The most prestigious prize awarded to a teacher in Canada now resides with our very own Terry Prezens.
Mr. Prezens received the incredible news last month that he is the recipient of a Certificate of Achievement for the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM.
The Government of Canada website describes one of the many reasons he is deserving of the award: A decade ago, Terry Prezens began a robotics club, which led to the development of a robust dual-stream computer science and engineering program at St. Andrew’s College. Now, his classroom serves as a design lab – a collaborative makerspace in which students pursue learning at their own pace, always under his careful and caring eye.
When asked about the award, a humble Mr. Prezens steers the conversation to his students’ successes – and near successes. “A finished project is not as important as learning along the way,” Mr. Prezens says. “I support the students by not taking over their projects.”
He raves over some of the amazing creations constructed under his watchful eye in the Dunin Family Engineering Centre. One project from this year involves a 3D printed robotic hand that a student modified by adding linear actuators that would allow an amputee to control the robotic hand through muscle contractions in their forearm. Projects from previous years include a quad copter drone and a computer controlled air hockey table.
Mr. Prezens, who just completed his 13th year teaching at SAC, often gets feedback from grads on the value of the Robotics program. “They find when they go to university they’re ahead of the game,” he says.
Mr. Prezens is a proponent of learning through constructivism (boys learn by doing and connecting with others) and constructionism (boys learn by building and solving problems). Or simply put: “Boys like to build stuff!”
He says robotics takes the place of shop class and the projects give the boys satisfaction of having built something tangible. “They learn so much better when it’s meaningful,” he says, noting he added a community service component into the computer science curriculum this school year.
This pilot project with the ME to WE service organization saw some students in our computer engineering class build two 3D printed prosthetic hands that were delivered to a village in Ecuador during a student community service trip in February. Mr. Prezens said this venture was so successful he’s planning another trip to South America for next school year, complete with the delivery of more student-created prosthetic limbs.
Another initiative Mr. Prezens took the lead on was a mentoring project. A class of grade 12 boys, under Mr. Prezens coaching, mentored a class of grade 5 students from a Toronto elementary school in the art of coding. This not only helped the younger students learn a crucial computer skill, it also taught our boys important skills such as patience and listening.
“Terry embodies the new teaching. He knows that first we seek a meaningful problem, and then we apply all of our creative energy and prior learning to divine a solution. Authentic learning happens both inside and outside his classroom,” said Michael Paluch, Assistant Headmaster and Director of Academics.
“In some ways, he is a ‘teacherpreneur.’ There is so much potential here for cross curricular learning, design thinking, and early leadership training.”
Mr. Prezens has taken on the following leadership roles during his teaching career:
- Course Director for Computer Science and Engineering at St. Andrew’s College
- AP Reader for Computer Science with the College Board.
- AP Computer Science mentor for GTA; called upon by AP Ontario Director whenever a teacher had an AP Computer Science question or needed mentoring.
- AP Workshop Consultant for Computer Science; taught an intense four-day course to teachers.
- Mentor for RoboCup Junior team that represented Canada at the world competition for the last eight years.
- Appointed as RoboCup local organizing committee chair for Junior Soccer, the biggest international robotics tournament in the world and for the first time will be hosted in Canada in Montreal June 2018; 4,000 competitors from 35 countries along with 30,000 guests are expected.
- Took on an action research project for the IBSC (International Boys’ Schools Coalition) “Boys as Makers” initiative focusing on student-centred learning and constructionism and presented findings in Cape Town South Africa.
- Volunteered as a judge for University of Toronto High School Design Competition.
Story by Julie Caspersen