MORRISBURG – A Morrisburg teacher has won a prestigious national teaching award for his work in STEM education.
Blair Fitzsimons, a Grade 7 teacher at St. Mary-St. Cecilia Catholic School, was awarded a Regional Certificate of Achievement for the 2020 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM. STEM is the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in education.
“It is a true honour to have my name put forward and then to actually win a national award, it’s something else,” Fitzsimons told The Leader after learning he had won the award.
Since joining the staff at SMSC six years ago, he has led the move to integrate STEM learning at all levels from Kindergarten to Grade 8.
“STEM is an amazing opportunity for discovery and inquiry, and for collaboration with kids,” Fitzsimons said. “It’s an empowering thing.”
He said that integrating STEM principles into learning comes down to making a difference in how students learn. Students do not have to have strengths in Math or Science to be involved in STEM.
“That comes from a lot of our own limitations or biases on what we put towards those subject areas,” Fitzsimons said. “STEM needs to integrate art, entrepreneurship, and communication skills.”
He explained the limitations people place on STEM aren’t just from adults.
“The kids limit STEM. They think that STEM is far off like once they go off to university, then I am going to be doing STEM. But that’s not the case.”Fitzsimons said that students need to be using the principles of STEM to make differences in their community. His approach to this at SMSC is to learn right along with the students.
“We discover together,” he said. “It’s not about giving the answer to a problem, it’s about giving the students the tools so that they can discover the answers themselves.”
Starting at Kindergarten, students are using tool kits such as Makey Makey, moving up to Lego Robotics and 3D printing in the higher grade levels. The co-learning principle is also applied to peer mentoring with older students working with younger students on projects.
“With STEM, we’ve seen kids grow in confidence in amazing ways,” Fitzsimons said.
His teaching background isn’t in any of the STEM principles he said, it’s in Philosophy. In winning the award, he said that for him, the biggest takeaway is recognition that teachers don’t have to be experts in all subjects.
“It’s having the willingness to learn alongside our students,” Fitzsimons said. “The learning can be challenging, but the payoff is just amazing.”