Jon from Cuberider explains why he left his teaching job behind to join a team with an out-of-this-world approach to engaging kids in physics, coding and engineering.
Hi, my name is Jon, and I’m a teacher.
Oh man, that sounded like a confession more than an introduction. But, for whatever reason, that’s sometimes how I felt during my time as a public school teacher in the United States. I was responsible for the failures of the next generation. I was accountable for the alarming unemployment stats. I was the reason so many young minds were slacking off, medicating, or tuning out entirely.
Maybe I just take it all too personally, but teaching will do that. As a result, it’s exhausting, contrary to what much of the general public sees: a bunch of state employees who get eight weeks off for holidays every summer.
It didn’t help that I was teaching in the same way teachers in the US had taught for hundreds of years. Books were assigned, quizzes were handed out, homework was ignored. The whole system seemed outdated, uninspiring, and broken. Mud, I was stuck in the mud. Then, through happenstance, I stumbled across a group of people that were trying to change all of this. They told me they were turning students into rocket scientists, so I quit my job to help.
That group is called Cuberider. What they (now we) are doing for students, and educators, is astronomical (pun intended). Through a series of activities revolving around physics, coding, and engineering we try to turn a classroom from a stereotype into a NASA mission control room. All in the hope that students today, like those inspired by Neil Armstrong 50 years ago, will invest themselves in education.
Insert buzz words here: 21st century classroom, STEM training, growth mindset, project based learning, engineering design. FYI: We do it all, and we do it in outer space. My parents explain it best, “Jon is working on the International Space Station.” By asking students what they want to know about outer space, Cuberider forces students to explore.
It’s not about the buzz words though. It’s about telling students, “hey ladies and gentlemen, here is an opportunity to send your scientific experiment to space. Your creation will sit side by side with NASA designs. Your research will add to our exploration of the final frontier.” Students want that ownership and control.
A few months ago, the idea of high school students running experiments in outer space seemed so abstract, but these folks are making it happen right here in Australia. Also worth noting is the detail that no students are launched into space, just their intellectual property: scientific experiments coded in a student-generated python file and uploaded to a raspberry pi equipped with environmental sensors. That goes to space… not your child… that would involve a bigger team.
And that’s the great thing about Cuberider, it’s just a few space geeks (nine at last count) piled into a Sydney cubicle trying to think of ways to make school inspiring while making as many space puns as possible. We are on our first space mission, we don’t know what the results will show. We just want to make sure we don’t let our students down. We want to find ways to make school fit the vision of what today’s kids need school to be.
I’m amazed at what has been accomplished in 2016. What will students be doing by mission 2026?
For a deeper dive into the processes of Cuberider’s model, tune back in to Refraction next week when I will be writing about some astounding experiments students sent us.