In Review: A Volunteering Activity

(Excerpted from an in-school speech regarding my winter break)

One of the highlights of my last winter break was my participating in a teaching activity in Zhoushan, Zhejiang, upon the invitation of my classmate Li He. The project is actually long-term, including a three-day workshop during the winter break, four online discussion sessions during the semester, and a few more days of workshops in the summer. During these three days of the winter break, we taught local middle school students about video editing, web development, and programming applications.

    Frankly, the start of the activity was very rushed. I received the final confirmation to participate only a few hours before our first pre-departure meeting. Initially, I had a lot of concerns: Can we really teach anything meaningful in just three days? It seemed difficult to achieve any tangible results, which was quite overwhelming. Preparing the lessons was also totally excruciating, as each one-hour class required four to five hours of my work, and as I noted at the time, “the pain.” However, the experience eventually took a positive turn.

    After arriving in Zhoushan, the three days of activities completely surpassed my expectations. Zhousan was amazing with unbelievably great food and scenery, and the students were quite earnest. They possessed strong (a lot stronger than anticipated) learning abilities and quickly completed the tasks I had initially set out, achieving way better results than I had anticipated. All students performed excellently and achieved impressive outcomes from the tasks.

    At the end of the activity, we had a brief conclusion ceremony, and as I was about to leave my dear students, many of them bid their gratitude in “thank you”‘s to me. Very touched… I was very touched.

    First, this activity was a training of skills. Facing unfamiliar students, how do you quickly establish rapport? How do you break down the barrier between students and teachers represented by the podium? How do you capture and hold attention? Of course, teaching one class doesn’t immediately teach me all this, but it gave me some insight into these questions.

    There are also the contributes we made to the local middle school students. According to them, what they gained from our three-day workshop may have been more than just the knowledge we were able to impart; it likely sparked more curiosity. This aligns perfectly with the initial purpose of our activity—to open a window for the students to go out and see that there is much more to explore in computing, a field they might only have been curious about, and to encourage them to undertake further exploration on their own.

    After returning from the winter break workshop, I also reflected on how to improve future activities. One major regret from this workshop was that the actual foundational knowledge of the students did not match our expectations. We assumed that the local students might only have a basic understanding of computer applications, but they were actually quite proficient, and the content I prepared was too simple and did not account for the need to adjust the difficulty of the course dynamically. Now that I think about it, it’s very much necessary to have a contingency plan for varying levels of student ability to ensure smoother course progression.

      Additionally, classroom interaction was a huge issue. While students understood the material well, they were reluctant to answer questions individually; they only responded when asked to answer collectively. Initially, the questions I posed were ones that everyone could answer, so I resolved this by drawing names in a small lottery, and the selected students had no issues responding. Engaging students more actively in responding could enhance the classroom experience.

      Lastly, the students’ attention. Fortunately, they were generally very attentive during class, though some occasionally got distracted. One approach I took was to intentionally repeat content I had already covered to reinforce their learning and occasionally inject humor to regain their attention. However, I believe there are probably better methods to sustain their focus more effectively. (…) (April 21, 2024)