Hello, World

Wow. It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here. This is how I’ve started most of my “recent” entries in my personal journal too (yes, a paper-based journal that requires actual writing). Typing’s undeniably more efficient, but there’s a purity around my physical paper journals (I call them “volumes”) that keeps me from converting my personal journal entries to digital. It’s perhaps the only aspect of my life that I’m not trying to convert into digital form. Anyways, that’s not the purpose of this post.

A lot has happened since my last sorry excuse for a blog post. Here’s a summary in bullet-list form, in no particular order:

  • Completion of the LDT program! Acquisition of some background and framework of thinking about education, how people learn, and how to apply it to teaching and design
  • Acquisition of new technical chops: iOS programming, Kinect+Unity3D development (not fun though), and new web stuff, mostly frontend (but I did finally start to learn some rails! And yes, I like django better).
  • Met some awesome people, namely my LDT cohort. What a fun, interesting, and diverse bunch.
  • Worked at start ups! Definitely more exciting than a large corporation, and it forced me to be more productive. There’s always something to do, and I’m generally amazed at the work that some people can pull off (not always though).
  • Secured a full-time position at an awesome start up! Goalbook. I start September 17th.
  • Became the Religious Education coordinator at East Bay Church! This has been a bit difficult for me to adjust to; I’m too used to having things coordinated for me. But thankfully the teachers are super cooperative, dedicated, and patient with my lack of experience and surplus of procrastination (which, I really need to do something about…)
  • Became an uncle! I mean, I’ve been an uncle since I was a kid as a result of having many older cousins, but my sister’s got a baby daughter! So far all I’ve managed to do was make the baby cry by accidentally clanking a spoon while she was on the verge of falling asleep. Go me.
  • Got a new longboard. Stanford is pretty longboard friendly and I would longboard to class everyday. Thought it was worth it to upgrade to a better board since I was actually regularly doing it. Even though I’ve moved from Stanford now, I’ve already put my longboard to good use by making quick trips to Costco to eat lunch (and dinner, and lunch the day after). How many people can say they’ve been to Costco five times in five days? AND spent less than $20?

Thank God, I’ve accomplished a lot in the past year. The LDT program was a really good experience, Stanford provided tons of opportunities and a great environment to just build stuff, and I can say I have this thing called a Master’s degree.

However, one key aspect of my life that has suffered is my spiritual cultivation and servitude in church. I was never very good at balancing multiple major commitments simultaneously (which is why I would never do something crazy like doing both work and studies part time). As an undergrad I didn’t have to balance school and church work much because there wasn’t a local TJC around – all I needed to do was maintain my own faith. That changed for me 3 years ago when I started working full time and moved to the bay area. Because East Bay was so small, I started serving pretty quickly, in smaller capacities at first. The responsibilities ramped up quite a bit after completing RETS and becoming an RE teacher for J1 class. I was working full time but one of the pros of working at a large company like Oracle is that at least for me, I almost never had to touch work after coming home. I could focus most of my evenings on my church duties. But once grad school started, that balance became drastically one-sided. I became “busy” around the clock and slacked in prayer and Bible reading, but my duties in church continued to increase. Servitude without cultivation becomes a heavy burden. I’m sure my RE teaching suffered not just from less preparation, but from hypocrisy and less-authentic living. I became burned out from school work, which left little energy and mental focus for much else.

With that in mind, I hope now that the LDT program is finished, I can refocus on my spiritual life. Today after service I held an RE parent/teacher meeting. I was very moved by the concern the parents had for their childrens’ spiritual growth. There were a lot of worries and concerns from me about the students, but the meeting helped me realize that I can’t have lofty expectations (especially when my own spiritual life is a mess), and that the students receive SO much pressure outside of church, mainly from school. I also had a better sense of just how busy some of the families really are and it made me feel kind of sheepish for telling everyone that I’m so busy and tired when the main reason why I feel tired is because I don’t manage my time well. But the meeting made me realize how important it is for me to improve myself spiritually, not just for myself, but for the students’ growth too.

This post is all over the place. I should stop here. Writing takes a long time!

Oh, today was review on the Pauline letters for J2 class. And because I’m such a geek, I made this for class: Quiz+Group Jeopardy Thingy. Built using the foundation framework, less.js, and angular.js.

Day 4, Another Productive Morning

This morning, I hacked together another bare-bones django app that does the same thing as the evernote one I wrote on Monday, except it integrates with google docs, where most of our existing word studies are. And yes, I created yet another github repo to share the oauth process involved.

Another nice thing about free mornings is I can take my time in praying and reading the Bible. It doesn’t mean I get epiphanies, but at least I can read a chapter slowly and multiple times.

On another note, one of the courses I’m taking is called Design Thinking Bootcamp (yay! I got into it!). We were assigned an interesting design challenge today that is due next week. I won’t say what it is since it’s possible I may interview you about it (“secretly” or explicitly), but I think it’s good that I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone to try to talk to people and find insight in uncovering a particular need.

Day 2, Light Mondays (and Wednesdays)

This quarter I’m taking 6 classes and 14 units. Somehow, my class schedule looks quite sparse compared to my Cornell schedules as an undergrad. Maybe it’s because a few classes only meet once a week. Anyways, my Monday and Wednesday mornings are completely open, and thank God I was able to do something productive.

I quickly implemented a very bare-bones django app that can authenticate with Evernote, and retrieve private or public notes and display them. Why bother doing this? Well for Greek class we started working on word studies and “categorizing” usages of a word throughout the Bible, which means there’s lots of verse references. Instead of copying the text of every verse, we wanted a way to leverage reftagger. So with this django app, now we can view word studies (if they are stored on Evernote) with hover-over Bible references!

I also created another github repo for sharing the oauth process  I used to integrate django and evernote. Another +1 geek points!

 

30 Days of Thanksgiving, Day 1

A couple friends of mine have completed a “30 days of thanksgiving” blog thingy. I thought it would be good for me to do as well, to challenge me not only to be more aware of God’s blessings in everyday, but to post more regularly on this thing and practice writing…sort of.

So, what is blessing number 1?

Being at Stanford

This is more of a summary of my transition from work back to school, from employee to grad student. After spending a week here, all I can say that it’s been great and I’m really looking forward to this year. Lists are more digestible than copious amounts of texts and paragraphs, so here are some reasons why I’m thankful for being here:

  1. I got assigned a single studio in a nice community. It’s relatively quiet/peaceful (none of that downtown noise), the studio came furnished, has a kitchen, and a spacious bathroom. Laundry is on site and, as I discovered today, FREE! Well, guess technically it’s coming out of my rent, but nice that it’s not additional.
  2. Stanford is pretty. In particular I am comparing to Berkeley because that was the other school I was deciding between. There may be some parts of Berkeley campus that are nice, but there’s simply no contest when comparing with Stanford. Given by upbringing in rural/suburban Plainsboro and my dislike for urban/city environments, Stanford definitely fits me better than Berkeley does, in terms of general environment. And dood, the engineering quad at Stanford is super baller man! Engineering is well-funded here for sure.
  3. My cohort. One of the things that I like about my program (and I guess graduate programs in general) is that the class size is smaller, which lends to a greater sense of community and camaraderie (hooray for auto-spelling!). There are 27 people in the LDT program, and I’m glad to say they are all super friendly and chill (and from what I can tell, they think I’m pretty cool too). Actually one of the main reasons I chose Stanford was because of these people – they seemed a lot more passionate and purpose-driven, and I thought that these are the kinds of people I would want to work with on projects.
  4.  There are church members. There are currently two other students who are TJC on campus, and a handful of others who work nearby. I even got a dedicated homemade cookie delivery from Sarah-Mei! At Cornell, there was only 1 church member during the last two years, and we seldom met up.
  5. Stanford is longboard friendly. I had some reservations about longboarding around campus, but turns out it’s pretty awesome! I guess since Stanford is so bike-friendly, the roads are much smoother and there are designated bike lanes everywhere. The campus is large and the distance is just about right for a longboard commute. It is a bit of a hassle carrying around safety gear, but I guess that’s something I’ll just have to get used to. So far I’ve mainly been only wearing wrist-guards. I should wear a helmet too, but it’s so bulky to carry when I’m not riding, and I’m usually not going very fast anyways…but I probably should still have it.
  6. Actually being excited about school. This is a stark contrast with much of my undergrad days (and high school). Most people don’t really enjoy school when it’s regimental and required, but the nice thing about grad school is that everything is totally your choice! Undergraduate education is becoming increasingly more expected/standard (which is a good thing), but graduate school is completely up to you if you want to go or not. And if you do go, you can pick a program that is specialized for what you’d be interested in. Hence, I am excited about classes that I’ll be taking and the projects I’ll be working on.

That being said, graduate school will also be a challenge spiritually. I’ll have to balance school and church work (and possibly part-time work on campus), which I fully expect to be more difficult than balancing church work and my previous full-time job (having no homework was awesome). There will be a lot more temptation on campus than at my office so I will need to be more watchful and self-disciplined. Consistent prayer and Bible reading are a must, and hopefully having a prayer group with some SSC J1 brothers will help keep me accountable.

I guess that was still copious amounts of text. But at least it was in a list!

Beginnings of LDT

This week was my orientation at Stanford’s School of Education. On Monday and Tuesday there was a workshop for my program (LDT) that introduced us to the “design thinking” process. Essentially it is a wildly collaborative and creative approach to problem-solving. I thought our facilitator gave a really nice graphical sketch of what design thinking is like compared to the “conventional approach.”

In a conventional approach, generally speaking, you identify a question or problem. From the question/problem, you try to find an immediate answer or solution that will work. Graphically, it might look something as simple as this:

The conventional approach to problem solving.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach, and it works fine. Design thinking is in a sense a less direct approach to problem solving, with the hope that the solution is highly innovative and well-informed. Graphically it might look something like this:

The design thinking approach.

Instead of going from the problem directly to an answer, design thinking explores a variety of possibilities. Possibilities don’t have to be feasible or practical – they are like “what-if” or “I wonder if this would work” kind of solutions. This allows for copious amounts of creativity to come into the process, even if most of the ideas are lucrative. But the idea behind exploring potentially lucrative solutions is that an extraordinary solution can be found by “backing off” a little bit. With this approach, the solution is most likely pushing the boundary of what’s possible and is a product that most wouldn’t have expected, yet works really well. Neat concept, huh?

Broadly, there are 4 phases:

  1. Research
  2. Design
  3. Prototype
  4. Scale and Spread

The first two days of orientation was an exercise in the design thinking process, sprinkled with icebreakers and short improv games. We broke up into groups of maybe about 15-20 people, and each group practiced applying design thinking to solve the following question: How can we increase low-performing middle school students’ engagement in learning?

For the research phase, each group interviewed 2 people in the education/teaching industry, asking questions we thought would be helpful in designing a solution. We took notes on post-it notes and later posted all of our findings on a wall and clustered them into categories.

From there, we started the design phase by throwing out ideas on what the solution might look like or might involve. Because of the collaborative nature, there were a ton of ideas ranging from curriculum development, use of media/technology, classroom space, techniques, policy changes, community outreach/involvement, etc. These were also written on post-it notes and clustered into categories. At this point we tried to refine our findings by focusing on one or two clusters for prototyping. One of the funnier ideas was “Get Justin Bieber to teach math.” There were a number of interesting ideas, but I can’t recall them right now.

Prototyping was an interesting phase because it was still very much like a design/conceptual stage, at least for the purposes of our exercise. We were given pipe-cleaners and styrofoam and other random crafts materials to help us form our ideas in some abstract way, but a lot of us ended up just playing with them while talking/fleshing out details of a potential solution. My mini-group decided to tackle the issue of curriculum material not being relevant to students’ interests or not having a connection to what the student perceives as the real world.

Scale and spread then looks at how our solution can “get legs” to become real. We investigate what needs to happen to make the solution realized, e.g. from who do we need buy-in, where could funding come from, how the solution will be deployed, what the business model might look like, etc.

Finally, at the end each group of 15-20 had to pick one idea and prepare a presentation for it. Our group ended up picking the idea that my mini-group thought of (woot!) and our presentation revolved around a skit of our solution in action. Our solution turned out to be a really ambitious digital content platform that connects topics at school (“What did you learn today?” prompt) with an individual students’ interests, which could also serve as data collection for teachers and schools to further inform their lessons and policies. Our skit demonstrated a disengaged student in class where the teacher was talking about Mayan culture, but the student doesn’t really care about anything except basketball, jazz, video games, and erm…women. When the student opens the mobile app and enters “Mayan culture”, the app would fetch rich content that relates Mayan culture to his particular interests. For example, it might tell him about Mayan sports and how the losers of said sport competitions were subsequently sacrificed. The app also feeds into a type of social network that suggests local experts that students can communicate with on said topic. All of this data (student’s interests, what topics the students looked up, and what content they viewed) can be fed into a “teacher dashboard view” which would compile and distill all of it to gauge the interests and activity of say, one’s class. This information would be valuable in making lessons more relevant to students’, and for inviting guest speakers to come to the school, based on what a large number of students might be commonly interested in.

Anyways, I am really excited about this program and working with the people in my “cohort.” There are 27 people in our program and they are all so intelligent, fun, passionate, and purpose-driven. I’ve never felt this eager about school before, so hopefully that means I made the right choice.

Thank God for this wonderful opportunity, and I hope I can take advantage of it to its fullest so that ultimately, the things I learn can also be applied to church work, especially RE.