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Nelson Mandela teacher uses books and technology to expand student horizons

Jeff Thompson hand picks all the books for Nelson Mandela High School, and is well versed in robotics and 3D printing.

Jeff Thompson, learning commons teacher at Nelson Mandela High School, photographed on his home turf where he works with students to achieve the best learning experience possible.

Elizabeth Cameron / For Metro

Jeff Thompson, learning commons teacher at Nelson Mandela High School, photographed on his home turf where he works with students to achieve the best learning experience possible.

Jeff Thompson lights up with joy as he tells you about all the books, technologies and projects he gets to help students with in his position as learning commons leader at the new Nelson Mandela High School. 

Thompson is in a unique position of having the job of outfitting the learning commons (which includes a library, makers space, collaboration spaces, desks and computers) at Nelson Mandela with all the books and equipment students might need or want. 

Grade 10 student Mariyam Rabbani, learning commons leader Jeff Thompson and Grade 11 student Gavin Davies explore some of Thompson's hand-picked books for Nelson Mandela High School.

Elizabeth Cameron / For Metro

Grade 10 student Mariyam Rabbani, learning commons leader Jeff Thompson and Grade 11 student Gavin Davies explore some of Thompson's hand-picked books for Nelson Mandela High School.

“This is a dream job. It makes me feel like I get to come to work and do what I love every day,” he said. “Getting to see kids digging into something and knowing I helped them do that — it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.”

Not only does Thompson hand pick all the books for the learning commons, but he also helps students and teachers alike use professional grade equipment for their school projects. 

“One of the reasons I got hired is I have a lot of technology knowledge, so robotics, 3D printing, video, photography — and those are all things I can help students and teachers with,” he said. “I’m also really into the books, I really love that stuff, so all the things I love most in my life I get to do as a job every day."

Gavin Davies, a Grade 11 student at Mandela, says the technologies Thompson has outfitted the learning commons with makes him want to come to school early and participate in things like putting together their daily newscast. 

“It’s just awesome to come in here and have access to a camera or the 3D printer and having someone know how to use those things allows us to experience things we might not get to normally experience,” he said. 

Davies said it’s totally changed his learning experience. 

“When you’re excited to do something you don’t mind showing up early, and I’m excited to use the cool things we have here,” he said. “Mr. Thompson is really engaged with his students. He helps us with whatever we need and he bonds with us — he’s like a friend.”

Grade 10 student Mariyam Rabbani said she loves how Thompson engages them in choosing books for the school.

“I noticed that every single book here has been recommended on Goodreads,” she said. “Mr. Thompson will ask you if you liked a book and if you didn’t like it he’ll recommend other books — t’s amazing how much he cares about what you’re reading and what you want to read.”

Thompson said he hopes what he’s doing has a lasting impact on his students. 

“I think that in our modern world creativity and problem solving or traits that we need to solve some of the issues in the future and having access and being told you can come up with creative solutions in the work that you're doing is essential to our future,” he said. 

Thompson's Top 5

"I chose these 5 books not because they will make you smarter or help you fulfill your academic potential. I chose them because they are AMAZING!  All high school students should experience how much fun it is to read a truly great book," he said.

The knife of never letting go – Patrick Ness

- Dystopian novel where there are no girls, and all the men and boys can hear each other’s thoughts all the time.  Pretty fun read, my favourite character is the dog Manchee, whose thoughts the main character can also hear.

The way of kings – Brandon Sanderson

- This is a pretty big epic book, but honestly sooo amazing. It is a fantasy book where some of the characters have this awesome powered armor where they are almost invincible and super strong.

The Belgariad – David Eddings

- This is a classic novel that not too many kids would have heard of,  mostly because it is old. The main character is a kitchen boy who discovers he is a super powerful wizard who has to save the world. I love this book because when you are said it is about end you suddenly discover there are NINE more books and then you are happy again.

Legend – Marie Lu

- This is a more current addition, that is one of the many dystopian novels that have gotten so popular. But, this one is REALLY good! These two characters from total opposite sides of society meet and have all sorts of adventures.

The Name of the Wind -Patrick Rothfuss  

- Patrick Rothfuss has gained a reputation for being one of the best new fantasy writers. When you read this book you will know why. The magic system is so logical you might even try to cast a few spells yourself!

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