Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Making in 2016 #MakerEd

I have been cleaning up my Makerspace at my house and I've come across some of the fun things I've made over the course of the year and I thought I'd share my favorites. These are not in a particular order, just the ones that come to mind.

Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces

This is a still something that blows my mind. I wrote and had my book published and it has received a wonderful response. I'm still blown away that schools are using it for book study, it reached #1 in STEM Education, and people are tweeting me pictures of them using the book and quoting the book. This is one of my favorite things I've made this year.

Nerdy Pi

I made my own handheld Retro Gaming System! To top it off, I hacked the design case to make headphones work and printed a wood case! I love this project so much!

Pi Zero in a Nintendo Mint Can Running RetroPie

I was in Denver for ISTE and found a candy store that had a bunch of novelty candies. I saw this tin and thought it would be fun. I got home and was looking at it on my desk and saw the Raspberry Pi Zero sitting there and thought I could put them together. This was a fun and easy project I did just to see if I could do it. For a total cost of under $20 (The SD Card cost the most), it is a great deal.

Nerdy 9000 with Amazon Alexa

This was a project that looked interesting, but I was not sure if I was going to be able to pull it off. I wrote about the entire process on my site and you can make your own if you want.  It was something I never thought I would be able to do, but the confidence in building other pieces really gave me the motivation to give it a go and it is great. The Nerdy9000 lives in my classroom and answers all of my questions.

Poltergust 3000 from Luigi's Mansion

This was a true test of my Daddy Maker skills. Leo wanted to be Luigi from a video game he plays. The Poltergust 3000 sucks up ghosts. Mom took care of the costume and I set out to make the vacuum. With a couple of watch batteries, wire, a button, a switch, a box, and some LEDs, I was able to create a very cool prop for Leo that he has played with long after Halloween.

Death Star Ornament

I was just playing around with some wires, a switch and an LED and I thought it would be cool to make an ornament. I found a cool file on Thingiverse and made this mini ornament. Learning to make this year really helped me understand basic electronics, circuitry, and other areas of STEAM. I did this without much trouble at all. 

Yoda Night Light

This was another, "I wonder if I can..." I could and it was fun. Here is my post with all of the info on making one of your own.

Nerdy Photo Booth

This was a tough one for me and I really needed some help from the online community to make this happen. I'm glad I stuck with it because it has been a blast to use in class and at home. This was also the first code I ever published to GitHub. It was the day I felt like a true "Coder". Here is the full post with code if you want to make your own.

Old Rotary Phone, Raspberry Pi 3, and AirPlay

This was just pure silliness. I was wondering if I could turn the headset into speakers and the rest of the phone into an AirPlay using Raspberry Pi. It turns out I can do that and I even had it turn on an off by lifting the receiver. I also added an on/off light. I really nerded out over this. Full info here.

I've made tons of silly things and fun things and cool things. The best part of everything I have made is that there is something I learned that helped me with the next project. I hope everyone takes time in 2017 and tries something new. I did and am better for it.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

In Defense of the Holiday Party #EdChat

Over the past couple of weeks, I've seen a few tweets and posts about alternatives to the classroom party before going on Holiday Break. There were some nice suggestions about making the day about learning and growth, but isn't that what every other day has been about up to that point? 

I look at a Holiday Party as a chance to relax and celebrate the longest stretch of the year without a significant break. It is a great time to recognize the accomplishments and celebrate the school year. Having some food and drinks while music plays and students get to relax and just connect with their peers. 

At my school, students have 7 classes a day and can be hit pretty hard with the level of work and exams the last week before break. Having a day to look forward to that allows them to just take a breath after a long stretch is a nice thing to give to students. School can be about fun and play and connections for one day of the year. 

For next year, think of the Holiday Party as a chance to celebrate your students and the work they have done, instead of a "waste of time" or "loss of learning". 

Have a great Holiday Season everyone!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Design for the Holidays with @DremelEdu #MakerEd

As a Dremel Idea Builder Ambassador, I love coming up with fun and different 3D based projects. The holiday season has always been a time for young students to create gifts and beautiful projects at school to take home or decorate the classroom. While there is still plenty of great things that can be done with construction paper and glue sticks, having students work with 3D Design software and the Dremel 3D40 can bring an extra touch to the holiday season. Here are some fun examples you can bring to your classroom:

  • Ask students to work in groups and design their own holiday/Winter scenes. They can design snowman, candy canes, snowflakes, and so much more. This is a perfect project to help students work on planning and collaborating with peers to create one cohesive project.
  • Set up a fun Secret Gift Exchange in class. Students can pull names from a hat that have something they would like to have designed and made for them. Students will put their own spin and interpretation on the request and give the present to the student before the holiday break.
  • Gifts for friends and family at home. This is just a fun opportunity to give students a chance to design something for the home. Maybe it is an ornament for a tree or a just a gift to say “Happy Holidays”.

What is great about these projects is that they help students work on their collaboration skills and the design process. The more time students can have working with others and trying to plan and execute ideas, the more comfortable they will be later in life. As a teacher, it is key to have students work with others, brainstorm, problem solve, compromise, and see their plan executed. These soft skills come in handy throughout their life in school and their future careers.

Guiding students through the design process will help them for future projects, but other areas of learning as well. A student needs to design their essays and their solutions to complex experiments in Science. The entire process is replicated over and over again in many different content areas and students will be better prepared to to tackle more complex issues later in life if they learn the process at an early age.

The beauty of 3D design is that it allows for students to work with shapes to create great items. Working with shapes and understanding how different shapes can come together to create objects is a cool way for students to deconstruct the world around them and build it back up in a digital format. The students will also be able to work with basic measurement in the design process as well as the final product. Students will need to measure and draw prototypes so they can see what their final print job might look like if the sizes are correct. Understanding spatial size is a nice skill for students as they get older and need to make purchases for their own spaces. Seeing how that all comes together using Geometry and measurements in small 3D design projects.

Whenever you have a chance for students to work in the 3D world to create amazing items from their own imagination, students will learn valuable skills and that is why having a Dremel 3D40 can offer so much to a classroom and school. The more you use it with students, the more students can grow in their content areas as well as the “soft skill” areas. I hope everyone has asked for a new printer this Holiday Season.

Here are some pictures of a design my son made that I printed for him to give to a family friend. Note: I stopped the print when it got to the lettering and replaced the filament so I could have red lettering and center to the flower. It was easy and it adds a nice touch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


The world has been a crazy place over the past few weeks and I have found myself mired down by the negativity. It is so easy to get there. Being negative is easy. Focusing on the positive is not. I wanted to change that and I thought I would focus on sending out good vibes on Twitter and through personal text messages to friends. If the timing is right, I will give them a call. I hope others will join me in sharing the awesome of others and try to fill up our little corner of the Internet with good things while still fighting hard against the bad things.

Find a couple people each day that are awesome and share it on social media using #ShareAwesome. Hopefully they will follow your lead. I do believe we all can make a difference and a nice tweet can snowball into bigger and nicer things.

Hugs and High Fives,


Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Chromebook Classroom Book Review

Chromebooks are becoming a larger part of the educational technology world and there are plenty of educators that have lots of questions about these devices. I use a Chromebook at school to organize my day and work with all of the Google Apps we use in class, but I still feel like I do not get the most out of it. That's where The Chromebook Classroom by John R. Sowash comes in.

The book starts off with the basics: Why Chromebooks? Figuring out why to go with Chromebooks and what Chromebook to go with is an important issue for teachers and administrators looking to make the change to Chromebooks. The book covers the value of different sizes of screens, touch screen capacity, durability, and the value of using Chrome as the main browser. Better yet, John provides a nice chart on the best type of Chromebooks for the different grade level of student, administrator, and secretaries. These simple insights are very helpful for people who are not sure where to start when considering Chromebooks.

Another nice part of the book shows how to move from a Microsoft world or an Apple world to Chromebooks. There is a great chart that shows which Chrome OS alternatives there are for the iOS Apps that you might have on your iPads. There was some great apps that I did not know existed that are great replacements for some of the things I have done on my iPad.

On the technical end, there is a great and helpful chapter on Chromebook management. As a classroom teacher, that does not directly impact me and the Chromebook I use, but this is perfect for the IT department and those teachers that will be responsible for managing the Chromebooks. Device enrollment, configuration, sign-in settings, update settings, and more. These are the back-end items that are key for the implementation of a Chromebook environment.

The book ends with specific lessons on using Chromebooks in K12 classrooms. There are examples of apps that support large and small group projects, individual projects, mini lesson stations, note-taking, and much more! My favorite would be showing how to create a collaborative study guide at the high school level. This looks perfect for my class and I can't wait to work that in to my lessons.

For all educators that are looking to move to Chromebooks in the classroom, The Chromebook Classroom is the book you have to get. Check it out on Amazon!

You can also reach out to John on Twitter and on his website