David E. Thomascall, PhD
Like many teachers, I didn't start in education. I'm essentially a tech guy who managed to discover I liked teaching. You can read more about my journey below.
My first teaching job was at a school off a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have calculators, projectors, or computers, which was just as well since we didn’t have electricity. The majority of my students spoke only a little English, and some of my classes had over 50 students. To make matters worse, I had no teaching experience or training.
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland (now eSwatini) teaching Physics and math at a rural school. I’m sure that living in a mud hut and teaching in Africa was not what my parents had in mind when I completed my engineering degree a couple of years earlier. In fact, my mother claimed that I gave her ulcers.
Compared to the computer programming job I left to join the Peace Corps, teaching was more my style. Teaching was never boring, even when it was frustrating. I loved learning new things, designing lessons, collaborating with other teachers, and joking around with students. When a lesson didn't go well, I enjoyed figuring out what went wrong and trying to do better the next time. Not many jobs give you do-overs. Plus, switching to teaching gave me my summers back.
That was more than 30 years ago, and today, after teaching hundreds of students in several schools, I believe I’ve identified several key aspects of lesson design. For one thing, it’s critical to set clear parameters for kids. It is easier for pupils to achieve their goals if they understand what they are going for. On the other hand, lessons should be adjustable and flexible. Some of my best lessons have come from students not following directions. The most important lesson is that kids need to be engaged. Teachers should be on the lookout for things that pupils are interested in and be eager to share their own passions. If a teacher is genuinely interested in a topic, it’s likely that enthusiasm will rub off on students. Remember that a busy kid is a happy kid.
Over the years, I’ve collected and developed many STEM activities and learned (sometimes painfully) what works and what doesn’t work. At this point in my career, I want to share what I've learned with other parents and teachers. That is why I decided to start this blog. I intend to use it to highlight activities and ideas that have worked well for me, and to provide advice and pointers on how to carry them out. Hopefully, teachers and parents will find these useful.