Monday, June 18, 2018

Where is @TheNerdyTeacher at #ISTE18?

I thought it might be cool to use Adobe Spark to create a list of my sessions, playgrounds, and other things I will be doing at ISTE for those that might want to stop and connect during the conference. Take a look and reach out if you want to chat!

Where is The Nerdy Teacher?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Codey Rocky in the Makerspace

I've been using Makeblock since I picked up the mBot a couple of years ago. It was such a fun robot to build. This is why I was excited to hear that Makeblock had launched a Kickstarter for their next robot, the Codey Rocky.

It is very easy to be skeptical of the videos posted by companies showing all of the amazing things their product can do, but I can tell you that Makeblock is not exaggerating what the Codey Rocky can do. Here are some of the standouts from using it in the Makerspace at school and seeing students interact with it out of the box. 

The mBlock 5 is their software that is based on Scratch and can interact with Scratch made programs. Block based coding has become the standard for entry level coding for beginners and it is nice to see Makeblock continue that trend. The cool part is that you can switch to Python coding with the click of a button. I love this option because it is perfect for instruction as students move away from block coding and gain experience using text based coding.

I was able to quickly download the software on my Mac and start dropping the code in with the blocks. The code is quickly uploaded to the Codey Rocky through the USB connection so you can see what you coded right away. I did a quick blinking code to get eyes opening and closing and it worked great! You can have the Codey Rocky move and use the sensors on the code and all you need to do is code, upload, and get started. Using the buttons on the Codey Rocky is the easiest way to test the code you have written and then move on to the sensors once you have a strong understanding of how the code works as written. 

Makebklock also provides 16 lessons for students and teachers to explore to help guide them on their journey exploring the Codey Rocky. The lessons run the full range of sensors that the Codey Rocky has and really gives the user a full experience of what the device can do. 

I mentioned the sensors above and they are sweet. Of the 10 sensors, the sound sensor, light sensor, and IR color sensor were the most fun to play with for the students. All of these sensors are accessible through their app that is available on all mobile and desktop platforms. 

The thing that stands out to me about the Codey Rocky that makes it a great addition to a Makerspace is that it allows students to be creators, not just consumers. They can write the code and direct the Codey Rocky to do what they want. As they become more comfortable adding sensors and working with Python, I can see students in the Middle School transitioning to Raspberry Pi and starting to build their own robots and use sensors with those creations. 

I highly recommend that parents and teachers give the Codey Rocky a look over when they are considering great tools to help student learn and create with code and hardware. I'm excited to see what my students have in store for the Codey Rocky next year when they have more time to create.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Students Share The @WonderWorkshop Cue and Sketch Kit

Good morning everyone! Today I am sharing the last video of the school year from the Knight's Forge Maker Show. The students spend a few weeks learning how to code and draw with the Wonder Workshop Sketch Kit and the Cue robot. I had so much fun watching them problem solve the code and trying to get the Cue to drive and use the markers to make objects. Here are just a few shots I shared on Instagram.

The students worked very hard on understanding how the Cue works with the Sketch kit and figured out how the Cue was able to move the pen up and down. The spent extra time on the video and this is really well done.

It has been awesome to watch them grow over the past few months as they have explored the different tools that are available in the Knight's Forge Makerspace. They have started talking about a mentor program for incoming 5th graders to help students interested in joining the team next year. I'm very proud of all of the hard work they have put in and can't wait to see what they come up with for the next school year.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Legends of Learning Brings Game-Based Learning to Students

In my younger days, I really struggled with Math. I remember having a Summer tutor one year to help me with my Math skills. It was awful. Taking away my Summer to work with a stranger to do Math was brutal. However, the one thing that did get me excited to learn Math was a computer game called Math Blaster. I was able to play a game, have fun, and work on my Math skills. I remember playing that game, as well as Where in the World is Carmen Santiago, four hours and hours growing up. Legends of Learning is an amazing website that has many different different games to support STEM and the way it uses gamification to engage learners reminds me of my days playing games and learning Math.

Legends of Learning is a free to join website that gives teachers access to a wide variety of games for students to play. Teachers can choose the games students should play, share the invite code, and then they can track their progress is real time! Each game allows for the teacher to choose how long they want the students to take complete the game and allows for teacher to stop or pause the game at any time. Here are a few shots of the a game and the teacher dashboard.

This was a fun middle school game about the phases of the moon. I had it out after school and a student asked if they could try it out. They had a blast navigating a ship around and answer questions.

Here is where the teacher can decide how long they want the game to run with students and then invite them to the game.

Here is a screenshot of the real-time view of students playing the game. It shows the student's names and where they are in the game. It was great watching the progress of the students and it allowed me to see which students had more difficulty with the content. Without a doubt, my favorite game is Eco Kingdoms. You are in charge of a park and you make decisions that impact the attendance, wildlife, plant life, and your overall budget. My longest attempt had the park running for 31 months until I ran out of money protecting beavers who built a damn. The game was very addicting and I put in over 20 minutes playing.

Gamifying education is not something that is brand new to the edtech space, but it is constantly evolving and I love where Legends of Learning has taken gamification. A wide variety of games for all levels makes this a wonderful tool to add to a classroom. Whether for review or an introduction to a new topic, Legends of Learning is an awesome website that is perfectly designed to support teacher instruction and student learning.

Overall, I really like Legends of Learning and will be working with my Science teachers to weave it into their classrooms. I highly suggest you take the time to sign up and see how Legends of Learning can be part of your classroom.

This is a sponsored post, but that doesn't mean I don't believe that gamification is a great way to engage students. League of Legends is awesome whether this was a sponsored post or not. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

The need to be "pushy" in education #EdChat

I was having a conversation with my friend and colleague Mike Medvinsky. We were talking about how important it is for teachers to expand their thinking and I said something like, "I get so annoyed when you push my thinking." Mike is my friend for a number of years and there is some humor in that statement because few people actively explore outside their comfort zone and push their own thinking. I know I do not do it enough. I think lots of people are open to new ideas, but do not necessarily search out ideas the push up against their current beliefs. Mike is great at challenging why I believe what I believe and it forces me to explore why I do believe it so I can articulate it back to him. I don't always change what I'm thinking, but I always have a better understanding of my side and his side.

There are things I believe in and push others about, but there are some things that I'm still old school about and I know that I need people to push me on my beliefs. My friend Starr Sackstein is great example of this. She has pushed me to explore my ideas on grading and what it should look like. I respect her as a teacher and a friend, but "no grades" was just not something I was going to buy into. However, her pushing forced me to stop and think about my position and try and articulate why I believed what I believed. That alone is so important because we should always self-assess our beliefs in education. Why do we do what we do? If the answer is, "because we have always done it that way", then there is a huge problem.

On Twitter, it is important that everyone has a chance to share their ideas and push back against those ideas that do not understand or are not a best practice. Challenging an idea is not the same as challenging a person. There is a distinction between the two, but many attach who they are to ideas, so they can't separate them. I'm an advocate for Project Based Learning and Makerspaces. There are people that do not think my views of both of those ideals are good for students or teachers. That's cool. I support things that work for me and my students and others are welcome to push my thinking and ask questions. I always felt it was part of my job as an educator to teach students to push their thinking and feel comfortable to respectfully challenge what is being shared. There is not harm in asking someone, "why" or, "can you go a little bit deeper into your reasoning".

How do we expect students and adults to challenge misinformation online if we are not comfortable challenging information that is being shared. We all should be able to push more more information. If you are on Twitter to just share one-liners without any substance, that's cute and people will surely give a like or an RT, but deeper conversations are better when there is an opportunity for deeper discussion, reflection, and growth. Maybe Twitter is just not the place for these things.

Being challenged on your thinking can be tough and might feel personal, bit if we are to grow as educators, we need to be able to explain are practices and help others understand why we do what we do. You don't have to change your position when discussing with others, but by at least listening and articulating your position, you can come out with a better understanding of what the other side is thinking. This, of course, should not be contained to educational conversations. This is an approach all people need to take when it comes to having a better understanding of other people and what they believe.

Thanks to all of my friend and strangers that push my thinking, make me uncomfortable, and help me grow as an educator.

Hugs and High Fives,


Simplifying the Shift to Project-Based Learning

If you’re just getting started with project-based learning (PBL), the logistics can feel overwhelming. Where do you find the right resources? How do you facilitate collaboration among students? How do you give students feedback along the way?

Over 10 years ago, I started to explore Project based Learning in my classroom and it was a tough go at the start. I wasn't sure if what I was doing was correct and I did not have many resources or tools available to me online. Google Tools were not available to me or my students, so trying to make everything accessible and sharable was a huge mountain to climb. I look at the edtech landscape today and I see so many great tools out there that make Project Based Learning so much more accessible to teachers and really lower the bar for entry. 
Organizing Resources
Teachers who are brand-new to PBL, as well as those who have experience using PBL in the classroom, should take a look at Project Pals. This online collaboration platform offers a catalog’s worth of cross-curricular content that’s ready to use right away. Teachers can add their own materials, too. It’s teacher-friendly by integrating with Google Classroom, and allows teachers to keep all their project materials in one place. From there, resources and entire projects can be shared among teachers and students.
Facilitating Collaboration and Feedback
Project Pals gives students one centralized place to collaborate with their peers. The collaborative workspace is updated in real time, so students can participate in problem-solving activities either in class or from home.
Meanwhile, teachers can access student work and provide ongoing feedback. The platform allows teachers to guide students throughout the process to make sure they’re learning the lessons of each project, and to analyze how much each student is contributing to the project.
The interactive lesson plan function allows teachers to ease their students into each topic. They can start their investigative journey by asking comprehensive questions, and then breaking down the problems into separate components. This allows students and teachers to stay organized and focused on problem-solving.
In the video below, you can take a tour of the platform to get an idea of all of the resources ready for teachers and students. It shows how to navigate Project Pals, and what it looks like when you sign up and dive into this student-friendly space. You can find a few lesson examples here.
If you want to take Project Pals for a test drive, teachers can use the platform for free for up to 20 projects and 50 students by signing up here.

This is a sponsored post, but that doesn't mean I don't believe that Project Based Learning is awesome and tools to help teachers embrace it are important and worth exploring. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Knight's Forge Maker Show featuring @3Doodler

Students have published a new video on their YouTube channel, The Knight's Forge Maker Show. These students spent time with the 3Doodler pens for a couple of week and share their thoughts on using them in the makerspace.

From the teacher's perspective, I really like these pens and the entire Edu kit. It comes with example projects and lessons for teachers to explore with their students. A 3D pen can seem a bit crazy to use at first because it does not seem like an easy tool to use. However, my 6th graders were able to pick up the pens, load the filament, and get creating in no time. How easy a tool is to use out of the box is a big deal to me when it comes to finding the right tools for the makerspace and the 3Doodler was super easy for the students to use.

One of the ways that a 3Doodler can be used that the students did not touch on is to fix 3D printed objects that might have broken. Think of it as PLA solder for 3D printed objects. It is a fun lifehack for a makerspace. Check out the 3Doodler site for more examples of projects and the different start packs you might want to explore for your space or home. 

Making With Purpose #MakerEd

Last week, I published a post on Maker Fatigue. I felt like I was in the spot where I couldn't think of anything to make. It was frustrating because I have spent so much time working with students and their projects, I had the motivation /want to Make, but no ideas.

As I reflected more on the feelings, I decided to take the time and clean up my workspace at home. My space has been dormant the past few months because I have been so busy at school and it looked a bit sad. Cleaning up the space was very helpful because a my organized space can sometimes help me see things more clearly. Is that weird?

During the cleaning, I came across a mini thermal printer I bought over a year ago for a long forgotten project. All of a sudden, something just clicked in my brain. I should make a Raspberry Pi powered camera that prints the pictures on the thermal paper. I got all excited and started researching how this would be possible. Not surprisingly, there were some great examples out there already and they will be perfect to help guide my creation. I had a purpose and I was ready to get started. When it comes to Making in school, are we giving students a sense of purpose with their making?

When students are given a chance to make, are they just thrown in a space and told to make something? That would be frustrating for someone who just doesn't have a sense of purpose for their creation. You spin your wheels and get frustrated because you want to make something, but nothing seems to drive you. How much time is given to students to find a purpose or how much time is spent helping students explore what that means? I felt this way about coding as well. Just sitting and writing lines of code for a game is not going to truly inspire someone to become a coder. Learning to code to make a project that you want is purpose driven learning. When I coded my first lines of code, it is because I wanted to make that LED turn on when I pressed a button. I knew if I learned that, I could make a button do whatever I want. That was my purpose, my drive.

As I think about our makerspace next year, I need to make sure that there is something in place to help students with finding purpose in their making. It could be as simple as wanting to make something beautiful with paints to want to code their first robot. Not matter what the purpose is, as teachers, we need to make sure we help the students find it or recognize it as a driving force in their making.

I'm not sure what my thermal printer/Pi creation is going to look like,  but I'm excited to see what I will learn along the way, and that is my purpose.

(Editor's Note: If you are reading this and are thinking of the movie, The Jerk, you are not alone.)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Maker Fatigue? #MakerEd

This has been an amazing year for me as a Maker Educator. I've worked with students and staff to create a new makerspace at my new job and have worked hard on plans to expand the space three fold next year. Project Based Learning and Making have taken hold in some classes and expanded in others. I have had the joy of working with so many different students and teachers on creating amazing projects and lessons to showcase understanding and engage students. I sit at home on this holiday weekend proud of what I have accomplished, but exhausted.

I was hoping to dive into some making this weekend. I have tossed around some ideas, but nothing seems to be sticking for me. I look around my workroom and all of my tools lay dormant, almost mocking me. I have been so hyper focused on helping everyone at school, I feel like I have lost the creative oomph that I have that sparks my maker impulses. Is it possible to have Maker Fatigue?

I'm not tired of making, I feel like I'm missing the creative flicker that drives my creating. Is it possible I am dealing with more of a Maker's Block and not a Maker Fatigue? I want to dive into some fun Raspberry Pi project and there are some sweet projects on Adafruit right now, but I can't seem to find the drive to do them.

I can see this a huge metaphor for student engagement. If I don't WANT to make something, I do not have the drive or passion to do so. The same is true for students. The ones I have worked with that were excited about their projects were in the space all the time and could not wait to iterate the next version. Those that were just completing a project had a hard time following through on their work or always placed it on the back burner. Maybe the same is true for me?

I wonder how many makers our there have dealt with this type of fatigue or block? Is this something you are not supposed to admit? Does this make me a "bad" or "flawed" maker? I'm not sure of the answers to this, but it can be frustrating to want to make, but don't seem to have anything that appeals to you.

If you have been here, I'd love to hear how you dealt with this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The #KnightsForge Maker Show Checks Out @MakeDo #MakerEd

Students from the Knight's Forge Maker Show explored Makedo and how it can be used to create amazing things with cardboard. Check out their latest video on Makedo in the Makerspace.

I'm a huge fan of Makedo and think it is perfect for any classroom and makerspace. Cardboard is all around us and duct tape can be so expensive and wasteful. Makedo's reusable screws make it possible for students to prototype and then reuse the screws as needed. The full toolkit is phenomenal and in constant use in the space. Students can use the cardboard saws to trim their pieces to the size they need and then just use the screwdriver to connect the cardboard pieces with the screws. The 6th graders think they are perfect for their cardboard fort and are planning some large construction down the line. If you want your own set, check out Demco for all of the different packages from Makedo.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The #KnightsForge Maker Show Shows of SAM Labs

The third episode of the Knight's Forge Maker Show is up. In this episode, Gabby shares her thoughts on building a car with the SAM Labs Alpha Kit we have in the Knight's Forge.

From my perspective, I love having the SAM Labs Kits in the space because it gives students a chance to connect their creations and control them from their device in a very easy process. Each part of the SAM Labs Kit needs to be charged, so it is important that they get a full charge every few days because kids enjoy using them and I'd hate to have drained parts of the kit. The pieces are easy to connect and the design is simple to build things around. A simple square is easy to work around if building a cardboard housing or designing something on the 3D printer.

Check out the video and please feel free to share, comment, and follow to support the students as they explore the Makerspace and build fun things.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Playful Ways to Help Students Transition from Tablets to Laptops

Today’s students grow up with smartphones and tablets in their hands. By the time they get to school, they’re comfortable using these devices on a daily basis, so it makes sense to meet them where they are and use touchscreen computers in the classroom, too. In a blog post called 10 Benefits of Tablets in the Classroom, Scott Winstead celebrates the advantages of tablets, but also points out some of their limitations, especially for older elementary school students.

As he writes: “Tablets do not support multitasking, so several files or windows might be a challenge to lesson integrity….Not to mention the trivial fact that tablets run on batteries, and batteries tend to run out of charge at the least appropriate moment.” He also mentions the non-trivial fact that tablets can be more expensive than Chromebooks.

To give their students the best of both worlds, many schools provide tablets for their youngest learners and Chromebooks for the older ones. This progression of devices is logical: many states require older elementary-age students to use devices with keyboards for assessments. Also, according to at least a couple of studies, when used properly, laptops can have a positive effect on students’ attention and learning.

Making the Leap to the Laptop

The tricky part is the transition from one device to another. Using a finger to touch an icon is very different than typing on a full-sized keyboard.  It was crazy watching Leo encounter a full computer for the first time because he just assumed the screen was a touchscreen. He looked at the keyboard as if he recognized it from the iPad, but thought it was weird that it just wasn’t on the computer. I started working with him on using a mouse and keyboard in Kindergarten because the state tests he had to take are online and he needed to be comfortable navigating a computer using a mouse and keyboard. I can be annoyed all I want that students in Kindergarten are taking these tests, but I still need to prepare him so he doesn’t get frustrated and anxious about the test. It is not a tough task to start exposing young children to typing. It can actually be fun AND educational.

One way to help kids make the leap is to have them use their touchscreen skills to gradually learn the layout of the keyboard. Games like the ones from TypeTastic, which can be played with a mouse or with a single finger, teach kids as young as kindergarten to recognize letters and remember their positions on the keyboard. With a cast of characters that features brightly colored frogs and bugs and cupcakes, games like these fall firmly into the category of “teaching through fun.”

Moving from one device to another can be a challenge for both students and teachers, but with a little playful planning, it can go smoothly.

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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

ELA + PBL + Makerspace = Awesomeness!

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to cover a 7th grade English class for the week and I was allowed to do any mini unit I wanted. I decided I would dive into symbolism using one of my favorite short stories, "The Yellow Wallpaper". It is a wonderful gothic story that symbolizes the oppression of women in society in the early 1900s. It is a short enough story that it can be read or listened to in a single class period and the next couple of days can be used to dive into the details that make it a powerful story.

As a class, we read the story, discussed theme, and annotated looking for symbolism. All of the traditional aspects of an English Language Arts class was there, but instead of a multiple choice test at the end, students used time in the Makerspace and at home to create something to share with the class. These artifacts are tangible representations of their understanding of the material. As a teacher, that is what I'm looking for in any unit I present to students. Here are some of the student examples that have been submitted.

Here is a bed designed by a student, cut out of baltic birch on the laser cutter, and the student used their sewing skills to create the mattress, blanket, and the pillows. 

A perfectly measured house cut out of baltic birch and assembled using hot glue. The little "Life" character is the lady from the story. 

The bars were designed and then cut from baltic birch using the laser cutter to create prison bars. The yellow hands represent the narrator trying to break free from her room and society. 

A board game designed and etched on baltic birch using the laser cutter shows the complex path the narrator would have to achieve freedom. 

The scene of freedom within sight, but unattainable due to the bars of society. 

A depiction of the narrator in a dress that resembles the wallpaper she hates so much shows that she is becoming something she hates. 

These are just a few of the examples that students have submitted and there will be more in the coming days. The students all wrote a brief 8 sentence paragraph explaining their artifact and how it was connected to the story. The students really enjoyed the freedom to explore and create something different. The teacher I was covering for really liked the lesson and artifacts created by the students and we are going to collaborate on some fun lessons in the future.

Overall, this lesson shows what is possible for students in ELA classes if given the chance to explore project based learning with the support of a maakerspace. Some students chose to create with the laser cutter and others took colored pencil to paper. The projects were meaningful to the students and demonstrated their understanding of the story and what it meant in the big picture by deciphering symbols and connecting them to the theme. As an ELA teacher, what more could you want?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Are You Grading Understanding or Artistic Ability? #PBL

Last week, I was teaching a 7th grade Language Arts Class. I was covering for a teacher gone on the 6th grade camping trip, so I was given the freedom to do whatever I wanted with the students. I took this as an opportunity to introduce the students to different tools of the makerspace after reading and discussing one of my favorite short stories, "The Yellow Wallpaper".

The purpose of the project was to create an artifact that they viewed as an important symbol found in the story. They would then write one paragraph describing the importance of the symbol to the story as a whole. I told students the could draw or design whatever they wanted. I could see some students' faces at the thought of having to design something, then I told them the one thing that changed everything for them, "You are not being graded on your artistic ability. Only on your ability to convey the symbol to the best of your ability through the creation of the artifact and the paragraph explaining it." Faces brightened up when I said this and they hurried away to start thinking of designs. I wasn't always like this, my rubrics used to grade artistic talent more than the understanding of content. 

I can look back now and see how rubrics I had created that inflated the value of "neatness" or "drawing images to match the poem" and other art based guidelines really students in terms of grades and motivation. If you viewed yourself as a "terrible drawer" would you get excited for a project that required you to draw? It wasn't until I took the time to review all of my lessons and assessments and asked a simple question, "What is it I want to know from the student?"

That question is the guiding force behind the assessment. If I want to know if they understand what the power behind the symbol of the bed in the story, should I care about the fact that the bed looks uneven and disproportionate? Should it matter that the colors clash? Should I mark them down for ever so slightly coloring outside the lines? Or do I focus on the fact that she was able to identify the symbol, talk about, and write about? Too many times, I gave students more of an art assignment than a Literature assignment. That hurt students and I feel terrible about it. 

As a way to improve my practice, I moved away from the projects that detailed every aspect the students needed to create (The Recipe Project), and allowed students to explore projects that were meaningful to them and would still allow me to assess what I needed for that lesson. 

Do not be swayed by the glitter glue. Assessments need to be about understanding, not flair. 

Here is an example of the bed a student designed for their project. They will be creating the rest of the best this week.