Teacher Feature: Jess Schofield

Jess Schofield is a beginning teacher at Injune P-10 State School, a small rural school, 600km north-west of Brisbane. In total, there are 75 students at Injune, with 14 in the secondary school. During her teacher training at the Queensland University of Technology, Jess was a student ambassador working within the university's LEGO programs, running teacher PD sessions and day-long NXT and EV3 activities for visiting middle-years students.

How long have you been a teacher, and what ages/subjects do you teach?

I’ve been teaching for coming up to two years and I teach years 5 to 10 in maths, science, and robotics.

What are the most important things that you want your students to learn?

Problem solving skills, and being able to have a conversation around what worked well and what we need to improve next. At the moment their resilience is quite low, so I’m trying to build it. The kids come from a social situation where they’re used to having a problem, giving an answer, and having it be right or wrong. And if it’s right, we move on. Doing more problem solving in maths and in robotics, they’re becoming more used to the idea that you’re not going to solve every problem in five minutes. It could take weeks or months to actually complete something. And being okay with the fact that it’s not going to work, but look at why didn’t it work, and going back and identifying ways to change that.

When did you start using LEGO Education products in the classroom?

As a teacher, right from the start. But before that, with QUT from 2013, a few years before I was a teacher.

What have been the benefits?

As a teacher, I find it good, especially in our region. It’s a highly sought after skillset. It was a large part of the reason that I got a job before I graduated, and I’m used by other schools in the region to work with their students. So it gives you the edge on your resume, not just the areas that you’re trained in. It’s also great with how much they’re trying to get robotics into schools in Queensland, it’s a great networking opportunity to work with other teachers.

For the students, and for our students in particular, it’s a little bit new and a little bit different. When I came to this school, our secondary students only did maths, English, humanities, and science. In that first semester we looked at what electives we could offer to help retain the students. It was something different that the students latched onto. The parents liked that it was something that the big schools in the cities are offering, that we could bring out to small schools like Injune. For them, they can see it’s leading into the future if they head into a bigger school.

How does it fit in with the curriculum?

We try to use the robots in other subjects as well, so we’ll pull them out in maths when we’re looking at distance or time. At the moment we’re looking at number lines and integers, and we’re pulling out the robots to move along the number line. In terms of subjects, we have robotics as a dedicated elective on Fridays for a two-hour session. In semester two we’re preparing for FIRST LEGO League, but last semester we ran a robot olympics challenge for the district.

How many school are in involved in your district?

We have five small primary schools around us. They have EV3 robots that they use with their grade 5 and 6 students, and they get my high school students to go out and mentor the primary school students and then engage them in the final product of the project as well.

What have been the greatest challenges / blockers?

Getting the parent and student buy in, right from the start. "Why should we select robotics, we’ve got no idea what that is, and we could just as easily do outdoor pursuits and we know that we like sport?” Just getting them to give it a go was probably the biggest challenge.

Also networking, but not so much this year. Being able to network with other teachers who are also doing robotics and be able to chat about what have you been doing and where can we go next with that. I’ve found after doing PDs that it’s been easier to link in with people.

Could you tell me about one student who has been positively affected?

One of my year 8 girls, that I’d had since last year in year 7. She was a C and D student across the board in terms of her report card, and she also didn’t have a lot of teamwork abilities. She didn’t get along well with the other year 8 girls. This time last year in robotics she absolutely excelled. She got her first B ever in her report card, and it motivated her academically across the board, to say “now that I’ve got that one, let’s get it across the board” and she managed to get half her subjects up to a B last semester. But it’s also been great to have her have to do teamwork. Having something in common with the other girls has helped her in the playground too.

Do you have any advice for teachers thinking about getting started with LEGO Education?

Networking is incredibly helpful, finding out what other teachers are doing. But I find letting the students lead what you want to do is just the easiest way to go. All you need is really basic skills to show the students and then they will have a million and one ideas as to where they want to go next. Letting them lead the charge really takes the pressure off you, but helps them enjoy it more as well.