Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Why Kindergarteners Need to Learn Typing, and How to Get Them Started

As a nerdy teacher, I love it when my students explore coding, discover the joys of collaborative writing via Google docs, or immerse themselves in online research. But before they can do any of those technology-enriched learning activities, they need to master an essential 21st-century skill: typing.

That’s right, typing. Gone are the days when typing was a standalone class where middle or high schoolers sat in front of massive machines that they had never used before, struggling to master the home row and worrying that the teacher would smack them with a ruler or put a cardboard box over their hands if they peeked at the keys.

I vaguely remember having a typing/computer class in middle school, but I'm sure I spent most of my time in that class dying of dysentery. In high school, there was a keyboarding class that was just repetition of some program that would time me on how fast I could type these insane sentences that had all of the important words with the important letters I was supposed to master typing without looking at my keyboard. The boxes over the keyboard and your hands so you couldn't see the keys was an extra special touch that made me really hate typing. It wasn't until I needed to type for myself in college that I learned to type well.

With the proliferation of Chromebooks in classrooms around the country, typing has become a language that kids need to know if they want to unlock the power of connected learning—not to mention the fact that, in some states, kids as young as 2nd grade need to be able to type for assessments.

Clearly, we can’t wait until middle school to introduce our students to the joys of the home row. On the other hand, many kindergarteners and 1st -graders simply aren’t big enough to type “properly” on a full-sized keyboard. Here are a few tips for setting young learners on the road to typing.  

Make it Fun

We learn to type by repetition, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery. Many of today’s kindergarteners are already comfortable playing games on tablets or laptops, and teachers can easily find typing games that feel more like recess than homework.

Start with One Finger

Kindergarteners don’t need to go from zero to 60 words per minute. Free games like the ones you can find at TypeTastic teach them letter-recognition skills that lay the foundation for typing—and they can play them on a tablet with a single finger.

Do a Little Every Day

Helping students move from recognizing letters to finding the home keys to eventually touch-typing takes plenty of practice over time. If your students enjoy typing games, you can use them as a reward for work well done, or as a fun warm-up to get those competitive juices going at the beginning of the class.

No matter how you incorporate typing into your daily lessons, you’ll be preparing your students for a world where the keyboard is king.

This is a sponsored post, but that doesn't mean I don't believe that students need to start exploring typing at a young age so they can be comfortable exploring the digital world as they go through life. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Project Based Learning Helps Makerspaces Thrive #MakerEd

There is more to a makerspace than the tools that are in there and the pre-packaged projects for students to explore. I'm not knocking pre-packaged projects. I love them and have some in my makerspace that are perfect for students. I'm saying there is more to a space than just those projects. To really get the most out of a makerspace and the investment of time and money that went in creating it, there needs to be consideration given to the instruction that is happening in the classes surrounding the space.

I've written about Project Based Learning before (here and here) and have always been advocate of bringing it to as many classrooms as possible because of how positively it impacts the students in my classroom. When I took the leap to bringing a makerspace to my last school to enhance PBL, it was the best decision I could have made to support it. You see, a makerspace is about the tools that allow people to explore and express their ideas. That is what PBL is all about as well.

One of the best parts about the makerspace I have been helping build with the students and teachers at my new school is that it has started to make an impact on the lessons in the classrooms. It has been fun to see teachers explore the makerspace and see how it might influence their lessons. Right now, the 8th grade science students are gearing up for their end of the year project and the makerspace is primed and ready to support them and their work. It's the support aspect that I think throws some people new to the areas of project based learning and makerspaces.

Makerspaces are not designed to magically make STEAM connected to all content areas and for students to start designing using 3D software. There will be some students that are drawn to the space and will explore the different tools, but most students will not just venture to the space on their own without a specific goal in mind. Like many things that are popular in education, makerspaces is seen as a silver bullet to bring up scores in STEAM areas and create smarter and more creative students. That, of course, is nonsense. A makerspace is a tool that needs to be used to support sound instruction. (Shocker!)

To truly get the most out of a makerspace, there needs to be a culture of project based learning in the school. When you have a culture like this, having students and teachers in a makerspace will be a natural extension of PBL. With PBL, creating something to demonstrate understanding is part of the process. The Maker Mentality is already there for students and the makerspace provides them with the tools to dive deeper in different ways. Whether in Language Arts, Social Studies, Maths, Science, or a Language class, if students have become comfortable with the PBL model, they will be comfortable using a makerspace to create things that can help them demonstrate understanding in their various classes. It is tough to think about, but a makerspace is one large tool, filled with smaller tools that support student and teacher learning. It is the perfect tool for project based learning.

I made sure to have a full section on Project Based Learning in my makerspace book because it is important to get the idea out there that a makerspace is perfect to support this instructional model. There needs to be time dedicated to see how instructional practices can be be changed to allow students and staff to get the most out of the makerspace that goes beyond the pre-packaged units. When this happens, an entire school can be transformed and the culture of learning will be better than before.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Knight's Forge Maker Show #MakerEd #Makerspaces

I'm so excited to announce the creation of The Knight's Forge Maker Show! A few students came to me and asked if they could start a show on YouTube to showcase the different things students are creating in the space. I told them they would be 100% in charge of every aspect of the creation of the content, the filming, and editing. They told me it would be no problem and got started storyboarding their first episode.

This is their introduction and they are very proud of it. If you have the time to give it a thumbs up and/or leave a comment on the types of things you would like to see them feature on the show, that would be great. Long term, they really want to do interviews with other makers, students, and inventors. I'm excited about this student created and driven project. For me, it is a wonderful example of the Maker Mentality culture I'm working to establish at my new school.

They are all in 6th grade, so I have them for a few more years. They have already started talking about how they can take on 6th grade interns when they are in 7th grade to show them how things work and have them eventually take over the show when they leave Middle School.

Feel free to share far and wide if you want. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Focusing on Supporting Growth, Not Deficiencies #EdChat

One of the favorite parts of my life as an educator was when I was a coach. I coached soccer on and off for a few years and it was something I still think of fondly. There is something about students calling me coach that just made me smile. As an instructional coach, I find myself going back to those coaching days and thinking about how I was able to motivate people to change or try a new approach to better serve the teachers I am supporting.

When it comes to coaching, there are coaches that will spend their time focusing on the things the players do not do well and show them why those actions are bad, and by doing them, they make you bad. I never responded to this coaching method. By the end of this, I would usually feel bad at everything and the thought of trying something new was not possible. Sadly, I have seen this approach in schools and I have heard it from presenters/keynotes at conferences.  The "I know everything and you are doing everything wrong approach" is a terrible way to support teachers. Trying to shame them in to changing their practices is not helpful to anyone. Morale sinks and nothing changes as those teachers dig in as an act of self preservation. If we want to support teachers, we need to spend more time on the things they do well and less on why we think they are bad at something.

As a coach, it is important to remember that everyone is on their own journey and not everyone is going to be at the same stage of their trip as others. Some will require more support, while others will pick things up quickly and move ahead. For those teachers that are struggling, focusing on what they are doing wrong all the time is not going to motivate them to change their practice. That is why it is so key to focus on the successes along the way and help them create more successful teaching moments. Here are three simple things that an instructional can do to support another teacher.


Stop by for a visit and just check in with the teacher. See what they are doing in their classes and how their lessons are going. Spend a little time getting to kn ow the teacher and how they approach teaching. It is so important for any teacher to feel comfortable with someone if they are going to open up about their fears or frustrations with their instruction. Nobody wants to talk to a stranger and tell them they don't know how to do something. Spending the time getting to know a teacher will make it easier to help them down the line.


Depending on your relationship with the teacher, pop in to observe them in action or email ahead of time and let them know that you'd love to watch their lesson on (blank). DO NOT TAKE NOTES OR BE ON YOUR PHONE DURING THIS OBSERVATION. This is not a formal observation. This is just a peer watching another teacher in action. It is ok to take mental notes, because you are going to need them for the follow up email thanking them for letting you in the room. Identify some of the awesome things you saw and encourage them to keep up the great work. Later on, mention to them you had an idea or you found a cool article or tool that relates to what they did in class and you wanted to share it with them. Then suggest that it could be fun to plan something together to do with the students in class.


Co-teaching is an excellent way to work with teachers and help them build upon the great things they already do in the classroom. Working with another teacher can be so much fun. Sharing a shared passion for something and creating a lesson or project to present to students is a blast. It is during the co-teaching planning time that you want to introduce new elements to the teacher, but you don't force them do go it alone. By being their as a co-teacher, you can help rollout the new tool or instructional approach. Fear of failure is something that drives teachers to avoid trying new things, but if they have a partner to fail with, they are more likely to give it a try. With a successfully implemented and co-taught lesson, reflect on what worked, what needs work, and encourage them to keep doing awesome things. It usually only takes one positive experience with a tool or instructional approach to get a teacher hooked. Co-teaching is an excellent way to get that process started.

While it is easy to sit back and criticize all the teachers that are not teaching the "right way", getting off the stage or from behind the desk to help those teachers who need it is much harder, but far more valuable and effective. All teachers need to be willing to support one another if we want to see change in our educational system. We all need to feel comfortable telling our peers that we do not know how to do something or we don't know the answer to the problem we are facing. Instructional coaches are a perfect way to support teachers who need the help. However, they need to be focused on growth, and not just a teacher's deficiencies. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

In Defense of Worksheets #EdChat

Another day on the EduTwitter and another blanket comment on a tool that many teachers use. It's not so much that comments like this happen, it is more that they are used to shame teachers that are genuinely trying their best to help students.

It drives me nuts to see that teachers are still shaming and making blanket statements about tools. Worksheets is one of those ones that is an easy punching bag for EduTwitter criticism. Worksheets carry with them plenty of baggage because they are viewed as the tool of the lazy teacher giving busy work to students instead of engaging assignments that should require higher order thinking and, possibly, lots of fancy tech tools. However, there are plenty of reasons that worksheets are the perfect tool for the right situation.

There is a tremendous amount of privilege in statements that tell all teachers to ditch their worksheets. That is super easy to say to if you are in a district that has 100% of students with access to devices and Internet so all things can be digital. What about those teachers who teach in high poverty areas where students do not have access? What about rural communities that do not have internet at home on a regular basis? Worksheets to collect students thoughts and ideas are needed in these instances because a digital option is not feasible.

What about teachers that do have students with full access to digital tools? A 1:1 school perhaps. There are still instances where a teacher might need a students to write things out in pen or pencil on a worksheet. As an English teacher, I would have students handwrite things often. Having students working on the writing in class is an important skill. Taking notes in class on worksheets could be a great way to help students study. There is actual science that supports taking notes by hand with pen and paper and not on a laptop. Science will tell you that a worksheet in this instance that guides a students taking notes is better than a Google Form or Document.

I am sure there are plenty of examples of worksheets being used appropriately and used poorly. To sit on Twitter and make blanket statements about all worksheets is simply lazy. If you don't want to help people or engage with teachers asking about worksheets, just leave it alone. Don't engage. However, if you want to position yourself as a leader in educational technology, then be prepared to help many different teachers in many different points in their educational journey.

Let's stop making blanket statements and try to help those on their journey.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Breaking Out Of Silos #EdChat

Last week, I stopped by a Spanish class and the students were throwing a party. It was the party unit I was told and the students organized a party and were learning all of the different words that go along with throwing a party. The students were fully engaged and having a great time as they worked through various Spanish words and phrases to communicate their thoughts.

Later on, I headed down the hall and stopped in a Math class and the students were working on multiplying with percentages. Some students were in groups, others were at the whiteboard, and some were watching videos. Every student was fully engaged as the teacher went student to student to see if they needed any help.

The Social Studies class was studying ancient Rome and the Chinese class was filming their own weather reports using a green screen. The Science class was doing blood type testing and the English students were exploring Greek myths.

I was always supportive of the idea of getting out of the classroom and visiting other teachers. I hated the mandatory framework that had been imposed in my previous job because it felt to evaluative of the teacher. I just wanted to see another teacher in action and see what I could learn. I always walked out of every class feeling like I picked up something that would make me a better teacher. It might be something that impacted my overall class lesson planning or something specific about a shared student and how to interact with them.

As a traditional classroom teacher, I had to make the time in my schedule to visit other teachers during an off hour if I wanted to see my peers teacher. It was not easy, but it was important. I knew that I didn't have it all figured out and there were experts all around me, we were just stuck in our silos. It can be nice to hide there from time to time, but it is no place to live as an educator.

It is so important for administrators and teachers to meet to find a way to support visiting other classrooms and just let teachers see other teachers in action. See how they are running a class and interacting with their students. Yes, observing something changes its behavior, but there are still things that can be learned by visiting other teachers over time. Visiting another class should not be viewed as a one time visit for the school year, but a long term process to support your own growth as an educator.

One of the things I make sure to do is send an email to teachers I visit and thank them for allowing me to visit. I mention a couple of the awesome things I saw and tell them I look forward to the next visit. Sometimes a teacher needs another teacher to point out what is working and it makes all the difference.

We are in this for the long haul and we cannot survive if we all hide in our silos and just hope everything works itself out. Getting out and seeing other teachers is just another way to dedicate yourself to becoming a better educator for yourself and, most importantly, for your students.

Do you have a system that works for you to visit other classrooms? Shoot me a message because I'd love to hear about it. 

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.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Next 10 Words #Next10Words

I had an amazing conversation on Twitter (Click for the thread) about actual change in education and not just cute Twitter quotes. Whenever I see those Twitter cards, I'm always drawn to this clip from the West Wing.

President Bartlet is right. What are the next 10 words? What is the actual plan to make things happen? It will be much more than 10 words and it should be. Real change is nuanced and important ideas need to be discussed. Education is not going to be changed with a cute hashtag and a link to a book. What are the real plans to disrupt education? How are you taking specific actions to make education different and better? As educators engaged in social media, are we doing enough to push back? Are we too polite? Is that why teachers are so easy to push around?

I know I have been guilty of not wanting to start a "thing" on Twitter by pressing certain people for the next 10 words. Heck, there is a very good chance I've been guilty of sharing the first 10 and nobody asked me for the next 10. I try to use my blog as the place for the next 10 + words, but are people devoting the time to explore nuanced issues on blogs anymore? Are teachers too afraid to push themselves and read things they do not agree with because they are afraid to challenge their worldview?

We need the next 10 words right now. I want people to challenge other educators for the next 10 words when you see these passing tweets. If we want to make needed change, we need to embrace the fact that it is going to be hard and that there are going to be disagreements. As long as we can be civil and can push each other to think and grow from these discussions, good things can happen. If we can't do this, we will continue to live in our digital silos listening to the echo of our own ideas and then complaining that nothing ever changes.

I want to encourage people to write a post or share a comment where you want to hear the next 10 words. Better yet, share your next 10 words on an issue. Add the tag #Next10Words and let’s see if people are willing to dive into nuanced conversation to see if we can move forward in our goals to improve education.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Connecting Through Coding #MakerEd

I had the privilege to attend BETT 2018 and I spent my time in the Kano booth connecting with educators and students about using code. It was a tiring, but very exciting time in London and I really gained a nice perspective on what Coding looks like in other countries around the world.

The same.

That is what coding looks like all over. There are teachers that are interested in coding, but are unsure of where to start. There are students that love to Minecraft and work on Scratch. There are expert technology teachers that love to code but have never used Scratch or seen Minecraft in action. It is not like I was expecting things to be so vastly different in other schools around the world, it was just something I never really thought about before.

I've been spending lots of time with 6th graders as they have been building arcade games on Scratch and a fun little interaction took place as I was trying to help a student with their code. I was going through a string of blocks to make a ball bounce and another student walked over and said there was an easier way. He sat down and walked me through the easier way and I learned a couple of things along the way. The student I was trying to help said, "This is so funny. A students is teaching the teacher who is trying to teach me. I love it." I simply responded that we are all lifelong leaners and I will listen to anyone that has something new to teach me. When it comes to code, we can all connect and speak the same language no matter how young, or old we are.

I met some amazing educators from all over and I look forward to connecting with them and seeing how we can engage our students in the process of coding together on teams and creating some very fund and exciting games. I'm not quite ready to tackle this project, but I know it will be something that is going to happen down the line. If you code with other countries, please share it with me and the community on Twitter so we can all check it out.

Here are some pictures of me having a good time in London.

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

Monday, January 22, 2018

Leading Through Empowering #EdChat

This year, I started a new position at a new school. I had been teaching literature for 15 years in the same place, but I was ready to move on and tackle something bigger. You never know what a new job is going to look like, but I couldn't be happier about the decision I made. This is simply the best job for me in the entire world. Now, there are so many different reasons why this job is amazing. I could write about the fantastic teachers working hard every day to engage their students in new and creative ways. I could write about all of the support staff doing their best to help students before and after school to keep them moving in the right direction. I can even spend time writing about the amazing students that are willing to try new things in the Makerspace and fail proudly knowing it is not a big deal. I really want to write about the leadership of my school and how it is an example to others looking for the right way to engage their staff.

Imagine working at a job where the administration is not supportive, vindictive, cruel, and just not sympathetic to a teacher's needs to provide the best educational environment for their students. This is a position that some of you might not have to imagine. One example of a bad admin approach would be the "My way or the highway" approach. It does not work. It does not work when teachers are highly educated professionals that have years of experience teaching some of the top students in the state. Over time, teachers become demoralized and no longer want to be involved in anything if grief is the only reward for speaking out or suggesting alternatives. History shows us that fear will only get people to do what you want for so long before  everyone gives up trying. You can't manage people effectively through fear and intimidation. To get the most out of a staff, respect needs to be the number one feeling teachers feel whenever meeting with administrators. If that is not there, nothing else matters.

In my current position, I've had many different ideas on how to grow the Makerspace, integrate technology into the classroom, engage reluctant learners through code, and other things. Every time I brought up an idea to my administrators, it was always, "Ya, let's explore that" or "Ok, I trust you to make it happen" and even "You're the expert, you decide what is best". For some of you, those words might be confusing because your admin has never said them to you. I totally understand. I was washed over by this feeling of empowerment. I genuinely felt like I could make some changes and make a difference. Instead of worrying about the backlash or the stalling tactics or the bruised egos of people who didn't come up with the idea, I was able to share ideas and get to work because I was a trusted professional that is an expert in my field. It is the best feeling in the world. It was sad that it had been so long since I've felt that excitement and empowerment.

Leadership works through empowering others to be leaders. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and a leader helps other stand out and work on those weaknesses over time. By empowering your staff, you will get so much more out of them in the long term. It is silly to have to write this, but you actually do get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Leadership is about checking the ego and supporting others for the good of everyone. If you are more concerned about your image than the success of the staff around you, you are a terrible administrator. Sorry to be so blunt, but admins that carry themselves around as if they are better than their staff do not understand what real leadership is and are a cancer on any educational institution. Their antics can take years to clean up after they have left because teachers need to feel safe to trust again.

If you are an admin and you are reading this post, I have one simple question for you.

"If you are not empowering teachers to take action to be part of the school's community to make it better for all of the stakeholders, what are you doing as a "leader" of the building?"

If you are not sure how to answer that question, it might be time for you to think of a career change because you are hurting education.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Living a Lie #EdChat

One of the things that haunts me from time to time is this feeling that someone is going to show up and tell me,

"We just realized that you do not know much of anything and your ideas are ridiculous. Anything that you might know can be Googled. Thanks and good luck."

I've talked with other teachers about this feeling. The feeling that you are just not good enough and that you are not making a difference in the life of students or other teachers. The feeling that you have orchestrated the biggest lie on everyone around you. It's feels like I'm Keyser Soze or something. (Only watch if you have seen the movie and, be warned, there is some language.)

Even though I'm surrounded by amazing teachers and admins in my new position, that doubt still sneaks in. When I have that thought, I have two options:

1. Agree with it, quit my job, and do something else.

2. Use it to drive me to improve my practice and share the doubt with others.

I always choose option 2, but I wanted to share more. I was talking with a friend of mine and she expressed exactly what I was feeling. I've been sitting on this post for a while in my draft folder and I decided it was time to write it. If my friend, who I consider one of the finest educators in the entire world, has doubts about their work, others are probably feeling the same way.

I think it is important to be open about our doubts and fears as educators. Find a close friend or mentor and share those feelings. We can all relate. If we can face these fears with friends, we can move to focusing on improving what we do. We can grow and share and support others.

If you are out there doubting your skills as a teacher and are worried that you will be exposed as a fraud, know that you are not alone. You are one of many "frauds" and "fakers" in the world that still get up every day and try to make a difference. Don't be afraid to share your fraudulent feelings with other teachers. We can make it through all of this together.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Year in Making #Make52 Part 2 #MakerEd

2017 has been quite a year in Making for me. The first part of the year had some fun and amazing projects that kept me busy and forced me to learn and grow in different ways. As I continued to think about the idea of Making and what the overall Mentality looks like for me and for a school, I was able to make some fun things and share with my students to show them life long learning. I did not post as mush of my making at the end of the year because I was so busy supporting student making. It was the best reason to fall behind in the posting, but I never fell behind in the making. Here are the shots of my 2nd half of Make 52.

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

These projects have been fun and frustrating at times, but they were things I wanted to do and that drive is what had me learning and growing. It is so important that educators who want students to explore and make take the time to do the same. It is a best practice for any teacher to show students the value of doing what they are teaching whenever possible. In the end, I had way more than 52 projects and I can't wait to see the projects I will invest my time and energy in for 2018.

Have a great year everyone and keep making!

Hugs and High Fives,