Monday, June 20, 2016

Mentored by experts

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”  Such wisdom, this time, did not hold true.  

During the academic year of 2015-2016 I was offered an amazing opportunity.  With the support of my elementary principal, my superintendent and the staff at DPEA, I was invited to participate in a year-long training program.  Our collective goal was to leverage the expertise of DPEA, and  the experience of working in a project-based environment, to empower me to return to my K-6 school capable of running a successful design center.  During the formation of this plan Amir Abo-Shaeer said to me, "I want to train you for a year and give you a masters in the Maker world. I can teach you, deeply, in a very thin slice of engineering and then you can go back to your elementary school and share that expertise."  

Lofty goals indeed. Such intentions, I soon found, are a cornerstone of the DPEA foundation.  DPEA is built on the goal of transforming education, and so the idea of training an elementary teacher to extend DPEA’s game-changing intentions makes perfect sense.  After a year of training, I feel well equipped and inspired to share their vision and transform the lives of my students.   

Being immersed in this project-based platform has given me direct exposure to what is possible at the high-school level.  I’ve learned how to use a host of tools necessary to operating this kind of a program, including CAD software, 3D design, machining, solding, assembly, laser-cutting, CNC and routing machines, inventory management, curriculum design, electronics, coding and project management.  

These essential skills, as critical as they are, pale in comparison to the expertise I have gained by observing and interacting with the engineers and students, especially at the 12-grade level.  Working with the seniors during their capstone project, I have witnessed the frustration of failure and the joy that ensues with overcoming failure. I have been amazed at the level of professionalism and maturity these students have expressed during the design, manufacturing and assembly of these projects.  One of the most powerful elements of this program, and this style of project-based learning where the staff is actively participating in the project, is that the students witness the mentors failing, revising, and rebuilding - just as the students do.  The mentors share and model the same language and processes that the students practice, which reinforces that practice of design, testing, re-engineering, and retesting to arrive at a final product.  

The challenge of tracking multiple, complex projects by 90 students with a variety of skill-sets, motivations and aptitudes requires careful management.  Without this, even the best designed project learning environment will fail. In addition to the tangible skills I’ve acquired over the past year, and the many lessons I’ve learned about teaching through working closely with students, I have also gained an appreciation for and knowledge of the management capacity necessary to support this kind of a program.

My personal appreciation and pride of this project is immense.  From the vision of Mr. Abo-Shaeer and district community, to daily lesson learned from the professional staff I know this has been the most powerful learning environment I have ever participated in.  It has been an honor to participate and it is my goal moving forward to skillfully share and extend DPEA’s goal of transforming education.