Wednesday, August 23, 2017

First Impressions #EdChat

I always think about this at the start of the school year. What is the first impression I want students to have of me that sets the tone of the whole year? I remember an old teacher adage about never letting students see you smile for the first few weeks of school. It easier to go from stern to kind than it is too kind to stern. These have always bugged me because it makes it seem like there are only two ways to interact with students.

Here are some things I have done that have helped me set the tone for the school year that have nothing to do with curriculum, but everything to do with relationships.

1. The First Five Minutes (Extended Version)

I've written about the First Five Minutes before and feel it is an amazing strategy for student engagement and community building in the classroom. The extended version of the First Five Minutes is just a longer chunk of time where the teacher just walks around and interacts with students and joins the conversations they are having. Sometimes, it is starting a conversation and seeing what students think of a particular topic. The one rule for the First Five Minutes is to avoid any content or curricular stuff unless the students bring it up. If they have questions about homework or something, save that for class time. If they want to talk about connections they made with the content on a personal level or they want to discuss how the content relates to the world around, that is awesome. Give students the freedom to discuss what matters to them and be engaged in their conversations. You want them to be engaged in your class, so engage them in their thoughts.

2. Ask Students What They Want To Learn

One of the things about a syllabus that has always bothered me is that it dictates to the students exactly what they are going to learn and how they are going to learn it. However, not every students is going to walk away with the same knowledge and others might feel overwhelmed seeing everything for an entire year planned out for them. How about asking the students to think about what they want to learn this year? Have them right it on the first page of their notebook, in their planner, or pass out notecards to write down their goals. Students need to feel some sense of ownership to their learning if they ware to truly engage. While the teacher will still cover the various aspects of the curriculum, the student can still have a focus of their own that can drive them to grow as a learner.

3. Start with Collaboration

If you want a classroom where students feel comfortable collaborating and making projects, it is smart to start off the year with a collaboration project. One of the first things I did in the Google Certified Innovator Academy a few years back was to try and build the tallest tower using marshmallows and pasta. It was a fun, silly, and challenging way to bring people together to solve a problem. People got to know one another and engage in conversations while building a tower of marshmallows. Another fun project is to use a BreakoutEDU kit to start the year. Have the students work together to solve puzzles and kick off the school year. Anything that brings the students together to let them know that the year will focus on relationships and collaboration is a great thing to have for the first day.

4. Greet Them and Send Them Off

Great students at the start of class and send them off to their next class. Simple things like shaking hands, fist bumps, high fives, etc are a great way to make a connection with students. While some students will not think twice about the high five or hand shake, for some students, it might be the only positive physical contact they have had since the last time your greeted them or sent them on their way. Saying goodbye to students at the doorway is also a great way to recognize students in class that really stood out and participated or did something amazing. It's easy to forget to recognize students at the end of the class because teachers are so busy getting ready for the next thing, but these moments are perfect for making lasting connections and impressions on students.

These are just a few ways to engage students on the first day and throughout the school year. We need students to feel safe and welcomed in the classroom if we truly want them to engage. It the job of every teacher to make sure the students know they have someone in front of them that cares more about them than the work they are going to do. If a teacher can accomplish this, the are going to have an amazing year filled with fun and learning.

Please share any ways that you engage with students on the first day to make a great impression in the comments section below.

Hugs and High Fives,


Monday, August 21, 2017

#MakerMonday with @HueHD #MakerEd

Happy #MakerMonday everyone! I wanted to start something on my website to support those educators that are always looking for cool things for their library or Makerspace. 

A Makerspace is NEVER driven by stuff. A Makerspace is ALWAYS driven by people. The people that are part of the Makerspace community should decide what is in there based on their interests. If you are an educator looking to stock a Makerspace, I hope you have talked to your students first and asked them what they are interested in making. That should be what guides you in making your purchases. 

You have a chance to get a copy of my book and a Hue Animation Studio kit! All you have to do is tweet a picture of something you've made to @TheNerdyTeacher and @HueHD with the tag #MakerMonday by Sunday August 27th for a chance to win. The winner will be chosen at random. If you have any questions, please tweet @TheNerdyTeacher. Thanks and good luck!

Featured: HUE Animation Studio.

What is HUE Animation Studio?

"HUE Animation Studio is a complete stop motion animation kit which includes the HUE HD camera, a single license for HUE Animation and the HUE Book of Animation"

Personal Thoughts:

I've had HUE Camera for a number of years. It has been an excellent camera for my computer when computers did not come with a built in camera. Then I heard about the Animation Studio and had to play with it. My students had done stop motion projects in the past and I thought this is something that would be nice in the Makerspace. I sat down and dove into the software and this is what I created in 20 minutes.

This was so much fun! If I had more time, I would have done an entire Simpsons scene with voices and everything. I could download audio as well and import it into the video if I wanted the theme music playing or actual character voices.


The kit comes with a Book of Animation that walks the users through various projects. One that I will try at home with my son is the melting Ice Cream. Time laps photos of melting ice cream and played in reverse is a cool effect of having ice cream born from a puddle of goop. Lawn Skating is another fun project that will get you outside to take some fun videos.

Hue Animation Studio was such an easy program to pick up and use. I did not read any of the directions and the UI was very intuitive. I took the pictures, added the audio, exported the video, and uploaded to YouTube. I only needed a laptop, the kit, and someplace to point the camera. For only $70, this is a great deal for a camera and the software. If you are looking to add a but of animation to your classroom or Makerspace, you have to check out the HUE Animation Studio. You will not be disappointed. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where Does EdTech Fit in the World Right Now? #EdChat

I've had a hard time finding things to write in the wake of Charlottesville. Everything that has come to my mind has seemed trivial. The frustrating aspect of this is that, as teachers, we need to speak up against hate. My Grandfather fought in WWII and passed away years ago. I can't imagine what he would have thought seeing the Nazi flag fly down American streets.

Where does EdTech fit in? Does it have a place in this conversation? Yes and no is the best answer I can think of at the moment. Tools to talk about tools is not what is needed right now. Tools that can be used to help students better understand history and connecting them with experts and FACTS, is key. There are tools out there that teachers can use to help the conversations that need to take place this year. Here are 5 websites that teachers can use to help start the conversation or support the conversations already taking place.

The Anne Frank House Virtual Tour

I was able to visit the house in my 20's and I remember that I wrote in my travel journal that every single person in the world should be able to visit this house. It would change the world. This is helpful website that allows that to happen. Students can see what it was like for Anne to live in hiding with friends and family. The virtual tour uses Flash, so it might be a bit wonky on your computer, but I'm sure that will be addressed soon. Here is a link for teachers showing how to incorporate the Annex into their lessons.

Holocaust Memorial Center Virtual Tour

This museum is actually in my backyard and it is so very important. The museum is filled with the stories of people who lived through this terrible time in our world and their stories must not be forgotten. The website has excellent resources and it worth adding to the classroom for all students to see and hear the stories.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the Smithsonian group of museums in Washington DC, this museum is filled with great bits of history that are often forgotten or completely ignored. The above link is to the educator's page that has wonderful information to start conversations with your students.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Another museum in my backyard. This is a great museum dedicated to telling the story of Africans Americans from their point of view. I remember my visit a few years back where I was able to see a reconstruction of a slave ship holding area and how slaves were placed to fit as many slaves as possible for the journey.

This is a website run by the Southern Poverty Law Center and it provides resources for teachers looking to talk about diversity with their students. This article explains the alt-right (White Nationalists, Supremacists, Racists, etc). Sometimes teachers need a starting spot to have these tough conversations. This is a good resource worth sharing with your teachers.

I know there are many other resources out there, but I wanted to share these five with everyone today. Please feel free to share more resources in the comment section below. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Case for Kits #MakerEd

There is a point of view that kits are not good for Makers/Makerspaces. Their is a belief that kits take away from the purity of exploration of a Makerspaces and trying new things and failing. One big question from these people is,

Are you truly Making if you are just following directions?

My answer to that is yes. A big, fat yes for that matter.

I love starting my learning with kits. If I want to tackle something completely new and have no idea where to start, I will order a kit so I can get my bearings. After going through the motions with the kit and understanding what everything can do, I start to branch out and explore my ideas based on what I've learned. That is the beauty of kits. They are the gateway to more in-depth making.

I get very frustrated that there is a "my way or the highway" approach to Making and Makerspaces. Not everyone is going to follow the same path when it comes to Making and that should be embraced and supported by all educators. Our students are not starting in the same place, so why not offer them a kit or challenge to help guide them on their journey. I think it is called differentiation.

Companies (littleBits, SparkFun, Pimoroni, PiSupply, etc.) offer a simple access point to complex electronics that might be too intimidating for beginners to explore on their own. I appreciate any company that wants to try and make STEAM concepts more accessible to a variety of learners. Can these kits be pricey? Yes, but getting all of the pieces for various projects and creating the guides for them are not cheap and a person is paying for the convenience the kit provides.

As a Maker community, please let us be kind and supportive of all learners, adult and child, that are trying to explore the creative world around them in ways that work for them.

Hugs and High Fives,


Wrong kit. This is K.I.T.T.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

It Started With An LED #EdChat

One of my most exciting moments in the Maker world was when I made my first LED blink at Picademy. I was playing with a Raspberry Pi for the first time and I had no idea what I was really doing. I was following the directions and trying to keep up. Then, I made the LED turn on and then I made it blink. Here is how I felt about it,

From that moment, I was hooked. I had the itch to keep learning and to dive deeper because of that experience. I am not sure if the blinking LED was supposed to be the skill that hooks a Maker, but it hooked me. I think this needs to be kept in mind for teachers out there. 

We want our students to explore the world around them to see what they can learn and love. We do not have any idea what will be the lesson, book, comment, or idea that will set them off on a journey of discovery, but we need to make sure we give all of our students an opportunity. 

As the school year starts, there will be plenty of time to focus on the curriculum that needs to be covered. I hope as educators, we think about the experiences we want to create for our students. Those are the things that can alter their trajectory for the rest of their life. For me, Picademy launched me into the world of Raspberry Pi and Making that has led me to great learning and sharing with a passionate community. That has allowed me to connect with my students and pass the awesomeness to them. Life is made up of experiences and school should be designed to give students the best learning experiences possible. 

What experiences do you want your students to have this year?