February 2014 Archives

Aprendamos Espanol!/Let's Learn Spanish!

If you ever thought of taking a foreign language class in high school, chances are that your school at least had the standard three: Spanish, French, and German. These days, it is no surprise to see monolingual high school students trying to become bilingual considering that there’s a growing multicultural population in the United States. Reflecting this increasing interest in learning languages, the Internet has enabled us to learn anything from Mandarine Chinese to Esperanto from anywhere and anytime, whether it is a series of Youtube videos or a handy language-learning app on a smartphone. Nonetheless, it requires considerable discipline to keep learning new vocabulary words and grammar rules at a steady pace without anyone to motivate you. In retrospect, a formal classroom setting during high school is one of the few opportunities left to properly learn a language because it is increasingly difficult to find the time and energy to grasp a new tongue.

Since I grew up in a Spanish-speaking country, I decided to volunteer for NSP because I wanted to use my multilingualism to help students with the struggles of becoming bilingual. One of the great things about working for this program is that you get to pick which school you want to work at! Currently, I work at Mount Carmel High School, which is an all-boys Catholic school that takes great pride in its athletic achievements. I attended a parochial school for my secondary education, so I thought I would be most comfortable in a familiar school environment. From the daily prayer sessions to the strict uniform guidelines, the school definitely felt similar to the school I attended several years ago.

On the first day when I stepped into the Spanish classroom, I could feel every pair of eyes in the room focused on me, wondering what exactly I was doing at this school. After some introductions and incredulous expressions at the fact that an Asian’s first language could be Spanish, I spent the following days observing the class reading passages together from the textbook, playing Spanish vocabulary games to review for a test, and using the occasional Youtube video that would clarify a particularly difficult concept. Whenever the students were working on translations and practice exercises, I walked around the room helping out here and there, trying to look at the students’ work as discreetly as possible to make sure they were doing it correctly.

At first, it took a while to get the students to get used to me, especially considering that there are barely any Asians at the school. But soon enough, I got to know the names of the students, their work habits, and their unique mannerisms. In turn, the students were eventually comfortable enough with me to loudly call my name whenever they needed assistance in class, especially when the translations provided by Google Translate seemed wonky. Even though the boys heavily rely on translation apps for the assignments, I hope to see the day when they will be able to get through an entire paragraph in Spanish on their own. For now, I will keep on giving them clues to what specific words mean and constantly remind them that learning a new language is worth their time despite the difficulties. Although this may sound clichéd, there truly is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student finally figure out what a word means by using context clues instead of online translations.

Vo Ram Yoon Yeo is a second-year in the College, majoring in Comparative Human Development. He tutors Spanish at Mount Carmel High School. 

Hello from MeeSoh!

I’ve never had a little brother. I’ve always wanted one. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my little sister but there’s something about the idea of a little brother that has always, I don’t know, seemed special. Maybe my fantasies playing with his collection of racecars and thus upgrading the transportation available for my Barbie dolls weren’t the most realistic expectations to have in a male younger sibling? But those were the thoughts I used to have.

Uh, correction, those were the thoughts I used to have until (quite) recently.

I joined NSP because I missed volunteering. I missed feeling useful, feeling  connected to a group of people within the community I was in. Maybe joining NSP has to do with feelings of “rootlessness and restlessness” that people like me, according to sociologist David Pollock, tend to have. I’m what they call a “TCK”. A Third Culture Kid; someone, because of growing up in more than one culture, doesn’t belong to any one culture but to a conglomerate mix of more than one culture. Thus, our culture is a unique “third” culture. If you’re a military brat (like me), Diplomat Kid, Missionary Kid, Ex-Pat Kid, Mixed-Race, etc., you’re a TCK. Heck, President Obama’s a TCK. And according to the founding father of TCKs, AKA the sociologist who actually put a label on us and said, “hey, calm down guys, we know you exist, it’s gonna be okay”, we tend to have issues of rootlessness and restlessness. And boy can I attest to that.

I came to this great city of Jazz and diversity looking for a place I could call “home.” I’m not from anywhere and I guess I wanted somewhere to be able to look at and say, Yeah, I’ve made a home here. And that’s here, this beautiful, terrifying, extremely windy and oh so cold but at the same time full of warmth city of Chicago. And for a long time (mind you, I’ve only been here for a running total of 18 weeks) it just wasn’t home. At all.

But home isn’t about a place, at least not for me. I don’t think home can ever be any single place. But home can be where you feel like you belong, where you feel accepted. And at the same time, it’s where you’re actively making others feel loved and appreciated and heard. It’s mutual; home is a place you create in the cocoon of your relationships. And that’s what NSP has allowed me to realize, and given me an opportunity to try and do.

I absolutely adore Nemo. To others, he goes by his real name, or even Ne-Yo. But to me, he’s just Nemo. Maybe it’s a stretch to say that I was like Marlin, the dad in Finding Nemo who spends the entire movie looking for his son. But in some ways I was like Marlin; I was looking for something. I was looking for the opportunity to create Chicago into a home. And these past months being able to spend time with Nemo, getting to support him in his academics and his talks about life and basketball have been…well, as the turtles of Finding Nemo would say, “Whoa, dude. Noggin’.”

I work at HPLRC, and needless to say Ms. Lillie and Ms. Angie have made this place into a home. The kids come here to work, to get their homework done but the atmosphere is above all one of acceptance and belonging. I’ve had as many conversations with Nemo about The Giver—the book he’s reading in his English class—or about Dr. King—they’re studying Martin Luther King Jr. in his history class— as I have about his dreams of being in the NBA, or about how he misses his biological dad. And in getting to know him, I’ve grown to love him. We shook on it, ya know. He’s my little bro now.

The kids here…they are family. And I am so grateful I can be a part of such a wonderful atmosphere, and to add to it by helping in any way I can. I’m fond of Nemo because of his kind heart, yes, but also because of his dreams, and the part I can play in getting him there.

All that to say…that kid is my family. NSP through HPLRC, is my family. Ms. Ang and Ms. Lillie, the kids, Nemo, the real talks, the homework discussions, the Super-Smash bro video gaming in the backroom, the dance choreography, the snack-sharing, the project building, the out-loud storybook readings…all of it. Chicago, city of jazz and terrible weather. Chicago, city of greats and towering, impressive skyscrapers…that was the Chicago I fantasized into making my home. But this Chicago, this real Chicago, is my Chicago. And it might be too late to play Barbie with Nemo’s racecars, but having a little brother in him is a greater gift than any ride my Princess Barbie Collection could’ve had on any set of toy cars.

I’m building roots. I’m still restless, but I’m finding rest in these times at HPLR. I’m still searching, but I’m happy. It’s a beginning. I’m building a home. A crazy, wild, sometimes difficult and tiring home, but above all an oh so wonderfully beautiful home of support and love…and a little brother whose got so much swag and cool that quite frankly, he’s adorable.

MeeSoh Bossard is a first-year in the College. She works at the Hyde Park Learning Resource Center. 

Learning Science Facts from Science Fiction

Learning science facts from science fiction

By Sharon Lurye

The best way to learn about science is through fun, active, hands-on experiments. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, science labs in CPS may be underequipped. In addition, some teachers just don’t trust their students in the laboratory; in the middle-school classroom I worked in last quarter, the teacher never took his students to the lab because he felt that they were too rowdy to perform the experiments safely.

As a result, students may lose interest in science, because they never get to see it in action; they only learn about it from textbooks. However, there’s a great way to help students see science in action, and all it requires is a computer with an internet connection. There are thousands of videos available on YouTube that can be used as the basis for a science lesson.

I’m not talking about videos that were specifically created to be educational. I think that the most effective videos are ones that were created purely as entertainment, but by complete coincidence, they involve a scientific phenomenon. Kids often don’t see how the things they learn about in science class relate to real life -- but if they can see scientific themes in pop culture, they’ll realize that science can be anywhere in the world if they look for it.

As an example, I’ll talk about my favorite lesson I’ve had this year, when I used the Alfonso Cuaron film Gravity to teach a group of seventh-grade boys about Newton’s three laws of motion. Gravity is a suspenseful, action-packed space drama that stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts on a space shuttle orbiting quite close to Earth. A terrible accident occurs when a cloud of debris crashes into the shuttle. Completely alone in space and cut off from all communication on Earth, the astronauts must find a way to get back home with a damaged ship.

To promote the film, the studio released three HD teaser clips on YouTube, each a minute and a half long. Don’t worry, these are all from the first 15 minutes of the film, so they don’t contain spoilers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4pcg7bXgmU  “Detached”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QQGVvt_iW8 “I’ve Got You”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV-UEca2W9U “Drifting”

In these clips, debris hits the shuttle and Bullock’s character is sent careening off into space. It’s an incredibly suspenseful scene – but to understand why it’s so suspenseful, you have to understand Newton’s first law of motion, a.k.a. the law of inertia. I paused one of the videos and asked my students: when Bullock starts spinning around in a circle, why can’t she stop? Why does she keep spinning and spinning and spinning? The answer is that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Without any friction in space, there’s nothing to stop her from spinning. 


In another clip, Bullock’s tether breaks, she crashes into the ship and then bounces back (that’s Newton’s third law – equal and opposite reactions), and she starts moving backwards in space, away from the shuttle. I paused the video again and asked the boys: why does Bullock look so scared? Why does she start panicking? Again, it’s Newton’s first law. As a well-trained scientist, Bullock’s character definitely understands Newton’s laws – so she knows that if she doesn’t grab on to something, she’ll float backwards in space forever.

The boys loved the clips from the movie; my main issue was just making sure they didn’t get too excited and start jumping out of their chairs. I had to pause the clips frequently to ask questions, so that I could keep the boys on track and make sure they were thinking critically about the scientific aspect of the film, and not just enjoying the action sequences. 

Later, we also watched the scene from Pixar’s Wall-E where the Wall-E and EVE use the propulsive force of a fire extinguisher to dance together in space (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHXx8AmBwXg) . That clip helped to illustrate Newton’s third law, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Today, lots of kids are avidly watching the Olympics, and it’s easy to see the forces of science at work in different athletic competitions. What could your kids learn about centripetal force from this amazing video of figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBoLZP84F0o)

Plus, did you know that the same science that explains why figure skaters put out their arms to slow down also explains the polar vortex that’s making this winter so darn cold? (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/01/07/260455201/what-is-the-polar-vortex-and-why-is-it-doing-this-to-us)

There are myriad examples of science in sports, movies, and pop culture. Learning about science this is way more fun than just reading a textbook – for students and tutors alike! 

Sharon Lurye is a fourth-year in the College. She tutors at Fiske Elementary. 

Let's Make Snowflakes!

The kindergarteners at Shoesmith Elementary are learning about shapes. 

They're also learning about snow--not formally, really, but accidentially--as the drifts from this miserable winter pile up above their heads.

Just recently, the teacher was out sick and the assistant teacher and I had to come up with something fun on the fly to keep them engaged for a little while. We decided to have them cut out snowflakes and present them to the class. This is great for kindergarteners in a lot of ways. 

  1. They still need to practice finer motor skills like the use of scissors.
  2. They do have to follow directions fairly closely in order for the snowflake to make sense; but there is still some room for creative liscense in the way that they fold that paper. So they get to make a few decisions, and they can see the way that "following directions" and "creativity" can work together.
  3. The presentation piece draws in their math lesson. They can identify the shapes that they made, and also see places where two shapes come together to make a more complicated shape.
  4. Kindergarteners always need practice speaking in front of other kids in a more formal setting; show and tell and any form of presentation is important for them. They also need practice listening to a peer-speaker.
  5. They need practice in the process of cleaning up and keeping paper scraps on the table, too.

This activity was super fun to do with them, and I was really impressed at the way that they could identify the shapes they made. Some of them were able to identify how they had created more complicated shapes, and others were just happy to point to triangles and diamonds. (They learned the word "rhombus" for diamond, and I took an inordinate amont of joy in saying it).  It was super easy--required almost no materials, and yet it seemed to be useful on many different levels. Also, in the middle of this epic winter--we do want to instill a little bit of postivity in reguards to snow and cold, right?

Maggie Nancarrow is a graduate student in the Divinity School. She works in a kindergarten class at Shoesmith Elementary.