distance learning

From Bio to Bots: Summer Training and First Triumphs

Part of my identity has always been about Science and especially Biology. However, as part of my new assignment this year I have been given a robotics course. After receiving that initial email my heart sank as I began a mourning process for Biology and a frantic search for a robotics training program. My biggest question was, "Can I be as passionate about robotics as I am about Biology?" Because if not, justice will not be done for my students. 

The Course

A small group of people have assembled at the curb. “Are you here for the robotics academy?” I probe. Nods in affirmative are directed towards me. The shuttle arrives and we all climb aboard. We are off to the Carnegie Melon Engineering and Robotics Centre.

Our EV3 robot with some of our programming later in the course.

An EV3 robot awaits my attention. Two PCs sit behind it. We are instructed to look at the robot and find the input and output ports. Really? What in the world are those? The robot is awkward in my hands and my lego partner is equally baffled at our task. We fumble around with the robot and then set it back on the table. Opening the software and instructional videos, we begin our journey of becoming instructors of robotics.

Feeling Triumphant

Over the next 4.5 days we spend intense and concentrated time with our little EV3 robot. Immediate satisfaction is ours when it performs the first, simple tasks that we have programmed it to complete. As the week progresses our programming challenges become more complex and we find ourselves, along with the other participants rejoicing with each successful program. Entwined with our programming adventure are robotics pedagogy and incorporation of STEM. We engage in great discussions and brainstorming on teaching robotics to 4th graders as well as to university students taking introductory computer science classes.

We end the week with a battery of information, added confidence, 36 hours of professional development and a chance to take the instructor certification exam within the month.

After reviewing the course materials, I face the exam. Once again satisfaction was mine as I earned the EV3 Instructor Certification. And what a benefit it’s been as I embark on teaching a robotics course through a distance learning set-up! 

I’m officially excited about this new adventure! And cheers to all teachers out there facing a new class this year and to anyone learning something new! It stretches the mind, increases awareness of what it means to be a student, and keeps the brain young!

The Triumphs

The first submission I received. And others have followed!!!!!!!!!!!!

From 13100 km and 9 hours in times zones, my students have successfully built their robots and engaged in discussions with me regarding robots and programming. Each mini-challenge has resulted in students sharing their programs as well as their reflections regarding their learning and their challenges. For their first major challenge of each unit I have decided to have them send me a video of their robot completing the challenge, especially since I can't be there to actually see it. This week the first group sent me their video and I realized three important things:

  1. The distance learning is actually working and students are making progress (and it clearly helps that there is a fantastic substitute in the classroom facilitating progress)!
  2. I AM passionate about robotics! The thrill and joy that rushed through me when I viewed their simple video nearly resulted in me jumping from my chair rejoicing. Immediately I gathered those in the room to see. And how I longed to be there to celebrate my students' success in person. It was, indeed, as thrilling as waiting for my biology students to recognise the stomata under a microscope.  
  3. Just like I have, for years, said to my science students, "Isn't science AMAZING", I'll be saying to my robotics students, "Isn't robotics SO COOL?!"

I guess we can become passionate in nearly anything if we invest and commit ourselves. What a great relief this comes to me! Again, kudos to all of you out there embarking in something new and here's wishing you the discovery of passion for what you do!

P.S. I'm still teaching Science (Chemistry and Physical Science) as well as a Basic Apps course which is also really fun!

Delayed Visas, Culture Shock, and Distance Learning: The beginning of a new adventure

Delayed Visas

My husband, in Saudi Arabia, with his Iqama. The aquisition of this document is a significant step in getting us there.

We were supposed to be in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia by August 12. However, it’s early September and I remain at home with our 13-year old son awaiting visas. A week ago my husband departed for Saudi Arabia to secure proper documentation to bring us over. We have no idea when we will be able to fly.

The 24th of August marked the first day of our new school in Jeddah while schools locally began two weeks prior. Since the time-line of our visas was unknown, we made the decision to enroll our 13-year old in a local middle school.

Culture Shock (In the U.S.A.)

My son looks up at me with wide eyes in disbelief. He holds in his hand a bright orange piece of paper titled “Weapons Agreement." “It even tells you what items are considered to be weapons, like a pen!” he muses.  As we’re processing the contents of this friendly coloured paper, a 7th grade boy, eyes brimming with tears, walks into the office with his skateboard: all four wheels have been stolen. Our son looks at us with a look that clearly questions our judgment of bringing him here.

He adds his signature to the orange piece of paper and then flounders as everyone rises to say the pledge of allegiance. An 8th grader appears and escorts our son to his classes.

Skyler comes home with questions like “What is a quart and is the plural of it spelled with a ‘z’? And why aren’t they using the metric system?” His mechanical pencil is stolen the first day he uses it. He is stunned by a heated conversation between a boy and a girl and even more shocked when, following the departure of the girl, the boy says, “Yeah, she’s my ex”. 

Skyler’s accustomed to playing a full soccer game with this peers after lunch. However, here no one does that. They rush to eat and than hang out for a few minutes before returning to class.

Our son manages but he’s eager for the processing of our visas and the return to what he considers “normal education” 

Distance Learning

So where does this leave me as a teacher of Chemistry, Physical Science, Robotics, and Basic Applications? Well, I’m engaging in a “distance learning” experience. All of my lesson plans are submitted to a substitute. Instructions, discussion, and assignments for the students are posted on Schoology, a “learning management system” that works quite well. Each day I post daily activities and students upload their assignments as well as responses to the discussions.

Thus, I manage my classes from afar and it’s going as well as it could, I guess. I can't worry too much about it because I'm doing all I can do.  Being 13000 km and 9 hours in time difference away is, indeed, interesting. My thoughts and posts and classes are taking place on a Thursday while I'm living in Wednesday. It's a bit brain bungling. I wake up to read what my students have done and there's nothing I can do to rectify any problems that occurred during the school day. I just have to work with what happened. For example, I woke up one Friday and all the robotics students posted that they couldn't begin building their robots as planned because there weren't enough parts. In fact, they couldn't even build ONE ROBOT for the entire class because there weren't enough parts. So, I momentarily panicked thinking that there aren't robot kits as promised (supposedly one per student) and that the robot program couldn't work. However, after communicating with my sub (who taught the class last year) it became apparent that he had been sick and HIS sub didn't look in the closet to find the robot kits and the students were trying to build robots from the spare parts bin!!! Oh well. So, they began building on Monday instead of Thursday. I did have a good laugh about that one though!

Through their discussions and posts I’m slowly getting to know my students a little bit.  I Skype regularly with a colleague with whom I share a course with. Thankfully she’s a collaborator and we’re already working as a team despite our distance! I can’t wait to meet her, other colleges, and my students in person.

Thus begins our adventure! We are looking forward to the arrival of visas, flight arrangements, and meeting our new school family in Jeddah!