Tuesday, September 19, 2017

My First Fail #DigCit

One of the things about starting a new job with new expectations is that I will be encountering tasks for the first time. Not only that, I will be trying to navigate a great new community and try to make sure everyone is supported. As much as I would love to just share my success on this site, that is not realistic. As a reflection tool, this site is supposed to help me look at the good AND the bad. My first big failure was last week and I finally have some time to write about what has been running around in my head.

Part of my job as the Technology Coordinator is to run the Digital Citizenship for grades 6-8. I was left resources from Common Sense Media by the amazing lady who had the job before me. A schedule was established before I arrived that would have me working with each grade 6 times for 45 minutes over the first two and a half months. My goal was to use the resources provided to me and try to recreate what had been done in the past. What a rookie mistake.

I worked hard going over all of the materials and made copies of the handouts from the previous year, I made a presentation and felt super ready to go from my meeting with the 7th grade. Nope. I had a room filled with 40 seventh graders and I tried talking to them about what the digital world around them looks like today. I had support of another teacher in the room and it helped keep the students focused, but it was still a mess. I know I can be hard on myself, but it was a mess because I was trying to do something that is not who I am. Any teacher that is not authentic to who they are, will be eaten alive.

It was embarrassing to give a presentation to students with a peer watching that falls flat. Well, it was beyond flat. It fell through the ground into the lower mantle of the Earth's crust. That embarrassment was a great motivator for me to reassess how I plan to move forward. I'm supposed to give the same presentation to the sixth and 8th grade in a week. I felt like I did not have the time to really process my next steps because I was preparing for the Eighth grade Leadership Days. It was this event that ultimately inspired me to make the changes I think will be most positive.

The teachers spent the time with the Eighth graders talking about taking ownership of their school year and being leaders for the rest of the Middle School. This was something I loved about the event. As we talked more and more about Leadership and Ownership, it struck me; students should be in charge of their Digital Citizenship. Instead of talking to students about Internet Safety, I can work with students who are exploring Dig Cit to present to other students. This is the Project Based Learning approach I used in the classroom and it should be able to work outside of the classroom as well.

One of the cool things about University Liggett School is that the Middle School has a Morning Meeting. The entire Middle School comes together to hear announcements and see varied presentations that are designed by a different Advisory (think homeroom) each week. A captive audience each day for 10 minutes would be a perfect time to share a Dig Cit tip each morning. The students will be more engaged if the tip comes from their peers. It seems so obvious now, but I was too stuck in trying to recreate what someone else had done.

I've got some work to do as I look to provide the Advisory classes with some info on the topics to tackle for the their Morning Meetings, but I'm excited about working with students as they explore Digital Citizenship instead of just talking at them. Updates to come as I put this together.

Hugs and High Fives,

NP

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Look at Leadership in the Middle School #EdChat

Moving to Middle School has been a fun adventure and I've had a chance to experience so many different things over the past two weeks. University Liggett School is filled with so many great programs and opportunities for students, it is hard to just focus on one, but here is one that really stands out to me from last week.

As a member of the 8th grade team, I helped organize the Leadership Days. Since this was my first year, I really just sat back and watched the amazing educators on the team whip everything together. I helped where I could and offered to run a Breakout Edu room for the students. It was a really amazing event and I just wanted to reflect on some of the things that stood out to me.

Reflection Time:

One of the things that I really loved was the built-in reflection time the students had after different aspects of the two days. After the Breakout, we made sure to use the discussion cards with the students and discuss what worked and what the obstacles where for them. In my room, the students started to give shoutouts to individual students who stepped up during the Breakout. They started the shoutouts on their own and it just made me smile to see the smiles on the students who were surprised to receive recognition for their help.

We also had time to reflect on the community service projects as well. We sanded and painted two sets of bleachers at a local park. It was a messy couple of days, but we were able to get the job done. We had a good conversation about work ethic, leading by doing, and the value of community service as a leader. It is important for students to know that as members of a community, it is crucial to be an active participant in keeping it nice for everyone. Donating time to make a difference in the community is a great way to show leadership. Students were able to make these, and other, observations when we gave them time to do so.

Lower School Connections:

Another aspect of our Leadership Days was connecting with the Lower School and doing some reading. It is a very simple thing to do that the young students loved and will remember. Having students model reading to young students and making connections is a powerful thing. Watching students smile as students gave them hugs of thanks was wonderful. The 8th graders even had a chance to see what it is like to try and keep a young student engaged for a short period of time. One students had to pull a little one out of a tree! Don't worry, everyone made it back in one piece and 8th graders and younger students walked away with some wonderful memories.

Upper School Connections:

During dinner on the first night, a few Upper School students stopped by to answer questions about what life is like after 8th grade. It was cool to see these students share their tips on homework, procrastination, and overall high school life with the 8th graders. As the 8th graders acted as role models for the Lower School students, the Upper School students had a chance to show the 8th graders what leadership looks like after Middle School. I loved seeing how the cycle of leadership is present from Kindergarten to 12th Grade.

Fun:

I wanted to end with this because I think it is so important. Being a leader is so much more than just hard work and tough decisions. You can be a leader and have fun too! We had some great team building games, played hide and seek in the school, roasted marshmallows, and just played on the playscape. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Giving students the opportunity to have some fun, be a little silly, and create memories is part of growing up and becoming the person you want to be. Leadership is just one aspect of that.

It was a great couple of days and I can't wait to debrief as a staff and see how we can continue to support the students and make an even better event for next year. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tips for Kicking Off Your Makerspace! #MakerEd

I'm really excited about the opportunity to build a new Makerspace at my new job at University Liggett School. After learning so much from my first experience building a space in a library at a high school during my former job, I feel like I have a great opportunity to really create something special with my students. For those that are interested in starting your own Makerspace this school year, here are some tips that can help you on your journey.

- Talk with your students

As an educator, it is important to have a conversation with your students to address many important questions. The most important is, "What do you want to make?" This needs to be the driving force behind every decision moving forward. If you have students passionate about code, look at various coding tools. Some students might be interested in the learning space aspect of a Makerspace and have ideas regarding the environment. These conversations will help direct the path of designing a Makerspace.

- Find the funds

This step might be optional depending on your situation. If you already have money from your district. then you do not need to worry about this step at the moment. If this is a solo project and your district/school cannot offer much financial support, grants will be needed to make your space happen. Look at state and local groups that offer grants for schools. You might find one that supports STEM/STEAM projects that would be perfect for your Makerspace. Another approach is to reach out to local businesses who might be interested in sponsoring specific purchases for the space. Sometimes businesses feel more comfortable giving money to a specific item instead of a blanket donation that might go to anything. It never hurts to have the students work on presentations to make to these groups. It is much harder to say no to students.

- Prioritize you wants and needs

Once you have the idea of all the different things a student wants in their Makerspace, it is important to prioritize everything. Placing items in a "Want" and "Need" category is a nice way to see the importance of various requests from the students. You should have a fixed budget that will help determine what is a need and a want. You might find something is a want that is outside the budget, but you could have an different grant purchase it or a specific business that might want to donate to help you purchase it. One thing to keep in mind as you develop your list; establishing a solid base for your Makerspace can help you later on when you write more grants or ask for support from your school district and community. Sometimes it takes a "proof of concept" model to show that the space is viable and worth the money.

- Reach out to the Internet for ideas

Do not be afraid to reach out to amazing experts out there who have helped build Makerspaces in their schools. Colleen Graves and Diana Rendina are excelllent resources when it comes to Makerspaces. It is always great to connect with other educators to see what has worked and not worked for them. The #MakerEd community is filled with great people looking to help those interested in providing students with an opportunity to grow through the use of a Makerspace.

- Document your journey

It is important to document your journey when creating a Makerspace. This comes in handy in a few different ways. First, it can be used to show granting institutions, administrators, and local businesses  how their support has impacted the space. Secondly, the documentation can be used in future requests for funds. They can show a "proof of concept" idea where you tell different groups that you would be able to do even more if you had more funds. Lastly, it is fun to have portfolio of the different things that students have made over the course of the year. They can really see how their projects came along over the course of the school year.

- Be OK with failing

Set the standard with your students that there are going to be times in this new space where things are not going to go as planned. Despite all of the planning, failure can happen and students AND teachers need to know that is OK. This allows everyone to feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things. We want students to explore areas they are passionate about and their might be a risk of failure. We do not want that fear of failure be the reason that a student does not try something. Tons of great learning will come from these failures.

These are some good starting points for building a Makerspace. (Shameless plug) I have more detailed and nerdy suggestions in my book, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces. This book is filled with my experience building a space and nerdy analogies to help make connections. It has been used for book studies and was a best seller on Amazon. If you are interested in purchasing any books for your district, email me and we can even get you a discount!

If you have any questions, please reach out to me and I will be happy to answer any questions.

Hugs and High Fives,

Nick

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A New Adventure in Robotics with @uniliggett #LiggettLearns

One of this things I am most excited about is my new connection with the Robotics team in the Middle School. I have never done robotics or It is known as the First Tech Challenge in the Middle School and I have lots to learn.

I spent the day with some of the Middle School students learning about design strategy, programming, servos, etc. It was a very exciting learning experience for me and for the students. I always love an opportunity to discover what I don't know and how I can make those things I do know.

It looks like we will have an all girls team again this year and I am excited to connect these young ladies with other female engineers, designers, programmers, etc to show them the possibilities to take what they are learning in FTC and turn them into careers. (If you know any amazing ladies in these fields, please reach out so I can connect them with my students.)

I've always had an interest in robotics, but never had the opportunity to explore it more in depth. I'm excited to be learning along with the new students. I hope I can learn enough to start to build my own robots. I've always wanted to build a Johnny 5. I might be able to by the end of this school year.

If you have any tips or tricks on mentoring a robotics team for the Middle School, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. I can use all the help I can get.


My Future Robot Build

Hugs and High Fives, 

NP

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Some Thoughts on the "Edupreuner" #EdChat

An article in the New York Times by Natasha Stringer, Silicon Valley Courts Brand-name Teachers, Raises Ethical Issues, went live today and I'm featured in it. I wanted to write a post to share some of my more in-depth thoughts on the issue. Not because I feel the article got things wrong, but because there is limited space in an article and I wanted to share a bit more of what I think.

I agree that becoming ambassadors and working with edtech companies does raise interesting ethical questions. For me, I have only agreed to work with companies that I have already used their product and think it is good for students and/or staff. That is my prerequisite when I think about ambassadorships or the like. I do not feel I can honestly write about or support a product I do not use or like. That just seems like a basic aspect of what I do. I wouldn't be a Google Certified Innovator if I did not use Google Products. I do understand that there are those out there that rack up ambassadorships like badges and that hurts the overall community because it can lead to distrusting the authenticity of people's opinions.

There have been times when companies have sent me items to review for the site and they are not any good. These have ranged from small edtech items to 3D printers. I always try everything out, see how it could support learning in my classroom or school, and then share the feedback to the company. If the product is not good, I provide some feedback and do not write a trash article on my site. I do not do bad reviews. In personal conversations, I will steer people away from bad tech if they mention an interest in it. I never want to be associated with bad tech just for some free swag.

When I do find something that is awesome and my students love it, I share it with anyone. My first ambassadorship was with Evernote. I was a vocal Evernote user and shared about it all the time. They reached out to me and asked if I'd be an Education Ambassador. It did not impact me and the way I wrote or shared about it. I was already loving it and sharing. This is true for the most of my commitments. I love their products, share about their awesomeness, and someone reaches out to me and a relationship is formed.

I use the word relationship because I am a busy person and I want to make sure the people I will be working with over time are people and their mission is something I believe. I have had a wonderful relationship with Dremel. They have been supportive of getting 3D design into classrooms and have listened on how to engage teachers effectively and how best to support them. I also love working with littleBits. They have an amazing team of people looking to get STEAM into the hands of as many children as possible. I love working with them and support their work. I did this long before they had any ambassador program. I was interested in Raspberry Pi, signed up for their Picademy, was accepted, fell in love with all things Pi, and think they are one of the best tech companies out there. I have to feel a strong connection to a company if I plan on working with them long term. I have to like their staff and feel that they are actually listening to me to make their product better for educators and students.

I have always disclosed the different groups I work for in posts because I never want to hide anything from my readers. I have the badges on my website for everyone to see and I note on the end of posts if the post is connected to an Ambassadorship. I have always disclosed the things I bring into the classroom with students, staff, and parents because I want to be honest. It is important to follow all of the rules and guidelines your district has in place. I had a meeting with my district that clarified how this would work.

I am able to bring in expensive edtech to my school without straining a budget. There are plenty of companies out there that do not have good edtech products. If I can review the good ones and pass along those to other teachers so I can save them from wasting money, that is a good thing.

I also have received top notch professional development from these these various companies. That experience and knowledge tied together with my years of classroom experience is what helps me in my career, not just getting free stuff.

I know that budgets are tight for schools around the country. If my experience with a piece of edtech can help schools make an informed purchase that saves them from spending money on bad tech, then I have done a good thing. I feel like I have helped students and teachers in places far outside of my school and I like that.

When it is all said and done, I advise everyone to look for multiple opinions on any piece of educational technology to make sure you are getting the very best for your students and staff. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Check out @littleBits Droid Inventor Kit Right Now #MakerEd

Stop everything you are doing and watch this video from littleBits about the Droid Inventor Kit.


I have not played with this kit and only found out about it 30 minutes ago, but this video really got to me for some reason. 

The music, the feeling that there was something special going on and the young girl was on an adventure to see what it was about, and the community of inventors working together to create these droids was just very cool to me. It just felt awesome to see. 

My new role as a Makerspace Director has me thinking about what I'm trying to accomplish and the atmosphere in the room at the end is what I want to see in the Makerspace. Lots of movement and collaboration. Lots of support and smiles. 

I've been drawn to littleBits over the past few years because they are committed to supporting young inventors. They want everyone to have an opportunity to make and break. I love that mission and it makes me smile when I can see parts of my childhood be reborn like littleBits has done. 

I will be waking up early to make sure I can order my own kit or two when they are available. 

Thanks littleBits!

Hugs and High Fives,

Nick

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Great Homework Debate #EdChat

I wasn't sure if I was going to weigh in on this topic, but I figured I would because that is why I have a blog and Twitter account. To be honest, I'm actually pretty tired of seeing the HW debate bounce around the Twitter feed and the stances that people take. Maybe I'm not so tired of the HW debate, but the stances. Very few things in education are all or nothing.

Education is nuanced. You cannot just say all homework is bad and teachers are bad because they assign homework that takes students away from valuable family time. Ugh.

As a HS English teacher, I assigned reading almost every single day. No more than 20 pages per night. The reading has to get done outside of the classroom because there is no way possible for a HS English teacher to cover 3 novels, 2 plays,  and numerous short stories and poems in 180 days of school. It could be possible if all students did in class was show up and read with no discussion or assessment, then maybe there is enough time. I still gave students in class reading time for novels we were reading because they do have busy schedules and I try to be understanding, but students will have to read at home. That is work that is done at home. Homework. I have yet to find an instructional strategy that allowed all of the curriculum to be covered while not allowing students the time to read at home.

There is bad homework though. Work that is designed to keep students busy and they have to finish it at home. That is busy work. Word searches and crossword puzzles are the worst. In my view, most worksheets are awful and need to go away, but I do not teach all grade levels in all areas, so I could be wrong in some instances.

The problem with all homework is bad is that it is a very final statement. Twitter is not a very good place to have a HW debate because you are very limited in what you can say and education, as I said earlier, is too nuanced to be addressed  in 140 characters.

As the school year starts, I recommend all teachers to take a look at the assignments they intend to give this year and see if it is something that students need to do. Take notes on what students are doing at home and revisit the the assignments at the end of the year to see if they need to stay or go.

The final verdict from me is that there is good homework and bad homework. If we spend more time helping teachers get the most out of their instructional time, this will limit the need for homework. If something needs to go home, teachers should be supported in creating the best possible homework so students can get the most out of that take home educational experience.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below to continue the conversation.

Hugs and High Fives,

NP



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

Greet 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,

NP

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. 

Contest!
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.

Extras:

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.

Tolerance.org

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,

NP

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?

Monday, August 7, 2017

#MakerMonday Featuring @SparkFunEDU micro:bit Kits

I’ve been seeing micro:bit on the Internets for months now and I even own a few, but I have not found the time to really dive in and see what I can do with it. Sometimes, I like to just dive in with a device and see what I can hack together, but other times, I like to use a kit first so I can get an idea of what is possible and go from there. SparkFunEDU has the perfect kits for learning all about micro:bit and they are the feature of this week’s #MakerMonday.


I spent time playing with the SparkFun micro:arcade kit, micro:bot kit, and the micro:climate kit and I loved them. I am going to focus my thoughts on the micro:climate kit for the purpose of this #MakerMonday, but here are some quick thoughts on the other kits I played with from SparkFun.


Feratured: SparkFun


Focus: Electronics


Grade: All Ages


What is SparkFun:


“We’re here to help you start something.”


I love this line on their About Us page. It says so much about the Maker Mentality as I see it and how companies can support students and educators looking to open up to Making. They are here to help us get started and that is exactly what the micro:bit kits do.


Personal Thoughts:


Quick Thoughts on the micro:bot and arcade:bot kits:


The micro:bot kit was a fun build, but a little more complex than I expected out of the box. I have a good feeling it was my own fault because I tend to rush and can skip a part of the directions because of that. Once I got everything together and uploaded the coded provided, everything was awesome. It was cool to watch the bot roll around and change directions when it hit an obstacle. Following a black line is fun for a bit, but it is just a start to more complex coding fun anyone can have with a bot.


The micro:arcade kit is great for those looking to get started with gaming projects. I have already built varied projects that involved joysticks and found this to be very easy to assemble and use with an online game. Connecting this to a Raspberry Pi and playing RetroPie games is a fun starter project for those that are looking into starting small for their gaming projects.

Deeper Thoughts on the micro:climate kit:


Out of the box, the micro:climate kit has everything you need to assemble a weather station to get tons of data. When I was opening the package, there was a weather system moving through in 30 minutes and I wanted to get this put together and on my deck as soon as I could.


Here is what I was able to assemble and code in that window.



Here is another video I posted on Instagram. 


A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on


I was able to assemble the entire kit and mount it in place before the first drop hit. Once the sky opened up, I was able to see the the data on the bit LED matrix. The wires are long enough to come into the house so I could keep it dry for a longer period of time, but a simple plastic bag worked just fine. Long term, I see myself building a case for it to stay outside. More 3D design in my future.


I was connecting the micro:bit to my computer and changing the code, but that is not a very practical option if the bit is going to stay outside and is in a case of some sort. So, it made sense to me to hook it up to a Raspberry Pi 3 that I could VNC into and upload the new code as needed. (Note: I tried using a Zero W, but it was just too slow to do the things I wanted.)





I was able to combine some code that was provided by SparkFun and have the bit provide me with Temp and Wind Speed. It took some tweaking to convert the C to F, but I was pretty stoked when I was able to code it and get it to work. Sometimes it is the little success that really drive me forward, not just the big ones all can see.


The SparkFun website has a great manual and really guides the user though the creation of each possible project that can be made using the kit. They have direct links to the code that can be downloaded and added to the bit. This made using the Pi remotely so much easier. I just downloaded and uploaded in under 30 seconds and the bit was working.


Extras:


SparkFun is filled with amazing kits and pieces of Maker goodness for all interests. It is worth checking them out when you are in need of conductive thread, alligator clips, or any other supplies to help you get started with your project.


Final Thoughts:


I loved the kits and see exactly how they can fit in a Makerspace, but also how they can fit directly into any STEAM program. Almost all grade levels have some type of climate unit that the micro:climate kit can be used. The level of data collected will be dependent on the skill level of the students, but the teacher can modify as needed with this kit.


The micro SD board in the micro:climate kit that allows the user to store collected data directly to the bit is great for research. Students just need to grab the card and insert into a computer to get the data they need. SparkFun walks the user through the process as well.


The soil temp sensor and the moisture sensor are great add-ons to the bit that will continue to provide information to the user. Connected to a Raspberry Pi, I can see the camera module set to video or time lapse used along with the micro:climate kit to pull in a host a data that would fit perfectly in a multimedia presentation sharing important data points with class.


If you are looking for a diverse set of kits for your classroom, library, or Makerspace, I highly recommend checking out the micro:bot, micro:arcade, and micro:climate kits. Their diversity of application makes them perfect for K-12 STEAM exploration in and out of the classroom.

Friday, August 4, 2017

An Underwater Pond Camera with @Raspberry_Pi #MakerEd


I was out back and I was looking at my pond like I usually do most Summer days. Here is a shot of my pond. I built it all by myself. One of my earliest adult Maker projects. 


As I walked by and noticed how clear my water had become since changing filters, I thought it would be cool if I could see where my fish like to hide. I broke a few large Terra Cotta pots in half and placed them in the pond to create little caves for the fish to hide from raccoons and a white crane that hangs in the backyard. I immediately that that a my Raspberry Pi Zero W attached to my Dremel 3D printer would be perfect for this project. Here is a link to elinux.org site that walked me through the code to create a Web Interface for my Raspberry Pi Camera

Since I had the program up and running already, I needed to come up with a to power the Pi and to keep it dry. After a quick run to the store for some Diver grade waterproof bags and battery pack, I was ready to put together my underwater Pi.

                  

These are some photos of the camera in the bag with the battery pack. I also added this little LED light. I think it helped a bit.


Here is the bag floating on the surface of the pond getting some great shots of the fish swimming around. If I wanted, I could weigh the bag to the bottom of the pond (3.5 ft), but I'm not sure the wifi signal would be that strong.

Here are a couple of videos I posted to Instagram. (Note: Ignore the Time Lapse stamp. I forget to change that before recording.)

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on



This entire project was easy because I had a Pi set up for video and timelapse. I just needed to take it and make it waterproof. This was a fun project that I can really explore more deeply by thinking about building a motorized boat around the floating bag that would allow me to steer it around the pond to specific areas and get really tight shots.

Hugs and High Fives!

NP

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Don't be a Makerspace Negative Nelly #MakerEd

One of the things I have always loved about the Maker Movement was the diverse community that loved to share their ideas. I felt very welcomed by many different people that supported my exploration of Makerspaces and helped point me in the right direction if they couldn't answer my many questions. Now, I have teachers coming to me with Makerspace questions and I return the favor. It truly is an important part of the Maker Movement. However, every community has its Negative Nellies.

There are many different approaches to starting Making in your school or classroom. Some might have admin buy-in and the money to dive in and buy tons of goodies for a space. Others might not have that support and are trying to stretch their budgets to support student-led inquiry. Some educators might have an excited student and teacher base begging to get their hands dirty in a Makerspace and others might have a small group of interested students and a resistant teacher base. All Makerspaces are not going to be built the same way for the exact same reasons. That is OK!

I'm asking educators to ignore those people that insist that the way that you are doing Making or Makerspaces incorrectly. Ignore the people that are adamant that the approach you are taking is wrong and the only way to truly create Makerspaces is to do it exactly as they tell you on Twitter, in their books, on their blogs, etc. There is a big difference between sharing your ideas on how Makerspaces work for you and telling others they are wrong. I've written a book and I think the way I went about setting up a Makerspace is helpful information to those interested in starting their own space, but I do not pretend to have all of the information. If I don't have the info, I will point educators to some of the amazing Maker Educators out there. (Note: This is not all of the awesome people out there. I'm constantly adding people and companies as I interact with them. So, don't be upset if you are not on there. I'm sure it was an oversight or a fat thumb issue.)

I've seen crazy heated conversations erupt over LEGO walls and Makerspace Challenges. Personally, I think having a LEGO wall where kids can just build and do silly things is cool, but I do not know I would put it in a high school Makerspace. Maybe they would love it. I hoped if I did decide to try it, I would get support from teachers and not blow-back on how I'm not creating a "real" Makerspace. I love the idea of challenges and think that it could be a nice component of a Makerspace. Some students are not sure where to start, so a pack of challenges that encourages students to explore different aspects of the space would be a nice way to introduce different Maker ideas to various students. It should not be the only way a student is allowed to interact with a Makerspace, but one element of it. Every Makerspace is designed to be different and each educator needs to keep that in mind while they building one and before they criticize one. 

Lastly, the Maker Mentality is the most important thing educators want to see installed in their school. With the right mentality, every space can become a Makerspace. I think many educators realize that, but you have to start somewhere. Sometimes the environment is ripe for an entire part of the library to be a Makerspace and other environments need to start with a cart that goes from class to class to support specific teachers ready to embrace the idea. Again, every school and educator is in a different place and they are all working to bring the tools, skills, and mentality to their students. These teacher has the best intentions for their learning environment and they, like all of us, will make mistakes along the way. Trashing their attempts to provide these opportunities to students is not helping and truly antithetical to the Maker Mentality. 

Try something new, see how it works, iterate if it fails, look for support from the community, and try again. Repeat as needed.  

Why should creating a Makerspace be any different? 


 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Student Voice Challenge #StuVoice #TEDEdChat



Hi Everyone!
TED is looking for fresh new student voices to share from the TED stage. Our student voice initiative, TED-Ed, is launching the TED-Ed Clubs Challenge to surface student stories from around the world. So far, more than 25,000 students have given TED-style talks in their schools and communities through TED-Ed Clubs. We are inviting students, ages 8-18, to share what they would say if the world were listening, and we want to include your answer!
Sign up for a quick video chat to learn more. You’ll speak directly with a member of the TED-Ed team to learn everything you need to know about the Challenge and how to get involved with this awesome global community

Use Nicholas Provenzano as your referral code on the TED Ed Club application.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

#MakerMonday Featuring @littleBits #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 stick 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. 

Featured: littleBits

Focus: Engineering, Coding, and Electronics

Grade: K-8

What is littleBits?


"littleBits makes technology kits that are fun, easy-to-use, and infinitely creative. The kits are composed of electronic building blocks that are color-coded, magnetic, and make complex technology simple and fun. Together they’re interchangeable in millions of different ways to empower kids to invent anything - from a sibling alarm, to a wireless robot, to a digital instrument."

Mission Statement: "Our kids spend more than 11 hours with electronic devices every day, but most of them don’t know how they work, or how to make their own. At littleBits, we believe we have to empower kids to be creators and inventors with technology, and not just consumers of it."

Info from their About Us Page



Personal Thoughts:

I've been a fan of littleBits for a couple of years now. I have loved introducing them to my 6 year old son. He has had so much fun creating with them. The potential is nearly limitless and that is what I love about them. 

I think littleBits is perfect for a classroom Makerspace or a large library Makerspace. The more access to the bits the students have, the more likely they are going to play and create amazing things. 

These bits are durable and can be used and used over and over again. They are like LEGO in the way that you can build one thing and then take it apart to build something else when the next fun idea hits you. 

The directions for the projects you can build that come with the kits are very well done and I love the graphics. They are visually pleasing and easy to understand. You don't really need to directions because using littleBits is pretty intuitive. My son was able to figure out what all the bits do and make his own push button flashlight. 

littleBits is constantly pushing to make new bits that appeal to more people. I love the innovative approach they have to electronics. 

Extras:

littleBits has an amazing online community where students and other inventors can share their creations and provide step by step guides to recreating their gadgets. 

They worked with Makey Makey and they have create a Makey Makey bit that can take your physical computing to the next level.


Bonus:

Ever since I saw this TED Talk by Ayah Bdeir, I've been a huge Fanboy. The more you learn about her mission to bring open source electronics to as many people as possible, the more you will fall in love with littleBits. 


Last year at ISTE, I had a chance to meet Ayah Bdeir and it was an amazing moment. Being able to meet someone who inspires you to keep making and to help as many children make as possible is always a great thing. 


littleBits is a great tool for a Makerspace that needs something to support budding engineers. With their new kit that dives into Coding, littleBits can crossover for those students who want to write code and they can work with the students that want to build the physical aspects of the project. 


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Share Your #semicolonEDU Story July 14

July 14th is #semicolonEDU day. It is a day for teachers to talk about Mental Health issues in education. My post from a couple of years ago details the start of #semicolonEDU and my post from three years ago details my battle with mental health issues.

Mental Health issues should not be ignored in education. An estimated 3 million adolescents had a major depressive episode in 2015. That's 12.5% of all children aged 12-17. Almost 10 million adults have dealt with it as well. That's 4% of all over 18 people. Those numbers are simply scary. However, they can be less scary if we embrace these issues and talk about them. The more that people are open about mental health issues, the easier it is to erase the stigma associated with mental health. We need educators and students to know that it is ok to talk about it and share those experiences. Without talking openly, people will hide and think they are alone. As an educator, I can't let that happen.

I'm asking for everyone to do one of the following:

a. Share a picture of a semicolon drawn on you in support of #semicolonEDU and share it on social media using the hash tag.

OR

b. Share a picture and a story if you feel comfortable. The more stories out there, the more people will talk about and feel comfortable sharing their mental health battles.

I hope all of you will share this story and offer support for those willing to share their battle.

Hugs and High Fives,

NP

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Path to PBL and Making in the Classroom #MakerEd #PBLChat

I've always thought that PBL lead very naturally, for me, to Making and Makerspaces. As I thought more about it, the two concepts can both be approached the same way in the classroom. That is good and bad though. There are approaches that some call PBL or Making, but fall a bit short for me. There are three steps to PBL and Making that should be explored by educators looking to introduce these practices in the fall.

Step 1: Teacher Controlled

Project Based Learning

Having student create exactly what the teachers has asked for is Teacher Controlled PBL. It is not true PBL. It is having students follow a recipe and just being compliant. Very little creativity is allowed or needed to complete the task.

Making

Having students work in a Makerspace creating exactly what the teacher has asked is not true Making. It is follow directions and doing as they are told. It's not very fun and the students might appear engaged, but they are just going through the motions.

Step 2: Teacher Influenced

Project Based Learning

This version of Project Based Learning has the teacher putting some constraints on the project or adding specific aspects that must be addressed in the project. This is closer to pure PBL, but the teacher still has too much say in the process.

Making

Teachers sometimes put out tasks or ask students to complete projects with broader guidelines in the Makerspace. A teacher influenced Maker project is close to pure Making, but it still has too many teacher fingerprints.

Step 3: Teacher Free

Project Based Learning

The purest form of Project Based Learning is Genius Hour/20 Time. This is the purest form to me because it allows the student to choose what they want to learn and how they are going to demonstrate what they learned when they are done. The student is in full control of their learning from start to finish and the teacher provides whatever support the student might need along the way.

Making

Pure Making is exactly the same thing. Word for word, it is the same. Students use the Makerspace to explore their passions and share what they have made and what they learn in ways that work for them. The teacher acts in a support fashion if needed.

I want to stress that Step 1 and 2 are ONLY bad if that is the only way that PBL and Making are approached. If educators stop and Step 1 or 2, the students are not getting a full PBL/Maker experience. Teachers should start with Step 1 and model the process of creating the project with the students. Next, Step 2 allows the students to see how choice can come into play for projects. Lastly, Step 3 allows the students to explore learning on their own and the teacher provides support as needed.

Like all things in education, this is not the end all be all approach to Making or Project Based Learning. This is what I've noticed over the past few years of using PBL and Making in my classroom and school. Do you have something to add that I missed? Is there another step? Share it in the comments.

Hugs and High Fives,

NP