If you could go back in time to Lansdowne School, Andrew Mynarski School or Sisler High School in Winnipeg to see me as a student, you might not find what you would expect. I hated school and rarely lived up my expectations especially once I made it to junior high school. The irony that I became a teacher has never been lost on me.
So why would a formerly underperforming student who hated school be a good choice for a teacher? When I decided to become a teacher, my number one goal was to make learning as exciting as possible for my students. I do not always succeed, but I always strive to meet their needs with a creative approach, humour, unusual ideas, and a variety of activities designed to meet my students' needs.
Some of my formative experiences
My parents made a decision when I was young that I regretted for all my years at home and now realize was a stroke of genius. I had a very early bedtime, but I could stay up an extra 30 minutes if I read a book. I never passed up the opportunity to stay up for that extra 30 minutes. To this day, I read daily and often spend hours sitting by the fireplace lost in books.
I also remember receiving a chemistry set at some point. Although I was probably much more creative with the chemistry experiments than the kit developers probably intended, I developed a lifelong interest in science that still guides my life and influences my choices.
In the early days of personal computers, my father would bring a Commodore PET computer from the high school where he was a vice principal. Although those early computers were only a tiny fraction as powerful as a cell phone these days, playing simple games and then programming them became a challenge that would stay with me. Now I create games in three dimensions in virtual reality, but the experience can be traced back to the days of playing and creating text-based adventures in the BASIC computer language on the Commodore PET.
As a child, I had many experiences in nature. As a family, we frequently went camping and later purchased a cottage at Moose Lake in southern Manitoba. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, we spent our days exploring the forest for hours on end, paddling a canoe all over the lake, hiking through the bush and chasing bears up trees* for fun. (* Okay, just once, but it counts.) The joy of exploring is something I went on to experience as I traveled the world and I have had the opportunity to visit 49 countries. The same spirit of adventure that inspired me as an eight year old following trails at a campsite is still with me when I travel the world and experience new people, languages, foods, and cultures.
Speaking of travel, I spent over three years of my life working on the Pacific Swift and the Pacific Grace. I started out as an assistant cook and became the head cook. We sailed from the west coast of Canada to Spain and back as well as visiting islands in the Caribbean and the South Pacific. Even writing about it now feels like I am describing an especially vivid dream I had. Experiences of bartering in markets in other languages, wandering tropical islands, climbing into the rigging during rough seas, preparing freshly-caught tuna for the crew, swimming with sharks, meeting people from around the world and many more experiences helped shape me into the person I am today. It is thrilling to share these experiences with students.
When I was thinking of truly formative experiences I had, I realized that not all of my experiences were positive. I have worked in three different school districts and six independent schools including overseas schools. In almost every school, I was welcomed to the staff and my unique experiences as a science or technology teacher were highlighted. In nearly every school that I worked in, the moment I tried to share a new idea, I would hear statements like, "That's not the way we do things around here." or "Oh no, we couldn't do that because of [insert nonsensical reason here]." To their credit, the only educational environments that consistently welcomed my unique experience and innovative ideas were alternative educational settings such as homeschooling groups, unschoolers and others. It would not be hyperbole to say that public and (most) private schools are where innovation goes to die.
In December of 2019, I purchased an Oculus Quest headset. Although I had been experimenting with virtual reality in VR lounges and other settings for years, I had never owned a VR headset. Immediately upon immersing myself in the sometimes bizarre and always fascinating world of VR, I realized immediately that it has nearly unlimited potential as a method of education. Many parents just imagine it is one more screen to try to get away from their children. If you only consider games, then this assessment could be accurate. When one considers the possibility of creating 3-dimensional art, creating hangout spaces, games, and even worlds, VR has the
potential to change the way we learn. Students experience much higher levels of engagement with VR and that means fewer distractions. Gamification is obviously much easier as we can literally create games by manipulating virtual objects around us in 3-dimensions. After just a few months of owning a VR headset, I started planning ways to teach in VR. Initially I even imagined teaching lessons in VR using a whiteboard and sharing videos. It did not take me long to realize this would offer no advantage over other forms of teaching. But the 3D modelling and game creation potential of VR has unlimited potential. I am very excited about this aspect of my online teaching.