What makes me curious?

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I recently applied to join a new Catholic Education WA design thinking accelerator program, known as Studio Curious. Considering that there were nearly 300 applications from across Western Australia, I was shocked and delighted to be accepted into this exciting program.As part of my application, I was asked to reflect on what makes me curious, and what innovation means to me. I’d like to take a moment to share a few excerpts from my application here.

What makes you curious?

As a lifelong learner, my curiosity and desire to explore new ideas, take positive risks, and collaborate with global educators have transformed the way I teach, and the way I see the world. I’m a teacher, but most importantly, I’m a learner. I learn with my colleagues, both in my school community, and through my online professional learning networks. I am also learning alongside my students, sometimes teaching beyond my comfort zone, especially while teaching LEGO robotics.  

I am curious about online professional learning, design thinking, global collaboration, and leading pedagogical change within a school. In particular, I am curious about how we can support teachers’ acceptance and implementation of new curriculum and pedagogical initiatives; and how we can empower our students to connect, communicate, create, and collaborate with other children around the world.

What does innovation mean to you?

For me, innovation is the freedom to take productive risks in my teaching and learning. It is a mindset, a way of thinking, and above all, a way of doing. Over the years, I’ve introduced and developed several initiatives, including The Global Classroom Project, which I co-founded and led for over four years while working as a relief teacher. Now working in a school, I’m leading the development of our makerspace and robotics programs, empowering our girls’ engagement with digital technologies.

Through these projects, I have learned a great deal about leading and implementing change. It is one thing to dream and come up with creative ideas, it is another thing entirely to work with others to implement, and realize the potential of those ideas. Innovation is a fluid, challenging, collaborative process of working out what works, what doesn’t, and how you can make your ideas work better within your local and global community. Innovation isn’t necessarily easy, but it can have a tremendous impact on the teachers and students involved. In my case, my innovation experiences have been life changing.

So, what is Studio Curious?

Studio Curious is an exciting experiment “designed to provide educators with the permission and confidence to create change; promote knowledge of evidence-based best practice in education; and encourage new connections”. 

We are a group of thinkers and change agents, coming together from all around our state to explore how we can use design thinking to empower curiosity in our education system.  At this point, no one is sure where this program will lead, or what innovation projects will come out of it.

I, for one, am really looking forward to finding out.

CEWA LEAD Awards for Excellence 2016

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A photo with my Principal, a passionate advocate for our makerspace and robotics program.


A few weeks ago, my library colleague and I accepted, on behalf of our school, a prestigious Catholic Education WA LEAD Award for Excellence in Learning. This award recognized our work in establishing our school’s makerspace and robotics program, which includes a research partnership with the Schools of Education and Engineering at Curtin University. Unfortunately, due to a family emergency, my library colleague was unable to attend the awards event.

Working in a girls’ school, we are primarily focused on engaging and empowering our students’ interests in digital technologies and engineering. After setting up our library makerspace late last year, we were introduced to several researchers at Curtin University, who were interested in researching the impact of makerspace projects on girls’ engagement with Science, Technologies, Engineering, and Mathematics. As a result of this connection, we have hosted several “STEM makerspace workshops”, facilitated by pre-service teachers and engineering students. Earlier this year, we created our after school “Maker Monday” program, run in the school library, which provides interested students with the time and space to pursue design and engineering projects – going beyond tinkering with electronics and robots. At the start of 2016, I also established our competitive LEGO robotics program. As you can probably imagine, it has been a rather busy year!

Our makerspace and robotics program is very much in its’ infancy, but our curiosity, risk taking, and experimentation are beginning to have a real, positive impact on our students’ learning and engagement with digital technologies. We know we have a lot to learn, and we have a long way to go before what we can meaningfully integrate the makerspace philosophy and pedagogical approach across our school. We are indebted to our school leadership team, both past and present, for without their support these projects would never have happened.

Having our work acknowledged by our system as an example of innovation and excellence in learning means a great deal, and it is a huge confidence boost as we continue on what has been a challenging, but ultimately very rewarding, teaching and learning journey.

 

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The Learning Curve

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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.

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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.

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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.