Monday, October 26, 2020

Are Due Dates Important During Pandemic Learning?

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

#WorldMentalHealthDay - Teacher Thoughts

Today is world Mental Health Day. It seemed fitting that I would ease back into social media today. I stepped away for about 3 weeks because there was too much going on all over my life and I just didn’t need to see the dumpster fire of the world in one more spot. 

I am teaching face to face with students who are joining remotely. It is a high anxiety situation. Not because of the fear of contracting Covid-19, but of not being the best teacher I can be in these circumstances. I have always taken pride in putting my best effort in to any problems at school and not letting things get in my way of providing the best educational experiences possible for students, but there are times I will fail and I still, after 15 years, still let it get the best of me. Trying to turn a design class into something that works in person and remotely has been tough and every obstacle has caused me stress and anxiety. I am better off than I was 3 weeks ago and I think it is a combination of things that made it possible. 

1. Supportive Admin and Staff

I cannot stress enough how important a supportive staff and administrative team can be in helping teachers cope with anxiety. I don’t think I’d be teaching in another environment if it were not for their hard work, attitude, and empathy. As things got tough, they were there to offer support and, sometimes, problem solve. As teachers, we cannot be left to fend for ourselves. I have friends that are dealing with serious vacuums in their leadership and it is causing more issues than can be shared. My heart breaks for them. 

2. Stepping Away

Taking the break from social media is important and I recommend it to everyone. It was tough not connecting with friends and letting them know what is happening in my world, but I needed to go cold turkey if I wanted to really step away. More than anything, those minutes I saved were used for self care techniques I’ll share in a bit. Those minutes add up and I will be looking to keep the minutes I add back to a minimum. 

3. Meditation 

I use the Calm app to help me quiet the noise in my head. I do it almost every night and I could not be happier. Taking the time to just empty my skull of the nonsense of the day and focus on breathing and wellbeing makes a difference. During some of my most stressful anxiety driven moments, meditation helped me through it.

4. Therapy

It might not be for everyone, but it is for me. If people are comfortable, they need to share more often that therapy is a part of their life. There is still a stigma out there about people who go to therapy. It is a shame. Therapy is a great way to talk through issues with a neutral third party. I am lucky to have health insurance that covers therapy visits. 

5. Distraction 

Finding something that distracts you from the noise can be helpful. I used to run, but my knees and back are starting to disagree with that form of distraction. I game fairly regularly at night. Shooting ghouls can help calm the nerves. I listen to podcasts as well. Welcome to Nightvale is amazing and I also love Fake Doctors, Real Friends which is podcast by Zach Braff and Donald Faison. Scrubs is one of my favorite shows of all time and those two are rewatching the series during lockdown and sharing their memories. If you love Scrubs, you will love this podcast. 

The world is not going to be getting easier in the next month. In November, about half the country is going to be very angry and teachers will be on the front line again to support the students who need it. I might need to add more things to help me cope, but I know I can do it.

For those of you reading that do not deal with mental health issues, but have friends who do, here are a couple of things you can do.

1. Listen

Just listen. Don’t solve problems, just listen to them.

2. Don’t isolate them even if they want it

They are going to push you away, ignore your texts, and try to ghost you as much as they can. Be persistent, but not annoying. Checking in every few days lets them know you are still thinking about them and are there. I know it is more work, but your friends need the extra help right now.

3. Love them

Let them know how much you love them and how important they are to you. If you can, give them big hugs. The fact that we have a strict no touching policy in this country to keep everyone safe is making it very hard for those who deal with mental health issues who need hugs. It seems silly, but there are plenty of studies that show how important hugs can be to the body. If it safe and you are in bubbles, just giving them a hug or holding them can help so much.

I hope all of you will take a few moments to connect with your loved ones, let them know you love them, and share this with anyone you think needs help. 

I love and miss allot of you very much. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Friday, August 21, 2020

Supporting Students Back to School

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. 
This is going to be a stressful year for everyone involved. People are going to question every decision everyone makes and nobody will truly be happy with the plan. Supporting students from a mental health standpoint will allow for a better environment for learning; whether that is in person or through the Internet. I know I have lots of fears and anxiety for myself, my family, and all of fellow educators. I look forward to the day we can all get together in person and share our stories. 

Hugs and High Fives to all of you, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Friday, May 29, 2020

Supporting Educators This Fall #EdChat

The end of the school year is upon us and, while it might not be fun, we need to have a serious talk about school in the Fall. 

Based on conversations with teachers across the country, many schools/districts were not prepared for remote learning. No plan was in place and it took weeks, or even a month in some cases, to have a plan. The most troubling thing about this was that teachers were thrown into the meat grinder of remote learning with little to now professional development or support along the way. This cannot happen again. The age old adage, "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best" is what schools need to be thinking about. Based on my work with my school and with other teachers, here are some thoughts on supporting educators in Fall 2020. 

Guest Speaker PD - If you are not sure where to start, looking for outside help is a good idea. There are many wonderful educators out there that have been teaching during the pandemic and/or have been supporting schools through this unprecedented time. These educators can help support staff through training or even the overall structure of your remote learning format. Not every person can do this and I'm sure there are lots of big companies that will claim to do this, but you really should be looking to educators that are doing with students now and/or already working with teachers who are in the classroom. I've been luck to work with great schools and districts over the years to support Project Based Learning, Design Thinking, and other edtech initiatives. Below are just a few of the educators I know that can help schools with so many issues they are going to face in the Fall. They are amazing and any school would be better by having them talk to their staff.   

Mary Beth Hertz             Sarah Thomas                John Spencer                 Heather Lister

       Tanya Avrith                 Ken Shelton                      Tara Linney                Widad Luqman 

There are so many more awesome people I could point to, so please reach out if you need specific recommendations. 

Book Study PD  - Maybe a book study for the school or district could help prepare teachers for the shift and be less stressful than jammed packed PD before school starts. There are many books out there on a wide variety of topics that can support this. Do not just buy the book that seems popular in the moment. Do some research, reach out to authors, and ask questions. Before buying a bunch of books on Amazon, reach out to the publishers. Some publishing companies, like the one I publish under (Blend Education), offer discounts on bulk purchases. Here are a few books I would recommend, other than my own of course ;-)

Invent to Learn - Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager

The Google Infused Classroom - Tanya Avrith and Holly Clark

There are many great books out there, but there are also so very bad books out there. Reach out to your social media network to find the right book for you and your staff. 

In-House PD - This type of PD is often overlooked in districts. There are so many great things happening in classrooms in your own buildings that is crazy not to reach out to them to share what has been working in their classrooms. This could be done through a virtual Edcamp model. Have teachers sign up with what they want to share and post those sessions with links to the video conference room in a shared Google Doc. Let teachers get together and share. Consider inviting some out of district educators to join your Edcamp to increase the diversity of voices. 

Instructional Coaches - This one is probably the toughest of them all, but it might be the most important. Having someone from your district that is dedicated to the instructional practices is crucial if teachers are going to be asked to make major pedagogical shifts. This might mean shifting an amazing teacher out of their classroom to support others. Maybe finding ways to compensate teachers who use their free time to support your staff. There are going to be teachers that are going to need support lesson planning in this new phase of education. If many teachers do choose early retirement, then there will be many new teachers that will need support. It will be tough to find the funds for this, but it could help make many teachers more successful in the long term. 

The last bit of advice I have is to make sure you are not trying to make school happen online. There needs to be a fundamental shift in what learning looks like for students and for teachers. There needs to be an increased focus in helping students become independent learners. Worksheets need to vanish and interactive lessons and projects need to replace them. A new emphasis on creation over consumption needs to happen. Now is the time to be innovative in your approach to instruction. I can't think of a better time than now. 

If you have any questions or would like help in supporting your school or district, you can reach me at

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

How Often Are You Checking On The SEL Of Your Students? #EdChat

As the epidemic continues and teachers and students are still engaging in remote learning, how often does SEL come up?

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

It's OK That You Don't Feel OK #EdChat

Right now, there are many teachers out there that are not feeling OK with the way things are right now and I want you to know that I am with you and it is OK to not feel OK right now.

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.  

Sorry @zbyronwolf, @PlayCraftLean is an Educational Tool #MakerEd

I was reading an article on CNN today that was about schools and their role in "opening the economy" today. There was a part of the piece, that is overall well written, that annoyed me.

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

Day One Remote Learning Expectations #EdChat #covidEDU

Tomorrow University Liggett School will start our Remote Learning Adventure. I spent my Spring Break with our Admin team to create a system that will allow teachers and students to connect in synchronous and asynchronous ways. It was a very busy couple of weeks, but I feel we have a solid system to connect students and teachers using Zoom, GAFE, and SeeSaw. We are an Independent School that is BYOD, so all students have devices and we are very lucky to have all of our students have access to wifi at home.

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.

1. Wellness

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.

4. Compassion

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

Interactive Fiction Webinar - Python Coding in ELA #EngChat

Thanks to everyone that made it to the webinar yesterday. I was able to take the recording and add it to YouTube. You can watch it below. Feel free to share it with your students and with others around the internet. Here are the links to the resources used.

Raspberry Pi Tutorial

My game with advanced elements

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out and we can connect.

Virtual Hugs and High Fives,


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Why and How You Should Implement #PBL in your Virtual Classroom

I have written many posts on Project Based Learning and have recently written a book about using it in the classroom. None of them cover the value of a PBL during a nationwide shutdown of schools to prevent the spread of disease. With all of the talk about distance learning and how are teachers going to manage classrooms and instruction for the next 3-4 weeks, people are too focused on trying to do what is done in the classroom virtually. We can't repackage what is already done into a digital format. That is a recipe for disaster. We have to embrace the change in environment and adjust our pedagogical practices to create successful learning opportunities for our students. Here are some thoughts on how you can do this.


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.


Approach 1

  • 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. 
This is a good option if you are under pressure to have your students stick to the specific curriculum.

Approach 2

  • 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. 
This is my preferred approach because it gives the students educational freedom to explore what interests them. It is what learning is supposed to be at its core and we want to promote this aspect of learning as much as possible.

When it comes to tools you can use to accomplish this, there are plenty out there, but I am guessing your district has some in place that are perfect for this. 

Google Classroom is a great tool to use to share all of the information the students will need and keep a running chat of questions and answer students might have. 

Google Drive could be used as a portfolio for students to keep the work and research that can be easily shared with teachers. 

SeeSaw is a wonderful portfolio tool for students to share their artifacts with the classroom and allow for feedback from the teacher. 

Adobe Spark is a free tool that is perfect fo digital creation. Static images, websites, and short video are perfect for students looking to create digital media at home. 

These are just a few thoughts on why and how to use PBL in your classroom. Please do not hesitate to reach out here, on Twitter (@TheNerdyTeacher) or through email ( if you have any questions. 

Sending you virtual hugs and high fives during this trying time,

The Nerdy Teacher

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Share Your Creativity With Students #MakerEd #WhatImMaking

One of the things I have seen shared on the Internets and in schools I have visited are signs by classroom that share what a teacher is reading to show students that everyone reads. I have always thought that was nice and I would share what I was reading in my classroom on the board. As I have shifted to my role as a Makerspace Director, reading has not become less important, but I wanted to share more than just my reading selections. I decided to put a maker twist on the currently reading boards.

This is a board that hangs outside the Prototyping Room of the Knights Forge Innovation Lab. I made one for each classroom teacher and they use them for various things. I thought it would be perfect for "What am I making?" updates. Too often, students think they are not creative because something like drawing or playing an instrument does not come easy to them. Creativity is so much more than the traditional arts. Teachers are the same way. How often have you said, "I'm not really an artist or I'm not very creative to your students"? We are all creative in our own way and we need to show that to our students. 

I am currently in the process of making a shelf and some wall hooks to manage the cables behind the new Newline board in our commons. The shelf is installed and I am designing and printing the wall hooks right now. 

You can see that the cords are a bit of a mess, at least for my taste. Some wall hooks that can organize the flow of the cables will settle my anxiety a bit. ;-)

I would like to challenge all of the design teachers, arts teachers, maker teachers, or any teacher really, to create a "What I'm making?" board and share it on social with #WhatImMaking. Tag me in it and we can show everyone what we are making and how we are all creative. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Using @AdobeAero and @AdobeSpark to Create a Project Showcase #CreateEdu

I’ve been playing with a variety of Adobe apps the more I have been working in the makerspace. As more and more students use the space, the more variety in projects we are starting to see. One of the projects I have started using in my Innovation and Design class is a Design Thinking exercise.

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.

If you want to check it out yourself, you can download the app on your mobile device and click on this link. 

Another cool feature is that it can connect to the Creative Cloud so any creations you have made and stored there can be pulled into Aero. I was thinking about how cool it would be to use different Adobe apps to create the different planets of the solar system and then import them to Aero to create a moving solar system. Maybe recreating an animal cell and seeing closeups of the mitochondria? There are so many possibilities for teachers and students. New apps like this make project based learning even more appealing to students. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

Don't Waste Money on a Makerspace... #MakerEd

...if you are not going to support your staff with professional development.

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

Let Your Students Be Storytellers #MakerEd #EdChat

Anybody that knows me, knows that I love to tell a story. I also love hearing a good story. There is something so beautiful about the exchange of stories between groups of people. People think that stories are only verbally shared between people and that is not true. Look around you right now and you might not notice it, but you are surrounded by stories. Everything ever made has a story. It is a very cool way to look at the world. 

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 Adjust Your Mask Before Helping Others #EdChat

I am on my way to #TCEA and I was listening to the pre-flight instructions when the safety video came on. They showed how to put on the O2 masks and a line that I have heard many, many times, stuck a chord with me.

"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. 

2. Exercise 

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. 

"...exercise reduces the likelihood of depression and also maintains mental health as we age. On the treatment side, exercise appears to be as good as existing pharmacological interventions across a range of conditions, such as mild to moderate depression, dementia, and anxiety, and even reduces cognitive issues in schizophrenia.
But how?
Put simply: Exercise directly affects the brain. Regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions—in part through better blood supply that improves neuronal health by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients; and through an increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signaling, growth, and connections. 
Of critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus—an area of the brain involved in memoryemotion regulation, and learning. Studies in other animals show convincingly that exercise leads to the creation of new hippocampal neurons (neurogenesis), with preliminary evidence suggesting this is also true in humans."
Finding the time to workout is easier said than done. Finding the best workout for yourself when you deal with chronic pain is also difficult. I have found that VR workouts have been awesome for my knees and back. I do VR boxing with the Creed app on my Oculus Quest. I can get in a good swear in 45-60 minutes punching virtual sides of beef or a virtual Rocky Balboa. It is pretty low impact and it works great for me.
3. Indulge in a Hobby
I've recently written about the positive impact of making on mental health. I am a person that is happy when they are working on something. I have made so many things over the past decade to help me with my depression and anxiety. I've built with Raspberry Pi,

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. 

Taking care of yourself is not something many teachers have been taught. We are expected to give all of ourselves to our students and take what is left over and give it to our loved ones at home. What does that leave a person for themself? We cannot run on empty all of the time. It is not good for anyone. Take the time and adjust your mask first so that you are better prepared to support the ones you love in the classroom and in your home. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Mental Health and Making #MakerEd #EdChat

Image result for mental health

I have been thinking about the benefits of being a maker in connection to my own mental health the past couple of months. I have been very open about my depression and anxiety and am always looking for ways to help reduce both of those aspects in my life. I have found a calming attribute to making. When I'm in the "making zone", everything else in my life vanishes. No anxiety, no depression, just making. I just assumed this was a "me" thing, but I have started to pay more attention to the small comments students have been making while in the Makerspace. Here is a just a small sample of what I have overheard, 

"I love just escaping and being here."

"I love having a place that just allows me to be creative without grades."

"Making something, anything, just lets me chill."

"I'm not artsy, but I like just keeping busy with my hands and stuff. It's relaxing."

"It sounds crazy, but the chaos of the Fabrication Room actually calms me down."

I look at these words and I see the code that students, many people, use when discussing anxiety but do not use that exact word. The Knights Forge has always been designed to be a place that students can use to build stuff for class or for fun. Learning while making something that matters to you. I had not planned on it becoming a safe space for those students who need a minute or two. I wanted to look a little deeper and I found some great research out there. 

While most of the research focuses on the calming impact of the arts, making, as far as I am concerned, falls under the arts wing because it is about being creative and making something. An article from 2015 on CNN, discussed research that found that being involved in the arts was similar to meditation. Our nervous system can only do so much at once, so when we engage is something that takes concentration (knitting, woodworking, sculpting, etc) out attention is drawn to the actions and everything else in the world just fades away. It is called "the flow". Sounds like another name for "the zone" to me. 

Other studies have found the same positive impact of creativity on mental health. Being involved in Music Therapy decreased depression and anxiety for all participants. For anyone that plays music, I am sure this does not surprise them one bit. Music has had a calming impact on people for a very long time. The science backs it up across the board. 

Lastly, making things is actually a natural anti-depressant. Your brain releases dopamine when you are happy. Sitting and making stuff that you like and creating something that makes you happy increases your dopamine levels. This shot of dopamine helps you feel awesome when you finally finish a project or enjoy the process. 

When we talking about making in schools, I think it is important to point out the positive impact that creativity has on student mental health. Students need to create. The world around them is chaos and they need outlets to let them express what the world means to them and to relieve the stress they are facing. Depression and anxiety is rising in our students and we do have the tools to combat it. I'm proud of the work we are doing at University Liggett School that allows for student voice, choice, and creativity. 

Please share this with your staff if they are hesitant about embracing making, PBL, and other forms of creativity in the classroom. 

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


Friday, January 24, 2020

The Joy and Fear of Not Knowing Who You Are #EdChat

Teaching in middle school the past couple of years after over a decade in high school has opened up my eyes to the things that I have actively worked to repress from my own years in middle school. Middle school students spend so much time trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. They look at adults and think it is so easy because we know our place in the world. If they only knew how far from the truth that really is.

In software terms, every year is a new version of yourself. You start off in Beta and eventually you will turn 10 and make it to version 1.0. Right now, I'm Nicholas Provenzano v4.0. Next year, I will have an upgrade to 4.1. Version 3.8 had no idea how to use a CNC machine, laser cutter, Adobe Illustrator, a lathe, and so much more. 4.0 me can make pens, turn bowls, design bendable wood book covers on Illustrator, and so much more. Sometimes the upgrade is really a downgrade in some ways, (Pegged jeans, acid washed denim, etc.), but we take user feedback and improve the next time around. I am determined to be the best version of myself and that is exciting and filled with joy. Every version of me comes with bugs that will be worked out over time and that is the joy of the process. Working to become a better me.

I think it is important to let young students know that an end goal of who you are going to be doesn't exist. Lifelong learning is real and helps us constantly evolve into better versions of ourselves. If the software analogy doesn't work, compare it to Pokemon Evolutions, experience points that cause a character to level up, or make a TikTok video to explain it to them.

I used to let the fear of not knowing who I was and who I was going to be consume me. I now embrace that unknown future and do my best to just be the best version of me I can be every year. I feel like the more honest we are as adults about how we don't have being a grown up figured out all the time can really relieve some of the stress that our students feel. IDK. I might be wrong. Hopefully the next version of me will have a better handle on it. That, and a slimmer case.

Hugs and High Fives,