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Retirement send off with one last rocket launch and robotics demo

On Sunday afternoon, July 7, at UMEI Christian High School, students demonstrated their science skills with a robotics demonstration and some rocket launches led by science teacher John Fittler.

Before any rockets were launched, Mr. Fittler was recognized for his years of dedication and service to his students and the community.

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald said she has had the pleasure of watching “what you can do with your students and it is truly amazing.”

“It is not very often that we get to leave a legacy. Many of us try but we don’t succeed, but in this case, Mr. Fittler has succeeded in building future possibilities for young people in our community. He gives them the opportunity to launch into many careers they may not have,” she said. “So thank you and congratulations.”

Fittler, who recently retired, says this is his last rocket launch although many spectators, including his wife, jokingly asked if he was sure? 

Former Robotics student and UMEI graduate and mentor Nicholas Driedger will now continue leading the program.

“Finding the right person for the robotics program was very important,” said Fittler on Sunday.

“You need to be more than a teacher. You need someone who is really experienced in the tech world and who understands mechanics, electrical, programming and the most important thing is to be willing to stay to 11-12 o’clock at night,” he said, “because the long hours are needed to keep this program running. I think, also, that is what industry is looking for — not that punch clock 8 to 5.”

Fittler’s career in teaching began as a supply teacher with the public school system in 1990 for one year before becoming UMEI’s science teacher. 

Fittler also has a love for agriculture and still continues to farm 300 acres.

It didn’t take him long to realize that his science students would understand better with a hands-on approach to learning and he adapted his teaching methods. 

“I teach a little bit differently,” he said. “Rather than just teach a concept, it has got to be hands-on – the kids get bored real quickly, just like I do.” 

He came up with the idea late one night that the students needed challenges and experiences of what they may actually see in the workforce and that led to the birth of robotics at UMEI.

“I had a very good mentor (Fred Driedger) who led the way for me to get it started here,” he said of the robotics program which started 20 years ago.

It has since grown from one small science/computer lab to now taking over a former gymnasium/banquet hall.

He credits many mentors for helping him along the way.

“I have a 92-year-old carpenter friend, Ray, who did all the carpentry work for me,” he said. “It really is great to have mentors.”

UMEI is in a league of its own as a high school in Ontario having an enriched four-year robotics program. Starting in grade nine with Lego robotics, to building their own robot in grade 10 and working with FIRST Robotic Canada and FIRST Tech Challenge in grades 11 and 12.

This FTC team placed 26th in Ontario out of just under 140 teams this year – just one spot shy of being selected to go to the World Championships, said Fittler of his students.

“I really am quite proud of these kids.”

He said the students are also responsible for getting sponsorships. “They go out and do interviews with sponsors to show them why they want to invest in education.”

“Every dollar you are investing in this, I guarantee you, you are getting 100 back,” said Fittler. 

“This is the way everything is heading,” he said, from robotics surgeries and more. “If you don’t want to get on board you are going to be left behind. It is that simple.”

Fittler also taught physics at UMEI and says, “That can get a little boring. I want to live and experience newtons and force.”

So he wanted a hands-on experience where students could see Newton’s Law in action. The lesson plan: to learn how to safely build a rocket and then have a launch day to actually experience the outcome.

“It’s really exciting, I think the kids are able to integrate all the principles and they see it in real life – don’t ever overestimate or underestimate the importance of hands-on,” he said. “They have to see it in action.”

He says the highlight of his teaching career isn’t one moment but many smaller ones.

“When you find that student who doesn’t necessarily enjoy school and seems a bit lost and struggles to find their way, and then all of a sudden they light up and know what they want to do – it is real exciting to see that,” he says with a smile. “And that is the most rewarding part of teaching.”

This week’s
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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

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