Practicum: Teaching at Beaver Works Summer Institute

Practicum: Teaching at Beaver Works Summer Institute

November 16, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


I’m Melanie Chen.
I’m a computer science major at MIT. and I’m interning with Lincoln Labs this summer. Part of my internship has been helping to prototype and to help design the curriculum for
the Beaver Works Summer Institute, specifically for Cog*Works. In Cog*Works, high school students are taught various applications of machine learning.
We are essentially building up towards helping them develop their own
autonomous cognitive assistants, sort of like Siri or Alexa. We gave each team an Echo Dot
from Amazon, so they’ve been able to actually see how speech-to-text
processing, when done right, can work really well,
and they’ve been able to program their Echoes to have various skills. So every time we give a lecture,
we always give some sort of exercise so they can implement what they just
learned, so it’s very hands-on. Because they get to fiddle around with it,
and actually see the results so quickly, that’s what really makes it more
rewarding and more significant. Cog*Works is one of three classes
hosted by the Summer Institute. We also have Racecar and UAV All three classes have
a different structure. So Racecars and UAVs
will try to complete a course based on recognition of these different
signs that they have placed along the
courses for both UAVs and Racecars. For Cognitive Assistants, it’s less of a race
and a little bit more of like a startup pitch, where the students will be able to
pitch the skills that they have developed and whatever software that they have made
over the course of this final week. As a TA for the class,
I go around the classroom, whenever someone
asks me a question, then I’m there to
answer and do my best to help. The most difficult part about that, the challenge,
was to really project myself as what I would want to see in a mentor. Being able to
listen to the students and really understand what problems they’re having,
and being able to communicate how to approach it, has been something that I
have been working on. They’re all very bright kids, very enthusiastic, very passionate about the stuff they’re doing. They come from all across the nation,
with all different backgrounds, but they’re all working together on these
different projects, and that sort of openness about where you are, what you
know, and not being afraid to say where you’re confused has been very important. And that’s part of how
the students have grown so much. When I was in high school, I really
needed advice and mentorship. Sometimes you really want genuine, firsthand advice from someone who’s been through it. Many of these kids are about to start
applying for colleges, and they’re entering a really stressful time of high
school, so even if it’s just life advice I think it makes it really worthwhile to
be able to help them out in any way I can. I’ve grown pretty attached to these
kids after these few weeks teaching them and working with them. Until you’re in that room for
four weeks with this tight-knit community, you don’t really
get to see the actual effects that your work has on other people. That’s what has made my internship
worthwhile for me, seeing how much these kids have grown
since the first day, seeing their passion for machine learning grow, and their
understanding really just soar. Seeing that sort of growth has been
really meaningful for me.