Monday, October 8, 2018

Writing IS Making #MakerEd #CSforAll

The more I have spent time sharing Making and Makerspace with people, the more I get to reflect on those conversation and see how others perceive the act of making. I also spend time thinking about my own practices and how I used to teach in my English classes. The one thing that stands out is that writing is an act of making that should be in the same conversation as coding, 3D design, and other forms of creation.

When I work with students and teachers, the focus of making is not learning tools. The focus is on designing to meet the task at hand. The process looks a little like this;

1. Identify the problem or question

2. Generate ideas to address the problem/question

3. Prototype one or multiple of those ideas

4. Evaluate the prototype and have others offer feedback

5. Iterate the prototype or start over with a different concept

6. Repeat steps 3-5 until a final concept is found.

7. Take prototype and turn it into a final product.

8. Share your final product

(Editor's Note: Now, these are not the end all be all steps in the making process. Every person with have their own steps and some mini-steps that fit in here. There are things I might not have written that I take for granted as part of one of these steps. The point I'm trying to get at is that I don't want people to feel that this is a set in stone guideline on how to make.)

These are steps I present to teachers as they plan lessons that involve Project Based Learning and will require students to create an artifact to demonstrate understanding. I also use these steps to support students as they explore creating something that really want. As I started to articulate these steps, I noticed something that connected to my English background. This is the very similar to the writing process.

For writing, I would ask my students to follow this process when writing,

1. What is the question you are being asked to address or the assignment you were given?

2. Generate different ideas to address the topic of this paper or assignment.

3. Put together a rough draft of one of your ideas.

4. Review your rough draft and share with others for their feedback.

5. Make corrections and change the piece based on feedback and observation.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until a final draft emerges.

7. Submit final draft to class.

This writing process can work for a formal essay, a short story, a poem, or any other form of writing. When people talk about STEM only used for Makerspaces, it really bothers me because the Arts belong in a Makerspace. We need to bring all of these pieces together to form STEAM so that all students can feel like the type of making they want to do is valid.

For ELA teachers, I want you to look at this model and see how similar it is to the writing process and I hope you feel more comfortable trying to integrate other forms of making into your classroom. If the students mirror the writing process, they can follow the maker process because they are one in the same.

This one of the ways that The Maker Mentality works across curriculum and can help create a culture that all students and teachers are makers that just use different mediums. So, before you dismiss writing as an act of making, focus on the process and not the tools. I think you will see that making is all around you. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Building Community Through a House System #EdChat

I'm really excited about the Middle School this year. Besides the regular awesomeness that comes with being in Middle School, the Middle School staff is rolling out a housing system this year! For those that are not familiar with the House System, think about the system used in Harry Potter. If you are not familiar with Harry Potter, why are you reading a blog title, "The Nerdy Teacher"?

If you have questions on what a House System is, check out this resource to walk you through it.

While the House System gained fame through the Harry Potter series, HP did not originate the concept. They have been part of the English school system for a very long time and there are schools in the US that have been using a House System as well. The number one reason we wanted to implement a House System was to help build a stronger community.

We have an amazing community at University Liggett School and things run rather smoothly. However, smooth is not good enough. We want a community that transcends grade levels and really brings students together in a shared experience that goes beyond traditional learning. Our house system looks like this;

6 Houses - Each named after a street one of our predecessor buildings was located. (Burns Rules!)

We researched Knightly Traits (We are the Liggett Knights) and found traits that we felt were important for our students to have as they moved through school. These traits were spread out over the houses and an animal was chosen that represents those traits. 

ex. Burns House - Bravery and Strength - Bear

Students were sorted into each house and teachers were sorted as well. Each house has three adults and around 20 students. 

We held a huge sorting ceremony where each student was sorted into their house.

We have a flex period at the end of the day that can be used as needed, so we spread out house meetings during this time so students can work on various house related projects. 

There is a philanthropy aspect that students will work on over the course of the year in their houses. 

There will be house games that involve teachers and students.

Students are working on deciding what their house colors are going to be and will be designing their own House flag as well. They will also create their own representation of their House animal that will be used for t-shirts and other items throughout the year.  

We have games and other events planned all year to get the students excited about this new tradition at University Liggett Middle School. 

At the end of the school year, points will be added up and a House Cup will be awarded. Here is an example of a House Game we played. 

We are excited about this new tradition at our school because it will bring students across the grades in the middle school together to work on common goals. We see this is a great for leadership opportunities for all grade levels and it will bring everyone together in a spirit of community.

If you are in a school that does a House System, please reach out. I'd love to connect and pick your brain. If you do not have a House System, but are interested in starting one for your school, reach out to me and I'm happy to share the work our committee has done to bring this to our school.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Bring Project Pals into the New School Year

Digitized project-based learning transforms the traditional group project into a deeply collaborative, creative experience for students.
I know how challenging it can be to take a step back from your back-to-school preparation to learn a new tool—especially when what you currently use isn’t broken. But then I read yet another article on the popular Lean methodology, and I can’t help but seek tools that will help teachers and students use time more effectively.
Most teachers have group projects listed in the itinerary for the semester. By the time each student has a handle on a topic, their research, and materials, getting students prepared takes the same amount of time as completing the project. I discovered a company that has brought a project management tool, a resource that is popular in the corporate world, into the classroom. I met the team behind Project Pals, a dynamic, all-in-one platform that digitizes project-based-learning (PBL).
Project Pals is perfect for teachers who are both brand new and experienced in online PBL. Coordinating collaborative work is just the beginning of what Project Pals can do for students. Students and teachers can create project assets, import media, and visualize relationships within an interactive and collaborative workspace that is updated in real time. Project Pals integrates with Google Classroom, making creation and collaboration easy for everyone. At the end of a project, students have more than a shareable presentation; they have a gallery of information they can reference for future assignments and exams.

If you’re just getting started with PBL, you’ll definitely want to check out Project Pals’ catalog of pre-made content, as well as the option to create your own project. The catalog houses dozens of projects covering a wide-range of topics—everything from George Washington and the Issue of Slavery to Photosynthesis. Project Pals’ analytics and real-time whiteboard functionality make it a cross-curricular powerhouse. Project Pals allows educators to upload and link all the resources students need at one time and in one place. Getting students on board with the right resources for traditional projects helps them spend less time searching and more time learning.

Another game-changer the company brings to PBL is the ability to assess each student’s contribution. Project Pals’ analytics dashboard provides easy-to-read data on which students are playing large and small roles in each project. Finished work can be shared with parents and added to a digital portfolio that serves as proof of knowledge throughout a student’s academic career.

Bringing PBL to Your Classroom
When preparation time isn’t clouding the experience, students have more autonomy over the level of learning they want to achieve. Educators can create project templates and let students run with whatever topic they are passionate about. Students can store resources in one spot, and showcase their findings using a wide-variety of components available in the platform. In the YouTube video embedded below, you’ll see how Project Pals guides students to researching and writing a biography about anyone they choose.
The template guides students to create an introductory story about the person’s life, timeline, and map out the key events of the person’s life. Digitizing PBL provides an outlet for students to dig deep into their interests.

Support for the PBL Switch
Group projects have been a staple of the classroom experience for decades. Luckily, the Project Pals team understands that going from poster board and cutouts to an online platform can seem like an upheaval. A friendly member of the staff is happy to give interested teachers a free demo to see if the program is a good fit. Project Pals also offers free lesson plans that revolve around topics including digital citizenship and the disappearance of honeybees. For those who want to dive deeper into PBL, you can download The Educator’s Ultimate Guide to Project Based Learning eBook.
Head over to the Project Pals website to sign up for a free account for up to 20 projects and 50 students!

While this is a sponsored post, that doesn't make this any less awesome. Check out Project Pals to get a start on Project Based Learning. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Assessing Making #MakerEd #MakerMentality

The other day, I was doing a webinar for littleBits and I was asked a question I often receive when talking about Makerspaces.

"How do you assess the making that happens in a Makerspace?" This question and slight variations often come up because we are a system that can only understand something if it is assessed. For somethings, I understand the need to assess skills to see improvement. Assessing writing skills and reading skills can help a teacher better support a student in their class. If someone wanted, they could create assessments for soldering, wiring, coding, etc. Every aspect of a Makerspaace could be dissected and assessments can be created. However, that is the antithesis of making.

A Makerspace is another tool that students and teachers can use to accomplish different tasks. Project Based Learning and Makerspaces go so well together because the assessment in PBL is whether or not students demonstrated understanding of the topics assigned. They can do that through so many different parts of a Makerspace. The assessment given by teachers should not be about how well they used an LED or Raspberry Pi, it should focus on how well the students were able to demonstrate understanding.

Badging systems are in place in many spaces and we are looking to expand our badging system this year, but badges are in recognition of student skills, not an assessment. I know this might be semantics, but it is about the mentality of the makers that makes the semantics work. The benchmarks to earn a badge are there for students as they learn different skills. It is not something imposed on them with strict timelines. Students demonstrate their skills when they feel they have mastered them and they receive a badge to recognize that learned skill. No fear of failure or lowering of the GPA. They are learning because they want to learn.

If your focus is on how to assess making in a makerspace, you have lost what it is that makes a makerspace so special. It is supposed to be a place where anyone can come and explore design and creation without the fear of judgement. The minute you start putting assessment around making, you strip it of the purity of learning for learning's sake. With so many things assessed and measured, let's keep the makerspace free of archaic measurements and let people make in peace.

If you want to learn more about creating a specific culture around your makerspace, consider picking up The Maker Mentality to help make that transition happen. If you need to focus on building the space, then Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces is what you need. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hacking And Making Are Best Friends! #MakerEd

One of the things that I love about Making is taking something older and doing something different with it or altering it in some way. I've done this in many different ways over the past few years. One that stands out is turning this old rotary phone into an Airplay device with a Raspberry Pi.

It was a fun projects that really tested my design skills and my soldering skills as well. It was one of my first big projects using Raspberry Pi that was not just recreating something someone else had designed and made.

I was thinking about doing something kind of fun and retro with an old Nintendo cartridge and came up with something pretty fun. I was able to take apart The Adventures of Zelda and place a Raspberry Pi Zero W inside of it.

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

For those interested, here are the steps.

1. Unscrew the back of the cartridge.
2. Remove the hardware on the inside of the cartridge.
3. On the piece that is the back, there is a little plastic lip near the bottom of the cartridge. You need to clip this away so the ports of the Raspberry Pi Zero W will fit.
4. Secure the Raspberry Pi Zero W in place. I used hot glue in the corners. It needs to be secure so it does not shift when you plug into the device.
5. Attach the HDMI mini adapter, a micro USB dongle, and the micro USB power cord. Make sure the cords you are using fit nicely when the lid is placed on. You can easily check this without screwing the cartridge together.
6. Place your micro SD card in the Pi with the image you would like.
7. Screw it all together and you are ready to go.

It was fun taking something from an idea and getting to work on it in my makerspace at home. I encountered some problems and was worried it would not come together, but it all worked out in the end.

These are one of the types of projects I will be encouraging students to explore in the school makerspace. Hacking something to change it in a way that allows it to be used differently is part of the Maker Mentality and it is a wonderful exercise in creative problem solving and design thinking. How have you hacked different projects in your home/school? I'd love to see them and share them around. Tweet me (@TheNerdyTeacher) and use the hashtag #MakerMentality and we can all share in the hacking fun.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

I Love @Airtame in the Makerspace

I was able to setup my new Airtame in the Makerspace today and play around. I can't wait to get students in the space because Airtame is perfect for the design room of our Makerspace.

Part of the renovation of our expanded Makerspace was to have a specific space for design. I wanted to get to dry erase tables and dry erase boards all over the room so students can sketch out ideas and collaborate as needed. I have had a Smartboard 6065 floating around the Middle School filling many different roles. It is an awesome devices that I think would have a perfect role in the design room. The only issue I had is the fact that students would need to constant plug in and unplug their devices to use it. That type of wear and tear can cause issues for any device. I wanted a streaming device that would be easy to manage and allow for students and teachers to quickly connect, share, and disconnect. That is where Airtame comes in.

We are a BYOD school, so it is important to have something that is device neutral. With Chromebooks, iPads, iOS, Windows, and Android coming into the space, I needed something quick and easy for any student to use. There are three steps to follow out of the box to set it up and you are ready to go. I chose a screen shot of our school website as the background, but you could also choose any website you want or any photo you want to be the background of the main page. It is this page that students and teachers will see on the board when they turn it on. They can just go to the app, connect, enter the pin that appears on the screen, and share what they have.

Another aspect of Airtame this is really cool is the web based backend. By creating an account, you can manage your Airtame from anywhere you have access to the internet. If you were to deploy multiple Airtames in your school, you could manage allow of them from the web browser. 

If you want to use your Airtame to run the monitor in the lobby of your school or in the hallway, you can connect with Google Slides and have a presentation just rotate through the slides. Again, this can all be done wirelessly. The administrator can log in and make any changes they want from the website. No freemium hidden costs or upcharges either. Once you buy the Airtame, you have access to all of the features to get your screen doing exactly what you want it to do. 

I'm already looking to purchase a few more for the Middle School and place them in high trafficked areas so I can help manage the different monitors and make sure the right information is being shared on the right monitor. 

As for the Design Space of the Knight's Forge Makerspace, I am excited to see students and teachers quickly log in and share their designs and ideas with their group as they begin the maker process. 

If you are looking for a solid long-term solution to your screen issues, you have to look into Airtame. It is exactly what I needed in my space and I think it will be the perfect solution for your space as well.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Applied Robotics for Middle School from @WonderWorkshop #MakerEd

I've seen my students play with Dash and Dot as well as the Cue from Wonder Workshop over the past school year. They had so much fun working with the Sketch Kit and learning to code to create art. They loved it so much, they featured it on their new YouTube Channel, The Knight's Forge Maker Show.

My son Leo, was a huge fan of the CUE when I introduced it to him a couple of weeks ago. He could not put the iPad down and just loved making the robot move around the kitchen floor. When I asked him what he thought of it, he said, "This is the coolest robot I have ever seen!" That is a pretty awesome endorsement from The Nerdy Teacher's son. At age 7, he was easily able to navigate the Blockly coding and follow the tutorials on the app to test out all of the sensors and move CUE around. Seeing him so engaged and work on his reading skills as he read the prompts was just an awesome sight. 

I have always been a fan of using robotics as a way to connect students with coding. It gives the students something tangible to work with as they code. Seeing a robot move, sense, or say something because you coded it is something amazing. Just having reactions on a monitor based on the code you wrote can become tiresome over time. That is where the CUE takes coding and computer science in general to the next level. An awesome product and an easy to use app was not enough for Wonder Workshop. They have taken it to the next level by introducing a Middle School Applied Robotics Curriculum

There is a myth that teachers need to be computer programmers to bring coding into their classroom. The idea of considering coding as part of your class could be scary if you have never coded before. Wonder Workshop helps take that fear away by creating a curriculum that can be implemented by any teacher with any skill level in coding. 

Another aspect of the curriculum they have created focuses on the Design Thinking Process. This is so awesome because the curriculum is not just about making a robot move around on the floor, it is about the full design process from start to finish to get students thinking about solving problems with creative solutions. Going through the Design Thinking Process for Applied Robotics lessons will help students in all other content areas as well. 

Wonder Workshop Design Thinking Poster

Unit 1, which is available right now, is about Creative Writing! The ELA teacher in me freaked out when I saw this. Yes, robotics can have a home in the ELA classroom! What a wonderful way to engage students in the writing process. I would have lost my mind if I was able to code robots in my English class growing up. I would have spent hours writing the best story in the world to have my robots do what I wanted. The first unit connects with Geometry and helps students connect with the basics of coding in Blockly and Javascript. It is a wonderful way to introduce the idea of robotics and what coding is capable of doing with a robot.

The full curriculum guide has a rubric, guided lessons, worksheets (Not the busy work kind, the type that allows students to brainstorm, create, iterate, etc), glossary, and everything a teacher would need to implement this into their classroom. I think another part that is worth noting is that the curriculum does not have to be plugged in all at once right away. It can be slid in gradually as your schedule allows. 

Not to rest on their awesome creation, Unit 2 Game Design is coming out in October and Unit 3 Innovation is due out in December. This spacing is perfect for the teachers looking to implement these units in the classroom, but need the time to do it as they become more familiar with coding themselves. 

If you have been on the fence on whether or not invest in a Cue or Dash and Dot for your classroom, I hope you seriously look at the Applied Robotics Curriculum created by Wonder Workshop as a way to engage students and help them learn about the Design Thinking Process. I know this will have a spot in our school this coming school year. 

New Episodes of The Maker Mentality Podcast! #MakerEd #EdChat

Hello Makers! There 8 brand new episodes of the Maker Mentality Podcast available right now!

I've been thinking about starting a new podcast for quite some time. I had fun with my NerdyCast and people asked if there was a chance for a new episode down the line. I thought I would try something new and have a Maker focused show that allows other great MakerEd folks share some tips, tricks, and tools on MakerEd! I'm using Anchor to house all of my episodes, but you can find all of them on other podcasting platforms as well. Here is a list,

Google Podcasts
Pocket Casts

I will be recording and posting based on the availability of my guests. I like this format because it allows people to binge listen if they want. I also promise to keep episodes in the 15-20 minute range. That is tough for me because I like to hear people share awesome things, but I want to make these podcasts episodes be digestible for the average listener. Here is an embedded widget that has the most recent episode, so feel free to listen right here if you want.

If you have ideas for guests or topics, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter or by leaving a comment below. Thanks for all of your support and I can't wait to hear all of the amazing things Makers are going to share on the podcast!

Hugs and high fives, 


Monday, August 20, 2018

What would your letter say? #EdChat

I took some time to reflect on my first few years of teaching and was thinking about the advice I would give myself. Here is the letter I would write to First Year Nick.

Hello Nick,

You do not realize it now, but you are in a for a world class butt-kicking. I'm sorry that sounds so violent, but you are about to feel a level of exhaustion that you did not think would be possible after your first day on the job. Take heart though, you will survive and continue in this great profession 16 years and counting. I wanted to give you a heads up on somethings I did not learn until years later. Some of these might seem like "no-brainers", but you are a first year teacher. You don't know anything.

1. I understand that you spent years in college getting a degree and you are an official, state sanctioned teacher, but you do not know very much about teaching. Here's the thing, that is ok. You are new to the job. It's ok not to know it all and to let people know that you don't know it all. You just have to be open to learning from people that have been around much longer than you.

2. For goodness sake, use your mentor! I know he is a bit loud and seems like he knows everything, but that is because he has been teaching and being awesome at it for a while. Shut up and just listen. He knows things you will not figure out until 5 or 6 years go by. Don't waste the opportunity.

3. The textbook is not the Bible. The stories students need to read are in the textbook, but the questions at the end of the story are not required. Take some time and think of different ways to engage students in the reading.

4. Give the kid a damn pencil and don't make a big deal out of it.

5. Just stop it with the 50 question multiple choice tests. Ask yourself one simple question, "What are you trying to assess?" That needs to be the driving point of your lessons at the end.

6. Be you. The more you that you are, the more comfortable you will be in class and the more comfortable the students will feel.

7. Remember that the students have more than just your class going on in their life. They have lives that are very different than yours and sometimes they just need someone to tell them they understand. Listen more and talk less.

8. Take care of yourself. You need to worry about self care. You are going to carry the emotional baggage of teaching for a very ling time. It add up. You need to make sure there is time for you in your life that allows you to unplug from the school day and relax. It sounds weird, but you will like to garden. Start that soon. It will make you smile.

9. If you know it is busy work, why the heck are you assigning it?

10. Apologize when you are wrong. Your students will appreciate it and respect you for it.

There is so much more I could tell you, but there are some things that you need to experience, try, and fail to get the most out of it.

What would you write to yourself?