Nick Gastaldi is not your average educator. He is constantly bubbling with new ideas to take his students to the next level in their learning. It is not surprising that this innovative educator who hails from a small town called Alliston in Ontario Canada, is well respected by his school’s administration and colleagues at Raffles World Academy in Dubai.
Teach UAE Magazine met with Mr. Gastaldi and his grade 4 students, in order to take a closer look at their project geared at promoting seatbelt safety in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While observing him interacting with his students, it was easy to see that they all admire him and trust his judgment.
Mr. G, (as he is referred to by his students) shares with us some of the strategies he uses to make his classroom a place where the students are constantly engaged and involved in meaningful projects.
Why did you become an educator?
I became an educator because I have always enjoyed the school experience and wanted to remain a part of it and if possible help it grow. I try to be creative in my teaching, so as to allow students to have fun while they learn and be given opportunities to see real life connections.
Who inspires you the most?
My parents inspire me a lot. My mother was a teacher and my father is a lawyer. My dad showed me how important it is to be knowledgeable and to use that knowledge to help people who have had fewer opportunities. My mother instilled in me the importance of being empathetic. She encouraged me to give 100% when trying to make a difference in the world. Those ideas led me to teaching and to using the work that I do to make a difference.
Tell us about the Seat Belt Safety Campaign. Where did the idea come from?
My students did a unit where they looked at people and ways to make a contribution. At the end of the unit, we felt that we had done a good job learning. The students wanted to take more action. I drew inspiration from a seminar I had attended on technology in which the instructor used a blog to help save the whales at Sea World. I thought it would be a great idea to implement a similar idea by applying it to the unit we had done.
This provided my students with the opportunity to make a difference and to learn about blogs. I guided their discussions on the different ways they could make a change. In the end, they agreed to follow two of their classmate’s idea of seat belt safety.
What are three key advantages of this project for students? how does this contribute to their overall development?
Creating Change: The obvious advantage is that they see that even young people can make a change. It also made them aware that with hard work and dedication they can achieve their goals.
Real Life Learning: I kept the learning objectives relevant and simply channeled them into the project. This way, students were learning the necessary skills, and immediately connecting them to something that affects their own lives. This provided them with real life learning experiences.
Creativity: The use of technology to enhance the project allowed students to become creative. By doing the blog, students became aware that their work could be viewed all over the world. Once that sunk in, they were keen on being even more creative and wanted to research the correct facts so as to produce very good work.
What were some of the challenges of the project and how were these dealt with?
When dealing with the Internet it is important that you are aware of possible negative sources. Our IT Coordinator, Mr. Damien Marshall, was instrumental in ensuring that the students would be safe in their learning. He also assisted in finding a blog site to keep our work safe.
Raffles World Academy (RWA) is always supportive of creative ideas from teachers. Getting other schools to see the blog – read the blog – take the pledge has been a bit challenging. I have had help again from damien and my Team Leader, Shona Dove. They have tweeted, facebooked, emailed, etc. the blog and video out to other teachers around the world and now with the help of Teach UAE Magazine, I am hoping it will go viral.
Were there any great surprises? if yes, what were these and how did they affect the next steps that you took relating to the project?
Learning how serious of an issue seat belt safety is in the UAE made the students become a lot more interested in the project.
Another opportunity that resulted from the project is the interest that it can generate and the opportunity for publicity of very serious topic. We were all very excited that Teach UAE Magazine would feature our project. We also have a teacher in Canada who wants to do a Skype interview with our class. This lets our students know that even from a small idea they can accomplish great things.
The Seat Belt Safety Campaign is one that requires national attention, what is the short-term impact of the project? What long-term impact do you hope to see realised?
The short term is that within RWA, more attention is given to the importance of seat belts safety, especially as it affects students.
The students and I added a ‘Questions to the Government’ section to our blog. We want other schools in the UAE to read our blog and take the Seat Belt Safety Pledge. We can then use that endorsement to bring the issue to the attention of the UAE government. Basically, we hope to raise awareness, so changes will be made that will keep students and adults safer on the roads. This is our ultimate goal.
Provide us with tips for other schools that would like to implement this project? What steps do they need to take? what resources would they require?
To do this kind of project it helps to use technology in the classroom. I work in a 1:1 classroom where all students have an iPad. Therefore, they are able to research, create and connect very easily.
Another tip is to include the learning objectives as the backbone of the project. This way, students are learning the necessary outcomes they need, while making strong real-life connections.
It helps to gain the support of your administration in exercising creative freedom. My school allowed our class to create this blog and launch it to the world. It allows us to connect with others outside of the direct school community. This idea can be scary for schools because of possible problems that could arise. However, RWA embraced the new idea and the support led to our success.
Mr. Gastaldi and the students of 4A need our help in spreading the message of seat belt safety awareness throughout the UAE and beyond. To be a part of this worthwhile campaign, check out their blog (http:// rwagrade4a.edublogs.org), take the pledge and encourage your friends in other schools to do likewise.
Every life is important. Buckle up on the roads!