“I took a break and went to Maine – I was a summer camp counsellor – and I just found that I really enjoyed working with children, and it was fun and engaging and I had some skill at it, so I thought this could be a great way forward in the future.
“It spins my wheels more than the engineering did, and I think when you’re motivated, you make anything work, just keep practising and doing what you need to do.”
Christie, EducationHQ’s Unsung Hero – Technology winner for 2017, has been working as an educator ever since, with the exception of an extended five-year break following the Christchurch earthquake, when he returned to the city to assist with the rebuild.
“The reason I did that was because I spent four years at university studying earthquakes and learning all about them, never really expecting to see any of it, and then to have one happen to your hometown and experience it in all its nastiness, it was actually academically really interesting,” he says of the rebuild project.
“And then once the nature of the work started to change back to the stuff that I didn’t like doing originally, I went back to teaching again!”
Christie, now working at Selwyn House School, speaks with passion about his new career path in teaching.
Drawing on his experience as an engineer, he helped to co-design Selwyn House’s mechatronics program.
The program incorporates science and technology in a contextual way through hands-on projects for students.
Selwyn House is a girls’ school, yet despite the negative stereotypes about girls in tech, its students are thriving in mechatronics, and indeed in all STEAM subjects.
“Girls have a headwind of negative gender stereotypes in engineering and science and technology and maths,” Christie explains.
“Because we are teaching in a girls’ school, I think we have this obligation to push them, against this negative headwind.
“We always had a technology program and we always had a robotics program, but to be honest, schools all over have those.
“We wanted a point of difference, and we wanted something that would best meet the needs of the girls.
“So mechatronics was really good because instead of just being robotics…mechatronics is anything that’s mechanical or electrical.”
The program is contextual, meaning students work on real-life projects.
“We had one lady come in who is a tetraplegic.
“We had girls go through the engineering design process and they designed a knife and a fork she could use, 3D printing prototype after prototype after prototype and her coming and checking them and seeing things work.
“We had people who invented a reversing camera for her wheelchair,” Christie says.
“Now if you’re just going to do robotics, you make your robot and it follows a line or something like that but if you’re doing mechatronics, you’ve got this much wider context that you can start plucking all this cool learning from – this applied, authentic technology stuff that the girls can emote to and have empathy for.”
He says the school is taking its duty to students very seriously.
“We don’t just want the girls to be learning technology and science and maths – it sounds silly, but it’s nonetheless true.
“We want them to actually lead in these areas later on.
“We’ve got quite high expectations – for example, for our science [class] in Year 7, we always make [students] go through an ethics approval process if it’s appropriate, the whole gamut.
“We’re trying to take it really, really seriously.
“Our Year 8 students at the end of their primary school careers hopefully have enough skills that we can pretty much say to them, ‘here you are in your mechatronics class, what would you like to build?’.
“Rather than saying ‘now we’re going to make a windchime’…we can actually find needs that are out in the community, brainstorm some solutions to those needs and work through the engineering design process to create solutions to them,” he says.
“They’ve got enough mechanical and electronic skills and enough knowledge of science and maths that they can solve those problems themselves.”
Christie believes that’s part of what makes a good teacher.
“I think a good teacher makes themselves redundant.
“I think they motivate [students], they give them the tools and skills to reflect [and then] they can go off and find what they want and teach themselves.”
Christie says it’s unlikely he will ever go back to civil engineering.
“I’d need a good reason.
“I don’t even think an earthquake’s going to cut it anymore – been there, done that, got the t-shirt!”
He’s got big plans for his students too, including a trip this year to Space Camp, which he describes as a “mecca for science and technology geeks”, and a dip into gamification.
“I really have enjoyed this stuff and I’d like to not go backwards.
“Last year we started toying with gamification.
“I went to a conference in Wellington and we tried some gamification strategies in our science unit in Year 7 and it went very well.
“It’s a great way to go.
“I’d like to start normalising some gamification strategies in the science and technology space as well.”
Christie says he has the utmost faith that his students will rise to the occasion.
“I’m always surprised at how much we ask of the girls and how ready they are to take the challenge, and they always seem to meet or exceed what I think they’re capable of, so I’ve stopped holding back.”