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?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Maker Mentality Podcast #MakerEd #MakerMentality

Hello Makers!

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
Spotify
Breaker
Pocket Casts
RadioPublic
Stitcher

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, 

Nick

Exploring the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset

I’ve been very lucky to partner with Acer Education to explore the possibilities of the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset in the classroom. Personally, I wanted to take a look at this tool from the perspective of the Makerspace. How can the headset help students create and learn? Here’s what I think after exploring the Acer WMR Headset and Windows 10 for the past three weeks.

Setup:

It’s important that you have a device that can run WMR. I’m using an Acer Aspire 7, which handles all the games and apps I’ve thrown at it with ease. The Aspire 7 is an incredible gaming laptop that is perfect for the headset. If you need a device, this is the one you need to get. You can find out more about the Acer Aspire 7 here. If you’re interested in the specs for the Acer WMR Headset, you can find them here. Next, make sure you have the latest, updated version of Windows 10. The headset will not work with an older version. Once you have updated everything, all you need to do is plug in the HDMI cord and the USB cord, and the app will open on the computer. Follow the directions, and you’ll be up and (virtually) running in a matter of minutes.

The Acer WMR Headset does not require an exterior camera to be set up around the room. It uses the headset and the computer to locate where you are in the physical world so it can communicate your location to the digital world. Two controllers fit nicely in your hands and allow you to control the virtual world with ease. They both require two AA batteries. I think I’ll be buying some rechargeable batteries to keep up with the controllers and headset. I could see going through lots of batteries with how awesome this headset is for students.

Use:

You start in a virtual lobby that gives you access to the Windows 10 Store. You can buy games, apps, videos, and all types of media. I was able to click a couple of times and download Minecraft easily. It’s a bigger file, so it took around 10 minutes to download. Once it does, you are ready for the world of Minecraft VR.

This is the regular version of Minecraft, not the Education Edition. However, there’s an option to turn on the Education tools in the settings, so you can do cool chemistry experiments. Here are just a few of the pictures I took while wearing the headset and some of my son having his mind blown by being able to build in Minecraft in VR.


I was able to explore some other apps as well: Galaxy Explorer and HoloTour.

Galaxy Explorer allows you to zoom through the galaxy and check out planets and other celestial bodies. It’s an awesome free app that gives you just a taste of what’s possible with the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset. HoloTour lets you take a tour of Rome and Machu Picchu. You can explore ancient ruins and learn about culture and life in ancient times. This app gives you a deep immersive experience, with people walking around you as the tour guide explains the buildings and structures you see. You feel like you’re there. I recommend using earbuds with the headset because they allow you to go one step deeper into the realm of VR.

I really wanted to test the limits of the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset, so I decided to buy Skyrim and see what the computer and headset could do with a heavy-load game. For those who aren’t familiar, Skyrim is one of the biggest video game titles of the past decade, and it has won numerous awards. You are an adventurer who sets out to save the world from a dragon threat. There are monsters and elves, ogres, trolls, and so much more. It’s a truly amazing game. Passing the Skyrim test is no easy task, so I was curious how the headset would hold up.

It was incredible! The sound and visuals came through wonderfully on the headset. I was able to move without any stalling of the computer. No choppy movements or game freezes. The game ran as smoothly as it does on my PlayStation. I was walking around, swinging a sword, and casting spells with my hands. It was a crazy experience to have in VR, and one that was simply mind-blowing. Here is an image I was able to snag while playing.




Overall, I can see the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset as a nice addition to my Makerspace for many reasons.

  • It’s not just a consumption device. The Acer WMR Headset allows users to create as well as consume content. Minecraft alone is enough to warrant a device if you’re looking for a way to immerse students fully in the world they are building. The VR arts apps are really great as well. The more artistic students could spend some time with the set creating stunning masterpieces.
  • It’s so easy to set up and use. For teachers and students with different technology skill levels, the Acer WMR Headset is super simple. Plug it in, put it on, and follow the onscreen directions. It’s nice to have a tool that’s simple for both students and teachers.
  • Standing, sitting, or moving—it doesn’t matter. The headset will let you sit and be in the VR world, or you can set up a perimeter that allows you to physically explore the space in the virtual realm.
  • The headset can handle the power of a labor-intensive game. The computer is doing the heavy lifting, but the headset needs to keep up with the graphics and sound as well, and the Acer WMR Headset does it perfectly. I have spent hours playing Skyrim and Minecraft, and I have yet to have a single issue.

These are just a few of the reasons I am in love with the Acer WMR Headset. As I continue to look for ways to make my Makerspace diverse for all learners, this addition is sure to allow students and teachers to take their learning to the next level. I think this image of me using the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset says it all.




Before I go, I want to share an awesome contest that is possible because of a partnership between Acer and Microsoft Education: the STEAM Lab Makeover giveaway. The grand-prize-winning school will receive 10 Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headsets, in addition to 10 Acer Aspire 7 laptop computers. To enter the contest, all you need to do is tweet @AcerEducation and tag #AcerGivesBack with your reason why your school deserves to win. That’s it. It’s super easy! The terms and conditions can be found here.



While this post is in partnership with Acer and they provided the Acer WMR Headset, that doesn’t mean I did not absolutely love the headset and think it will blow the minds of students in the Makerspace.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Transcendentalists and the Maker Mentality #EdChat #EngChat

One of my favorite parts of teaching American Literature was the Transcendentalism unit. American Literature was taken by Sophomores and I thought the this unit was perfectly placed to help these budding adults figure out the world around them. For those unaware of the Transcendental movement, it was a philosophical movement in that started in the 1830s that focused on the value of the individual and the power of imagination and creativity. They were opposed slavery and supported women's suffrage. They were a progressive group of thinkers for the time. These transcendentalists included Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Margret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau. These are some of the most well known and accomplished writers in American Literature and they all were strong believers in the Transcendental ideal. 

As the next school year draws near, I'm always drawn to these authors and some of their most famous lines. The more I read their work, the more I see the connections to the Maker Mentality. Transcendentalists believed in all of the tenets of what I think makes up the Maker Mentality. 



Being inclusive, an artist, a dreamer, a hacker, a storyteller, fearless, passionate, and true are all elements of transcendental beliefs and they also come together to form the foundation of the Maker Mentality. Here are some quotes that connect to the Maker Mentality,

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candle in it." - Margret Fuller

One of my favorite parts of the Maker Community is the willingness to support one another. Makers need to be inclusive group that welcomes everyone and supports them as they go on their making journey. The Maker Mentality supports inclusivity because we grow as learners when we surround ourselves with diverse ideas. 

"Very early, I knew the only object in life was to grow." - Margret Fuller

Such wise words from Margret Fuller here. Quite simply, we are destined to grow and we need to support that in our life. The Maker Mentality is about learning and understanding. Trying new things, failing, and then trying something again. Everyone has to be open to learning new things and growing as people to truly get the most out of life. 

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." and "Imitation is suicide." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the tenets of the Maker Mentality that matches up perfectly with Transcendentalism is the idea of being true to yourself. As makers, it is so important that who you are shines through your creations. Spending time trying to be someone you are not will reveal itself in the work. We are all someone special with amazing ideas. If we are not ourselves, we are killing ourselves. Be who you are and the world will be a better place. 

"To be great is to be misunderstood." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love this quote because it speaks true throughout history. Some of the most important achievements in human history were done by those who were told their ideas were wrong or impossible. These visionaries could have given up and stayed in line, but they chose to be different. It is so important to be fearless when told things are wrong because being misunderstood puts you in great company of some of the most amazing makers of all time. Their belief in the tenets of the Maker Mentality led them to achieve wondrous things. 

"All good things are wild, and free." - Henry David Thoreau

There is such tremendous value in the free spirit in the Maker Mentality. We need to create spaces where students and teachers feel comfortable being uninhibited to create whatever their heart desires. A makerspace needs to be the spot in a school that allows for all learners to create freely and express who they are. 

"The world is but a canvas to our imagination." - Henry David Thoreau 

I just love these words and I have a feeling they may end up on a wall in our new and expanded makerspace. The Maker Mentality is about expanding the thinking of everyone. It encourages everyone to see the world in a way that allows them to see the creative genius all people have inside. The world is our canvas and we have the ability to create whatever we want to address the world in ways that are meaningful to use. 

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." - Henry David Thoreau 

I will end with quote because it is the bit of advice I want to give to all of the teachers out there getting ready to go back to school or are just starting this week. We have the amazing opportunity to live our dreams in our classroom and help students find their dreams. We want all of the students to be able to live the life they have imagined. It is not easy for everyone and it might take more work on our part to support different students, but we can do it. This is not just follow your dreams, it is "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams." Be proud of who you are and what you know. Use that confidence to create a space in your school that allows all students to feel welcome and safe. Safe to express who they are, try new things, fail fantastically and fearlessly, hack ideas, to dream, to be passionate, to be artists, and to tell their story. If you can create this environment in your classroom, you've nailed the Maker Mentality and can call yourself a transcendentalist. 

(Editor's Note: There are many different aspects of Transcendentalism, but the ideals of being an individual and embracing the creative side of our nature are aspects that stand out to me. As to Thoreau as a maker, the guy built a cabin in the woods because, "I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." That sounds like a maker to me.)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Tinkering in the ELA Classroom #EdChat #EngChat

Makerspaces are a great place to allow students and teachers to tinker with projects, but they are not the only place. There needs to be an element of tinkering allowed in every class if we want students to feel comfortable trying new things and seeing what happens. Tinkering can have a great place in the ELA classroom if teachers allow students the time to do it.

Back in my earlier teaching years, I was very strict with my deadlines with students. Assignments were due when I said they were due and no excuses would be accepted. It takes years in the classroom to fully understand that life happens for students and not everything is going to be done on the set, and sometimes arbitrary, deadline. The students submitted their work, I graded it, and we moved on to the next lesson. It is how I was taught and how it just "worked" in our ELA classrooms. However, the minute I started to allow students to tinker with their papers, I was getting amazing work and my students were becoming stronger writers more quickly than ever before.

The notion of tinkering is play around with something to see how it works, to make it work if it is broken, or just see what is possible with an idea. Too many classrooms still expect one and done essay writing and that mentality does not allow for students to try different approaches to ideas. While teachers may allow for rough drafts, they do not really allow for experimental thinking on ideas. Students just go through the motion to produce the paper they are sure the teacher wants. I used to ask students to take positions that were contrary to class discussion, but then I would not give them the time to flesh out what those ideas might be. Not only did I not give them the time, I did not model how to even do it. How could I expect them to do something I had not even demonstrated in class?

There needs to be time and space given to students to tinker with their writing. Allow them the opportunity to come up with an off the wall thesis and see what they can do with it. Let them explore different narrative devices in their story. Let them go out and write the craziest short story written in the second person that has ever been written. Give them the time to explore the written language and see what they can do with it. You will find that they realize many of the writing conventions you tell students to avoid are worth avoiding. Learn by doing is not a new idea. I'm not re-inventing the wheel by encouraging teachers to give students time to write. However, viewing this part of the writing education as tinkering might be what works with your students.

Teaching writing was always my weakness as a teacher. It was always a personal goal to make my writing instruction better. It took me a while to understand that it was not about doing more, it was about giving my students more time to explore what writing looks like to them. By allowing students to tinker with their writing as part of the process without being worried about grades, I started to see growth in my students. That, of course, is the whole point of writing.