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Leonard Aylward: Taking STEM from woodworking to board-wide makerspace

Year: 2020 — Province: Ontario
Certificate of Achievement Recipient

District School Board of Niagara
Technology, science, math, makers, all grades
St. Catharines, Ontario

When teaching teachers, Mr. Aylward believes that his role is to diffuse any fear that educators may have and to highlight the importance of integrating technology and hands-on learning across the curriculum.


When Leonard Aylward arrived in Nain, Labrador, in 1995, his school's technology program consisted solely of woodworking. He redesigned the space and co-authored a course that teachers there are still using and refining. As a specialist now serving an entire Ontario school board, he still aims to build capacity in students, teachers and parents so they can sustain initiatives after he moves on.

Teaching approach

Leonard believes that cooperative learning is at the core of STEM education. He values his learners' input, and works to ensure students at every level have a chance to shine by leading a class, competing in a challenge or simply pursuing interests that excite them.

STEM in the classroom

  • Facilitates collaboration and peer teaching: in a new makerspace, he shows new tools, machines and technology to separate small groups of students; each group then teaches the rest of the class.
  • Creates cross-curricular STEM tasks: students create models relevant to social studies, such as a coffee bean lift for Colombian farmers; tell stories about projects to enhance literacy; make "art bots" that draw circles.
  • Provides real-life context and scaffolds skills to help students understand complex concepts: students have used hydraulics to build a can crusher and a model lift bridge, and learn about motion sensors, automata and more.
  • Has taught coding to more than 600 students using Sphero balls: pupils measure the area of a room, test the durability of structures they build or investigate direction, friction, speed and motion.

Outstanding achievements

  • Co-designed innovative high school design centre: space serves hundreds of students from multiple schools; features flexible seating, many whiteboards and a well-stocked workshop; Leonard supports smaller "makerspace" initiatives in 20 other schools.
  • Boosted self-esteem of struggling student: formerly disengaged student was excited about makerspace activity; Leonard made him the expert that day and directed other students' questions to him; his teacher reported, "His confidence grew exponentially."
  • Has led board's LEGO Robotics Challenge for 20 years: annually, some 500 students design, build and program robots; with availability of resources being an obstacle, he worked with the Board to secure funding for 52 more robotics kits, so about 250 more students can compete.
  • Juggles responsibilities for 79 schools: co-plans and co-teaches with teachers; encourages them to take risks; builds their confidence to provide technology education without him; in the last four months of 2019 alone, he visited 49 classrooms in 20 schools.

Get in touch!

District School Board of Niagara
191 Carleton Street
St. Catharines ON  L2R 7P4

Twitter: @DSBNMakers

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