Take 5 with Ashley Hallihan
Miramichi Valley High School Photos by Alex Leslie.
We interviewed Ashley to see why he was inspired to become a teacher and what he's learned.
How long have you been teaching?
This is my 16th year of teaching at Miramichi Valley High School. I currently teach Foundations of Math 11, Environmental Science 120, Coop (MAKE) 120 and Advanced Technology 120 where students who have finished Coop (MAKE) are back in the MVHS MakerSpace for the second time. I actually started my teaching career in my 2nd year of university where I would get
around 20 supply days each spring with a local permit.
Why did you become a teacher? In high school, I helped a teacher coach middle school soccer and I also taught some lessons in cadets as being one of the leaders in our squadron. Both of these experiences, along with having a mother as a teacher, helped guide me into the profession of teaching. I must also admit that having the summer months off to enjoy my passion of Atlantic Salmon fishing is a great perk to the
In your lifetime has anyone inspired you to change your mind, for the better, to overcome an obstacle?
One of my mentors was a salmon fishing guide named William Bacso, who I worked with during my university
years as a part time caretaker/guide for Wade’s Fishing Camps. Willy was from Hungary and he fled with his sister at a young age to Canada. He always had a passion for learning any subject while trying out new tech gadgets…a common theme for both of us. One important lesson he taught me was to take risks and not be afraid of failure. With the help of Willy and fellow guide Jason Curtis, we created a Fly Fishing Program for the youth at MVHS – a unique program that no one had implemented before at the high schoo-l8 -level. Since the creation of this club in 2008, I have become more open to trying new things and stepping out of my comfort zone all in the name of student learning.
How did you first get involved in Maker-Ed/Coding and how have you incorporated it into your lessons?
My first experience with Maker-Ed was through our District Technology team showing me a video of an underwater robot exploring the Bedford Basin in Nova Scotia. These guys knew I was passionate about the Miramichi River and thought I would be interested in implementing this technology into either my Environmental Science course or our Fishing Club activities. From that moment, we applied and received funding from Brilliant Labs to undertake this project at MVHS. With support of administration and fellow technology teacher Kathy MacDonald, we were able to incorporate the OpenROV robotics project into the Computer Science 11 course. These students became actively engaged in their learning and were eager to take on other Maker Movement technologies. From their interest, we decided to offer a one credit Coop 120 course nicknamed MAKE in their second semester. The MVHS MakerSpace was literally made by these students who developed projects using a variety of technologies such as: Sparkfun Inventor's Kits, Makey Makeys, Drones, MATE ROV, and PrinterBot 3D Printing. We moved from a small isolated classroom with a few netbooks into a transformed lab we now call MVHSMake. Students designed and finished this learning space themselves and it continues to develop each semester through student projects.
We've been talking a lot about "Coding to Learn" in this issue... what does this phrase mean to you?
Coding to Learn to me means that we can all learn through code whether it be a specific computer language to control a device or following a set of procedures in building a project. The beauty of today’s code is that easily accessed and applied at any grade level. We have gone beyond the days of changing a color of text on a screen or clicking a button on a webpage. Now, code gives immediate feedback to the user through the actions of device whether it be a Raspberry Pi Sense Hat or a mBot moving by itself while emitting beeps to the tune of Jingle Bells. Code has evolved into a language that has applications in every subject area. More importantly, our youth of today will need experience with code as they take on the jobs of tomorrow.
Can you think of a project that helped a student (or students) improve their math or literacy skills through coding? How did it make you feel? One group of students designed a Sphero course made of wood with ramps and turns where the Sphero travelled according to the code in their program. This challenge came after the ‘wow’ factor of using a Sphero for augmented reality and playing around with the wide variety of apps designed to showcase the features of this device. They started learning to code with Sphero and designing a course with masking tape on the floor. Math and Physics quickly became part of their learning as they explored measurement, angles, velocities and friction. Carpentry skills were applied as they wanted to make the track more concrete. Literacy is always a regular component in the MakerSpace as students need to maintain a daily journal, provide summaries online and present their projects to their peers as well as guests twice a semester. All of these subjects were considered when developing their code.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you while in the classroom during a project? How did you and/or the students learn from it? A group of students had designed a payload box attached to our Parrot drone so they could test the carrying capacity of the drone and the impact this added weight would have on piloting. I allowed them to test their build in the hallway not realizing that their new box would now create a fixed distance for the ultrasonic sensor. Using the auto take off, the drone kept going up in the air until it crashed into the ceiling and fell back down to the ground. The students were nervous that I was going to be upset because of their crash. However, I enjoyed their failure as it provided a great learning opportunity about importance of prototype design and understanding the mechanics of the device including the role of the ultrasonic sensor. After this lesson, their nerves shifted into determination of designing a new platform that would not interfere with this sensor.
Has a student ever inspired you? How did their work, actions, or "Ah Ha!" moment change your teaching for the better? Last spring, I had a former student send me an email about how he was thankful for the learning opportunities provided in Make. He was a student from the first group of students who took the course when it was just being developed and to be honest, I thought he was a student who did not buy into that learning environment. Instead, he learned many skills that were beneficial to his studies beyond high school and appreciated all of the learning opportunities within the class. I must admit I was surprised, as the first version of the course was a learning experience for everyone, myself included! The course has become more organized and the level of student projects continues to amaze me each semester. This moment provided me with the justification that the Maker movement does have a role to play to developing students at any grade level.
What advice would you give to teachers who are intimidated by coding and maker-ed projects? Don’t be afraid to take risks and step outside your comfort zone! Maker-Ed and coding involves a lot of learning where students and teachers are working together. The teacher takes on the role of being a facilitator while the student takes ownership of their learning. Be prepared to make mistakes with the students and use these moments as opportunities to further develop their understanding of their project. A great deal of learning can be explored from failures which in turn can lead toward future successes. Maker-Ed provides a learning environment where students have to strive toward their project objectives and goals. Whether or not the goals are met, students gain an appreciation of their learning while achieving a sense of pride in what they have done throughout their project. The focus needs to be on the process not the product. The highlights will come when both the process and the product are achieved!