Introduction: Teacher Spotlight: Biodynamic

About: Aloha, I'm Jess! Equal parts teacher, dreamer, and maker of things. I'm super passionate about STEM & Maker Education and love all things art and DIY. :D

Featured Author Interviews have been one facet of showcasing and celebrating our amazing Instructables community for some time, and a fresh round of interviews just launched as Author Spotlights.

In addition to the new Author Spotlights, we are interviewing impressive authors who are also teachers.

For this first Teacher Spotlight interview, I had the opportunity to chat with T.J. Petronzio, an inspiring 7th-grade science teacher, who teaches Earth, Life, and Physical Sciences at Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC.

In addition to teaching 7th-grade science, he has also taught 6th and 8th-grade science and 9th-grade STEAM.

T.J., also known as Biodynamic, has been sharing projects with the Instructables community since 2011, so you may be familiar with some of his work... his projects are creative and inspiring in or out of the classroom.

After a fun video chat where I was able to get a glimpse of T.J.'s really awesome Science Lab/Classroom, I sent him some additional interview questions and his responses are shared below.

Step 1: Adventurous, Energetic People

Image of T.J., his wife, and their 6 children.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

Competitive pay and benefits! Just kidding. Summers off! Just kidding again, but while I was in high school, I spent my summers working as an ocean rescue lifeguard in Barnegat Light, NJ. I guarded with adventurous, energetic people, many of whom were teachers. They inspired me to be a mentor and educator.

Step 2: Inspiring Inquiry

Images from Upside-Down-Right-Side-Up Tomato Planter, The Catapult Lab, and Maple Syrup School Project

How do you inspire inquiry and making in your classroom?

Instructables plays a significant role in inspiring inquiry and making in my classroom. Whether I'm having students search for projects to do on their own, announcing contests that I think they'd enjoy entering, or flipping the classroom and using my own published Instructables to aid in teaching, Instructables is an easy go-to.

Step 3: Learn Through Failure

Images from Paper Roller Coasters

What is your favorite hands-on classroom project?

Paper rollercoasters by far. The kids learn through failure. They need to test and retest, they need to overcome obstacles with tape and paper shortages, lost marbles and group dynamics. The students get so excited to work on it! My classroom usually looks like a disaster, but kids want to build and test during recess, lunch, before school, and after school. The sound of kids learning and having fun is unmistakable. I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Step 4: If They Can Do It, So Can I

Images from Laser Cut Fibonacci Gauge

When did you first start making things? What kinds of things were you interested in making and doing when you were a child?

I was mostly interested in fishing, riding my bike, building forts, and climbing trees when I was a child (I'm still passionate about a few of them!). I loved to take things apart and put them back together. All of these interests required problem-solving / tinkering skills and each helped shape who I am today. I didn't start "making" things until I had the internet to help guide me. Instructables helped me transition from tinkering to making because I had inspiration from other DIYers like me. I thought, "If they can do it, so can I." and If I can do it... so can you!

Step 5: Really Enjoyed Interacting With the Other Members

Image from Awesome Chemistry Experiment, T.J.'s first instructable.

When did you first discover Instructables and what inspired you to post your first project?

I first discovered Instructables around 2008. I don't remember exactly how, but I feel like I had a student who told me about it. I didn't join until 2011 when I decided to enter a "Teacher Contest" with my Awesome Chemistry Experiment instructable. I earned a runner up prize and really enjoyed interacting with the other members who were leaving comments and suggestions.

Step 6: I Made a Tool From Trash and Scraps

Images from Gardening Tool: The Ho-Mi

You've made a lot of impressive projects. Which project are you most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of my Ho-Mi garden tool. I made a tool from trash and scraps that I use almost every time I work in the garden. I used steel from a discarded pile at school and a broken broom handle to build it. It was the first time I had the opportunity to weld, and I got to throw a lot of sparks with the angle grinder. The video I posted went "viral" in South Korea (where the tool originates), so I have to plug all of the comments into Google Translate. The feedback has been primarily positive, and my student's think it's hilarious. I am also proud of my paper roller coaster project because I know it has inspired other teachers who have started using the lesson in their own classrooms.

Step 7: Urban Growers

Images from Upside-Down-Right-Side-Up Tomato Planter

Do you have any new concepts you're exploring or hands-on classroom projects you're planning to turn into Instructables that we should be on the lookout for?

I finish off the school year with a soda bottle rocket project. Parents are invited to watch and the day has become an annual event for many of the other teachers who love to bring their students out to help count down each launch. There are other bottle rocket projects on Instructables already, but I'll include my lesson objectives and some of the activities we complete leading up to launch day. I also lead a club called "urban growers" and have some students working on a project that they want to enter into the gardening contest.

Step 8: Focus on What Makes the Kids Excited

Image from Chicken Swing

If you could give any advice to someone new to using Instructables in the classroom, what would it be?

I'm always on the lookout for new ways to challenge my students and add to the things I'm already doing in my classroom. Instructables is one of the first places I go to look for inspiration. My advice is to do what the kids enjoy. Forget about the standardized tests and focus on what makes the kids excited about arriving to class. Give them something to look forward to during their day and everything else will fall into place. For those who are new to Instructables, for virtually any topic you're teaching, there's an instructable for that. If you can't find what you're looking for, consider posting your first instructable!

Step 9: Thank You!

An enormous Thank You to T.J. for taking the time between classes to chat with me, and for sharing his passion for science and all his creative talents with the Instructables community!

If you'd like to reach out and ask T.J. questions, be sure to contact him through direct message or the comment section on any of his projects!