Levelling the Playing Field and Inviting Creative Thought

“Iterate until success.”

Justin Wiedrick
Code Breaker Ambassador

Feeling locked into the public educational space that can seem to cover all types of learners with a blanket of expectations that do not promote creativity and reward students extrinsically, I decided to create my own version of an engineering creativity class for middle schoolers that gets outside of the testable environment.  I have taught mathematics, mostly middle school in 4 different school districts in New York State.  Students are tested in ways that are bland and generic regardless of creativity within instruction and/or discourse within mathematics and engineering. I have heard the call to create critical thinkers since I was in college in the 90s yet the public education setting does little to promote and often hinders progress. Some might even argue the system forces procedural thinking!  

My approach is to use coding to foster creativity and logical sequencing in the attempt to resist the complacency of using a math textbook series!  I promoted using Sphero robots, Scratch coding, Tello drones and other platforms to enable students the opportunity to engage in challenges that both levels the playing field and invites creativity of thought.  After getting shot down by multiple administrators due to “ït doesn´t fit into the schedule” and “we need to focus on test scores” I decided to take a two pronged approach to disrupting the norm.  I started an afterschool drone program that created tons of interest from students and parents, getting funding from the local Elks Lodge to purchase some equipment, along with gaining some credentials (achieving National Board and NYS Master Teacher standing).  These two approaches along with persistently offering my plans to develop a STEAM program led to a five week course for sixth graders.

We started by block coding robots and drones through simple challenges of distance, ramps, hoops, and more. Students struggled through finding logic and sequencing in their coding while collaborating with their peers to complete their challenges.  Taking our findings to school board meetings promoted our program to show that kids can learn and impress in ways other than by standardized test scores. When the world turned sideways in 2020 I had students and parents tell me that the only way they would come to school was to look forward to STEAM class! We were accomplishing more than what was planned from the start. Our program has grown to add a STEAM coordinator and a spacious STEAM lab with four offset rooms for different tasks.  We offer semestered STEAM classes for kids 6-8 and a high school class.  We won the world championship for the Sphero Global Challenge in 2023, took fifth place in 2022 and have multiple middle school teams competing in 2024.  We are competing in the high school tech challenge for the first time and are developing a U.S. Drone Soccer team with eighth graders.  We promote our program to schools within the region, to the board of education, and government officials and invite local engineering firms and police departments for drone flight purposes.

Within all the successes, I am still teaching sixth grade mathematics in the standardized testing world. My goals are to use the success of the STEAM program to give kids another avenue to pursue interests and careers using engaging challenges that give them feedback that is not a score, but iteration until success.



Justin is a totally Flipped Math/STEAM MS teacher, drone enthusiast and complacency RESISTOR! He is also a NYS Master Teacher, NBCT, Nearpod Certified Educator, SpheroHero, and 2022 #PAEMST finalist Connect with him through his socials.