2016: A Year in Review

I know I’ve been quiet this year, but this post marks 6.5 years of blogging. Quite an achievement that.

img_7138

 

In 2016, I worked alongside teachers, exploring our new digital technologies curriculum; and returned to working with students, establishing our new LEGO Robotics and Maker Monday afterschool programs. There aren’t many jobs where you can say that you get to teach with LEGO and robots!

 

2016-06-09-14-36-24

Scribblebots @ Curtin University Makerspace in Schools workshop

 

Looking back, these are the events and experiences which defined my year:

  • Our award winning makerspace and robotics program began to flourish, with growing interest from our students, parents, and the wider educational community. We even had a Twitter friend visit from the USA!
  • I led the redesign of our library space, purchasing new furniture and robotics technologies with the goal of transforming it into a contemporary makerspace and learning hub.
  • Our research partnership with Curtin University bore fruit. We hosted three in-school makerspace workshops, helping pre-service teachers and researchers explore how hands-on maker activities (e.g. Scribblebots, LED origami) can build students’ deep understandings of science concepts.
  • I co-presented with the Curtin University team at the Primary Science Conference, and co-presented a Makerspace workshop at the Educational Computer Association of WA Conference.
  • I explored the design thinking process through the Studio Curious ‘design thinking accelerator’, prototyping a project for system change in Catholic Education WA. (This was a fantastic learning experience, one I’ll blog about in more detail later).
  • I coached my inaugural FIRST LEGO League season, taking The Robotic Rebels and The MotherBoards to our first ever robotics tournament. It was an incredible learning experience, both for me, and my amazing robotics girls!

dsc_0177

Returning to ISTE

And in a recent development, I’ve just received confirmation that I will be returning to the USA in 2017, presenting at the International Society for Technology Education Conference in San Antonio, TX. I’ll be running a Scratch Game Design workshop; and co-presenting “The FIRST LEGO League Coaches’ Corner” with Louise Morgan and Aaron Maurer. I hope to see you there!

I have no plans to return to the USA for a few years after #ISTE17, so if you’re planning to be at the conference, or live in/near Chicago, Denver, Glenwood Springs, and San Francisco, I’d love to catch up for a coffee and a chat if you have the time.

The Learning Curve

716454

It is been a while since I’ve ‘put pen to paper’ here, but it is nice to be back. In light of my experiences and the challenges I’ve faced so far this school year, I’m dedicating this post to the ‘learning curve’.

For me, good teaching is about learning. It is about taking risks, experimenting with new ideas, and collaborating with colleagues to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of our students. As an educator, taking risks and exploring new ideas is not an easy or straightforward process; and without leadership support, you are likely to fail. It is one thing to dream up an innovative idea, it is quite another to implement it within your school community.

IMG_20160602_124433

This year, with the benefit of a FIRST Australia grant, and the support of my school leadership team, I found myself teaching an extracurricular LEGO robotics program, preparing two teams for the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition. I’d never worked with these sophisticated robotics kits before, and I wasn’t sure how the program would run in our school, let alone how I’d teach it. After many hours of internet research, watching YouTube videos, and adapting teaching materials from EV3Lessons.com & Carnegie Mellon University, I set up my Google Classroom groups, and set to work.

Admitting that “I don’t know, but let’s try it and find out” is not an easy thing for a teacher to say to their students.  Yet, this quickly proved to be a common refrain in my robotics class! Learning isn’t linear, and sometimes it can be messy. I based my teaching and learning approach on the idea that we could explore robotics concepts and skills through guided problem solving and hands-on experimentation. If it doesn’t work, let’s keep experimenting, and work out why. I was teaching out of my comfort zone, trying to stay one step ahead of my students. I could hardly pretend to be the font of all knowledge – I was often building and testing programs and mechanisms an hour before my students arrived for class.

IMG_20160627_205825

Our FLL robotics program was never intended to just be about ‘teaching girls to code’, or capturing their interest in ‘STEM’ careers, although these were important underlying goals. We were interested in teaching our girls to think, and empowering them to become confident learners and problem solvers. Now, a little over three months into the program, I’m starting to appreciate the impact of this approach, particularly for those girls whose academic results would usually deny them this kind of opportunity.

Learning how to teach robot programming and engineering with LEGO EV3 Mindstorms has been a steep, yet extremely rewarding learning curve. My teaching programs are covered with notes about what worked, and what I’ll need to do differently next year. Yet, by taking risks, experimenting with new ideas, and facing my fears – I am not only growing as an educator, but I am making a difference in my students’ learning.

At the end of the day, that’s what teaching is all about.