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Spotlight On: Brian McDonald

Brian McDonald is the engineering and technology teacher at Bulkeley Middle School and Rhinebeck High School and runs the middle school technology club.

He is a 3rd year teacher and is currently working toward his Masters degree in multicultural and humanistic education at SUNY New Paltz. (He already holds a Bachelor’s degree in K-12 technology education from SUNY Oswego.

Brian lives in Poughkeepsie.


How did you get on your current path? How did you get interested in STEM?
I got on my current path because of awesome teachers I had throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Some of the most influential people in my life were school teachers.

I found my interest in technology through the high school classes I took. I always learned better through getting my hands on something and using my creativity to create something cool. I “dialed” into these interests, which have led me to my classroom today! I currently have found my interest in the sciences and math, seeing that they are all connected together.
What is the one big change that gets you excited about the future?
One thing that I am excited for on a classroom scale is seeing what these students can come up with. When you give a group of students a bunch of craft supplies and tell them “Hey, build a ping pong ball launcher,” you will see all different types of ping pong ball launchers.

What’s even more exciting is seeing them work through the “failure” process and reaching the “we got it!” moment. They can work on one solution for days, trying multiple ways to fix it, and eventually they find one solution that works. I wish I could bottle the excitement at the moment they finally get something working – it’s really special.
Two things that intellectually keep me up at night? Outer space and how the brain works. Though scientists have made great advancements in both of these topics, we still don’t know a lot about them. And that fascinates me.
What or who inspires you? What are you reading?
My current inspiration is Neil deGrasse Tyson. Not only is the man very intellectual and with an understanding of things far beyond the average person, but he has found a way to articulate complex ideas and theories to people in a nonjudgmental, simple way that makes sense. I feel that it’s an art to do that. I also think that we, as teachers, need to craft that art and model of off that.
I am currently reading “Brain Rules” by John Medina. If there is one book I suggest every parent, teacher, or person reads – it is this one. It takes what we do know about our brains and describes what we can do for our children (and ourselves!) to make them better learners, more productive, and happier people.

What do you do when you aren’t working?
Being a grad student and a full-time teacher, I do not have much time off. However, I like to relax, stay healthy, and be active. If there’s any time left over that, I enjoy playing around in the music and arts. I have played drums and piano, DJed, worked with photography, graphic design, and website building. I enjoy creating small projects around these hobbies in order to keep busy!
Now tell us a bit about the work you are doing at the middle school.
My 7th grade class is just about to dive into the design process – how do we get from an idea to a well refined solution? My 8th graders are working on robotics – making, programing, and designing.
I am also working on getting the LMS (Learning Management System) up and running fully. New to Project Lead The Way, there is an online platform were each student can log in to access every Powerpoint, note sheet, activity, project, and rubric for my class. They can also take quizzes, submit assignments, and ask questions through this website anytime, anywhere. They even have an app where they can get their work from a tablet device. It allows kids who are missing school, forget their notes, or need to submit an assignment to access the necessary information. I’m in the process of rolling this out fully to the middle school and it should be updated by September of next year!
What is the most amazing thing you learned from the experience?
These students are geniuses stuck in small bodies. The creativity and ideas that these students heads are limitless when it is tapped into. It’s my challenge to get them to find that creativity and not be afraid to use it. 
What do you wish people knew about your work?
Technology isn’t about knowing how to use and master the latest and greatest device, but rather learning how to adapt and problem solve. Before the boom in the information age, products were made to last a long time, in which someone could learn how to get buy using that one item. Now, we have devices that are updated every year or even every week! We don’t necessarily need to focus on how to use one specific thing as much as we need to learn how to adapt to new things. 
What is your big goal for this coming year?
My big goal is to get students curious about what interests them and connect that to the STEM field. Whether it is by doing fun, exciting projects in my classroom that they come up with or providing tools, resources, and examples of technology. I want to facilitate the students’ curiosity of the technological world around them, connect their interests to not only my class but classes like science and math, in hopes of starting the process of creating self-driven, curious, creative problem solving members of society. (Quite ambitious, right?)