Scaredy Squirrel Learns to Laser Cut

This current pandemic has been challenging for teachers, in part because of all the new technologies to be learned and mastered as well as the challenge of using them (and having things not work as expected) when there are students in front of you as well as others at home.

I recently had to learn a new technology myself and it made me reflect on the process that allowed me to do this. I wondered if any of the strategies that I used for myself would help others as well.

Grade 5 Design – in the Past

I am grateful for how fortunate I am. I teach a subject that students generally love that is not high-stakes academically and yet it provides multiple opportunities for students to hone their critical and creative thinking skills, take risks and try something new, learn to recover from non-catastrophic “failures” and make things for themselves and others.

In the past, we have started our Grade 5 Design programme with a woodworking unit in which students worked collabortively in small groups to build something for our school community.

Garden Designs

Grade 5 Design – the Pandemic Version

This year, we could not work in groups but were fortunate to have a large enough space where students could work independently. My colleague and I thought that instead we could create a mosaic of wooden tiles instead.

Students started the year by reflecting on what they what they enjoyed during Spring lockdown or what they looked forward to about being back together at school or any other positive message that they thought could benefit our school community.

They then determined how they might depict this sentiment as an image, explored the elements of graphic design and incorporated what they had been learning in Art about line, shape, balance and value.

They then measured, cut and sanded squares of wood.


For years, I have been extremely lucky to have a Design Teaching Assistant who could support us with 3D printing, laser cutting and numerous other tasks. However, having her around also meant that I didn’t need to learn to do things on my own. When she was offered an amazing opportunity at another institution it meant that I was¬† without our regular support.

Running a laser cutter was always a scary prospect for me – I had only an afternoon of training 2 years ago and had forgotten most of it. I didn’t want to be responsible for burning down the school! However, if my students were going to complete our project successfully, I needed to learn to laser cut. Our TA’s departure created an opportunity for me.

Gradual Release of Responsibility

I found it interesting to see that an approach commonly used in the teaching of literacy is exactly what helped me get comfortable with using our laser cutter:

  1. Awareness: I had watched our former TA cut and engrave things several times in the past so I kind of knew the process: draw something – scan it to make it a PDF – get the PDF to the laser cutter – align where you want to engrave/ cut the image – say Go.
  2. Modelled: A colleague, vey graciously, took quite a bit of time to walk me through the process step by step.
  3. Shared: I wrote down every step of his description so that I could refer to them when he wasn’t there.
  4. Guided: He stayed within earshot while I followed my notes and tried to do it on my own.
  5. Independent:Finally, I tried it (successfully!) on my own after school when no one else was around

How Might I Support Pandemic Teaching?

All this got me thinking about how teachers learn new technologies… (Something we have asked them to do a lot of this year!) In my role as a Technology Integrator, I hope that I am doing enough to:

  • provide clear overviews of how new technologies can be used
  • provide step by step demonstrations
  • provide reference documents
  • be available enough to answer questions or troubleshoot when they try the technology for the first time on their own
  • celebrate the successful implementation of new technologies.

We have had such a rapid pace of change and it is exhausting. Teachers are expending a lot of mental exertion to learn and apply new technologies and skills. I hope that I am able to help teachers venture out of their safe and familiar trees and into the unknown just like Scaredy Squirrel.





2 comments to “Scaredy Squirrel Learns to Laser Cut”
  1. This is amazing! I know that I am teaching Eng and Des and it is so difficult to give the kids the tools, some training and have them go at the project using the tools.
    I love that you took this as an opportunity for reflection on how people learn and what is necessary for people to experience success when using new tools.

  2. @ljensen, first I lovee the laser cut mosaic idea and designs that your grade 5 students created in the short video you shared. I also really enjoyed the breakdown of how you successfully learned to use this new tool, and how that really is a breakdown for helping anyone in learning new skills that last–starting with guided, supervised run throughs to gain confidence and proficiency, so you can ultimately use it independently. Thank you for sharing!

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