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Blair Fitzsimons: Undaunted by a shortage of resources

Year: 2020 — Province: Ontario
Certificate of Achievement Recipient

St. Mary-St. Cecilia Catholic School
English, Kindergarten to grade 7
Morrisburg, Ontario

Blair can frequently be caught saying, 'I don't teach robotics, I use robotics to teach English, social studies, collaboration or resiliency.' Technology is never the focus for Blair's lessons, but has been a critical part of every learning journey.

nominator

When he started teaching at his small, rural school five years ago, Blair Fitzsimons didn't let something as simple as a lack of technology stop him from teaching STEM: he and fellow teachers had students act as living robots, navigating a maze based on other students' scripted commands. Since then, he has brought in over $70,000 in grants to fund technology purchases and professional development.

Teaching approach

Blair encourages students to share ideas and ask each other, "How did you do that?" He creates a community of learners, in which every student is valued. Students discover answers for themselves—and there is no single "right" answer. In the process, they realize they can innovate.

STEM in the classroom

  • Asks students to create business pitches for real or fictitious clients: pupils create products, such as alarm systems for pirates and do interviews and market research; every team member can contribute and learn.
  • Helps students follow through on their ideas: one group built a model zoo of animatronic animals to teach younger children about adaptations; others invented robotic solutions for fairy-tale characters' problems; appeals to all students, not just those who love technology.
  • Teaches skills through "covert learning": creates real-world challenges that are so enticing—such as programming interfaces for joke machines, building a robotic Easter bunny or illustrating math with stop-motion animation—that children want to learn the related skills.
  • Reduces fears of failure: tells students that failure can lead to better ideas; creates tasks with child-scaled adversity and fail points to spur collaboration; in balloon battle exercise, for example, students work together to progressively modify robots until they function well.

Outstanding achievements

  • Coached students to develop patented idea: his FIRST LEGO League team created an edible alternative to plastic hay-bale twine, solving a pollution problem; team ranked among top 20 worldwide, presented its idea at the U.S. Patent Office and now holds a patent.
  • Uses LEGO bricks to teach STEM: started as a way to overcome technology shortage at school; Blair has created a website (onebrickatatime.ca) to share techniques.
  • Developed STEM learning camps: students guide peers from other schools through hands-on challenges, using items as simple as clipboards and cardboard; inspires other schools to improve their STEM programs.
  • Builds soft skills via technology: asks class to recreate a robotics dance; quiet students hold back; problems with robots emerge; students shout; Blair stops the project; asks students how they could collaborate better; restarts project; results improve.

Get in touch!

St. Mary-St. Cecilia Catholic School
28 Shea Drive
Morrisburg ON  K0C 1X0

613-543-2907
Maryanne.Verhoeven@cdsbeo.on.ca
https://stmary-stcecilia.cdsbeo.on.ca/
Twitter: @BlairFitz1

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