Teacher Feature: Milorad Cerovac

Milorad Cerovac is a teacher at The King David School in Melbourne. Following careers in research and the IT industry, Milorad began teaching in 2004 and has since taught mathematics, science, IT, physics, and systems engineering. Milorad has been a pioneer of incorporating elements of robotics into the school's curriculum to enhance student engagement and learning. In 2015, Milorad won FIRST Australia’s Volunteer of the Year Award for his contribution to local and national FIRST robotics competitions.

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

Teaching is my third career. I initially started off in research (Polymers) before working in the IT industry for many years, and with the birth of my daughter (who was my inspiration) I undertook a Grad Diploma of Education and have been teaching since 2004. I primarily teach high school students (Years 7 to 12), teaching any of the following combination of subjects: Maths, Science, IT, Physics and, most recently, Systems Engineering. I also do a fair amount of voluntary work with organisations such as the Ardoch Youth Foundation and Ford Australia (great supporter of STEM in schools) working with primary and secondary students from socially disadvantaged areas. LEGO and, in particular, the FIRST LEGO League program, is central to these outreach activities.

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

To be fearless in whatever they do; to take risks and think differently and not lose that creative spirit, even if this means ignoring the ‘naysayers’. I also want my students to learn to be persistent, and not simply give up the first time they strike a problem that they think is insurmountable. These attributes I think will then flow into other areas of their lives, so they’ll develop the attitude of improvising when they find that something is broken or a part is missing. So rather than throw the hands up in the air and say “I can’t do it”, they think about other options.

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

I started using LEGO (the Mindstorms RCX) as part of a co-curricular program back in 2007; though I had been involved with the FIRST LEGO League since 2006. We used the RCX as a way of teaching engineering and coding.

What have been the benefits?

Huge! Our school for many years had marketed itself as an arts/music school. There was very little to no recognition of science. The LEGO Mindstorms platform provided a much-needed base from which we could provide educational enrichment. We were able to move away from the traditional ways of teaching (e.g. ‘chalk & talk’, ‘plug & chug’) to implementing innovative teaching pedagogies, where the emphasis is on the 4Cs of collaboration, communication, thinking critically and creativity. Science and technology was now standing as an equal.

This also allowed us to develop even more innovative programs, such as CanSat, where students build a functioning satellite that fits inside the confines of a standard soft drink can. Even though this was not LEGO based, the students were still doing a lot of prototyping using LEGO.

In terms of our students, so many that had never considered engineering were now enrolling in engineering at university. One of our alumni is already well into his PhD in aerospace engineering; he hopes to design the next generation of space probes. Another school alumnus started work last week with Rockwell Automation (a world leader in robotics technology). The starting point was our LEGO robotics program.

How does it fit in with the curriculum?

It’s not only about fitting with the curriculum, which LEGO technology platform provides, but equally as important (if not more so), that it allows teachers to implement skills development that are relevant for the 21st century (e.g. problem solving, communication, collaboration, critical thinking). These are all skills that we need to be focusing on and which are not easily taught.

What have been the greatest challenges / blockers?

I was actually quite surprised as to how easy it was to get buy-in from not only the kids, but also from school management and parents. It was probably made easy by the fact that we used the FIRST LEGO League as a way of initially engaging students, through providing a real world challenge for the kids to solve.

Before you knew it, we were using LEGO in ways that it was probably not expected to be used. The best example I can give you here was when our school’s ripple tank broke. We use the ripple tank for conducting wave experiments in Physics. Now even though we’re a private school, we had no cash to buy new equipment, so I challenged the kids to make one, and here it is.

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

This is a bit hard, as there have been several students that I could talk about who have been positively impacted; so it’s kind of hard to leave the others out. One that stands out popped in for a visit last year, when he joined a space program in his first year studying engineering at the University of Melbourne. He is now working with a team of university students to develop Australia’s first satellite since the 1970s. It’s quite amazing where he has come from since the early days of working with LEGO.

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

Similar to what I say to my students; be fearless! Actually, I’d say “don’t be afraid”. LEGO Education has already done all the hard work in providing the framework for teachers to implement the new Digital Technologies Curriculum. Plus you don’t need to be an expert; students are very quick to adapt to the LEGO technology, as it’s very intuitive. As a teacher your role quickly becomes one of facilitator, where you create the student-centred learning.