“I am excited for the day when high schools look more like K-2nd grade, where it is difficult to determine if they are learning English, or Math and Science, or character development, or skill development.” – Ian Fogarty, Canada

As a multidisciplinary science teacher, you’d expect Ian Fogarty to be passionate about technology – and he is. But it’s Fogarty’s passion for how tech can transform his students’ lives that sets him apart.

His innovative Xenotransplant project, presented at Microsoft in Education’s Cape Town Global Forum a few years ago, combined the science of viruses, HIV-AIDS and organ transplant with economics, political science, cultural studies, graphic and media studies and ethics.

“Students created a political party and wrote a bill in both our official languages,” Fogarty explains. “They connected with schools around the world, including the Oprah Winfrey school in South Africa, to gain a worldwide perspective on HIV-AIDs. They used OneNote to coordinate their efforts and Skype to connect with experts in New Zealand. They also created public service announcements.”

Fogarty’s commitment to education has been widely recognized. He has won two Minister’s Awards for Innovation, the Canadian Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Education, placed at Microsoft’s Global Innovative Educators Forum (for Collaboration and Communication), and took home the Canadian Association of Physicists’ High School Teacher Award and, in 2015, won the NSTA PASCO STEM Educator award. Fogarty’s commitment to global education settings is so strong, in fact, he moved his own twin boys to Beijing for a semester to raise them as 21st century learners and learn in a school that exists outside of four walls.

But sometimes doing the right thing for students means helping them find their own passion – even if it’s outside the STEM subjects Fogarty teaches. Like the student who started in his physics class this year with an eye on medicine.

“Her physics project was a CAD and 3D print design of the theatre and the sets of the school play in which she was the star,” Fogarty tells us. “She calculated the coefficient of friction in her Heelys that they used to glide across the stage in the school’s performance of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ She calculated the terminal velocity of bubble floating down the set. This odd combination got her thinking about set design and how science influences theater.”

This student noticed that she liked – and was good at — designing the stage and sets, and is now about to depart for training with Disney this summer.

“There are similar stories every year, where students confirm their love of science, but others find other passions,” he says. “Some have criticized me, saying that I am pushing some away from STEM and that makes me a terrible teacher. But those students say that I provided a place for them to uncover a life passion.”

“My proudest moment as a teacher,” Fogarty adds, “is to know that I have a small part to play as a whole community provides opportunities for students to discover the reason they were placed on this earth, be it STEM or be it other.”

Enjoy today’s passionate Daily Edventure with Ian Fogarty.

What inspired you to become an educator?

My dad was a master teacher for 33 years in the same school that I attended and now teach at. He was a great influence on me and how I teach. My coaches saw potential in an unlikely and untalented athlete and changed who I was. They sowed the seeds. However, the moment that I knew I was meant to teach came from two high school wrestlers while I was doing my graduate work in New Mexico.

I had been working successfully in New Mexico designing anti-cancer drugs, and was seriously considering getting a PhD and then pursuing medical school to do medical research. During my limited down time, I did some volunteer coaching with the local high school wrestling team. They had a fantastic coaching staff there working with lots of kids from different backgrounds. I was only able to show up once or twice every few weeks. Little did I know that these limited interactions would change the direction of my life.

There were two illegal immigrants who worked hard at school and at wrestling, but did not have much experience. They were not very good athletes when we started. While they were from a loving single-parent home, they were surrounded by drugs, alcohol and guns and a cycle of life reminiscent of movies such as McFarland, USA.

Because we were outsiders from different countries, we formed a bond. The two students paid attention to what the crazy Canadian coach was telling them. As a result of their full time coaches and a small amount of input from me, and lots of dedicated hard work on the part of the athletes, they eventually rose to third in the state.

On one particular night after having spent two weeks in the chemistry lab – which meant very little human interaction — I ran into one of the two brothers, who informed me that he was accepted to college on a wrestling scholarship. He said he was going because of wrestling, but for his education. He thanked me for believing in him.

I had only a small part to play in his development; he and his full-time coaches deserve the lions’ share of the credit. However, that showed me the impact that even small interactions can have on humans. The next day, I informed my professor that I would not be continuing with my PhD studies and applied for my Bachelors in Education program. The last time I heard, he and his brother owned a contracting business, and had broken the cycle of poverty and drugs that surrounded them.

What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?

I am most proud of allowing students to find their passion inside a science class. For some, it confirmed that they loved science, yet for others, they discovered that they have interests and talents that they did not know they had.

The first time this happened was with one particular girl who had filled her schedule with STEM courses and had no room for any other kinds of classes. Even if she did have room, she had no desire to take a whole course in something like graphic arts or journalism. However, during the course of the Xenotransplant project, different students had to explore a whole variety of career-based skills like graphic arts, law, politics, and journalism.

She agreed reluctantly to act as a journalist for a couple of weeks inside the context of the Xenotransplant project. While she learned a lot of science, she also learned that she loved being a journalist. She gave up her university admissions to science and instead pursued journalism, a passion that she did not know that she had.

Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?

I feel most passionate about technology when it can be used to make a kid who felt they were the worst in the class, become first in the class. I am thinking of two students in particular, Neil and Frank. One only showed up to class a couple of times a week and played his Gameboy during class. The other was too concerned with hockey to actually do his homework. As a result, both of them fell behind. Although they were polite, they did not use their time well, they did not feel very intelligent because of their test scores, and they were often off task.

One particular day, small groups of students were sharing laptops to investigate a chemistry concept around kinetics using a simulation. It was day one of the unit, so there was little background knowledge required. They were working in groups with other students.

Neil was just playing his Gameboy, but glancing up periodically at the laptop screen as one of the girls struggled through the simulation. At a different table, Frank just sat and watched as a student named Nicole tried to figure things out. Nicole was getting frustrated by the puzzle and wondered why the teacher, me, did not just give her the answers so that she could answer it correctly on the test. Every once in a while, I would see either Neil or Frank point to the laptop and I also saw the frustration in their respective groups mount.

Naively, I decided to regroup the students so that the “good” students could have a break from the “disruptive” students.  So I placed Neil and Frank in their own group at a large SMARTBoard for them to use the simulation together. My thought was that it would get them standing, I could see what they were doing from anywhere in the classroom, and they would not be a bother to my other students who were always “first in the class” but who were now struggling with this simulation.

I was called away from my class to deal with a small first aid situation down the hall. I did not anticipate what I was about to see when I returned to class. When I walked in the room, both Neil and Frank were at the SMARTBoard manipulating the simulation, changing variables, gathering data, coming up with hypotheses and then testing them.

Not only were they thinking at a higher level, they were teaching their friends what it all meant. The students who were previously first in the class were being taught a lesson about thinking, about problem solving and the scientific method by the students who had the worst attendance and test scores in the class.

More importantly, we all got a lesson in how there are many kinds of intelligence. This was a perfect example of how test scores do not illuminate these different kinds of intelligence well.  As a teacher, I learned that I have the ability to decide who leaves my classroom thinking that they are intelligent by the activity that I ask them to do. In this case, an interactive puzzle on a large interactive surface caused students to use social constructivism to engage in different thought processes and teach the rest of us that students are much more than a test score.

In terms of education innovation, what are you most excited about for the future? What is your biggest hope for today’s students?

I am excited about the combination of individualized learning and collaboration that BYOD and large interactive screens such as Microsoft Surface will provide. I am excited to see how [this works in] the traditional school where students gather together to apply their talents in collaborative work.

I am excited for the day when high schools look more like K-2nd grade, where it is difficult to determine if they are learning English, or Math and Science, or character development, or skill development. It will be a good day when teachers spend an equal time deliberately using their content to teach skills as they do today teaching knowledge.

The switch from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” to “learning environment engineer” will require a whole variety of technologies, digital resources, and teaching strategies. It will require a system change to reflect a paradigm change. Although there is a developing critical mass of educators talking about what they would like to have, there are few people that have a clear way forward.

I feel fortunate to be a part of the group that will move things forward using things that I have founded or co-founded such as the Collaborative Classroom, Engineering Brightness (E-B.io), Philanthropic Engineering (P-E.io), and LifeLessonLearning.com.

About Ian Fogarty
Science Teacher,
Microsoft Innovative Expert Fellow

Riverview High School, Anglophone East School District

Riverview, New Brunswick, Canada

  • Blog URL: foggs.ca/wp
  • Birthplace: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
  • Educational background: BSc and Bed from Mount Allison Univ, and MSc from New Mexico State University.
  • Website I check every day: lifelessonlearning.com
  • Favorite childhood memory: Hiking and canoeing with my dad.
  • Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Skype, OneNote and Sway on large, interactive surfaces.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? “Surround yourself with good people,” from my Dad; “If you run with dogs, you will catch fleas,” from my Grandfather; and “Good is the enemy of great,” from my brother.
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