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  • Writer's pictureJoy Ma

Day 31: not just math and science (long post)

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Wichita/Newton, KS

Learning Festival #4

scroll all the way down for more pics

If you've been following along, you might have noticed we've been teaching science and engineering workshops. Hence, if you are familiar with the term STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) or STEAM (STEM + Arts), you might be wondering where the A (art) in STEAM comes in.

Hi, I'm Joy, and I'm studying physics and theater at MIT, and I taught a non STEM workshop today! For me, the impact of learning festivals and teaching is less of teaching actual material, i.e. learning about a new concept or chemical reaction, more so spending time with students and encouraging them, in whatever is best for them. Encouraging a kid to be able to think for themselves, and letting them know that their ideas, desires, and wants are valid and something they can pursue themselves, to me, can be infinitely valuable and applicable.

I'm talking a lot of theoretical ideas, so here's how it applies in our day-to-day.

10pm the night before: early bedtime, but late for normal

  • I usually like thinking about going to bed at 7pm, and getting up early without an alarm on our biking days. learning festivals started later, so a later bedtime (plus 4th of july festivities) was acceptable.

5:59am the day of: wake up #1

  • someone was showering, i woke up and went back to sleep.

7:55am "Joy, get up. It's 7:55" -Kat

  • despite sleeping almost 12 hours the two nights before in a pitch black church tornado shelter and having just slept almost 10 hours, I still needed a wakeup call. I think sleeping in a different place every night and the stress of moving around all the time decreases sleep quality and increases sleep requirements.

8:23am hop in the car with microwaved leftovers

  • while Duha and Vin were unloading the van to make space for 7 people to sit in the car, I got ready for the day. I cooked something really yummy at the previous stop (coconut rice and chickpea curry) and had that for breakfast. I forget what others ate.

  • we all ordered matching dandelion yellow t-shirts we wear on teaching days, but mine was in the wash, so I wore a white t-shirt from a powerlifting meet and MIT running shorts.

8:56am arrive at Newton library

  • unload teaching supplies

  • prepare for kids

  • get familiar with the schedule Audrey made for us, which consists of rotations of 6 time blocks and 4 groups of kids.

  • Here was the schedule for the day, each group had around 8 kids middle school-lower high school age

9:30-3pm teach workshops

ps that i wanted to put here before you stop reading:

don't villanize kids cuz you don't understand them or society tells you they/their actions are bad


it's surprising how similar teaching/parenting sayings/techniques are to when I was a kid. thought more progress would be made.

back to the blog:

  • previously, I ran introductory physics workshops. Today, I felt something different. Since I had the first two teaching blocks off, I ran through some of my ideas with Vin.

  • the options:

- "Contentless Scene" one of my acting professors at MIT (s/o Janet Sonenberg) introduced an exercise to me: give a very simple, bare-boned script to a group of two, and have them develop the scene and create context for it. Then perform the final pieces. This practices the skill that a scene requires a lot of different aspects to develop.

- "Make me laugh in 2 minutes" in another course at MIT (Jorge Rubio), we used comedia techniques. The exercise asks one student to go in front of the class, and they have 2 minutes to make every single person in the audience laugh. Key: keep doing what seems to work, try something new if it doesn't

- "4 chairs" in Janet's class, we have 4 chairs, I think they are labelled love, pain, anger, fear and each line in a script must be said in one of these chairs. To me, this is a mindfulness technique, and can unlock nuances within a scene that might not be obvious to the page.

  • The workshops

- 1: mindfulness and scenes

Since this group was super hyped up from Vin's cups activity (see above), I noticed it might be difficult to immediately shift the focus into another exercise. After circling everyone up, I asked (and starting with myself, because you gotta also be vulnerable, teachers aren't above participating in ways they ask their students to), each of us to say a phrase or word for how they're feeling. Then, I asked everyone to lay on their backs and went through a ~5 min mindfulness exercise (kind of made it up on the spot). We did activity 1, and I had groups of 2 work on a scene together for 10 minutes to perform for the class. Since there were an odd number of kids in my group, I also paired up. Here we are, working on our scenes!

Then, each group performed. I was super impressed with how engaged everyone was, how excited they were to show us all something they'd worked on, and this was a fun exercise for me to see how to best encourage each student in what works for them, be it moving the audience around so the stage could be in different parts of a library (e.g. a doorway, around a table, versus a standard flat stage, all equally fair!) or interactive audience members, and asking audience members for their observations of a performance!

Surprises/things I learned

  • One student, upon learning we were doing theater, declared confidently that they did not like to act, only sound/lighting design. Yet, they ended up writing an entire script for them and their partner, acted it all out, and also being an extra for an other scene!

  • I was quite exhausted at the end of all of these, which I only realized after the session had ended. This drains my social and mental capacity for sure.

- 2: random statue game I made up, scenes

For some reason, I decided to warm up, that it was natural to have pairs make a 2-person statue and show all of us. The kids had a lot of fun doing this.

And then we did scenes again.

Surprises/things I learned

  • In the warm-up, one kid said he was bored. However, he was pretty eager to choose me as his partner, and I am very proud to say that I think he was un-bored by the activity.

  • One student was on his phone for the majority. Yet, though soft-spoken, had some interesting twists and ideas for the script he was interested in sharing when I listened. At the end of the day, it turned out he was more interested in chatting with all of us about MIT and the college process (rather than the workshops)! So we got to do that :)

- 3: I was tired lol so I asked pairs to describe something they're excited about to their partner, so their partner can show that to all of us.


  • two girls were reading the whole time and the librarian apologized to me that they weren't participating. I don't think that's anything needed to apologize, and it's fine if someone doesn't feel like doing something! I think kids should be encouraged more to not feel forced into things. Ended up asking one girl what book she was reading, and if she would recommend, and the two were pretty excited about the book. So the warmup exercise for everyone was, what is something you would recommend to us, and why? Most kids recommended books, one kid recommended Super Mario Bros and tacos though.

  • One kid who other teachers noted as a "problem kid"'s partner came up to me "my partner is not working with me and won't let me describe what I'm excited about." I suggested swapping roles, and the duo ended up making a whole video game controller set out of paper and being one of the 3 groups who presented.

  • The kid who seemed closed off at first to participate ended up coming up to me and describing a whole fan fiction series they're woking on, one piece which got 26k views!

  • The least-engaged people in the activity I propose oftentimes are the most excited about other hobbies, which they are eager to share given the space.

3-4pm: Hang out with siblings who wanted to hear more about the college application process.

4:30 ish: team boba

5 ish: cooking with Pat Do

our host and su-chefs joy and lucy whipped up some korean potstickers, handmade pizza, delicious pasta rigatoni with homemade sauce, and key-lime cheesecake (store-bought).

unfortunately, did not get any pics of dinner but here are Duha and Vin (who claims he does not have any food-handling skills) chefing up for the fourth.



ps. (same as above)

don't villanize kids cuz you don't understand them or society tells you they/their actions are bad

pps. (same as above)

it's surprising how similar teaching/parenting sayings/techniques are to when I was a kid. thought more progress would be made.

PPS. photos

my pov as i'm writing this blog:

audrey testing out the video game (aka bridge simulation) for her workshop:

Annual Newton Library x MIT Spokes GROUP PHOTO!!!!!

Everyone is always most excited for Andrew's 3D printing workshop:

Lucy knows how to make nuclear reactors, but we'll start with magnet-powered currents:



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