Role Model of the Month - Jessica on Following Your Interests, No Matter What

Jessica is currently working on her PhD at MIT, with a focus in AI (Artificial Intelligence). Growing up, she always had a passion for engineering and science, but felt discouraged as one of the few girls in her classes. Since then, it’s been her mission to encourage young people to follow their interests and passions, and break the social biases that tend to come with them.

Want to open up your kids world? At Create & Learn, students learn state of the art computer technologies Jessica talks about such as AI, coding, and robotics, with experienced teachers -- check it out!


Christy: So, Jessica can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?  

Jessica: Definitely yeah so my name is Jessica Van Brummellen. Right now I am a PhD student at MIT, which basically means I've been in school for a very long time. 

I guess I'll start from high school: So I had a lot of different interests. I liked -- I really, really liked -- science and math. When I was in grade 10, I heard about this drafting course at my school. Drafting is kind of like engineering -- you get to design different projects. You get to do woodworking and that sort of thing. So, I signed up for this course in grade 10. I was really, really excited about it all summer long. When I got to grade 11, I showed up for the class I realized that there was only one other female student in the room. I got really discouraged and I just felt like I didn't belong so I ended up dropping the course, which was really unfortunate because it could have really helped me in my undergraduate degree, which is the degree I took after high school. So, if there's anything that I can do to encourage people not to be afraid to do things that maybe aren't standard, or maybe you're a little bit afraid about doing, definitely want to encourage people to do that. Follow your passions. And if you're interested in something, don't be afraid to do that. 

My older sister was doing sciences, so I actually went into a science degree after high school and I was going to become a doctor, but honestly I was a little queasy thinking about injuries. I ended up taking this one course in my undergrad called Engineering Drawing Tag Camp. It was very similar to this drafting course that I would have taken in high school. I ended up, after a long thought process, switching into Engineering and doing a Mechanical Engineering degree. 

I ended up going to graduate school and switching into computer science, because I also really, really liked coding and I was doing some self-driving car research for my undergrad. So, then I did my masters. I learned about lots of AI, lots of machine-learning. And then I made some conversational interfaces in App Inventor. 

What I'm doing now is my PhD. Specifically, I'm working on creating a conversational agent that you can talk to you. 


Christy: Could you talk a little bit more about how you first got into coding? It sounded like you weren't really exposed to it until college. What did that process look like for you? 

Jessica: This is actually a funny story -- so I didn't know what coding was until after high school -- and I was watching this really old movie with my friends, it's called The Matrix. I saw that the main character was a programmer. So, he was typing on this computer and making the computer. Two things I thought that was really cool, and I had no idea what that was, and I was like okay, I should look this up and figure out how it works. So, I ended up just Googling it and finding an online course and taking a course about how to program and really, really enjoying it. I didn't immediately go into a computer science degree, like I said before, but it was something that I was really interested in.


Christy: Can you talk a little bit more about what products you have created? What does the process look like for you, and what inspires you to create these different products? 

Jessica: Definitely. So, I'm not specifically doing product development, but I'm doing research, so I get to create different things and I can actually share my screen. 

Something I developed is called ‘Early Warning System for Cyclists.’ Basically, we put a bunch of sensors on the back of a bicycle to warn the cyclist about things that were behind them. They're called ultrasonic sensors, which use sound to get distance data. Then, I combined all of that data, all of that information that was coming from the sensors, to figure out how dangerous it was to the cyclist. I also put little motors and this in the handlebars. So basically, if there was a car that was coming up really dangerously close and fast behind the bicycle, then we would mode or vibrate the motors and tell the the cyclists which direction to go based on the vibrations. 

I can also talk about my Master's research. After I finished my undergrad in Canada, I [got] my masters at MIT. [The program] I was working on is just like Scratch -- it's a parameter you can use to create your own mobile phone apps. What I did was modify this so that you can actually program Amazon Alexa and use the machine-learning algorithms, or the AI, that's involved with Alexa and to program what you want her to do. 

I actually got to bring it into a classroom and students actually got to create their own Alexa skills. Slowly we're gonna bring it out to people and start beta testing with lots of different people.


Christy: Why do you think it is important for students to start learning AI and coding at a younger age? 

Jessica: I think it's super important. One of the reasons is because it's out there right now. You have all these home devices sitting in your home, and there's Siri that you can use, and there's all these machine-learning algorithms on social media. So, that could be your Facebook feed or on YouTube, deciding which videos to show you. There's also a lot of biases with these algorithms. 


Christy: What do you think is a good starting tool to create an AI? 

Jessica: I think for me, what really motivates me is finding a question that I'm interested in, doing something really creative or different or new. And then, going from either someone else's code, or looking online for tutorials, and figuring out how to make that. I think doing a tutorial -- there's tons of resources online that you can you can find. First doing a simpler tutorial, and then thinking of something I'm really interested in and building that, because if I'm not interested in it I probably won't finish the project. 


Christy: What do you think are some ways to help younger students learn AI?

Jessica: When I did the workshops with the Alexa skills for my masters, first we would [have] me teaching the very basics. I think one of the first things we did was have tutorials that were hopefully easy to follow, and then they can create and feel success by implementing these things that have already been done. Then, they can remix and change those however they want once they're finished. As our final project, we had them create something that they were interested in. We call this project-based learning. I think it can be really, really useful once people have the basic skills to let them explore and address problems.


Students: We want to ask Jessica if there's one key takeaway that you would want to leave with students for their future, what would it be?

Jessica: There's a couple different things. I know when I was young, when I was in elementary school and middle school, it was really hard for me especially because I just felt different. I wasn't interested in what most girls were interested in. I loved building things and creating new things and girls thought I was weird. So it was tough for me back in the day. But I think, as you grow up, things do get better and things change. Everything is subject to change and I really hope that all of you keep hoping and finding things that you're interested in. Just keep going, and also, if you have questions for me, feel free to reach out. Thanks so much for joining, it's been great talking with you all.


Watch Jessica’s full interview, here!

Top 5 Free Sites to Help Elementary and Middle Schoolers Learn to Code (Recommended by Create & Learn)

Coding is one of the most valuable skills to master for kids. Standards for K-12 computer science education have been established in 34 states in the US, and the number of students taking computer science AP exams has tripled over the last three years. 

Unfortunately, few schools are equipped to teach it adequately. 

At Create & Learn, students learn state of the art computer technologies such as AI, coding, and robotics, with experienced teachers. To help our students practice and master the learning out of our class time, we recommend some free online resources.

Here are the top five sites on our list:


1.Scratch (scratch.mit.edu)

Developed by MIT, Scratch is an excellent platform to get started with coding. It allows students to program their own interactive stories, games, and animations. It is used by tens of millions of learners around the world. We are also a huge fan of its creator, MIT Professor Mitch Resnick, who is an incredibly dedicated educator. The site does not have a formal curriculum. However, it has a very active community where you can find millions of excellent projects of all levels that students can easily follow along and remix. And this is what we encourage our students to do as extra practice when they take the Scratch Ninja or Accelerated Scratch classes. 



2. CS First

Speaking of Scratch curriculum, CS First is an excellent Scratch curriculum created by Google. We know a number of the contributing team members and have been impressed by their dedication to bringing computer science education to all students.  

CS First was created to empower teachers who do not have technical training to teach computer science . Consequently, it is particularly easy for students to follow outside of our classes. Another great thing about CS First is it has multiple series of classes that map to different interests areas such as sports, art, and games. So, students can find their favorite subjects and dig in!




3.Code.org

Have you heard of Hour of Code? That’s the annual world-wide big event organized by Code.org with hundreds of millions of students participating. The organization has made extraordinary contributions in coding education for kids. The site offers a wide range of web resources, tools, and apps for kids to get started in coding. One thing we like in particular about Code.org is in addition to coding, it also covers general computer science topics such as data and Internet.  

 



4.Khan Academy

Khan Academy offers computer science lessons in the form of instructional videos and exercises. The video may be particularly appealing for some learners. Their coding materials mostly cover HTML and Javascript which are not for beginners. However, the materials on general computing such as algorithms, Internet, and cybersecurity are well designed and offers rich learning.  


 


5. W3schools.com

W3Schools is an excellent site for advanced learners. Because of that, you don’t see it much as a resource for kids’ coding. But it is one of the most popular sites for adults who are new coding or want to pick up another language. The site started with web focused technologies such as HTML and JS in the early years and has expanded significantly to include almost all popular languages such as Python and Java. The step by step content and quizzes cover the core concepts in great details. We find it to be an effective way for our students in Python for AI and Build Your Web classes to practice and master what they have learned in classes. 




Have more questions about these platforms and how we use them? Feel free to email us at info@createandlearn.us. And, sign up for a free introduction class to have your child start coding or advance to the next level with our Scratch, Minecraft, and Python coding classes.

Role Model of the Month - Joy Jin on “Exploring and Pursuing Your Passion”

This month’s role model is Joy Jin, a bay area native and, a first-year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) who has some big goals for her future. However, it was things she learned while growing up, like competitive ice-skating and starting a nonprofit for the visually impaired, that led her Harvard and then to where she is today. 

We had the opportunity to interview Joy recently and here are some highlights. We hope you end up as inspired as we are! And check out the full video interview here. Want to open up your kids world? Check out our classes at create-learn.us.


Christie: Can you tell us a little bit more about your educational background throughout elementary, middle school, and high school?

Joy: I went to Hoover Elementary School, and then Turman, which is now renamed, and then Gunn High School.

When I was younger, I actually used to figure skate, so that really took up a lot of my time. But at school, I was very interested honestly in a bunch of different subjects. I loved reading. And then I became more interested in science as I grew older, for a number of reasons. 

In high school, I was pretty involved in research. I actually worked a little bit at UCSF as a volunteer at a lung cancer lab. In college I actually ended up studying molecular and cell biology, which was kind of prompted by my research in high school. And then I also did some nonprofit work and was just very interested in serving the community. Mostly, I worked with visually impaired individuals and younger children, so that was something that I continued throughout college. 


Christie: What are you currently doing now at UCSF?

Joy: We actually just started school about 5 weeks ago. The first week was orientation -- our orientation is called Difference Matter Orientation, and UCSF has a really big focus on recruiting physicians who look like the community that they’re serving. So, we have a lot of under-represented minorities and people who identify as part of different communities. That is just very inspiring to be with. We learned things like, how do you communicate with patients and to get to hear the patient’s story and their perspective so you can figure out how to, for example, diagnose someone but also address concerns they might have because of cultures that they came from.


Jessie: How did you decide going from molecular biology at Harvard to become a doctor?

Joy: I think I was always very interested in medicine because I think it’s very emotionally fulfilling to be able to serve patients and address concerns that they have. I used to be a competitive figure skater, and in high school I had a really bad injury where a pairs team collided into me while we were training. So, as a result, my leg was sliced open, and I spent a couple of months to recover from this injury. I really appreciated how important support systems are, and how we depend on the medical system to get you back to being a functional being... I just didn’t think that anything would compare emotionally for me. 

Aside from being a physician, I really would’ve considered maybe working at a biotech startup or somehow working in health policy. 

Christie: What do you think helped you get into Harvard, and now UCSF?

Joy: I don’t think I really know, but advice that might help, is I always had something that I cared about a lot and was passionate about, and I tried to do something about it, for example, starting a nonprofit. I got the idea when I was volunteering at Vista Center for the blind when I was younger and I learned how to read braille. I gradually started getting involved in the community. 

So I think, just taking advantage of the opportunities that you have and also understanding and taking the time to reflect, “why does this matter to me?” I think that give you purpose in what you’re doing and it motivates you to keep going further.


Jessie: A lot of our students are upper elementary school students or middle school, and we hope to have speakers like yourself to share with them your experiences back in those days, and how you feel about elementary and middle school now, and share any advice you might have.

Joy: When I was younger, I spent a lot of my time training for figure skating. I think one thing that I learned is the feeling of perseverance and hard work. When you’re younger in elementary school and middle school, you think you’re busy, but you get older and you’re always going to be busy. So I think it’s a great time to explore what you like doing.

If I could go back and give myself advice, I would say that if you find something that you think you enjoy doing, to spend time doing and and to keep doing it for as long as you can, because I think you learn a lot. The things I learned from spending 10-12 training years as a figure skater, I think can be applied to whatever job or whatever interest I have in the future. My advice is to keep doing something as long as you can, because you will learn a lot of lessons along the way. And I think it’s personally fulfilling, too.


Christie: Some students, and maybe some parents want this for their students, want to one day go to medical school and become a doctor, which is what you’re on the path to doing. What advice would you give for them to reach that end goal?

Joy: I was very lucky to have parents that were very supportive. If my parents had advice to give … I really valued their advice. But it was never like I had to take their advice, it was just another piece of the puzzle that I wanted to figure out. It was in combination with other things, like talking with older students, and things like that. Giving advice is great, but also give your child the freedom to pursue what they like, because if they find something that they really like, then they’re going to want to do it themselves.

For people who are interested in medicine, I think the best way is to talk to people you admire and who think you want to be in the future. Having role models is really important because you can’t be what you can’t see. 

On the practical side, do well in school. Take initiative. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations. 


Check out what else Joy has to share in her video here.

TechNews4Kids - Would You Like to Have Robot Arms?

Have you ever sat back and thought, what would it be like if I had an extra pair of hands? Robot arms might be the answer! In London, the Natural History Museum hosted its annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, and the photos are spectacular. AI is a large part of our day, as well as what we expect to be an even bigger part of our future. However, can it be fully trusted? Read on to learn more in our latest Tech News 4 Kids newsletter! Join our classes to learn all about the latest technologies — coding, artificial intelligence, and more.

Robot Arms Offer a Helpful Hand

(Fast Company)

Photo: sergeyryzhov/iStock

We've all been there: juggling too many things, maybe even carrying in the groceries, where we wished we had an extra pair of hands to help us. In Japan, though the technology is still in its early stages, tech experts are working on creating robotic arms to help in assembly lines. Find out how this technology works, and how it would be to give them a try, here!

Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards

(News 4 Kids)

Source: © Yongqing Bao, Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Every year in London, wildlife photographers are celebrated for the amazing footage they capture, and 2019 did not disappoint. This year at the Natural History Museum, photographers showed off their findings, and some of them were 10 years old! Scroll through the stunning photos from this year's winners here.

AI is Great -- But How Much Should We Trust It?

(Science News)

DMYTRO VIKARCHUK/SHUTTERSTOCK

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is part of our every day lives, and it looks like it will be for the foreseeable future. However, there are some data scientists that are wary of instantly trusting the results AI brings. What does this mean for us, and how can we use AI the smartest way possible? Find out here!

Love these articles? Check out Tech News 4 Kids to read more news like this, and sign up for our fun computer science classes to learn more about the technologies driving these innovations.

All About that Moon: Should We Go Back?

It’s been 50 years since America landed on the moon, and we wanted to celebrate with a moon-inspired newsletter! There has recently been an interest to head to the moon again, but why? When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, what did the facts and figures look like? And if you hopped onto a bicycle and peddled to the moon, how long would that take? Read all about it in this week’s Tech News 4 Kids newsletter! Join our classes to learn all about the latest technologies — coding, artificial intelligence, and more.


Back to the Moon

(The New York Times)

Photo Credit: JPL/NASA

We landed on the moon 50 years ago, and until recently, the rush to visit again has been on pause. However, more countries are looking to send people to the moon, including the United States. What caused this race to the moon to suddenly become so important? And what do we need to know about it? Find out all about this moon race here!


Celebrating Apollo 11’s 50th: What it Cost to Get to the Moon

(Forbes)

50 years ago, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, marking an amazing time in American history. However, as unsurprising as it might be, it cost quite a bit to get there. Find out exactly how much it cost for NASA to put a man on the moon, and why it’s important, here!


Fly Me — Er, Bicycle Me to the Moon! How Long Would it Take?

(Wired)

Remember E.T. and the famous moment of the boy riding his bike with his alien friend to the moon? What if someone does do it…? Find out what this Wired journalist calculated, and the interesting things they found along the way, by checking out this article! You might be surprised by what you find.


Love these articles? Check out Tech News 4 Kids to read more news like this, and sign up for our fun computer science classes to learn more about the technologies driving these innovations.

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