27 May 2022

 Andrew McDonald: Seeking Enrichment Through Technology

When integrating technology into the classroom, one of the main hopes is that it will help to enrich the learning experience for your students. Andrew Mcdonald, a former Physics and current Robotics teacher in Quebec Canada is taking that goal a step further. He is compassionately and creatively incorporating technology to both teach real-life practical understanding and reconnect communities with important cultural traditions.

An Adventurous Spirit

Andrew began his teaching career in an incredibly adventurous way. After graduating with his education degree in 2012, Andrew took a leap of faith and accepted a full-time teaching position in Qatar. Andrew packed his bags and moved to Qatar to begin his life as an ex-pat teaching at a school that used a Canadian curriculum.

This is where Andrew’s love for technology in the classroom began! “We had a Canadian College that was hosting a robotics olympiad in Qatar! I was getting loads of training on LEGO robotics and at the time I was teaching Physics to 11th graders, and I thought this is the perfect experiment for them!”

A picture of Andrew in Abu Dhabi while teaching at an International School.
Learning through Experimentation

Andrew took LEGO kits into the classroom as an experiment for both himself and his students with the goal of simply building something that moved. He gave them no instructions and no guides, but just wanted them to use their own knowledge that they had built to create a moving robot! “You are always learning as an educator, and the students struggled most because there were no instructions. But I loved this, I wanted them to really use their knowledge, they knew everything that they needed to get this robot to move. It was just about teaching them to believe in their own abilities and training.”

The experiment was a huge success, and it opened up incredible conversations about experimentation and what that means for learning. “This taught me how to really show students that failure is just a roadblock on the way to success. Failure is not something to be ashamed of. Okay, your robot didn’t move, perfect now you can cross that method off your list and try a completely different way!” 

Individualized Learning

Andrew’s innovative teaching style continued when he moved back to Canada. He taught at several alternative schools that operated using the Big Picture Model of Learning. The Big Picture Model of Learning essentially views each individual student’s learning path as unique and allows students to learn in their own natural way. It focuses on creating competency within the students without any traditional benchmark assessments of learning- i.e. no tests, no grades, and no traditional “lessons”. Andrew loved the way he saw students flourish operating underneath this model, and knew that interactive student-led learning was the way that he wanted to continue with his career.

Finding Community with Technology

Andrew’s dynamic career path didn’t stop there! “After COVID struck, I was given this opportunity to work with the First Peoples Innovation Centre. The whole goal or foundation of this centre is to reconnect Indigenous people back with their culture using technology! So it essentially is one part culture, one part technology, and one part career-oriented. I am so excited about all three of these things not only for them but for me to learn and broaden my own understanding!” This marriage between culture and technology combined with the ethos of the organization was a perfect fit for Andrew.

The beauty of the First Peoples Innovation Centre is that it recognizes the brilliance of Indigenous technologies and blends that with 21st-century capabilities! “Technology isn’t just smartphones. For example, a birch bark canoe. Indigenous people took the bark from a birch tree and wove it in such a complex way to create a waterproof boat. That’s Incredible!”

When Andrew first started at the First Peoples Innovation Centre, the COVID pandemic was at its height. He needed a tool that allowed him to provide the same level of engaging and compelling content and the OKIOCAM was just the device! “It really allows me to show intricate details for whatever technology or methodology I am demonstrating for my class! I loved that my learners were not going to suffer just because our workshops became remote!”

Andrew used his OKIOCAM to project a game of sorry to his students learning remotely!

Usually, there are lessons on technology, and lessons on culture, but Andrew and the Indigenous liaisons, really like to blend the two together to create a more modern approach to these Indigenous technologies. Traditional Indigenous beadwork is a great example of this blended approach that this center took! “One of my favorite projects that I have worked on is where we used a laser cutter to cut out moccasin templates for a beading activity in order to create traditional Indigenous beadwork! The marriage between modern and traditional technology is something that I think has a profound impact on the process itself!”

Creating a space where Indigenous people are able to reconnect with their culture through modern technology is something that Andrew is passionate about and incredibly proud of. “I think the main takeaway from all of this is to broaden the understanding of what technology is. It doesn’t just mean your smartphone or laptop, it’s thousands of years of history where cultures have created incredibly unique inventions that are technology! They just may not use electricity!”

Andrew is giving incredible examples of how to use technology to truly enrich the lives of your students. No matter what Andrew’s next step will be within his career path, I have great confidence that it will not only be unique but life-giving for whoever has the chance to learn and work with Andrew.

Andrew McDonald is a previous Physics, Chemistry, and Robotics teacher who has taught in both Qatar and Abu Dhabi! Andrew currently works at the First Peoples Innovation Centre where he focuses on equipping Indigenous students with technology to reconnect with their heritage. Andrew is a Google Certified Educator, micro:bit Champion, Makey Makey Ambassador and Trainer, and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator. Be sure to stay up to date with Andrew on his Twitter!