a community engagement initiative of Waverly Community Unit District #6
Rolando Salazar has been a Spanish Teacher with the district for four years. He started to dig into Waverly’s trailblazing tech integration when the school received access to 3D printers. “I’m grateful we have Sam here,” he says. “He’s been helping me baby step by baby step.” He’s talking about Director of Technology Sam Hamra, a former member of the armed forces who’s now on a civilian mission to find practical applications of technology to assist in students’ education. Rolando is but one teacher who Sam has converted into a junior tech wizard.
Tech It or Leave It
“The tech started back in the military for me,” Sam says. “Global satellite positioning and GPS systems. I honestly wanted to come back from the military and go into the DEA and do drug busts like I did in the military, but I had to have a degree.” He chose to focus his studies on technology and its uses. “I decided to go with technology and quickly fell in love with it,” he says. “It was constantly changing.”
Sam says the district recruited him due to his skillset to assist in a special operation, that being the reengagement of students after COVID-related isolation. “One of the hardest things that my colleagues have had,” he says, “is keeping the students engaged after they just spent an entire year, sometimes more than that, at home. Just completely lost their personal engagement.” He argues that since technology is something they’ve been born and raised with, they may take it for granted and lose the connection with what technology is actually capable of. Sam had an issue, though. How do you try to resolve this in a classroom setting?
The answer would come from an old 3D printer he inherited. “The first thought in my mind was, ‘What would you do with a 3D printer?’ I’m like, okay, the kids can use this for geography, those from all backgrounds, interests, and career aspirations can find a use for it.
Rolando has worked with Sam and several other Waverly faculty to brainstorm ideas for using 3D printer technology in the classroom to heighten engagement with class material. “I was teaching a class about Latin American culture and we got on the unit of the Aztec Indians and so I wanted to 3D print them a figure of the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl,” he recalled. “So that’s how I sort of brought that in.” Since then, Rolando has upgraded his approach to introducing students to computer apps of various occupational uses in a technology classroom.
“A majority of our students are farm kids, and so I could see them designing stuff to help them out in that farming situation,” Rolando says about the practical applications of technology immersion. “[Sam] was saying that a lot of 3D printing inks have been used for farming equipment, like the sprayers…I’m just excited to see them go from here, take what they learned in this unit and see where they can take it by farming.” He points out that many of his students are on track to become mechanics, electricians, and engineers and that even a small amount of exposure to this tool is an invaluable experience.
The syndicate of Waverly faculty, incorporating everything from drones, 3D printing, and GIS into their curriculum to provide a steadier connection to academics than traditional lectures, is as impressive as it is innovative, and it’s making waves across the region. The Learning Technology Center of Illinois has partnered with Waverly to provide regional training and a place for local educators to discuss fresh, different ideas. “This is going to open up paths to me that I didn’t even realize were there before we started,” Sam says proudly.
The tools will change over time, as is the law of improving technology, but the lessons these students pick up now will help them understand a bit more about what goes on in those mysterious black boxes they interact with daily. Educators like Sam and Rolando demonstrate that any subject can benefit from smart and creative use of technology. Those crucial moments of engagement with our students depend on our tech literacy and acceptance of new tech trends, and most of all, savvy characters like these folks at Waverly to pass that knowledge on.