Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Let The Debriefing Begin!

I know very few to none are going to read this full mess, a few more will skim it, and most will just completely ignore it. But getting people to read has never been the point of this blog. I've always found writing is my choice medium for collecting and clarifying my thoughts, and this is no different. So, whether you care or not, let the debriefing begin.

My life this summer has been like an Ibsen play. The author feels no need to secure a happy ending, but rather likes to throw people into situations and see how they react, regardless of what strings must be pulled. As soon as I find something I can enjoy and rejoice in, the Universe decides to play a malicious game of keep away with my happy. Today was my last day teaching these kids, since tomorrow is a "fun day" where they'll have rope courses and stuff like that. I was pretty happy about being done, as this job has been a strain on my patience and confidence in the future. But more on that later.

Once I came home, it was supposed to be simple. An easy night of relaxing and catching up with friends across the Ocean. I don't know what I was thinking. Why would I want to ever make things simple for myself? I turned on my computer, and it freaked out. I've had issues with computers before, but never like this. A program on my computer "AntiVir Solution Pro" was telling me that almost every program file on my computer was infected. I didn't remember installing such a program, as I already have triple redundancy in my computer security (Norton, Symantec, and this thing called CA Security Suite), so I don't know why I would have downloaded a trial version of a 4th. But considering this "spyware program" wouldn't let me go on the internet (I opened Mozilla Firefox, and I was told that Internet Explorer was blocking a potentially malicious sight. Very fishy), I suspected all was not well.

Literally every program was reported as "infected". I tried to open up the backup program for my external harddrive, and it was blocked. I tried to open up the in-house system restore feature, and again, was blocked. Could not open a single program. I couldn't even wipe my hard drive and reboot the system. Fully paralyzed. As I slowly realized I had gotten cluster-f*cked by a bogus virus scanning program, I had to laugh. Laughter slowly developed in to weeping, and weeping took a left turn at punching things and floored it down swearing boulevard. So I tried using my mom's computer to look up how badly I had screwed myself. I found several sights with unhelpful suggestions, recommending I do things like go on the internet and download another virus scanning program (uh uh uh, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, and I might as well bend over and...well, yeah). The solutions that didn't require me to download things, had instruction that followed something like this:

1. Find this hidden folder that is called something completely different in Vista. We don't know what it's called, so good luck.
2. Find this hidden file that's a string of random letters and numbers. Every time the virus infects a computer, it's a different string of random letters, so we can't tell you an exact file name. Oh, and all the other important system files in that folder are also named by a string of random letters. You can try this, but we can't guarantee success.
3. Since you probably couldn't do the first two steps, you might as well bend over...and unplug your computer because it will never work again.

If it wasn't for Safe Mode, I wouldn't be able to write this post, so thank God (who can't go faster than the Speed of Light) for that. I think this is also a sign that I should take the plunge and just go ahead and upgrade to Windows 7.

So ignoring those 4 hours that were delivered unto the Gods of Futility as temporal sacrifice, it was a pretty good day today. As I said, it was relatively easy. I had decided that I deserved an easy day for once. So we played with bubbles. And learned. Always learning.

After some 11th hour planning, and an ingenious suggestion from Angela, I settled on showing the kids how to make square bubbles.

Square Bubbles! Impossible you might say. I had the exact same reaction. But observe how I speak the truth.


Huzzah! True, not what I imagined when I heard Square Bubbles (I was thinking of those crazy bubbles Spongebob blew), but rather mind blowing. Kudos.

But it wasn't just a "blow bubbles" day. They had to learn science. That's how this whole teaching thing goes. I explained about the micell structure of soap, and the weird polarity things that accompany it (something I only remember hearing off hand in 7th grade). I also went over why the sphere is a geometrically favorable shape (ratio of volume to surface area). It was a great lesson to reinforce somethings we have gone over, as well as teach them something practical (why soap works the way it does).

With the oldest group, E group, we did a Mythbusters experiment based on the Humpty Dumpty myth. The task was: put humpty dumpty together again. I suppose I am learning, because I had the foresight to tell them to go out side to do the experiment. I still have much to learn, as I should have rephrased the instruction "smash it against the ground".

One group was able to successfully put the egg back together again, while the others made a terrible mess. Here's the reassembled egg:

A little more tape than I would have liked, but they did it. And were very pleased with themselves. Pictures cannot be posted for certain reasons.

And I give you my pen-ultimate shirt pocket:

And because I decided I would give myself an easy day, my pocket is empty. But my heart is full. I challenge someone to come up with something cornier.

My last class of this program had 3 kids in it because it was one of the small groups to begin with, and many had already gone home:

And as I sat there watching my kids have the time of their life with nothing more than a bucket of soapy water, I started mentally debriefing, pondering, and thinking, as I must always do towards the end of a project.

I think it's fair to say that I've grown a lot in the past 7 weeks of this program. I had never worked with kids in this capacity before, always opting for work with the elderly as my community service of choice. And though there are many similarities (frequency of bowel movements, short attention spans, the smell), they differ greatly. I've learned how to command the attention of distracted, ADD little children, if only for a few moments of the day (talk loudly and be the most distracting thing in the room). I've learned how to deal with them on an individual basis (it's very important to go down to their level, and meet them at their height). I can definitely say that I've picked up important job (and life) skills from this experience. Though I have much to learn and to improve upon, the task managing children no longer seems so daunting. And after this experience, I know I will make a great father. Someday. I do find it odd that after through this program, I began to feel protective of some of these kids. I take it as a good sign. Papa Bear, that whole complex.

But what's more striking than how I've grown, is how I've come to view myself. I've always struggled with viewing myself as the appropriate age. As a young kid, I always felt much older than everyone else. Perhaps it was because I was well behaved and didn't do the immature things that make teachers cry (experience), but I felt too old for my classmates. As I grew old, this feeling inverted, and I struggled to view myself as old. And when I finally turned 18, went off to college and became "independent", I still felt like I was in middle school, trying to figure out how this whole "switching classes for each subject" thing worked.

Up until this summer, I'd found it hard to think of myself as an adult, and a member of the workforce. My first job, working in an engineering lab, did nothing to cultivate my personal maturity, as I worked under a pile of grad students, researchers, post docs, and a PI in the insular womb of academia. Even working on my own research project did nothing for me. But this summer has changed a lot. I feel like an adult.

I look back and I'm pleasantly surprised by what I was able to accomplish. I proposed and planned my own curriculum. I conducted 5 hours of classes each day on my own, following my own lesson plans. This and the many little things along the way have changed my personal perception. Which is a good thing.

I've been mentally planning the timeline of the next few years for some time now. After Yale, let's say another 4 years of grad school. Getting a job, getting married, getting a family, that whole bit. It all seemed so grown up, and so imminent. And it honestly terrified me. Aside from the legal reasons (and a whole host of other ones), I've never touched alcohol because it seemed too mature. I didn't feel like I was anywhere near being at a point in my life where it didn't seem odd and out of place. And while I'm still too young for some of the things I've mentioned above, and I have much left to grown into, for the first time in my life I feel on track. Not mired down by social retardation, by keeping even with the pack. It feels good.

And here's my final thought for the night:

I've also found the converse is true. This program has made me feel very young. I think many scientists become jaded by academia, since it indeed becomes much harder and much more abstract. Unless you're the type that really really likes numbers (not me), science can seem like a chore at times. But this experience has reintroduced me to some of the fundamental wonders of the natural world. Magnets are still awesome, and still seem like black magic to me. Baking Soda and Vinegar will forever make me giggle. And bubbles, well, they're bubbles, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I'm sure as I become busier and more entrenched in this whole living thing, that I'll lose sight of what I type here. As I dive deeper into my engineering courses in the fall, I'll forget how awesome even the simplest circuit is, or how a high pitched squeal of joy can light up a room. But in this rare moment where I have time to think, debrief and ponder, I can appreciate the wholeness of this experience, the complexity of emotion and sentiment.

The aging of eternal youth. I think that sort of sums it up for now. Ah, look at the time. I must be going, as I must still go to work in the morning. So that will be it for now, readership. I know most won't make it this far in the post, and I'd even be so cocky that no one will bother with these last few sentences. But that's perfectly fine. They've served their purpose.


  1. I'm impressed at the reassembled Humpty Dumpty.

    I think that's one thing about teaching kids - it makes you feel young and makes you remember what it was like to be a kid again and the excitement you got from little things. I think it makes all the crap you have to put up with worth it.

    Congrats on completing your summer camp.

  2. I was impressed by it too. Then again, the other two groups just made an absolute mess, which is more of what I was expecting.