Monday, March 6, 2023

Using Minecraft to Design Amusement Parks @PlayCraftLearn #MakerEd

My Innovation and Design class has been a work in progress since I created it in 2020. Lots of ups and downs as I tried to figure out the balance of all of the different types of projects I wanted students to explore over the course of the trimester. I feel like I finally landed on something that is working and I wanted to share it here. 

I wanted students to think big for their Minecraft project but felt like I never had the time to give them because of the other projects. I also noticed that there are some projects that require waiting and do not take the entire class period. For example, making the cutting boards requires wait times as boards are cut and glued together. I don't want students just sitting and waiting for projects to glue, so I realized that a long-term Minecraft project might be the thing I have been looking for to solve my time problem. In retrospect, it is a pretty simple solution to the problems I was having, but, sometimes, things just take longer to click. 

I introduce the Minecraft assignment to students at the start of the trimester and let them know it will be due at the end of the trimester. Students will be given days during the class to work on it, but they will also have time in other classes when they are waiting for projects to print on the 3D printer, be cut on the laser cutter, or finish glueing. These times will keep them active in the design and build process while waiting for other projects to finish. I rolled this out for the past trimester and I think it worked very well. Students worked here and there on their build and created some amazing projects. I think I would give more in class time on the assignment as some students felt rushed at the end, but that might also be just Middle School time management issues. The start of the third trimester will give me a chance to tweak anything as I have another go at the approach. Below you will find the activity I assign on Seesaw and a few of the completed projects you can click on and will be taken to their sites. Some students used Adobe Express to create a website and others used Google Sites. 

The Google Sites created below can only be accessed by students and staff from our school. 

The students were excited to showcase their work and there were great conversations about what goes into a website that is trying to sell people on what they have to offer. Spelling and grammar conversations were had as students talked about what a website that is filled with errors might say about a business. Most of all, time management was a big part of the conversation since many students planned for something much bigger, but underestimated the time it would take to complete much of their park. My class is about failure as much as it about design and creation. Learning those hard lessons on time management and completing tasks in a timely manner are tough lessons to teach, but learning them in an environment where they do not have to be afraid of failing their assignment or class because they tried something big is important to me. (My class does not have homework or grades to push student to try big ideas and see how they work.)

Like many other teachers, I know that my class is a constant work in progress, but I wanted to share this win because sharing good things once in a while is good for a teacher's soul. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Wednesday, March 1, 2023

5 Steps to Bring Project Based Learning to Your Classroom #PBL #STEAM #STEM

There are plenty of ways to integrate Project Based Learning (PBL) to your classroom, but sometimes you just want to get started without have to sort through pages and pages of information. I think I can help cut through the noise and offer 5 steps to get rolling with PBL in your classroom. This is not an exhaustive list; just more of a quick set-up guide for the teacher looking to give PBL a chance in their classroom. 

1. Identify the topic - The very first step is to figure out what you want the students to learn. This might seem very basic, but sometimes we forget the focus of our work and the students are just being kept busy. The topic could be a real-world problem that students need to explore. This is a common approach used in PBL, but it doesn't have to be the only way to focus a PBL assignment. These could be engineering problems, other STEAM associated problems, or something that is specific to your classroom. No matter what you choose, it needs to be something that allows students to explore in detail and be able to create something to address the issue. 

2. Create the structure of the project - Once the topic has been clearly defined, a structure needs to be in place for the students. How detailed this structure is usually depends on the age of the students. The younger the students, the more rigid the structure tends to be to provide the students with important guidance. Older students tend to have more freedom to explore the topics and create their project. The project can also be in a group format or it can be a solo one. How much time are you going to give the students, how are they going to be assessed (I suggest rubrics), how will students present their work at the end, and any other details the students are going to need to best complete the project. These are the important structural issues for PBL that are not fun to talk about or showcase, but they are fundamental in supporting the success of the work. 

3. Be present - Many people think that teachers that are using PBL in their classroom just sit at their desk grading papers or reading the paper. This could not be further from the truth. I have found that I have always been more active in my classroom when students are working on a project. I am moving from group to group and checking in on their work. Some students will need more support than others, but that is true for any assignment in class. It is important not to answer all of the questions student pose because the research part of PBL is important and it is a skill students need to work on as they go through school. Pointing students in the best direction as they research and explore is helpful to these groups when they start to get stuck. Being present with the students as they go through the process of exploring their topic and create potential solutions is very fun. I diverse class will come up with a wide variety of projects and that makes things much more interesting in the classroom and being there guiding the students is key in getting them to their final steps with the project. 

4. Utilize technology - One of the ways that PBL really shines is the way that it can all for the incorporation of technology. Students should be encouraged to take notes digitally if possible and share with the group. Their are many different tools that can be used to create a final presentation that are not a slideshow. Creating videos, animation, graphic novels, and more are now accessible to students thanks to a wide variety of tools. Creating a list of tools that students can use can help make the process a little easier for students and that list will grow over time as students find their own they share with class. Having students use different tech tools also helps them grow their skill set while working on their PBL in class. 

5. Be ok not calling all of the shots - The toughest part of PBL is that it allows freedom to students to fully explore ideas and showcase what they learned and how the problem the researched could be addressed. Teachers are accustomed to dictating all aspects of any work that a student needs to complete that PBL can really cause teachers to feel helpless at times. Students need to be given the space to try something new, make mistakes, and try again. Students will attempt things as part of their PBL that you might be sure is going to fail, only to prove you wrong. On the other hand, the students will try and fail and your job is to help them through the reflective process that is important after failures in the classroom. Giving up some aspects of control is tough for teachers, but it is what is best, and needed, for successful PBL in class. 

These 5 parts of Project Based Learning are great at getting the ball rolling in your classroom. You are going to stumble along the way and find different approaches that will be perfect for your students that might not work for students in another class and that is the beauty of PBL. It is perfect for differentiation. Help students get the most out of their classroom experience in a way that meets them where they are on their learning journey by bring PBL to your classroom. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

Burn Notice - Supporting Yourself When Burnout Is Near #EdChat

As we hit the mid mark of February, many teachers are starting to feel burnout creeping up on the them. Some might already be dealing with it. Burnout is very real and very serious for teachers. There are some things you can do to keep it from overtaking you and negatively impacting your classroom.

1. Create and Maintain Boundaries - Establish your working hours and stick to them. Do not check your email after a set time and do not engage is work during those off hours. You need and deserve the time to rest your brain and body. Whether you have a family at home take care of or just yourself, you need the time to not be connected to school. Consider deleting your school email from your phone if you need to really disconnect. That time is yours and it is precious.

2. Explore Personal Professional Development: Burnout is not always linked to just being tired. Sometimes the burnout is a result of not feeling challenged or excited about what you are doing. Exploring PD that can change your practice and offer new approaches could invigorate you and your classroom. When you get to chose the PD, you will be fully invested in learning and growing. Find a conference and connect with like-minded people to fill your bucket again. These are wonderful ways to fight off burnout. 

3. Reach Out to Others - Some schools have a mentoring system in place, but many do not. If you do not, find your teaching partner and reach out to them. It doesn't have to be a full therapy session, just express some of the feelings you are having and ask how they deal with them. Sometimes that teachers has been hoping someone would say something for weeks and the both of you can connect and work through this together. If you are comfortable, find and speak to a therapist. A trained professional can help you navigate complex feelings connected to your burnout. Feeling better with who you are and where you are at can make the classroom a much better place to be for everyone. 

4. Change The Scenery - Sometimes rearranging your classroom and moving things around can be a huge help when it comes to burnout. I used to change my space every marking period. It was good for me and it was good for the students. The room can feel very stale after just a few months. Shuffling the seats and changing the decor can really add a bit of positive energy into the room. While this might not be a long-term fix, getting students involved could make it a fun projects that adds a smile to your face. 

5. Focus On Wins - Do not forget to spend some time focusing on your wins! We can often get bogged down by the loses and the frustrations dealing with rules, regulations, admin, etc. that we forget that we are doing some awesome things. Did you have a struggling student that finally had a lightbulb moment after you offered a new approach? Did a quiet student finally feel comfortable in your class to share their thoughts? Did your lesson land how you had hoped? Celebrate those wins. Celebrate them with yourself or share them with friends and family. We want to celebrate the wins of our students because we know it can help with their self-esteem. It applies to teachers as well. Shoutout yourself and, while you are at it, shoutout your peers. Catch them doing something awesome? Let them know. Here are student say they loved something a teacher did in their class? Drop them an email to let them know. Whenever I do this, the smile on the teachers' faces are worth it.

Burnout can take out the very best teachers. We all need support systems and ways to process our emotions. Some of us do woodworking, play video games, garden, paint, or any other host of things to keep us grounded and in a better place. It is not easy, but we need to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to take care of our students and, more importantly, the family we have at home. 

Hugs and High Fives, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Friday, February 17, 2023

Rubber Duck Debugging With Your Students #CSforAll #EdChat

I was working with my students on the Sphero Delivery Service Coding Challenge I had created. Students need to code their Sphero through the delivery route to deliver a package to the main office. They are provided the map below to guide their coding. 

Each square represented a carpet square in our common area. The students needed to do the math to figure out how far the Sphero needed to run at the correct speed to navigate the delivery route. Here is an example of what it looks like. 

Many students had no problem taking their time and working through their code. One even figured out the twist to the code that required the students to increase their speed or time of movement at the end because the final stretch was slightly up hill. 

However, others were stuck in very early parts of the coding. They had trouble going step by step because they were trying to do it all in their head. Despite suggesting to them they should write it out to see what it looks like, they refused to do it on their own. They wanted to talk through their code with me. When you have a full class of students all trying to code, you don't have as much time to debug every single line of code for every single student. The students that did start to walk me through their code would always catch the mistake before I said anything. They just needed to walk through it with someone. 

That is when I remembered something I had heard about a while back called Rubber Duck Debugging. Here is a link that walks through all of the history behind RDD. I realized that I need to order a bunch of rubber ducks for my students to help guide them through their code. Even better, I found blank rubber ducks they could decorate however they want! At the start of the next trimester, every student in my Innovation and Design classes will be given a rubber duck to decorate and serve as their coding mentor. Here is my rubber duck I will be using in class. 

This is a fun way to work through code that students and teachers will love! Give it a try and let me know how it goes! I will share student designs as they are created.

Hugs and High Fives, 

The NerdyTeacher