Friday, September 13, 2019

Minecraft and Design Thinking #MakerEd @PlayCraftLearn

My first lesson for my Design and Innovation class needed to be something that would engage the students immediately. Minecraft is huge in our Middle School and I thought that would be a wonderful way to get students thinking about design. Luckily, we have Minecraft Education Edition rolled out for every student in our Middle School.

The goal of the fist design challenge was to design a house for me. The students were not allowed to ask me any questions. They just had to build me a house based on what they think I might like. They were given 20 minutes to put together a prototype. The kids were understandably frustrated, but they all worked very hard to create something that they hoped I would enjoy.

We discussed the mostly completed houses and I would tell them what I did and did not like. Next, I allowed them time to ask me questions and dive deep into what I do like and what I need in a house. The reason they had to build the first house without the questions was to show them the value of listening and asking questions.

In design thinking, you want students to have empathy for the person they are designing and you can do that with the help of asking the right questions. Having the students see the value of asking questions allowed them to embrace this part of the design process. Kids love to jump to the ideation portion of design thinking because it is more fun, but they really need to spend time focusing on empathy.

The kids asked so many amazing questions and really focused on what I liked to do with my spare time and how I move about my own house. I could see they really were looking for questions that didn't just give them one answer (Do you like carpet?), but for questions that could provide a multitude of information (What do you do when you are bored at home?).

Minecraft is a wonderful tool for this intro to design thinking for students because it was so easy for them to log in and start crafting. Students were put up houses of all different shapes and sizes in a matter of minutes. That is what I was really hoping was going to happen and it was awesome to see them all working and helping one another. No grades really seems to help them take their time and try different things. One student built a red stone operated door that was protected by a golem. Ya, that was a weird sentence to write.

After their second version of the house, I walked the students through the rest of the design thinking process following the handout created by the Stanford d. School. I modified their handout that can be found here.  Next week, students will pair up and go through the design process with a partner and try to create the perfect vacation experience in Minecraft. This is their chance to really stretch and see if they can find empathy for their partner and really build something amazing for their partner.

Here is a quick example of using SeeSaw to post images taken from Minecraft to demonstrate what was built.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the design class!


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Back to work #DesignThinking #PBL

Today I go back to the proverbial front of the classroom.

Over the past two years, I have been working with teachers and building a makerspace for our school. It has been a fun experience, but I have always missed out on having "my" class and the challenges that come with it. Today, I will be teaching a class I will be building from the ground up.

Since I started at University Liggett School, there has been talk about creating a class for the 6th graders that would focus on problem solving and critical thinking. There was talk about a Makerspace class, but I did not want to teach a class on how to use 3D printers. However, teaching students how to approach problems and use different tools to create solutions sounded amazing.

I spent the past 6 months diving into what a class that is a trimester long might look like and I found myself drawn to the Design Thinking model of problem solving to create a base for the class and using that to jump to other design ideas. As a trained ELA and Social Studies teacher, I feel a bit out of my element, but excited to learn with the students and see what happens. I'm also excited to implement things I have always dreamed of doing in a class.

  • Mindfulness - I will be starting each class with a few minutes of mindfulness. I am using the Calm app on my phone. My class is after lunch, so I want to take a few moments to calm the bodies and mind before asking them to dive into problem solving and critical thinking. I'm nervous to as Middle Schoolers to sit quietly and look inward for relaxation, but I feel it is important and I'm going to give it a try. 
  • Portfolio/Project Based - This class is going to be based on what they create. Everything will be stored in SeeSaw and that is where my feedback will live as well. Students and I will be able to have an ongoing dialogue about their work and how it evolves over the course of the trimester. 
  • No Homework - I will not assign anything that requires students to work at home. My goal is to create an environment where students are excited about their projects and want to work at home and share with their family. I refuse to add more work to their busy schedule at home. 
  • No Grades - I will not be giving grades for this class. Students will have a 1 under the assignment if it is completed and we have met to discuss it or a 0 is the project has not been completed and we have not conferenced about it. I feel like giving a grade to a student who solves a problem one way and a different grade to a student who solves it another way is just not what this class is about. I also think by getting rid of the grades, students will be more likely to try big ideas and embrace failure instead of taking the easy route to finish the work. I could be way off here, but I love that I get to try. 
I have some ideas for projects that might be super fun, but I will have to roll them out and see what the kids think. I will be starting with the Wallet Challenge from the Stanford and then moving to a Minecraft for Education challenge to create the perfect vacation destination for a partner. I will be trying Chindogu with my students to bring a fun, light approach to design and I'll see how students might repurpose underutilized areas of the school. I also have an idea for students to create a small line of products that people might want to buy and setting up an Etsy shop to see how that goes. IDK. Lots of ideas and I can't wait to see how much of it works and how much of it blows up in my face. If it does, than I'm modeling exactly what I want to see from the students. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Chindogu and #MakerEd

I spend too much time on the Internets. I have accumulated vast amounts of useless knowledge. Sometimes, I uncover something that is simply amazing and it has to be brought into the classroom. While this might not be new to others, the term was new to me and I'm happy to share it with all of you. 


Chindogu was created by Japanese artist Kenji Kawakami in the 1990s, who describes these inventions as "un-useless." He coined the term chindogu using a combination of the Japanese words chin, meaning "strange" or "odd," and dougu, which means "device" or "tool." But chindogu is more than a mashup of words (a portmanteau, if you will); it's a philosophy. There are 10 tenets of chindogu, according to the chindogu society:
  • A chindogu cannot be for real use. If you end up using your invention on the regular, you have failed.
  • A chindogu must exist. No thought experiments allowed.
  • There must be the spirit of anarchy. Build your invention free from the constraints of utility or cultural expectations.
  • Chindogu are tools for everyday life. Everyone everywhere must be able to understand how it works without any special technical or professional background info.
  • Chindogu are not tradeable commodities. Finally, something in your life that you just can't turn into a side hustle.
  • Humor must be the sole reason for creating chindogu. Creating an elaborate way to solve a tiny problem is just funny. Roll with it.
  • Chindogu is not propaganda. This is not the place for your clever commentary on the dumpster fire that is the current state of the world. As the tenet makes clear: "Make them instead with the best intentions."
  • Chindogu are never taboo. If you demand sexual innuendo, cruel jokes and sick humor, the International 
  • Chindogu Society would ask that you find it literally anywhere else on the internet. That's not chindogu's jam.
  • Chindogu cannot be patented. Consider chindogu the openest of open source. They're meant to be shared and delighted in, not owned and collected.
  • Chindogu are without prejudice. Race, religion, gender, age, ability — none of these matter to chindogu. These inventions should be equally (almost) useless to everyone who sees them.
I'm starting my new Design Class this Fall and I'm equal parts excited and terrified. It is a Trimester class in a block schedule. Lots of very new things for me. I will have students for about 27 class meetings and I need to come up with different types of projects for students to create and Chindogu is an amazing project for students. 

I believe that making should be fun and silly. Designing should have its serious and crazy moments. Chindogu teaches so much about the process of design, it doesn't matter if the final product is as useful as we hoped. Too much pressure can be felt by students who just want to make things and learn along the way. 

Here is a great TED talk from Simone Giertz. She is known for making terrible robots on her YouTube channel. (Warning: Her videos are not safe for children due to course language, but they are hilarious for adults. She does kid friendly videos on the GoldieBlox channel if you want to share some with young makers.)

As an added element, I will have students user Adobe Spark to create promo pages for their products to encourage people to buy them or show other how to make their own. I think Chindogu is a wonderful project for a Makerspace and classrooms looking to explore design. Even if it is designing Un-useless Inventions. 

If you have students doing this, please share with me on Instagram or Twitter @TheNerdyTeacher. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Project Based Learning? #EdChat

Schools are starting up all around the country and teachers are starting to get into the swing of lesson planning and exploring their own pedagogy. I was lucky to spend part of my Summer working with teachers from coast to coast on implementing Project Based Learning into their curriculum. For those who have never used PBL in their classroom, the change can feel a bit overwhelming. I understand  this because I know I was overwhelmed when I made the switch myself many years ago. One of the biggest questions I get from people is the simplest one. Why?

There is some great research on the impact of PBL in the classroom that Edutopia as collected. Check out those articles and share them with others who wonder about the value of PBL in the classroom. I've taken a look at the research and have taken my years of experience using PBL in the classroom and come up with 5 major aspects of PBL that I feel make PBL so great for the classroom.

1. OWNERSHIP is key. When students have a sense of ownership over any assignment, they tend to work much harder. Students know that the work will be represented of their own ideas instead of just following the directions word for word that the teacher has provided. When the students understand that they have control over the work that is going to be completed, they are also more likely to take risks and push themselves. It is important for teachers to let students know the value of ownership and how it can impact the work they are doing. This is a scary part of PBL because the traditional dynamic has teachers in control of everything. Letting go of that control leads to amazing leaps in learning for the students. OWNERSHIP is a major factor in the value of PBL.

2. CREATIVITY is the another major part of the PBL and is closely linked with OWNERSHIP. When students are free to explore learning in ways that are meaning to them, it opens a world of creativity that they have not previously known in class. My move to PBL allowed for students to really express themselves in creative ways I had not expected. Students have created movies, graphic novels. written and performed songs, created amazing photography pieces, coded games, and even performed interpretive dance! The students were given the time and respect to create something that demonstrated understanding of the curriculum and they did not disappoint. Allowing the students to create gives them a bigger sense of OWNERSHIP.

3. Another part of the PBL is COLLABORATION. While not all examples of PBL in the classroom will have collaboration, the projects that allow for it are amazing to watch. Students coming together to collaborate on a variety of projects is an awesome thing to see because they are strengthening their collaboration skills. There is a give and take between students as the work to create their project. Students are allowed to work with their strengths and support their peers who might need help in other areas. Students will learn from one another as the build a project that is best for everyone in the group.

4. Depending on how you set up your project, CRITICAL THINKING, is also an important part of PBL. Some people just assume that drawing a picture is to showcase something a student learned is all PBL really is and not much is truly done by the student. This could not be further from the truth. The best assignments for PBL are the ones that have driving questions that push students to dive deeper into the content than one covered in class to find the things they want to explore the most. The analysis by students done on their own is some of the best I have ever seen when it occurs during PBL. Class discussions are a great starting point for understanding and analysis, but PBL allows students to choose areas that were not covered in depth in class and show why they are still important to the overall concepts that are being discussed. It takes so much critical thinking and analysis to do this correctly and that is what students learn over a full year of PBL in a class.

5. Lastly, Project Based Learning can be FUN! It seems obvious, but I have seen many projects that are very tedious. They have kids go through the motions and leave very little room for FUN or CREATIVITY. Projects are a chance for students to break the regular routine of reading and writing in some classes. Most kids are excited to do a project because they finally see it as a chance to express themselves in a format other than a test or essay. The FUN comes from the freedom students feel. Working with their friends (COLLABORATION), taking charge of their learning (OWNERSHIP), solving real problems (CRITICAL THINKING) and allowing students to create (CREATIVITY) all lead to the students learning in a FUN environment.

It is great to work with teachers and help them go through the process of creating PBL experiences for their students. Just in a small group of teachers across the curriculum, ideas started to generate about possible cross-curricular projects and how students can be more engaged with long and short term projects. PBL not only sparks the creativity of students, but of their teachers as well. I encourage everyone to consider exploring PBL and maybe introduce it a spot for students this semester and see how it goes. It's the start of the year, so let's try something new.

If you have any questions about implementing Project Based Learning in your classroom or across a building or district, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I'd love to see how I can help make it happen for you and your students.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Can you teach creativity and innovation? #EdChat

I random thought went through my head the other day and I shared it on Twitter. Here is the tweet.

There have been some great responses to the thought and I was very curious about what other people think about this.

For me, I do believe all people have the capacity to be creative and innovative. What that creativity or innovation looks like will be different for all people.  I just do not think you can "make" someone creative or innovative. You can create an environment where their natural creativity can flourish. Teaching skills like painting, drawing, pottery, etc, are create skills, but that's not teaching creativity. It's teaching people how to express their creativity. Exposing people to different ideas, cultures, experiences, etc. can enhance their creative minds, but it doesn't create creativity from nothing.

It is very likely that I'm wrong about all of this, but I would love to hear from other people on this. Feel free to leave a comment below and share far and wide. I'm open to having my mind changed on this.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Back to School Blues #EdChat

I wanted to take a moment and let the teachers of the world that are feeling guilty about the small amount of dread they are feeling about going back to school know that it is ok to have that feeling and you should NOT feel guilty about it. 

This does not make you a bad teacher or a horrible person. It does not mean you are ready to leave the classroom and retire. It means you love spending time with your family. You love having the time to take care of yourself and spend time on things you love. As teachers, we do not get this time throughout the year and we relish the time we get in the Summer. 

That small twinge you feel in your gut doesn't mean you hate your students, it means you love your family. Do not let reading tweets about how everyone is so excited about be back to school and how they can't wait to dive in and make the most amazing bulletin boards. It's cook if that is what they are excited about for the new year. Take your time and get in the zone in the way that works for you. 

I'm excited and nervous to start the school year. New students and new responsibilities await me and that can make my butterflies flutter in the belly. One thing that makes dealing with these bits of anxiety is my crew of friends that I can text or call to help me talk through the feelings. I suggest you do the same if you can. 

I know once the school year starts, you will be happy to be there and the students will love seeing your smiling face as they walk into the classroom on the first day. Don't let the small feeling of tread overtake your overall amazingness. You got this. 

Let's make 2019-2020 amazing for all of our students and ourselves. 

Hugs and High-fives,


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Don't Forget the Introverts #EdChat

I've been seeing lots of tweets flood EduTwitter about reaching out to the shy students and engaging every single child because they just need that one teacher to be the one to save them from their silence. The savior complex is just gross at this point.

What I'm about to say is not revolutionary, but I guess it needs to be said again,

It's ok to leave the silent students alone.

Some people think that this means to ignore them. That is not what it means at all. It means give them the space they deserve to feel comfortable in the classroom. Not every kid is silent because they classroom is not a safe place. On the contrary, the student might be silent because it is the only place where they don't have someone asking something of them. It's a chance to just sit and take in the information. Kids can just sit, listen, and learn and be ok with it.

Many will find this hard to believe, but I am actually an introvert. I'm really good at hiding it in public, but my closest friends know that I'm an introvert. I would drive my teachers nuts because I would selectively participate in class. They would try to catch me "not engaged" because I was not taking notes. I would reply with whatever answer they were looking for and go back to listening. Sometimes I sat and listened because I did not have the time to do the reading, so I was trying to find out what happened and learn from others.

I'm also dyslexic, so being asked to read out loud was a nightmare. I would hide as much as possible on reading aloud days. I didn't need someone to save me and get me out of my shell, I needed people to leave me the hell alone for that day and let me be me.

All of this talk about getting every student up and engaged is forgetting the vulnerable introverts. Let those students do their own thing when they need it. Don't ignore them. Let them know they are seen every day and that you respect the fact they are not feeling it today. Not every silent students needs to be saved.

So, if you see those tweets from people telling teachers to save all of these students, please do not RT it. Offer a reminder there are other students in the class that deserve their quiet space and do not need to be saved. Especially from people that are not even in the classroom anymore.  

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Power of Student Agency @UniLiggett #EdChat #PBL

I've just finished my second year at University Liggett School. Seniors shared their amazing ARP projects last week and I was blown away. ARP is our version of Senior Capstone projects. I showcased some of the ones that I helped students finish in my last post, but I wanted to make sure I shared another project that is simply amazing.

Katriel Tolin wrote and illustrated a book about mental health in the black community and it is amazing. The book is available on Amazon right now. People always wonder about the types of things that students can produce when they are given time and provided guidance. This is just one of many different examples I have seen over the past two years working in the Makerspace and teaching at University Liggett School.

This book is a powerful reminder of students are capable of doing if teachers just let them. They have stories to tell, messages to share, and ideas to grow if educators can move past the "sage on the stage" approach to education and give more time to student agency. It is not easy. Students are going to resist it because they have never had it before, but that doesn't mean we do not try. Not every student is going to publish a book, invent an app, or solve a world problem, but we will never know if we do not give them a chance to explore what is important to them and give them the time and means to share.

I encourage you to pick up this book, especially if you teach African American students who deal with mental health issues. A student wrote this book and I hope it serves as a way to help other children dealing with mental health issues and I also hope it serves to inspire students to write, draw, and pursue the things that interest them. Ms. Tolin's book, "It's Not a Big Deal!" But It Feels Like Oneis just one example of the amazing things that students are creating at University Liggett School because we have embraced Project Based Learning and Student Agency. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Where have all the blog posts gone? #MakerEd

Where have all the blog posts gone? It's been over a month since my last post and a few people asked if I was alright. Lolz. Someone as verbose as me not writing was really surprising to some people. The main reason I have not been writing this past month is that I have been super crazy busy.

Below you can check out some of the Instagram posts I've been creating of student work and some of my work. It is so much easier to share the great things students are doing in the Makerspace on Instagram than it is on a blog post. Plus, kids love being tagged and seeing their stuff on the feed. It is a more direct connection to them and their work.

Some of the things that have been keeping me busy in the Makerspace were the student projects in the high school, senior capstone projects, and learning new things myself as I build a design class for 6th graders next year.

High school students were taking a History of Math class this semester. It is a class that students can choose to take as a Social Studies or Math credit. A love that idea. Anyway, for an end of the year project, students were creating pyramids. Some students came down to use the Dremel LC40 laser cutter to cut the wood perfectly to assemble their project. However, it turned out to be more difficult than they thought because, not surprisingly, there was a ton of math needed to make sure the base was wide enough so all four points can come together correctly at the top. It was fun watching them break out their math skills as a team to solve the problem. A great couple of weeks for learning in the Makerspace.

In another class, students were designing and building toys based on conversations with first graders. Rocking horses, slime assembly lines, and a mini tank were just some of the things that students were building. The space was active every day they had class and they all came together and helped one another when they needed it. It was awesome watching students teacher one another how to use drills, saws, nail guns and more.

Another amazing thing happened in the Makerspace that has been taking up my time. I've been mentoring a Junior who has fallen in love with wood working. She started the semester having never held a drill and quickly took the lead in her group in the Engineering class she was taken. She was the only Junior in the class and was all by herself for two weeks when the Seniors got out. She came to the Makerspace and just started to tinker. I was out sick for three days and when I came back, she showed me a ring she carved out of a solid block of wood! She has decided to change her Senior capstone project to something woodworking related. We might work together and create a woodworking class in the first semester and then she would take it second semester. Still have some things to work out, but she is super excited to make a large epoxy table and some chairs for a final project. That is why I needed to learn to make my own table. Check it out.

Speaking of student capstone projects (We call them ARP projects. Follow the link for more info on ARP), I spent some time helping students with their project artifacts for their presentations to the community. One student, Madison, was building model rooms to showcase what she learned about Feng Shui and room design and how it impacts a teenager's mind. It was very interesting. Another student explored facial reconstruction. I 3D printed a skull for her to to reconstruct. It was awesome! Another student spent her time exploring what was going on in the brain of people that had near death experiences. She took all of the accounts she read and created a VR experience using and an Oculus Go headset I let her borrow for the semester. It was an amazing bit of work that was almost a little too real.

There is so much more I could write and share about the great things happening in the Knight's Forge Innovation Lab. The space is growing and evolving in amazing ways. It wouldn't be possible without the amazing support of teacher who are dedicated to project based learning and administrators that believe in them. If you want to keep up to date on the different projects that are being created in the space, follow my Instagram.

Friday, April 26, 2019

New Podcast Episode: Talking Creativity with Jaime Casap (@JCasap) #MakerEd

I'm so happy I was able to sit down with Jaime Casap and talk about Creativity and its value inside and outside of the world of education. As Google's Educational Evangelist, he shares what he sees in education and has decided to share more of insights on a new YouTube channel.

Here is the episode that can also be found on all of your favorite podcasting stations.

Here is an episode of Jaime's new YouTube channel. 

Thanks for listening and feel free to reach out if you have any suggestions for guests on the show. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Deconstruction Lab #MakerEd

Deconstruction Lab

I had the chance to work with my friend and colleague Michael Medvinsky on a fun project with elementary school students. We had a Deconstruction Lab! We had lots of old computer monitors, printers, and projectors that would normally be tossed or recycled, but Mike's idea to let students take them apart and see what's inside is a way better way to use the old tech before it is thrown out.

We used the Fabrication Lab and brought out different sizes of screwdrivers for the students to use. We had some wire clippers  and pliers as well. We emphasized the different between deconstruction and demolition. The students were all on board and excited to see if they could take apart different pieces of technology.

The wonder and excitement of the room over the course of an hour and half was amazing. Students helping one another unscrew things, borrowing and sharing tools, excited statements and new things discovered, and so much more. Students were above and beyond excited to take these things apart. The students wanted to take home motherboards to show their parents. They were able to take apart screens and printers without much damage at all. It was very impressive at how precise they could be.

At the end, which brought sad faces to all of them, students asked if they could take some of the untouched old tech home to deconstruct there. One said, "I really want to have something to do over the Summer." What a wonderful way to engage students in technology and spark some interest in what is going on underneath the hood of many of the tools they see and use every day. Check out some of the picture taken during the deconstruction lab.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Getting the most out of video with @BoClips

If you use video clips in your classroom and spend tons of time weeding out ads and looking for just the right content, them you need to check out Boclips for Teachers. Here is an infographic that breaks down video use in the classroom.

Finding good educational content can be very tough and, sometimes, very, very expensive. What I love about Boclips for Teachers is that it is curated by teachers. You know you are going to be looking at videos that are used by other teachers in the same content area. This is a great way to vet the content you are going to share with your students.

Another awesome aspect of Boclips for Teachers is that it is ad free! There have been too many times that an ad or a preview for a next video has popped up on the screen and I scramble back to my desk to shut it off because it is not what my kids need to see. Without ads, you can easily show videos without the random ad popping up.

I am also a fan of the way that teachers can curate their own content by saving videos to teacher collections. I was able to quickly search for videos on photosynthesis and save it in a collection I labeled Science. As a teacher, being able to curate all of the videos you want to use in class in nicely organized collections is a huge time saver. Too many times, we have all spent time trying to search for that video from last year that was on YouTube and it cannot be found.

The content is not just random videos uploaded on the Internet. These videos come from amazing, and most importantly, trusted resources. You will find videos from more than 120 content partners, including Visual Learning Systems, Intelecom Learning, and Crash Course, and many more amazing institutions. All of this great content can be searched from one page with a simple keyword. Boclips for Teachers takes the stress out of searching for videos to share with students.

More and more video is being created every single day and that means it is only harder for teachers to find the best content for their classroom. It would be great if teachers lived in a world where they were given all of the time they needed to plan their classes and look for the best content, but that is not the case. It is important for teachers to find tools that allow them to cut down on plan time and spend more time engaging with students and their own content. The more time teachers have to spend directly with students or focusing on student achievement, the better school will be for everyone.

Right now, there is a great deal. If you sign up before June 30th and you will get access to Boclips for Teachers and it's curated content for 1 year for free!