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Summer 06

This summer I assisted teaching a couple workshops, mentored students in research and learning projects, and built a tool to save Shodor time, money, and effort when going to off-site locations to administer teacher workshops.

With new programs, such as Shodor’s Apprenticeship project, I had more of an opportunity to work as a mentor than I could in previous years. Even though I was only part time this summer, I was able to help guide the younger Shodorites through some of their learning and research challenges - showing them how to find information, helping them find errors in the projects, and helping them to improve the quality of their work. Mentoring is both a challenging and rewarding experience: challenging because you need to be able to guide students without doing the work for them, and rewarding because you can see those students start to grasp the concepts, and then shoot ahead of you in some areas - coming up with applications for the ideas you’ve helped them understand that you hadn’t (or maybe couldn’t have) come up with on your own.

My main project this summer was spawned from a simple request from one of the staff scientists who wanted an easier way of handling the off-site workshops that Shodor teaches at schools around the country. Traditionally, when scheduling such off-site training workshops, the Shodor has had to figure out how to get our ‘portable lab’ to the site: our traveling laptops. Traveling with one or two laptops per person isn’t too bad, but when the location needs 20 machines, getting them all there in tact and unharmed is a challenge. To help alleviate this issue, I’ve developed a custom Linux CD that we can use at almost any off-site location that holds not only the modeling, teaching, and simulation tools we use in the workshops, but also contains a fully-working edition of the Linux operating system.

Like Windows or Mac OS, Linux is an operating system for computers of many types - but it’s free. And not just free - it comes with an open-ended license that allows anyone to take it and modify it any way they want. Several individuals and organizations around the world have figured out how to get Linux to boot a computer just off the CD drive - without ever making any changes to already-installed applications.  And I’ve spent my summer at Shodor leveraging that know-how into a custom CD we can take to workshops. Carting 20 CDs around is easy - especially compared to lugging 20 laptops - and doesn’t require anything special at the host location other than an available computer lab - which every college we’ve been to has had.

All in all, it’s been a fruitful summer. I’ve learned a lot, helped others learn, and accomplished a great deal. Shodor is the only place I’ve ever worked that has encouraged its employees to learn as much as they can to accomplish their projects. We all need to turn that knowledge and learning around and apply it to our projects, and to helping others learn. Such a dynamic environment has encouraged me to duplicate that approach as much as possible in school and in any other job I have in the future.