Alum Reflects on Student Teacher Placement in Thailand

Naomi in Thailand

Naomi Pietenpol is a 2015 mathematics alum with a teacher licensure, who spent eight weeks in Thailand for her student teaching placement. Naomi worked in the Grace International School there and took some time to share a little about her experience.

I don’t think I’ll ever make it through another day without thinking about my international student teaching experience. The community that I was welcomed into was beautiful, godly, loving, encouraging and challenging.

I worked with students from all over the world, yes, but that’s not what made them so great; they were just great kids who made a point of telling me funny stories and saying ‘hi’ in the halls. Because of the nature of the ex-pat community I was a part of, I would see my students as I biked to the market and ran to grab lunch, and I loved every time I got to see one of them. I got to go to church with them, sit in on their Bible studies and live life with them a bit.

The co-op teacher I worked with had so much experience, and from him I learned how to teach math well — those tips and tricks that make the content more accessible to students, the kind of things you usually only find out five years into it. He and the rest of the staff were patient and encouraging, and I loved being invited into their homes for meals and watching their adorable little kids so they could have a night out, or being taken along on adventures.

Families and friends took me on adventures, and I got to see places that usually reside on postcards and in dreams. I stayed with families that made me feel like family and I learned so much about the world, relationships and the Lord just from their stories. If you’re thinking of going overseas for student teaching, know that it will be a lot of transition and good-byes that are hard, but also know that it will be an amazing experience full of beautiful sights and people.

My motto was “just do it,” and it served me well. Take every opportunity to be among the local people and the people of the school, to see beautiful things, to listen to stories and make new friends; take every chance to serve and to learn, even though you’re supposed to be the one teaching.

Naomi has accepted a position teaching middle school math at Parnassus Preparatory School in Minnesota, which is based on a classical education model.

Robotics and Programming Lego Mindstorms Summer Camp

Several departments and athletic teams across campus host camps throughout the summer for local children of all ages. One example is the Robotics and Programming camp that the department of computer science organizes. Jan Wilms, department chair, started the camp seven years ago and modeled it after a camp that the physics department was doing back then. “Our department had purchased Lego Robotics kits for our Intro to Computer Science class, and they were perfect for an outreach program to middle schoolers to get them involved in science and technology,” Wilms said.

Lego Mindstorms programming interface The camp has been going on this week from 1-4pm each day. Camper Jake Lancaster said, “I like Lego camp because it’s very entertaining to program and drive the robots, and it’s fun to meet new friends.” The camp mixes fun and games with challenges like line following, maze traversal and races with the robots. Everything is built on a foundation of engineering principles and programming concepts. Wilms explains, “The kids learn about differential gears and Ackerman steering but also about advanced programming like multithreading and event-driven programming. This is possible because Lego makes available a visual programming language that is very user friendly, and the immediate feedback that the robots provide encourages trial-and-error and hones debugging skills. We even use some trigonometry that the younger ones haven’t learned yet in school, and they don’t seem to mind because it is directly applicable to getting the robot to cover the desired distance.”

Lego Mindstorms robot built at the camp Several of the campers have attended consecutive years as the camp offers something different each summer. There are many different designs available for the robots that are fun for the campers to build and test.

“Our hope is that this will inspire the kids to continue their passion and choose a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field,” says Wilms. We’ve enjoyed having these campers here all week!Camper working on his robot Dr. Wilms troubleshooting with a camper Campers testing their program A camper working on his robot Dr. Wilms troubleshooting a programming issue with a student