Surrounded by the buzzing tech tools that cascade his classroom, Mr. Randy Stribley walks from group to group to check on the progress of his students’ robotics projects.
“Mr. Stribley is a Swiss Army Knife of a person,” said a fellow teacher in passing. “He has an answer for everything.”
Stribley has been with Papillion LaVista South High School (PLSHS) for seven years. He helps with the STEM academy, Skills USA, and teaches robotics and a home maintenance construction course.
This week we sat down with him to learn what it’s like to teach STEM courses to high school students.
[Photos courtesy of Malone and Company and PLCS.]
AIM: How long have you been with the robotics team?
RS: I want to say I’ve been doing it for six or seven years. We have one to two teams every year, and they compete against other high schools through the VEX Robotics Competition.
This year they did an OPEN robotics competition which means they could use non-VEX approved parts. Since they could get more creative with it, they tried implementing some 3D printed objects and did some research on different motors and control systems.
AIM: Do you have a favorite app that helps you teach more efficiently?
RS: I’m trying to use Twitter more. All of these groups are making different robot solutions. They get to come up with their own design and implement it, but they are all trying to solve the same problem.
One of the tasks for each group is to have a social media presence. It’s also helping with their documentation portion of the project. So if they try an idea, they need to take a picture of it and post it. Every once in a while I also ask them to to say if the project is going good or bad and why it’s going that way.
I subscribe to all of their team feeds and ask them to subscribe to each other’s feeds as well. So hopefully they are making each other better with that feedback. It also allows me to catch up with all the groups and catch things that I may have missed during the class period.
I also know other teachers in the area that have home maintenance or robotics classes that subscribe to our feeds and vice versa, which allows us to find other cool projects.
(You can follow Randy’s class @rstribley on Twitter)
AIM: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome while working at PLSHS?
RS: It’s all the other stuff you have to do as a teacher. I constantly have to remind myself that I’m here for the students. You get all of these other roles and responsibilities that you didn’t realize you were going to have. Time is always a limiting factor. They give you a plan/ prep time, but that time disappears really fast.
AIM: Is teaching ever an isolated experience?
RS: You have to purposefully work to get out of your classroom. Our school has done learning rotations for the last few years, which allows teachers to use one of their plan periods to observe another teacher’s classroom. The purpose is to take skills or items used in that classroom and use them to grow your own.
AIM: What does it take to be a great STEM teacher?
RS: You have to realize that it changes a lot, but that’s what makes it fun. There’s also a lot of diversity. The areas that you study in college are very wide-ranging. When I came out of college I didn’t have a background in robotics. I had some experience in manufacturing electronics, but I had to teach myself robotics.
AIM: Is it ever stressful to not know about a certain area and then have to teach it?
RS: Yeah, but I just say I don’t know and that we will learn it together. I’m sure the first few years I taught robotics was terrible, but it’s better for [the students] to be in the classroom and have that opportunity to learn.
When a teacher completely understands something it can be a disadvantage to the students because they don’t have that opportunity to explore and discover. I try to walk a fine line of not making overpowering decisions while giving enough support to allow for success.
Are you interested in finding a job like Randy’s? Check out current job openings in education here.
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