As I look back over the course of the year, I flip through my blog posts, my Twitter and Instagram feeds, and think about all of the things I have shared. I have had so much fun sharing the fun things I have been learning as I build various projects on my own or with students. I did notice I was missing something from my feed and it was my biggest project failure of the year. I have been working on this table project on and off for a year and it has become this Frankenstein's Monster of a project. I keep trying to tweak and make it better, but it ends up worse and worse. It is rough and I have not shared it with anyone until now. Here is my first attempts at an epoxy side table.
Friday, December 18, 2020
Thursday, December 17, 2020
With the upcoming holiday break, I truly hope that teachers around the country allow students to actually take a break. Some teachers feel break times are a great spot to add work that they could not get to before the break. Extra reading assignments or study guides are given to students during break to help them "catch up". Please do not do this. Students deserve a respite from the day to day school work and should be able to embrace break without the anxiety of finishing the extra work before school starts.
Teachers, you also deserve a break. Take the time off and remove yourself from school work and spend time with your family and find non-work related activities to ease your mind and support your mental health. I encourage you to do those things you have not had time to do over the past few months. No, I do not mean catch up on grading, I'm talking about reading that book or video calling that friend. Find the time for "me time" and enjoy the break. You have earned it.
I hope everyone has a wonderful break and we can all look forward to what awaits in 2021. Let's just hope it is not Godzilla or something. ;-)
Hugs and High Fives,
Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Now, more than ever, people need to find things to do with their time. There is a whole generation of people that went through school without learning to build and make things as part of learning. I imagine that these people are restless with the various lockdowns across the country.
For me, and many others out there, making things has helped pass the time. Building things out of wood or coding items for a Raspberry Pi, micro:bit, or something else has given me an outlet while stuck in side keeping my family and strangers safe. Knowing how to make things and sharing that with my son and with people online is important to me because I want people to learn and create.
As a teacher, it is so important to me that students leave my class with the sense that they can make things on their own if they have to. Whether it is coding a game through MakeCode or building in Minecraft, I want to empower them to build what they want, when they want. MakerEd is so important because it is giving a generation of students the tools to create. We have a world filled with consumers and we need more creators. MakerEd is how we, as teachers, help shift the dynamic.
Please consider exploring what MakerEd and Project Based Learning looks like for your learning environment and make some moves to embed it into your classes. These are not just skills to master a curriculum, but skills that will help student be well rounded people.
Monday, November 16, 2020
These four simple words. "How are you doing?" can make all the difference in the world. Teaching in person during the pandemic has led to an increase in anxiety in me and thousands of teachers around the country. Medication and therapy helps, but having someone who takes the time to ask, "How are you doing?" can be a life saver to many people. I have been very blessed with friends who have sent me texts to check in on my mental health and those mean the world to me. My lowest of lows can be overcome when I can exchange a few texts with friends. Think about your teacher friends and consider checking in with them. Stay connected, now more than ever.
Teachers are not the only ones that need to hear these four words. Checking in with students to ask this simple question can lead to very important conversations. Before the pandemic, these four words asked to students led to an outpouring of emotions that they had been carrying for days or weeks and just waiting for someone to care. Reminding students that you are there for them if they need someone to talk to is still important. It stinks that we have to carry our emotional baggage all day and then try and help students lift the load they carry. Each teacher needs to do what they think is manageable. It is not easy, but these are not easy times.
I hope you will take a moment after reading this post and text someone to ask them those four words. We always say we can do it later, but don't do that here. Open up your message app and send them those four words and let them know you are there for them.
Monday, November 2, 2020
I’m excited to partner with @ISTE to give away a ISTE2020 Conference registration. Here is how you can get a chance to win.
STEP 1: Follow me on Twitter @TheNerdyTeacher
STEP 2: Tweet a throwback photo from a previous ISTE. Bonus points if it is a photo with me in it!
STEP 3: Tag me in the photo or in the tweet.
STEP4: Use #ISTE20
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Tuesday, October 27, 2020
One of the hardest parts of doing remote learning is allowing the students to see what you are doing in a way that mimics, as closely as possible, what they might see in the classroom if they were there in person. The camera in your computer is nice for showing your face and you can screen share, but the teachers that need to show physical objects are left holding it up to the camera and hoping that the camera can focus long enough for students to see what you want them to see. Well, the new Hovercam Solo 8Plus is here to solve these problems.
I was sent a demo unit to test out in my space and I was blown away at everything it could do. As a makerspace director and someone that needs to show lots of physical objects, having a good camera that can really showcase the details is important to me. Out of the box, here is what the Solo 8Plus has,
Monday, October 26, 2020
Like many educators, I am experiencing remote and live instruction at the same time in my school. It is not easy, but it is possible if you are willing to make some tough changes to traditional practices. The one that has been most effective has been due dates.
Traditional models of school have assignments due on a hard date. Anything after that date is considered late and will have points taken off. The argument has been that students need due dates because work needs to be graded in a timely manner and students need to learn about due dates because they will have them in the “real world”. I know I have made a statement like this before.
Well, this approach to learning is not going to be effective right now. In the past, a teacher could get a sense of how a student was doing and if they needed extra time on their work. When the student is on the other side of the screen, it is near impossible to really know how things are going for them. Extending due dates for those students can help ease their anxiety with remote learning and allow them the grace they need to complete assignments.
If we are going to do that for remote learners, why not for all of the learners. What have I found by doing this, students are still getting the work done, they are better at communicating with me on struggles they are encountering, and some are tackling bigger projects because they know they will have time to finish it. I tell students that projects need to be submitted by the week before the end of the marking period so I have time to provide feedback and the students are very understanding. These middle school students work hard and get the work done at a reasonable time. It is only a couple of students that really need the extended time to complete the work.
Another great reason to give everyone extra time to submit work is that it removes the stigma some students might feel for asking for extra time or not turning something in on the due date. Everyone turns in their work at roughly the same time, but it is not weird for a student to need an extra class or two. Nobody thinks twice about it. That is the type of environment I want to create for my students. Nobody should feel bad about needing more time. Everyone should feel comfortable about the pace they learn. That is how we can ensure our students can be successful.
I understand that due dates are tough to move away from and the culture of learning in your school might not allow for it across the board, but I encourage all of your to consider implementing in some way to support your students at home and in your classroom.
Hugs and High Fives,
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Friday, August 21, 2020
I'm heading back to the classroom in a few weeks and my anxiety levels are high. I do not want to spend this post debating the facts of going back or staying home. I want to write about our students.
Face to face instruction is happening. Whether you like that or not, it is happening and teachers need to think about the impact that is going to have on our students. It is not fair that we have to manage our mental health and the mental health of students in our classroom, but we have to. We need to start every class with empathy, compassion, and grace. Please do not treat back to school like back to school 2020. It is not the same and our students deserve better. Here are some quick thoughts on making this school year the best it can be whether online or in person.
- Start the school year with a wellness check in with your students. This could be a survey or just side conversations with the students. We need to understand where students are starting from in a mental health way if we are going to try and teach them. Make these check-ins a normal part of your routine. Let kids know they are being listened to and supported.
- Please consider doing away with strict due dates on assignments. Teachers need to be flexible when it comes to work. Students are going to have a wide variety of living situations that will not be equitable across the board. Show some grace and work with students who need more time.
- Do not be afraid to ask for help from your students or your colleagues if you get stuck on some tech issues. You might be using different tech for the first time this year and you should not be expected to be an expert right away. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Do not make every lesson about Covid. Let there be a space for students to escape into learning and growing without the specter of the pandemic hanging over them. They are wearing a mask in class (hopefully), they know what is going on around them.
- Look for a wide variety of ways to express themselves artistically. Student expression is even more important now than every before. Students will be dealing with regular growing up feelings on top of the new and confusing feelings of trying to learn during a pandemic. Artistic expression can allow them to cope and share in meaningful ways.
- Revisit your assessments and see if they truly meet the needs of your students learning during the pandemic. Please do not just turn your multiple choice tests into Google Forms. Consider a portfolio approach to assessment and other non-traditional ways to assess. Doing it like you have always done it is not going to cut it for students today.
- Find someone to talk to about your anxieties. You need to have a support group if you are dealing with a wide range of feelings. This could be a certified therapist or a close friend that is a good listener. You need to help yourself before you can help others.
Friday, May 29, 2020
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Right now, I have seen too many articles about the knowledge slide that students are going to experience this year. When it comes to content and curriculum, students are going to be fine! Teachers will adjust the curriculum and students will be able to continue to learn. These views are stuck in the antiquated view of what school needs to be. Grades, pathway to college, and homework should not be the main focus on school right now.
Right now, teachers should be trying to engage students as best as they can with content, but they should also be checking on the mental health of their students by making sure time is given for students to connect with one another online. Let the students share their favorite stories or binge worthy shows. Play games using Kahoot! or Gimkit. Ask about something new they have done at home. Ask for book recommendations. For some students, connecting with their class is the only connection they have with other people outside of their home. We need to try as best as we can to support our students beyond the grade book.
Here is a great article from EdWeek that is worth reading that covers SEL and Remote Learning. I hope everyone involved with remote learning will take a moment and assess the wellbeing of their students before giving out the next assignment.
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Teachers do not want to be at home looking at their students through a computer all day. We want to interact. We want them to socialize. We want to see their smiles in person and laugh when the class needs a good laugh.
Do not let these moments fade from your memory. Life will take time to get back to a better place where we can be in class with students. We need to let ourselves be ok with not being ok right now if we want to get better. Acceptance of the situation is not easy, but we need to accept where we are, how much we have to give, and the quality that is going to be given.
Be OK with trying and failing as you explore education through a new medium. Take your time and embrace where you are with all of this. Practice self care whenever you can and make time to connect with others as much as possible. I have only been able to make it through this nightmare because of my connections with my friends.
We will persevere and come out on the other end ready to connect, teacher, and make a difference lije we did before. It's OK to not feel OK. We will get better.
Zachary B. Wolf wrote,
"Education Week has maintained an interactive map of school closures since the beginning of this thing, and that map suggests that nearly every American school kid is not currently in school. It charts around 124,000 school closings affecting more than 55 million American kids.
What are all those kids doing? They're supposedly distance-learning or homeschooling, taking screen lessons or self-teaching. (Let's get real. A lot of them are playing Minecraft or making TikToks.) (Emphasis mine) Just like the American education system on any given day, the coronavirus closure is a massive patchwork."
What this shows is a basic misunderstanding of what Minecraft is and can be for students and for teachers. There are problems with these type of flippant remarks.
1. On a very large platform, it invalidates the value of Minecraft Education Edition. People can look at that and have it inform their opinion on the tool. If it was a critique of the tool, then it would be fair, but that is not what it was. It lumped Minecraft in with TikTok which has a reputation of being a waste of time by older generations.
2. It makes the job harder for teachers to introduce these tools in the classroom to administrators and teachers because it has a reputation and not being productive and this line adds to that misunderstanding.
3. To put it bluntly, it's ignorant. Mr. Wolf clearly does not have an understanding of the value of Minecraft in the classroom and was looking for a pithy statement.
On top of it all, it takes away from the hard work students are doing in their homes every day thanks to teachers and parents working hard to provide some semblance of learning in this tough time. I have students that show up to class and are designing and making amazing things. They are teaching themselves or learning from their parents on how to create things they design. It is amazing. Not every students in engaged at the level everyone would hope, but that is problem schools face in person, not just online.
I hope Mr. Wolf will take the time to either remove that line from the article or take some time to actually talk to teachers engaged in remote learning and that are using a wide variety of tools to support instruction. I'm happy to connect if Mr. Wolf is.
To all of you teachers out there using Minecraft Education Edition, please share with @zbyronwolf the many different ways you are using it to support our students. Keep being awesome out there and reach out if you have any questions.
Socially Distant Hugs and High Fives.
Monday, March 30, 2020
There has been lots of digital talk about the expectations of teachers, parents, and students for learning at home. I have broken down the expectations I am going to have more my classes and think that other teachers/parents should consider if they are involved in Remote Learning.
The first and most important thing for me to do is to check in with my students and see that they are doing well. Mental wellness CANNOT be overlooked by teachers during this time. Do not spend every class period you have with kids focused on racing to the finish line to complete your curriculum. Spend some time talking to the students and seeing how everything is at home. Talk about whatever the students want. Let them know they are more than just a small video screen to you.
2. Engagement Over Busy
One of the things that I am going to focus on is engaging my students in thought and work for my class. Project Based Learning is perfect for the current remote learning setup because students will be the ones that drive their engagement by creating artifacts to demonstrate their understanding of various topics they choose. It might be 3D design, playing in AR, coding, drawing, sculpting, or anything else they have access to at home. I am not worried about trying to accomplish everything I had set up to do this trimester. I want kids to be engaged and learn.
3. Feedback = Assessment
One of the things that does not worry me about the move to remote learning is the worry over tests. Some people are frantic over how they are going to give students tests. Huge eye roll from me over those concepts. You cannot expect to recreate the classroom digitally. Grades are not important right now. That is easy for me to say because I was running a gradeless class, but it is still fundamentally true right now. If you do not think students will do your classwork without grades, that should tell you something about the work, not the students. Students in my class will submit their projects and I will provide detailed feedback through SeeSaw and 1:1 Zoom meetings. The feedback is more important than any letter grade or number I could enter into a gradebook. Kids smile a whole bunch more when they hear how much you loved something as opposed to seeing a letter grade in a box on a grade sheet.
Kids have so many things going on at home that we do not know about when they sit in our rooms every day. Now, those students are trapped in their home. School was sometimes their only escape from the anxiety of a complex home life. Imagine those students being home, managing that anxiety, and then trying to engage in remote learning. Some kids are not going to be able to step up as we might hope, but that is why wellness is so important. If you have a strong idea of how your students are doing, you will have an easier time showing compassion if students are a little behind or are struggling. Be compassionate all of the time, but now more than ever.
5. Have Fun
Have some fun with your students. Surprise them with an amazing Tik Tok dance or wear a funny hat and act like nothing is different. Just be a little goofier and sillier than normal to lighten the mood. The kids need reasons to laugh and have fun like they would in the classroom. Don't take your video class meetings too seriously. Release your inner dork and have fun. My kids might just see some hardcore karaoke to TSwift in the near future.
I do believe that school is going to be like this for the rest of the year. You might be in a state where that decision has already been made. If that is the case, these 5 things can make the rest of the year a little bit easier for you, parents, and most importantly they students.
If you have tips or suggestions, please feel free to comment them here or shoot me a message on Twitter.
Virtual Hugs and High Fives,
Monday, March 16, 2020
Raspberry Pi Tutorial
My game with advanced elements
Virtual Hugs and High Fives,
Saturday, March 14, 2020
1. Your curriculum is so much more flexible now
One of the things that will hold teachers back is the feeling that they are at specific point of the curriculum map and they need to build virtual lessons around that specific point. That boxes you into a corner and will lead to very stunted lessons. Look at this as an opportunity for students to dive deeper into areas you have already covered or shift to new areas that will grab a student's attention. Doing what you were already doing will not get students engaged. Look for something new.
2. Students are not going to sit and listen to you talk to them for 40 minute classes
The absolute worst thing you can do at this point is have students log in and listen to you for 40 minutes. Nope. Don't do it. I read once that YoutTube measured that the average watch time of a video is around 4 minutes. After that, people move on. Now, I'm not suggesting that you only talk to your students for 4 minutes, but I will ask you keep in mind that students have a world going on around them and listening to their teacher for long periods of time on a device is not the best way to go about instruction.
3. Students are going to explore learning on their own anyway
Students are going to be bored. They will have their video games and other things to keep them busy, but a full day over and over again with the same thing will get tiresome. Students will need the structure and the guidance. They will love discovering new things and will want to share it with people outside of their home.
4. Create independent life-long learners
Students need to be able to identify things they want to learn and figure out how to learn it. That is what adults do every day and that is not something that everyone has naturally. Helping students find information to help them learn things they are interested in is a great job for teachers right now.
5. Students ain't got the time for this
Please do not think that students will have all of this structured time to sit in a seat and do school at home. There are so many crazy dynamics at every single house that it is foolish to think kids will have large junks of time to sit and listen to teachers for 7 hours over the course of a day. Lessons needs to be created that allow students far more independent time to explore and learn with smaller windows dedicated to checking in with the teachers to share their learning.
6. Portfolios are more important now than ever
Now is a great time for students to start a portfolio of their learning if they don't have one. We use SeeSaw at school, but a Google Drive folder or even a manila folder, are perfect for storing the work that students create so they can share it later. Whatever you use, a portfolio offers the ability to store artifacts that they created to demonstrate their understanding of different parts of the curriculum.
- Identify a part of your curriculum that you want students to explore in depth on their own.
- Provide them some links to resources that can help guide students to finding the information they will need for a deep dive and encourage them to explore other resources they find on their own.
- Give students the freedom to create some sort of artifact that demonstrates their understanding based on the research they did in class.
- Use virtual class time to check in with students and hold office hours to guide students who might be struggling to find information or create their artifact. Everyone should check in, but keep this time short and sweet and only request those students who truly need the extra support stay a bit longer for check in.
- Have students post shots of their work in progress. These snapshots will provide a little insight into what they are researching and the artifacts they are creating.
- Have students present their work to the class when the deadline has passed.
- Do not worry about grades! Going ungraded during this time seems crazy, but students will do the work and try more complex artifacts if they are not afraid of failure.
- Ask your students what area of your content have they always wanted to learn about in class.
- Tell students they can make a proposal about what they want to learn, how they are going to learn it at home, and what artifact they will create to demonstrate their understanding of the content.
- Use virtual class time to make appointments with students to discuss their proposals and help them fine tune it.
- Set a reasonable timeline for students to complete their research, learning, artifact creation, and presentation.
- Use the virtual classroom time to check in with students throughout the project. Have students share what they have learned and show some artifacts.
- Set up presentation times for students during virtual class time so they can share what they have learned with the entire class.
- Do not worry about grades. Let the kids explore, learn, and share.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Students need to create a shoe for a partner using limited supplies; 4 sheets of newspaper, 1 foot of duct tape, and 1 foot of yarn. Once students completed their design and build, they needed to create an ad to sell it. It has been lots of fun to see all of the different shoes and ads the students created.
Students share their ads on SeeSaw and parents and the teacher can see it, but what about everyone else? Then I explored Adobe Aero on my phone and iPad and realized I could import images I had saved from SeeSaw. With that, I created an AR gallery of some of the student ads. You can watch the video below.
Monday, February 24, 2020
One of the things I encounter on the internet and in my travels are schools that have spent lots of money on makerspaces, but have not provided a framework of support for teachers on how to get the most out of them. I have seen the same thing done with interactive whiteboards, chromebooks, and other pieces of technology rolled out into schools. Makerspaces require much more support than one would think. It is because teachers need to shift their instructional practices to truly get the most out of the new space.
Project Based Learning and Design Thinking are a couple of approaches that can help teachers truly understand and lesson plan in ways that will have students utilize a makerspace. It usually starts off with teachers creating lessons that just allow students to make things at home or in the classroom. As their creativity increases, there will become a greater need for a variety of tools. That is where a Makerspace can truly have a wonderful impact on instruction.
If you are considering add a makerspace to your building, please consider finding ways to provide professional support for the instructional practices that teachers will need to best utilize the space. Trust me, you do not need to spend an arm and a leg to do it either.
Monday, February 17, 2020
When young makers come into the makerspace, I want them to not only think about what is going to be made, but what story is the piece going to tell. Making, whether it is painting, coding, knitting, etc, is part storytelling. It is why there are such large and supportive communities dedicated to making various things. I have become part of the Turning and Beginners Woodworking communities on Reddit and it has really made me appreciate the amazing work being done by others and the stories that are shared.
As we look at the different ways we want to engage our students in learning, storytelling is a wonderful approach. Give the students a chance to create something amazing and have them tell you the story of the learning that happened through the piece. That is what we want to see in the classroom. That is the type of education we need in the classroom. We have gone decades focused on creating consumers. It is time to support our students as the storytellers they naturally are and let them create amazing things.
Project Based Learning really changed everything about my classroom. It is one of the best approaches to instruction that I have ever used in the classroom. If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning and implementing it in your school or classroom, feel free to reach out to me or you can check out my book, Beyond the Poster Board.
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
"Please make sure to adjust your mask before helping others."
For whatever reason, this really stood out to me. I have been writing about MakerEd and Mental Health the past few months and maybe that is why I connected with this statement. February can be a hard month for teachers. Especially teachers in the North that are not getting enough sunlight day to day. It is so important to make sure we, as educators, take care of ourselves first so we can help others around us.
As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, making sure that I get a good handle on my mental health is key for me being successful in the classroom each day. If I am a hot mess in my head, I will be a hot mess in school. For those that are dealing with the same malaise as many other teachers, here are some things that have worked to help take care of myself so I can help others.
1. Eat Healthy
A study from last year looked at how a diet can impact mental health. A group of people were given a Mediterranean-style diet for multiple weeks and were found to have reduced feelings of depression. An article from Harvard found that the different types of food you intake can have drastic implications on mental health in the short term and long term. Personally, when I have made a specific effort to cut back on red meat, eat more fruits and veggies, and whole grains, I am less likely to deal with bouts of depression. Making these types of choices can be hard, but the Science behind doing it to support mental health is very interesting.
I have struggled with multiple herniated disks, a bad knee, and a bad ankle. I have always been an active person, but it gets harder when you get busier and older. Just 5 years ago I trained and ran a half marathon. It was the most in-shape I have been recently. However, back problems had me stop working out, which led to weight gain, which causes more back pain, which leads to sitting more, which leads...
Here is an article from Psychology Today that explains the Science behind exercise and mental health.
and have started to spend more time teaching myself the ins and outs of woodworking using a lathe. I have made pens, bowls, rings and more.
When I'm making, I get lost in my world. All the fears, anxiety, and depression melt away. It is such a nice and calming thing for me to do. I try and set aside time before school to make something or continue on a larger project. That calm really gets me going for the day. It is important to find the hobby that makes you happy and make time for it. It will make you feel better. It is Science.
4. Compliment Others
It might sound weird, but complimenting other people can actually make you feel better. Surprise, there is Science to back this up. Here is a video from SoulPancake that shows the power of simple compliments in a relationship. Just by giving more compliments in your day, you are likely to receive more and everyone around you will be happier. This happiness is an awesome feeling and great and taking care of yourself and others.