As the Robotics & Design teacher at Indian Creek Elementary, Bruce Nelson teaches students in grades 1 through 6 how to design, build and program robots and other mechanisms to accomplish any given task.
They fail a lot in his class, but with every failure, they learn something about the project and themselves.
Many parents are in the same process of learning, failing and succeeding in this project we’re faced with right now called “educating at home.” So, who better to glean advice from than Nelson, who won the award 2019 Lawrence Township Teacher of the Year, and holds the distinction of being the only LEGO Education US LEGO Master Educator in Indiana?
Playing both caregiver and teacher is a new role for many. We are at a loss at how to balance it all: work — if we’re lucky enough to still have work — educating and caring for our kids. Any advice?
You know your child better than anyone and there is no single solution. As teachers know, every child is different — what works for one, will not work for all. Children are just as anxious as adults. This is something no one could really prepare for, so we’ve got to be flexible. Normally, I’m an advocate for limiting screen time, but not now. Special circumstances call for a little rule bending. Just as kids need breaks, so do the adults. Teachers have learned how to meet the needs of a roomful of children, it takes a lot of practice. I’ve been doing is for over 30 years and I still learn things throughout the school year. You will come up with something that works for you and your child.
How important is routine?
School-age children have spent since August on a strict schedule. Yes, routine is important, but that routine isn’t as clock-driven now. The order stays the same, but you have something many teachers dream of: You can keep going with a project as long as you want. Why does the adult get to determine the routine? Yes, there will be things that need to get done, at certain times, but even a child as young as preschool can at least have a little choice in the activities, or at least the order.
What advice do you have for parents with the following aged kids?
Preschooler and younger
This is a great time to work on arts & crafts, but don’t stop there. Ask lots of questions and get them to explain their thinking. If they draw a picture, don’t just ask what they drew — have them tell you a story about what is going on. Don’t focus on things being perfect. Make it fun.
As an elementary teacher, I would be remiss if I didn’t start with reading. Tie activities to what they are reading. Your child’s teacher will have some great suggestions for books, either ones they have already read, or ones they were hoping to get to.
Tweens and teens
Come up with things that tie back to the real world. Give them things to do and learn that are things they are going to be to do for the rest of their lives. It could be anything from changing a tire or the oil in your car, to understanding how to fill out your income taxes. Let them see what being an adult is like. This is a chance to prepare them in ways you may never had been prepared.
What’s the most important thing for parents to keep in mind right now?
Be flexible. While you all want your child to learn, and be prepared for the next year, I learned a long time ago, that not all lessons work for every kid, you need to be ready to change course if you see things going badly. They will not be perfect, even if you are a professional educator, it doesn’t always work. The Michigan State Teacher of the Year posted during the start of this that her children were not impressed with her teaching. When I taught first grade, one of the hardest things to get across to my students was that Mom & Dad might do something differently than how we do it in class. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just different. It was then the students’ job to teach them how we do it.
In this moment, what can parents realistically expect of teachers who are working virtually?
This is new to everyone. We are trying to fly the airplane while we are building it. I would hope that each teacher is trying to touch base with their class to make sure everyone is OK. For me, that has been posting things on my class Facebook and Twitter accounts (@explorobots). With over 700 students, it is a little hard to contact everyone. That said, don’t compare different teachers. One teacher might only have a cat at home and has time to virtually meet with their students daily, while another might have three kids trying to balance everything. Having been a technology coordinator at a school, I also know every teacher’s comfort level is different when it comes to technology. If you have questions, contact your child’s teacher, but don’t expect an answer immediately.
What can teachers realistically expect of parents, especially those who need to work during the day?
Don’t worry — most teachers only expect that you try. I know the teachers I work with are expecting parents and children to make an effort to keep their child learning. No, it may not be following the state standards, but if a student came into my classroom and could talk about the comic books they had read, that they had learned all about crocodiles, or the measured and cut out masks to be used at the local hospital, that is something better than a high score on a video game.
Bruce Nelson is the 2019 Lawrence Township Teacher of the Year, after almost 30 years as a classroom teacher, technology coordinator, and STEM specialist he now serves as the Robotics and Design Teacher at Indian Creek Elementary working with students from first to sixth grade. Mr. Nelson is currently the only LEGO Education US LEGO Master Educator in Indiana. As a LEGO Master Educator, he works with LEGO Education on development of new products and curriculum.
You can follow him on his Facebook and Twitter accounts (@explorobots).