A teacher’s STEM learning experience

Well, here we are again: reflecting on a trip that was inspiring, innovative, and also very emotional for me!

Being an avid Twitter-follower of the remarkable work Fair Chance Learning does not only for teacher support and student learning, but also for all types of learners, I had seen the awesome learning experience they provided for Peel Students at Microsoft Canada headquarters. So I decided to reach out via Twitter, and inquire about the possibility of having a learning session with some kids from Grand Erie District School Board.

Martha Jez, Fair Chance Learning’s Co-Founder and CEO responded back to me with an eager yes! She’s an incredible speaker, innovator and empowering leader in our field! I’d love to share our awesome-sauce (as current International Space Station Astronaut Jack Fischer would say) adventure with Fair Chance Learning and Microsoft Canada!

This year, I’m walking into a new school, Lakewood Elementary, a new grade, a 5/6 split, with new students who I wanted to bring along to instill a passion of innovation with the FCL team: Martha, Dustin Jez, and Derek Tangredi. Being tied closely to my former school, Hagersville Elementary, I also wanted to include them. So three students from Hagersville, their wonderful principal Janice Hughes, and her two boys came along as well. Alongside Janice, a step-father of one of my students this year came along, who’s a special education teacher consultant. Between them and myself, we had a lot of bases covered for Grand Erie educators. A highlight for me was that my 6-year-old son Xander was able to tag along as well, and bring his little buddy.

Upon walking into the front doors, you feel as if you were walking into a nerd/geek dream. A side note; my wife calls my trips and workshops ‘geekfest’ when doing anything related to technology and or computers. I’m totally fine with that description!

Martha met us, shook hands with each student and parent, and introduced herself. She welcomed them all with open arms into the world of Microsoft! We went upstairs where we saw the “brain trust,” the storage of anything and everything digital within the Microsoft world. We came into a room where the energetic and creative Derek Tangredi met us. I also met the Microsoft team, including Karen Truyens, who helps school boards find technology that works from them.

Karen welcomed us to Microsoft headquarters and took part in the day’s events with us. She provided us with some awesome OneNote Avenger capes for the students and us big kids as well, and as incredible as these were it was just one highlight of the day. The real highlight was watching pure eagerness turn into a desire, invigoration, and a passion to explore all the cool tech on the table in front from the kids! We had Makey Makey, Spheros, Windows devices, and the day’s big exploration: the micro:bit.

Martha Jez addresses a room of students, parents, and teachers working with edtech devices

With Derek at the helm leading the micro:bit education we began coding our initials, a simple starting point. A few of my former troops programmed a fun message. When they touched both the A and B buttons, the LEDs lit up, writing ‘My brother’s feet smell’ or ‘My sisters are crazy.’ Simple and goofy, but another step in the learning process of scratch block coding. After some laughs and frowns from brothers and sisters in the room, it was time to get funky!

Derek led a lesson in the creation of some awesome activities that could be used for physical education and DPA through coding and programming. The kids coded programs that ran hula hoop counters, egg-catching games, and even limbo. Watching the kids learn the basics of code and the immediate application into a fun game right afterwards was awesome! It was so much fun playing the games with the kids, but the conversations were the best! I heard “I can’t believe I made that into a game” and “coding can do this!?”

Some of the key highlights were watching parents, my former principal, and the teacher consultant dive in and try, explore, and ask so many deep and amazing questions that connected to curriculum content, clubs, and activities. One parent said, “I just love the smile on my kids’ faces when they are inspired like this.” One word comes to mind: empowering!

On a more personal note, watching my son interact and learn from Dustin and Derek, two idols of mine in education, was incredible to see. Xander is a really, really busy kid! He does not sit long or attend to anything he is not into. However, he was glued to each and every word these two said during the time they spent with him. That’s something that does not happen often with Xander!

Two children work at a laptop

We also had the opportunity to finally meet the Jez clan! The power-couple Martha and Dustin brought along their kids, and seeing their pure enjoyment with the tech just drove home for me the incredible power we all have when we influence our students! In a place so far from home, in a totally new environment, it felt homey and very family oriented! Microsoft Canada, Karen Truyens, and Fair Chance Learning not only spoiled us with an incredible day of innovation but also a larger new family of passionate people with a desire and eagerness for innovation!

This little summer adventure just instilled so much more passion and desire to continue my learning journey with Microsoft and Fair Chance Learning in my own professional practice! Being an innovator takes hard work and commitment to be the best and explore, fail, adapt, change, fail some more, and then you get it! But, then something new comes along and the process begins again. To be an innovator, you have to get ” uncomfortable,” as my friend Derek says! Growth is found in uncomfortable situations that are not the norm. Be innovative for your kids, students, parents, and families. Most of all, give anyone and everyone a fair chance at learning. Explore accessibility, coding and differentiated means of delivering and accessing material using Microsoft’s tools!

The possibilities are endless. Develop a professional learning network on Twitter. It can make opportunities such as this happen. Twitter is my entry-point into innovation and global teaching. Let it by your guide and voice as well!

A group of students wearing OneNote capes pose in front of a white wall

Joe Archer is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and teacher at Lakewood Elementary. For free PD, lesson plans, and professional connections, visit the Microsoft Educator Community. Learn more about Microsoft education tools and how they can support your work in the classroom at microsoft.ca/education.