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Two Calgary teachers get hands-on about education

Brian Simmons and Jeremy Lang take a unique spin on project learning

Teacher’s Jeremy Lang and Brian Simmons were at Maker Faire Calgary this year, inviting attendees to join their online maker community, where they share and talk about experiences teaching their kids through hands-on learning.

Lucie Edwardson / Metro

Teacher’s Jeremy Lang and Brian Simmons were at Maker Faire Calgary this year, inviting attendees to join their online maker community, where they share and talk about experiences teaching their kids through hands-on learning.

Two Calgary teachers are re-defining the power of hands-on-learning in the classroom.

Jeremy Lang has turned the old industrial arts program at Tom Baines Junior High into a maker space that includes metal working, robotics, electronics and 3D designing.

Brian Simmons is a Grade 5 math and science teacher at Twelve Mile Coulee School, and has been getting his students more involved by having them come up with their own designs for real-world projects.

Together, the teachers are creating their own online community, called Design, Make, Learn, to share their ideas and experiences. It’s online at http://dmlca.weebly.com.

For example, last year, Simmons noticed a new Kindergarten to Grade 4 School going up in the neighbourhood, and had students design their own version of it. Students learned to create surveys, analyze first-hand and second-hand data and reach out to local experts.

“(The goal) was to design something that would meet the needs of a public space like a school, but still be comfortable and welcoming to the kids who are going to be in it for six hours a day,” he said.

He said experiences like that not only give students a deeper understanding of classroom concepts, but also opens up their imaginations.

“The thoughtfulness of kids when you ask them to solve a problem for somebody else, is astounding,” he said.

Lang gives his students basic instruction on the tools, and then let’s them design and build their own projects.

“I’ve had some students in my space that, you know, might not have the best track record at school, but then all of a sudden they show up afterschool to get that extra bit of help,” he explained, adding his students were imbued with a sense of confidence.

Simmons recalled a previous project asking his students to design water filtration systems for school’s in third-world countries.

“Maybe they weren’t practical, but the depth, the thought and the intention behind it was so powerful,” he said. “I’ve have kids figure out refraction and reflection on their own just by trying to create alarm systems. It’s just a constant cycle of revelation.”

Not only does the hands on experience allow students to practice concepts they’ve learned and make deeper connections, but Lang said it’s a large help to students who might not fit into a traditional academic setting.

“They tend to excel because they feel that connection to someone else, or a greater good,” said Lang.

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