching is. I also found that some of the questions asked by leaders, such as “What makes you uncomfortable?” and “What concerns do you have for SBG (Standards-Based Grading)?” were very intuitive ways to dig deeper into the education system and what flaws it has. And although it isn’t necessarily a challenge, I found it difficult to restrain myself from participating in some of the SBG activities because of my nature as a participatory classmate. But more importantly, I found it difficult to refrain from sharing my opinion during discussions as a student, especially when I heard what the teachers thought about the students’ learning processes, and when they mentioned things that I disagreed with. For example, I thought that describing grades as a measure of work ethic was very smart, but the same teacher later said, “That’s why we need the SAT – that’s what gauges content mastery.” [As a student, I personally disagree (big surprise) because I think that the SAT gauges how good one is at taking the SAT.] I found the course very valuable in seeing how the educator thinks and what they hope that I, among other students, take away from the classroom.

Alina (Ningxin Chen) Rising 10th grader, Hangzhou Foreign Language School, China.

Without serious jet lag my first week at STEMteachersNYC was pretty good (!) The first morning participants analyzed assessment practices and learned the overview of SBG (Standards-Based Grading). I noticed a lot of differences between American and Chinese education. The biggest one is the attitudes towards grades. One participant said grades are a bridge that helps them to communicate with students and understand them better. They also mentioned that grades do not reflect intelligence. It can only be regarded as a student’s performance at school. It shows that Americans think of studying as their own business and avoid comparisons between students. On the contrary, Chinese teachers and students regard testing as competition and take grades very seriously. It is wise to compete with others because it may inspire and encourage students to study, but too much stress from competing can also lead to the opposite effect. It seems that both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, but one thing in common is that there must be a number of students who are the victims of the system. Maybe this workshop can help these students in certain respects.

The first and third afternoons’ sessions we were asked to organize a club or organization. The first afternoon we confirmed our own organization with help from Jennifer Herring (STEMteachersNYC VP for Development). Mine was about studying abroad (and how to educate and retain counselors supporting students studying abroad). When it came to the mission statement (who I was going to serve and why), it was quite easy to explain, but how to do it was difficult to think about. Then I remembered I had met lots of enthusiastic (study abroad) alumni the week before, and thought it could make sense to ask alumni for help! In the third session, Mengya Qu (graduate student in ITS, Teachers College) introduced education research. Chinese teachers usually don’t ask students to do these kinds of work. They tell, but don’t but ask. That’s why students in China usually only know how to receive information instead of knowing how to create and explore. That’s what I’m going to learn from this internship program. 

Biology Workshop. The introduction of the biology workshop was quite similar to the SBG workshop. With participants were acting like students we received “the first lesson at school,” each of us got three pieces of paper with game patterns on them, but we had to first figure out the rules behind the games ourselves. We all understood that decoding the rules was actually an analogy of science, but we didn’t think students would be happy to face a “no answer” as an answer. It is easy to get to the answers in this age of the internet. The process of seeking out the answers is something extremely important but usually often ignored. Maybe this game can reinforce the idea of developing one’s own answers. I preferred this workshop because the leader frequently used switching teacher and student identities. The leader, Chris, explained that he believed through this form of activity, teachers can experience how students feel in class, and can therefore improve their teaching so that students understand more and become more interested in the class.

Seeing Science Everywhere. This workshop was quite different from the two other workshops that before because it was geared towards younger (grades), there were more activities, and the teachers seemed to be more active during the discussion part. Participants were asked to make a ping pong ball cross the hallway safely and quickly by using the materials that were presented on the desk. Before they started the task, one of the workshop leaders showed a video about a ropeway. She explained that this video could help students to expand their imagination, while some of the teachers thought that it might lead all the students to the same result. All the participants took action and thought actively. I think being an elementary school teacher can be a great job, because you can always keep an active and simple heart. On the third day (of this workshop), participants were asked to design, build, and test a device that could send a Morse Code message using sound and/or light. It looked pretty easy at first, but the participants were, in fact, baffled about how to connect the components. The participant next to me did a really good job. He finished all his work perfectly by himself, and his sketch was clear and complete. I thought the idea of drawing a sketch was great. Sketches can help kids to organize their thoughts and help them to better remember their designs. Drawing will be a useful skill later on in kids’ studies. 

Final Reflection. Four weeks passed quickly, and I’m now leaving America. I got exactly what I want and even experienced much more things than I imagined. I learned what a workshop is, and how a workshop works. I learned interview skills, what kind of interview questions to ask, what to say before and after the interview. I know more about setting up a camera and recording interviewees’ voice. It was completely unfamiliar work for me before, but now I can do it by myself. I learned that there are various types of photo, flyer and video editing tools, and I can use them successfully. I also understand now what research is and what a research question is, as well as how to come up with a question and solve it with different tools. After learning how to set up a simple organization, I found out that the process was not as difficult as I thought. Maybe I can realize it after back to China! I felt like I was a part of the family when I spent time with Yi and her family. Really thanks for your caring and support! And thanks for Chris, Liam, Yadana, Jennifer and Fernand. I wouldn’t have had such great growth without your teaching and support! I’m not good at expressing my emotions through speaking out, but I really hope you know how this internship helped me, and how lucky I felt to come and join you. I will be so glad to have the chance to meet you again!

Thanks STEMteachersNYC again, and wish you a bright future!