This week, I contributed a guest post to the Peel 21st Project 188 blog. Each day, a different member of the Peel educational community shares about what they’ve learned. Below is a repost of what I shared:
Hi! My name is Erica and I am a French and technology teacher at Fairlawn Public School. I love photography, skating, travel and Pepsi. I also love continually challenging myself and my students to create with technology.
Friday was a day off for (most) students. My classroom was a busy place full of students’ laughter, some frustration, amazing teamwork, and incredible breakthroughs.
This year, we have two teams of students who have entered the First Lego League for the first time. Students meet during nutrition breaks to prepare for our upcoming tournament, which is approaching very quickly. When the opportunity arose to be able to gather for a whole day – our teams jumped at the chance.
We set a loose schedule for the day and set a few goals we wanted to achieve but students were free to autonomously set their own plans and modify them as they saw fit. They jumped from one task to another freely, collaborated in large and small groups or worked independently as best fit the task at hand, took breaks to eat or drink whenever they wanted, and just generally had the freedom to do whatever they needed to do.
With this being our first year, we’re all learning together as we go. Many tasks are not as easy as they may seem at first. One of our first goals for the day was to finish building all the mission models out of Lego. Students worked incredibly hard to precisely follow directions – sometimes being stumped by missing pieces or designs that just didn’t work how they should. Several models had to be torn apart and rebuilt so that they could be sure they were exactly right. (Side note: Lego instructions and the instructions for building Ikea furniture are pretty much identical – so anyone who’s ever experienced the frustration mid-build and the satisfaction of finally being done knows exactly how my students felt.)
Both teams also constructed robots and began to get used to the process of programming them. They quickly discovered the process of designing, programming, testing, and refining. There are a lot of baby steps along the way and it often takes many attempts and many mistakes before something will work as intended. After much troubleshooting, we all gathered around and cheered when we finally got the robot to drive forward and stop when its colour sensor saw a red line.
I’ve learned that First Lego League involves so much more than just lego and robots. FLL focuses on values including teamwork and gracious profesisonalism. Students are using skills from science and math to help them design solutions to the challenges. Teams are researching and using all strands of literacy in order to prepare projects based on the theme, “How can we improve how we learn about _______?”. Learning skills like organization and initiative abound.
Overall, I learned that when students are engaged by something that interests them, school isn’t somewhere they have to be or something they have to do – it’s somewhere they want to be and something they want to do. Our day was filled with hard, challenging work – but it was fun. We were all exhausted at the end – but the day went by quickly. I was left feeling like it would be amazing if this is how classrooms worked all the time. What would it take for it to be easier to abandon curricular silos and rigid schedules? How can we honour curriculum goals but let go of the feeling that we should plan everything meticulously and instead give students a greater voice in planning? Pushing the idea even further – what if we were not organized by “grades” but instead by interest groups? Big questions I don’t have all the answers to – but I am certainly glad to have had a day that inspired me to question, reflect and look at the big picture.