In our ‘Careers for Teachers‘ series, Jess Schofield talks about applying for and winning LEGO Teacher of the Year for Australia in 2018. Her prize included a trip to Boston, Massachusetts where she participated in the LEGO Education Conference and was presented with her award.
What are your qualifications and experience in classroom teaching and what is your current role in education?
I studied a Bachelor of Education (Secondary), with teaching areas of Mathematics and English. However, in my three years of teaching, I have had a variety of Years 7-10 Maths and Science classes, as well as Prep-Year 10 Technologies classes. Currently, I am nearing completion of a postgraduate course in STEM Education and will begin my Master’s degree in July. My current teaching role is in Years 7-10 Maths and Technologies in a rural school.
Why do you do what you do?
I’ve never considered a career other than teaching, however, even since beginning my university degree, my career aims and teaching focuses have changed drastically and rapidly over the past few years. I have settled in roles revolving around teaching Maths and Digital Technologies across a broad age range and all of my teaching experience have been in the Maranoa region. I have developed quite a passion for teaching STEM and Technologies. As a teacher, it is a very engaging subject to be part of as the technology professional development offerings and industry links are in a state of constant evolution. Working in small rural communities, I enjoy having a niche skill set and being able to engage students with resources that are unique and fun to work with. As a pre-service teacher, I worked for my university as a “LEGO Ambassador” which involved providing professional development for primary school teachers on using technology resources in the classroom. Through that role, I came to see the value of engaging students with the resources, but also the need in the teaching workforce for people with my skills and passion.
How did you find out about the award and what was involved in applying?
I had known about the LEGO Education Teacher award for a few years and seen other Queensland recipients at various Technologies conferences across the state. The award is quite well known about through Facebook pages, blogs and newsletters of Technologies teachers worldwide. Applying for the award involves demonstrating that you are using LEGO robotics resources with students and the broader community innovative and engaging ways.
What inspired you to apply for the award?
I had planned for a long while to apply for the award. In fact, the project that won me the award was designed with the award in mind and the students even assisted in putting together the application. Having the award criteria for finding innovative, engaging and far-reaching robotics units is a great motivator to inspire teaching and learning. I have designed a few smaller robotics units with this goal in mind, but the Robot Olympics project in 2017 was thoroughly enjoyed by the students and also engaged two neighbouring schools in the culminating event.
How were you informed and presented with the award?
I was informed in April that I was the winner of the LEGO Education Australia Teacher Award 2018. In June, LEGO Education took me to Boston, Massachusetts, USA for the LEGO Education conferences and STEM symposium at Tufts University. I was able to participate with global delegates in the 3-day conference (and get in some sight-seeing of the USA). All worldwide winners were presented with our formal award at a ceremony throughout the conference and were given the opportunity to share our work in an expo-style format.
What were the highlights of receiving this award?
My first trip to the USA (all expenses paid!) was certainly a highlight! While in Boston, I appreciated the networking with other teachers from around the world to share what we were each doing in our classroom. I still have many contacts that I am sharing ideas with. Receiving the award also provided deserved recognition for my students, and I know how much effort was put into pulling off the Robot Olympics project.
How has this award made a difference for you and your students?
The award was a success that my students and I could share in together – after all, it’s the kids that put in the effort to make the project happen. For the students, they received a great deal of local recognition and praise for the effort they put in, above and beyond the curriculum expectations, to be part of a community engagement project. Many of these students were not heavily involved in other extra-curricular pursuits, so it was great to see them praised by the community.
For my career, it has given me confirmation that I can design worthwhile learning experiences and has rejuvenated me to continue teaching in the Technologies realm.
What do you hope to achieve as a result of winning this award?
My hope, as an award recipient, was to be able to share the project we developed with other educators for use across different schools. The award has motivated me to continue postgraduate studies in STEM Education and continuing sharing this branch of education in rural communities.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to do what you have done?
As with many elements of teaching, creating such a large project-based unit requires a lot of planning and preparation in advance. However, despite all the planning and behind-the-scenes logistics that you have organised, be open to letting the students run the project and take it in their own direction. The magic happens in that collaborative process and allowing the project to transform into something bigger and better than could have been planned.
If you had one secret to give about applying for awards what would it be?
I don’t know about a “secret” – but certainly, I would encourage people to apply for everything! I also gained value from writing my application, then allowing close friends and families to read it and give advice. Often, those around you will see more of your worth than you do in yourself and will provide great tips to talk yourself up. Don’t be modest in the applications!