My Internship Experience
July 21st, 2016 by Maria Eby
When I first began my internship, as I listened to a doctoral presentation on physics and how it is used to harvest energy, I will admit, there was some initial panic and a substantial amount of self doubt. I wondered if I somehow got assigned to the wrong internship. I mean, I teach 6th grade math. My M.Ed. is in Curriculum and Instruction/Arts Integration. The word science is nowhere in my title. Sure, I had planned and co-taught a few projects with our science teacher with math and science integration, but I left the science to her, for a reason. Science was never one of my strong interests or passions. It was something I checked off the list when I earned the credits I needed to move forward with my education.
I texted my co-worker, who is also a Kenan Fellow who had completed the same internship. I unleashed my panic and told her I was over my head already, and it was only day one. She calmly reassured me that I was not over my head, and that I should remain calm and carry on. So I did. She told me to focus on the big take-aways and not to get overwhelmed by the details I was unfamiliar with. So I did. She reminded me that was one of the values of team work. We would work together to understand, and I was on a team with 3 Science teachers. Now, that I had forgotten, and was really happy to be reminded that I was not alone.
I think that was my biggest challenge. Embracing and committing to learning the science, as well as the coding and wiring. These things were all new to me, and intimidated me. I had “taught” coding when I taught Technology, but I had Code.org to guide me and the students. I had to admit to myself, and my team, that I needed help. I had to open my mind to learning something completely new, and not give up when it got frustrating.
When we started our project my approach was to shrink back and let those who knew what to do do it. I didn’t ask questions, or even accept their offers to walk me through what they were doing. I immersed myself in research, or preparing the ad campaign, you know, stayed smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone.
Then, my team stopped letting me off the hook. One team member in particular, started to challenge me to do the work myself. Which meant, she had to teach me and walk me through it, and I had to let myself feel inadequate for a little while. I had to let someone else be in control and guide me. This was not familiar territory, but my teammate helped it to become familiar. She was patient, yet insistent that I not shrink away from the learning. By the end of the project, I was helping to re-write the code to help improve our product, soldering sensors to the LilyPad, and hooking up our Hydraband to the computer to retrieve and analyze the data to decide how to improve the coding.
My mentor was a big part of this for me as well. Dr. Veety seized the opportunity when she saw me start to get invested in working on the coding. She pulled up a chair next to me and worked with me until we had re-written the code and tested it. She helped me design a test to determine a baseline to use for the sensors (which was all about the science). Dr. Veety and Dr. Jur connected us with Dr. Daniele when we were stuck for answers about our sensors. Dr. Daniele spent an hour with us discussing the science of what we were trying to do and how to address our needs, and I was fascinated. Although I did not have a strong interest in science, I had a strong interest in this science because I was invested in our project and needed the information to move ahead. THAT is my biggest takeaway. THAT is what I strive to do with my students through Project Based Learning. THAT was the personal experience I needed to truly understand how and why it is such a powerful propellent to learning.
If I had to endure a lecture and powerpoint before we started our project about how electrons and ions travel through skin and indicate levels of dehydration, I probably would have checked out pretty quickly. But needing that information was they key to my learning that information. This experience will hugely impact the decisions I make in the upcoming year on what to front load and what to leave for my students to develop a need to learn in order to carry on.
We created a working prototype of a headband that vibrated when the wearer approached levels indicating dehydration. We did this together. We used math, and science, and mechanical engineering, and collaboration to get this done. And…I can explain it all…the science, the coding, and everything in between.