Wednesday, March 14, 2018

#NationalWalkOut Thoughts

As an educator that has spent time teaching Civics and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. While there are plenty of schools that were supportive of the students taking a stand on school violence and chose not to punish these students, I am very proud of the students that were willing to accept punishment for their stance. Threats of punishment are an all to common way for schools to control students. Looking those consequences in the face and leaving class because they felt this was an issue that mattered is brave and should be recognized as such. If you don't think it is brave, you have forgotten what it is like to be a teenager and the pressures to conform.

Our history is littered with examples of non-violent acts of civil disobedience to, hopefully, force change. At times, it has been the only way to make change. I'm not sure where my former students are in their life, but I hope they remember the conversations we had while discussion Thoreau. The greatest revolutions can start with one person refusing to sit down when told. These students are refusing to sit and be silent. Despite efforts from people around the country that want the students to speak when spoken to, this generation of students written off as narcissistic, phone obsessed snow flakes, are going to shout their displeasure with the status quo and then they will speak with their vote.

For educators, we are not surprised to see these students doing these great things on their own. We've seen it in them and many of us have supplied them with skills to make change. These are our children and I couldn't be prouder of them.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Student Voice Through Student Led Conferences #StuVoice

One of the many things I love about my new job is that conferences with parents are not like they are in many places. University Liggett Middle School has Student Led Conferences in place and it is one of the best ways to give students a voice in their education. First, let me break down how we do SLCs.

Every teacher has a group of students from the same grade for 20 minutes a day. We call this advisory. We help kids get organized, email parents about upcoming projects, and generally check in to see how things are going. It acts like a homeroom for the students in the Middle School. I have 9 8th grade boys in my advisory. SLCs run through the advisory class.

Instead of the traditional model of conferences where parents meet every teacher for 10-15 minutes, the student prepare a presentation on how they are doing in each class, what their strengths and weaknesses are, their goals for the coming months, and how they worked on their previous goals. The advisor for the students sits back and only comments if a student has skipped over an aspect they should cover or give the student the credit they deserve for good things going on they might not think are important. Students run the 30 minute block of time with their parents and provide artifacts of their learning for each class. This evidence is key in supporting claims they are making about their learning in each class. I wasn't sure how this was going to work when it started, but it has been awesome to see students take ownership of their learning in this way.

As students prepare for the SLC, they are working with their teachers and advisor to create a presentation that best represents the work they are doing in class. Teachers prepare template slides in Google to help pinpoint the main areas of focus for their content area that were covered for that marking period. The students use advisory time to check in and work on their presentation. We do not require students to use the slides, but they are there if they need them. Most importantly, we are trying to set students up to have a conversation about their education that goes beyond the grades that are on the report card.

Giving students the opportunity to have an active voice in the conversation about their learning should not be a novel idea, but it really is. At the high school level, I was always frustrated that I would meet with parents to discuss the learning habits of their 16 year old child, they would go back and relay what I said, and the student would come back and tell me what the parent said based on what I said. That is a nutty way to communicate about education with a learner who is old enough to have a voice in the conversation. SLCs at Liggett are the perfect way for students to start thinking about their learning in terms of an ongoing conversation instead of a series of benchmarks when the report card shows up.

Students can take more ownership of their learning if they can have a bigger voice. One of my favorite parts of the SLC is the end part where the students tells the parents and teachers what they feel they need from them to be successful moving forward. I love it because it requires the students to think about the overall process of learning and how their community can help them achieve their goals.

I think Student Led Conference are an excellent way to give students a larger voice in their education that allows them to take more ownership of their learning. In the grand scheme of things, that is what we are hoping to do as educators.

Do you do Student Led Conferences? Please leave a comment so we can share the different ways it works.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Micro-Credentialing in our Makerspace #MakerEd #BadgeChat

It has been half of the school year and I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on the badging process I have started to implement at the Middle School. These are the big things that stand out to me.

  • While some students started to use the space to "get a badge", the students that were obsessed with the badge and not the act of making rarely followed through. 
Earning a badge is not enough to drive someone to do something they are not truly interested in doing. The fancy sheen of a badge they can place on their device is not the lure that some people feared. Students will not have inflated achievements and forgotten skills because they were obsessed over a sticker. Making is a multi-step process that requires time and energy. While some students might put in some time to earn low level badges, truly mastering different skills takes too much time for those not fully committed. The truly passionate makers stick with it and hang out in the makerspace.
  • Students that just love to make will come in and make whatever they want and then ask if there is a badge for it after the fact. 
I have found that it is tough to keep up with the type of badges I should be creating for the space. So much so, that I stopped. I'm just taking lots of notes. Students are coming in and exploring different tools all the time. It might be littleBits, Makey Makey, 3D design, or just building with cardboard boxes found in the room. The students that want to make are going to make with whatever peaks their interests and that is a GREAT thing! Badges are not the drive for them, the making experience is. The badges are the bonus to learning something and making something awesome. The students like the fact that they can earn something that will recognize the skills they are mastering and do not mind showing it off to their peer and family.
  • The physical badges do bring in new students every so often. 
I hadn't planned on using physical badges as part of my program, but the students asked for them and I was happy to print out stickers they used to adorn their devices. The plus side to this was that other students would see the stickers and ask what they were all about. It was free advertising for the makerspace. I thought that all of the badges would live in a digital world and shared with students in a digital backpack of some kind (work in progress) so it could be shared with parents and others as needed. The power of the physical badge is something that should not be that surprising. Look at Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They have been using physical badges to represent skills for decades and that extra branding works great for them. There is something to be said for physical badges moving forward. I'm curious to see how this aspect of the badging system will continue to change and grow. 
  • Student schedules make it tough to build consistency in the makerspace which does impact badging. 
The makerspace is new at my school and I am working out the hiccups with the entire staff. Everyone is very supportive and talks around student schedules are something every school should do to find the right balance of core content areas and electives based on student interests. Sports and other activities take time away from the makerspace for some students, so there might be large gaps between visits and that makes retaining knowledge tough to keep progressing in different areas. There is never enough time for everything we want in schools, so this is not something that is going to be solved over night. I wonder if creating a Maker class would help with this issue and students would earn badges instead of grades. Hmmmmmm. 
  • Female students seems more interested in the makerspace overall and have earned more badges because of it. 
The makerspace is regularly filled with young ladies exploring different aspects of making. Some like to put on their headphones and work on their Scratch games and others are working together to build cardboard box homes. There are young men that frequent the space and are making amazing things as well, but the numbers are slanted toward women. This is a great thing for me to see because I wanted to make sure that female students felt the makerspace was a spot for them as much as it is for the guys. It looks like I might need to work harder to have the guys invest their time in the space to see if a balance can be found. 
  • I have to remind myself that this has only been 5 months and there is plenty of time left to try new things with badging. 
I have a three year plan in mind that allows for steady growth of the space and new programs to encourage students to explore making in ways that are meaningful to them. 5th graders have visited the space and they were so excited about the ability to design for the 3D printer and to build in Minecraft and to earn badges. This is exciting to me because a steady flow of new students every year will allow for new ideas to help the makerspace evolve as needed. 
  • I'm excited at what I have been able to do and I can't wait to see what the future holds with badging in the makerspace. 
The badging program is still in its infancy, but it is heading in the right direction. Student feedback will be key as it grows and evolves. 

If you have any experience of rolling out badges for your makerspace, please leave a comment below or email me at

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Making Room for Cardboard #MakerEd

I was working in the Makerspace yesterday and a group of regulars came in to continue to work on an impromptu project. a few 6th graders saw a couple of large empty boxes that were just sitting in my room. They were the boxes for a couple of Inventables Carvey CNC machines. I was excited to receive these new machines because some students expressed an interest in design that went beyond cutting poster board and really wanted to explore what could be possible with different tools.

The Knight's Forge, our Makerspace at University Liggett School, was a messy delight as these students decided to take the big boxes and make houses out of them. They saw boxes and immediately decided to make houses. Here is a shot of the building process,

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

Three different students have come together on their own to design and build a box home. I sat back and watched as they problem solved on how to make a roof and then how to make the room have a point to give them head room. They cut out a circular, Hobbit-esque, door into the side of one box and then did a matching one on the other box to connect the two. Everyone did their part and just had fun building. During the build, a student turned to me and said,

"I bet your annoyed that we are using cardboard instead of all of the technology in the room."

My immediate response was that a Makespace is for making anything using whatever you want and that I LOVED that they were just using the cardboard in the room to create something amazing. The tools are available for whatever type of project you want. The student smiled and went back to designing his roof, but I felt bad.

Reflecting is something we should all do, but try to avoid because it can sometimes give us a hard truth that we do not want to face. However, with reflection, we can grow and become better for ourselves and our students.

The Knight's Forge has started to fill up with different types of technology because of a grant I wrote that was supported by CTN and Detroit Public Television. These new tools will offer students and teachers the opportunity to explore project based learning in ways not possible before. Independent student projects will have more options now because of these tools. After reflecting on the student comment, I realized that there needs to be equal conversation about the analog tools that are available to students and teachers in the Makerspace. It is something I believe and have shared before, but it is something I need to be more vocal about in my setting. Just because I know it and think something is obvious, doesn't mean that others do. This is something I know I can do better and will moving forward.

As an inspiration, I generally turn to Colleen Graves and the amazing things she is doing in her library. Here is a short video from Instagram of students creating with cardboard.

A post shared by (@makerteacherlibrarian) on

Colleen takes some cardboard, adds a Makey Makey, and the creativity explodes with the students. If you are exploring Makerspaces, it is important to make sure that there is room for great tools to support a wide range of creative interests. Don't forget that cardboard can take students on amazing rides with their imagination.

Students in 6th grade Math are working on their own Scratch based arcade games and some are going to build controllers for their games. Cardboard is a perfect place to start the design fun. Here is my Makey Makey cardboard controller creation.

I hope my misstep and reflection helps others as they look to explore making in their own spaces. Learning is a lifelong adventure and I'm glad I have a place and community to share the ups and downs. Have an amazing day everyone!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Learning Math in the Makerspace #MathChat #MakerEd

Over the past few weeks, the 6th grade students have been working on building their own arcade games using Scratch. The origin of the lesson was helping students understand x and y coordinates. It was a very fun and creative lesson that the students have enjoyed very much. Kudos to Mrs. Montagne and Mr. Medvinsky for a wonderful plan.

As part of this lesson, there is an extension opportunity for students to build their own controller for their arcade game. For this, students would be able to use Makey Makey and other materials to create their own personalized controller for their arcade game that will debut during Student Led Conferences in March. The students were pumped and the Makerspace was about to get busy!

I knew that students were going to want to dive into design and use the tools available in the Makerspace. Through a grant from DPTV and CTN, I have been able to outfit The Knight's Forge at University Liggett School with some great new tools. I have an Inventables Carvey CNC machine and a Full Spectrum Laser Muse. I've been setting these up and trying to get a good understanding of the software and design process of using these tools so I can better help students who have asked to use these tools in the Upper and Middle School. I figured building my own controller for a Scratch game is the perfect opportunity to use these new tools!

I started with some basic paper design and figured I wanted my controller to be 5" by 2" and drew that on some paper. I traced it in thick black marker so I could upload the design to Easel, the Carvey software, so I can match the lines for the cuts I wanted to make. After adding my cardboard and running the CNC, I had the rough cut of my controller ready to roll.

Next, I took a blank sheet of paper over the template I created and marked out the cracked design look I wanted. From there, I uploaded that image to the Muse software and traced what I did there. After placing the cardboard in the Muse, I placed the cracked design over the top of the cardboard image on my screen provided by the onboard camera, set the Muse Raster for 35% speed and 100% power and the machine whirred into action. After 17 minutes, I had a beautifully scarred piece of cardboard that will become my controller.

I added some brass brads for the buttons, ran some copper tape for the ground, wired up the Makey Makey, and taped everything down to create my own video game controller. Here are some images from my Instagram account that show the various steps.

After completing the construction, I needed to test it out. I jumped into Scratch and started putting together some simple directional blocks and a space bar action item to see if it worked. I then had a moment where I could not figure out how to make my character move backwards. Whatever the reason, my brain was blank. Luckily, I remembered the lesson from Mrs. Montagne's class that covered the X and Y coordinates on the plane and remembered I needed a negative number to move back and a negative number to move down. I had created a controller that now worked in the digital world.

Some people would say that everything I did could have been done with scissors and a marker. A CNC machine and laser cutter were excessive in creating this controller. I agree that this all could have been done without those tools and I think people should create controllers of their own using whatever tools they have around them, but I used those tools because I wanted to learn about how to use them as part of the design process so I could get a feel for them. While not needed for this specific project, I will have a stronger understanding of how to use them when they are a crucial part of a project. For example, I have been asked to carve our props for the upcoming play. Doing that is easier now because of this process.

At the end of the day, I had a project I could show the students, explain the process of getting it together, and explaining the tools I used to accomplish it, and even demonstrate how I was able to apply the Math concept covered in class to a real life situation. The students now can see how those new tools can be used and it will spark design ideas for them. Making and Makerspaces should be about inspiring creativity in people and showing them that amazing things can be accomplished if they are open to new possibilities. I look forward to seeing the fun and different takes on controllers the students are considering for their projects.