Robert France has seen first-hand that students learn best by experiencing something new, while being supported by a mentors who believe in them. Robert began teaching in 2013 after learning about Citizen Schools through his role at SanDisk as VP of Customer Technical Support. He teamed up with a couple of colleagues to teach robotics at Joseph George Middle School in San Jose, CA. “Team teaching is great: it provides more viewpoints for the students, coverage when someone is out, and the ability to maximize hands-on time, as one person can run the lesson while the others can set-up the activities,” said Robert.
We recognize Robert as the January Citizen Teacher of the Month for his dedication to teaching students and belief that every student has potential! “I believe that if [we] can excite students and show them that they can do something new, maybe that is the nudge that will change that student’s path for the better.”
What apprenticeships have you taught?
My first class as a Citizen Teacher was in 2013 teaching robotics. I just finished preparing and teaching a class on 3D printing with my team. Each student got to go through the whole process from creating an idea, to modeling in CAD on the computer, and ultimately printing in the classroom on a printer. The two most popular colors were silver and glow in the dark!
Do you have a favorite WOW! moment? Did anything surprise you about the students?
There are so many great mental “snapshots”, it’s hard to pick just one. But one that stands out was when we started printing the first student-designed object in the classroom. 3D printers make a very distinct sound and the motion is mesmerizing. Seeing the class’ reaction was really priceless. I think the reaction was partly because it is just such a cool thing to experience. But partly I believe, at least for some, that that was the point where they understood that they really did it, from concept to reality.
Why do you think it’s important to provide students with hands-on opportunities?
I am a huge believer in learning by doing. There is no better way to build confidence as you gain proficiency. You also find that there are usually a couple of failures along the way, and that is okay, too.
During the 3D printing WOW!, I was watching the printer working away and listening quietly to one of the students explaining the process. He was showing and describing the layers in the object, not just reading off of the presentation board. It was really great to hear his explanation. But I was especially excited about the idea that these WOW! moments would continue for our students beyond their presentations, and this idea is a driving force for me.
I knew that after the class was over, every time one of the students showed their 3D printed object to someone, I could just imagine the person saying something great to them like, “It is so cool that you did that!” Because that is what this is all about for me – to show these students that they can do it. Sure some things you have to work at, but they are not beyond reach. The ability to extend the WOW! moment for as long as possible, to have as many WOW!s as possible, continues to reinforce the message: you can do it!
What is one piece of advice you have for new Citizen Teachers?
Believe in the students. Do not underestimate them. Pick something you love and challenge yourself to challenge them. If you are teaching a complex topic, it will take some work to make it age and grade level appropriate. But it also gives you the richest opportunity to make the experience engaging and challenging for your entire range of students. You have many resources to help you with this, partner teachers, other Citizen Teachers, colleagues – ask for help!
Why should others volunteer to teach with Citizen Schools?
Education changes lives. Confidence changes lives. Working with students is fun, rewarding, and occasionally a little tiring trying to keep up with all those brains. Citizen Schools and SanDisk have partnered together to make it easy to spend a little time, invest a little energy and in return have an awful lot of fun sharing something you love with some very energetic, really special students. The Teaching Fellows manage the classroom part (thank you!) so you can focus on your topic. And who knows, maybe one day, you’ll get a second thank you note, that you did in fact make a difference in someone’s life. I hope I do!