Workshop & Presentation at DeKalb PATH Academy in Atlanta, GA

During my recent visit to Atlanta, I had the chance to deliver a full day of presentations to students in grades 5-8 at DeKalb PATH Academy in Atlanta, GA. The talk was titled “Science & Music” and aimed to show  children the exciting innovations that happen when knowledge from STEM disciplines are applied to the Arts. The school had 366 students with approximately 80% being Hispanic children born to immigrant parents. The majority of students are from low income families.

The talk began with a little introduction on who I was and what I am currently studying at Yale. I then proceeded immediately to demoes. The first demo featured my music boxes. I had the students slowly decompose what was happening and let them figure out how the box was making sound. In the process, we covered magnetic forces and how speakers work.

The second demo was the by far the student favorite. This was the “Banana Beats” demo that made use of MIT Media Lab’s Makey Makey. I introduced the demo by asking students how they usually eat bananas. In cereal? In Sundaes? In Milkshakes? But what about Bananas and Hip Hop (Atlanta is the home of hip hop!). After playing some fresh beats (no pun intended), we proceeded to talk about complete circuits, a little on micro-controllers and programming. All the while, I tried to stress how fun it can be when you take knowledge from STEM disciplines to innovate new things in the Arts. I tried to emphasize that STEM does not exist in isolation with the hopes that it will inspire the kids to keep pursuing science and engineering. I then invited some students to the stage to participate in a “human synthesizer.”

The last demo featured my HCI work with the Leap Motion. I demoed my Leap Motion dubstep and talked about how sensors used in Electrical Engineering can be used to make pioneer new mediums of musical expression. I was trying to get the kids excited with STEM by showing cool examples to music they can relate to. I deliberately used hip hop and not classical music. I deliberately used Dubstep and not jazz. This was to grab and sustain the student’s interest as much as possible. From the their feed back (“Mr. I give you a ten out of ten!”) and the response from teachers, I think it was a great success! Mrs. Cox ended up changing the schedule of the day to make sure every year got to see my presentation and demoes.

I had never presented these demoes to kids before. I had previously presented to a college audience and thus was constantly adjusting my information to fit the younger audience’s knowledge. I also had to make more effort to involve the students with question and answers.  The kids were very sharp and quick at figuring out the the basic science behind the devices.

I really believe that “cool” demoes like the Banana Hip Hop can make students excited with STEM. It definitely made me more passionate to keep doing Physics, EE and CS!

The principal, Mrs. Suttiwan Cox was my mother’s college friend. It was great to finally meet her!

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