Monday, July 28, 2014

More Learning Spaces Thoughts #NerdySpaces @Bretford

I've been thinking more about my #NerdySpaces I want to create in my classroom and I've been doing some cruising around the Internet and ideas have been been piling up, so I thought I would share them here. I stopped by Bretford this weekend and these are some of things that I found.

Note: These might not be the exact items I try and purchase, they just are giving me ideas for what I would like as a concept.

Desk/Table Top Areas

Bretford Explore 4-Leg Activity Table

I love the idea behind this table because it allows the desks to be moved into groups to create larger tables, but can be used as solo desks for students who want/need to work alone. This would fit nicely with the idea of 20 Time so my students can be in groups most of the week, but can break off into solo spots to work on their project. I'm really looking for something that allows easy mobility. This desk would fit what I was looking for in my room.

Explore 4-Leg Teaming Table

This is one of those "dream big" items. I love the idea of having a few of these around the room so students can work together and present their work to their group easily. I think a a couple of groups could be set up at each table to present their work to the others and get feedback. Using Google Docs or SMART Amp in these groups would be a great way to create a more collaborative environment for the students. I also the love chairs on wheels. That's next. 

Chairs on wheels make perfect sense when you pair them with tables on wheels. The students can easily move around the room and form big groups or small groups. Tables can quickly be moved aside for other projects that require more room. These can be stacked as well, so they can be moved out of the way. They have armless versions as well, but I like resting my arms on chairs, why wouldn't I want students to?

These are just a few of the ideas that have come across my mind as I have been checking out various vendors and the different options they offer. I love the looking at these items for inspiration. They are allowing me to think about my teaching as a whole in a new light. Instead of looking at what it is in my room right now and planning lessons around that space, I'm planning with an empty room in mind and the room will be created by what the lessons will need. That is how it should be. 

I'll keep surfing the web looking for inspiration for my room and I will try and find other items out there that might make my room best for teaching and learning. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Let's Experiment #edchat

Parenting is full of awesome new adventures every single day. My son is three and has decided that every answer I give has the complete and total possibility of being wrong. "Maybe it is" is his response when I tell him something g is not the way he thinks it is or something is not possible. He constantly questions and suggests that my answer might not be correct. For some, this could be maddening, but I've learned to turn it into something fun for us.

I taught Leo the word Experiment. Sometimes I tell him we will do an experiment to see which one if us is correct. Yesterday at the park had a perfect example. Here was the exchange,

Leo: Daddy, to down the slide with me.
Dad: I'm too big for the slide. I will get stuck.
Leo: Maybe you won't. Do a 'speriment. 
Dad: OK, let's see. (Fearfully goes down the slide, but thankfully does not get stuck.)
Leo: I told you! You didn't get stuck! (Gleefully runs around enjoying his moment of rightness.)

I look at this moments and the other moments where he tried out ideas of his own and learned the answer and it makes me excited. Even when his idea did not work out, he sometimes still questioned my answer and tried to think of other alternatives. Other times he accepted the new knowledge and moved to the next shiny object that got his attention. This is what learning is all about. Where has this yearning for knowledge and understanding gone in our students and our teachers?

For teachers, how often do we choose not to try something new because others have said it will not work? How often have we told students not to do something because we thought it might not work? 

20 Time has allowed my students to try things and fail. I saw it first hand and it was glorious. What about teachers though? How often are they willing to experiment and try new things? How will they learn if they never try and fail? 

I encourage all teachers out there to try and experiment this new school year. Take the ideas you have always wanted to try and the ideas others have said would fail and experiment. Make the attempt and do not be out off by failure. Learn from each experiment and grow as a teacher. Each failure will only bring you closer to a huge success later. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reflecting On My Current Classroom Setup #NerdySpaces

I spent a couple of hours in my classroom today taking pictures, sketching ideas, and annotating those pictures on my iPad using Skitch and Evernote. Here were my thoughts as I looked at my room. (Caution: These are just rough ideas, not final decisions.)

I'm going to start with the stage area in my classroom. This is the area that students love the most and tend to congregate before and after class. It is also the center of group work for most students if they can claim it before anyone else. The chairs have been collected over the years and student love to sit there and work. The whiteboard areas always change during the school year and the door is painted with IdeaPaint and it is called the Dream Door. Student can post thing they hope to accomplish during the school year. As I looked at the space, I took down some ideas. 

The stage used to be the center of my Blogger's Cafe idea from a few years ago. I moved away from that because the students had their own devices and they didn't need to be there to have access to their blogs. The chairs stayed and the iPad cart was added. A few more chairs were added, but the space has gone unchanged for the most part. The answer to my classroom space issues have been staring at me from the stage for a few years. Instead of viewing the stage as a special area to lounge and work, why didn't I see that the entire room should be like this? Despite how innovative or progressive I try to be, there are elements of the "old school" mentality that stick with me and are hard to break. 

The front of my room needs some serious changes as well. Here is what I realized while staring at the front of my room like a student would in class. 

I have wasted so much space in my room because I had the wrong idea of what a classroom should look like. "All eyes up front" is not the way to go about designing the classroom. That makes the learning environment about me and it should not about me at all. Even when the desks are moved into a table formation, students are constantly adjusting their seating to make eye contact with the speaker. 

I move all over the room, yet I set everything up to make the front of the room the focal point. It doesn't even make sense. I spend time dodging stray backpacks as I walk the room and students are turning every which way to keep me in their view. This formula is a huge fail. 

Here are a few more shots where I suggest some changes. I hope I can make them. 

I have all of this board space that should be used in class by my students on most days. I need to arrange tables and chairs around those learning hubs so the students can collaborate freely without having to get up and go to the library or the hallway to get comfortable. 

I would like to see each part of the room that has something a little different and special that could accomodate the different types of learners that come in and out of my room. Maybe a couple of the areas have screens for students to plug in their device and work collaboratively on a computer. Maybe another spot features dry erase boards and desktops so they can map out their plans with markers. I think there are so many different possibilities if I take the time and figure out what is best. 

Once I get some ideas set, I'm going to reach out to some students for feedback and see what they think about the learning space. 

If you are a vendor interested in helping me create the #NerdySpaces for my students, please drop me a line on Twitter (@TheNerdyTeacher) or though email

#NerdySpaces - My Project for 2014-2015

Every year I decide on a project that I'm going to focus on and share on my blog. Last year it was 20 Time, the year before it was an Epic Evernote Experiment, and I documented the Epic Romeo and Juliet Project from 4 years ago. This year, I'm going to focus on creating a better learning environment by create spaces that are more conducive to modern teaching and learning.

I'm going to be calling these #NerdySpaces and I will be using this blog to document the changes that take place in my classroom. Today I will be heading to my room to take a bunch of before pictures to document what my room used to be and I'm going to start brainstorming on what I would like my room to be. Here are just a few of my random thoughts.

I want to ditch my teacher desk. I've always sectioned off a part of my room that is the teacher area and students are not allowed. I'm not sure why I do it, but I've always done it and I want to stop. I want the entire space to be open and accessible to all of the students. My desk tends to just hold stuff I barely use anyway. I will miss the IdeaPaint top I painted for the desk, but I feel I can do something different if I push myself.

I want to dump the chair/desk setup and move to tables or desks that are more easily moved to create group work stations. I've seen some cool things from Steelcase and Bretford. It is more than time to rethink what the classroom looks like.

I teach in a 1:1 iPad classroom, but I feel like I still teach too much from the stage. Part of that is the environment I teach it that is designed to have students looking to the front of the room at me or the student presenter. I need to reconsider the "center" of my room and how a new layout might promote more collaboration and better learning.

I want students to have a say in what the classroom is going to look like on any given day. I want the flow of the room to be dictated by the learning, not the learning dictated by the flow of the room.

There are so many possibilities, but time is short. I want to have the new room set up by the time I start school in September, but that might not be possible. I need to find some sponsors that are willing to go with me on the crazy adventure and support new ideas. I'm blessed to be in a building that has always supported by ideas and I can wait to see where this project takes me.

I learned from my students last year that it is ok to dream big and fail big. This might be one of those times, but I'm not going to let that get in my way. Stay tuned for updates over the course of summer as I figure out what my room is going to look like.

Please feel free to leave me comments below with suggestions on articles to read, vendors to contact, or anything else that could help me create the best #NerdySpaces for my students. If you are a vendor and you want to partner with me for this great experiment and be featured on my blog for the year as I write about the awesomeness that is my room because of you, please send me an email at

Thanks everyone!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Increase Levels of Engagement & Collaboration With @BoomWriter_ #EngChat #EdChat

Increase Levels of Engagement & Collaboration With BoomWriter’s Group-Writing Tool

BoomWriter is a group writing website that is free for teachers and allows students to create, share, and even publish stories and other original content.  BoomWriter’s easy-to-use and interactive collaborative writing platform lets teachers deliver a fun and engaging personalized learning experience, while elementary, middle, and high school age students work online to develop their reading, writing, and peer assessment skills.  


BoomWriter uses a simple process but with a technology twist.  The teacher selects a “story start”, either from a database of original first chapters or they can create their own prompt, and students then individually write what they think should be the next chapter/section.  The teacher reviews each submission online before allowing the students to read and vote on the anonymous chapter/s that they would like to see included as the next part of the piece.  There’s an easily managed voting system that fairly determines the winning chapter, while not requiring students to read all of their peers’ submissions (and they do not see their own during voting).  The process continues until the story is completed, which is determined by the teacher.  Once finished, BoomWriter will even convert the project into an actual published book containing the names of all of the participating students.  Completed books are then made available for purchase from the BoomWriter Bookstore.

BoomWriter can be used by teachers in a variety roles and educational settings, such as whole class, small group, before, during, and after school.  Boomwriter is also completely safe for students, since all of their work is created and stored in a closed digital environment.  BoomWriter is a helpful and effective instructional tool, allowing teachers to go online to monitor students’ progress, and provide individualized feedback on their writing and personalized instruction from anywhere.  Teachers are also able to provide helpful guidance notes to the group prior to each writing phase, creating relevant practice and application opportunities for specific skills and/or understandings covered in class.

BoomWriter started in a middle school classroom and now has a presence in close to 10,000 classrooms spread throughout more than 60 countries!  The more BoomWriter grows, the more ways teachers find to use this approach to writing in their own classroom.  One high school teacher in Kansas used BoomWriter with her students to create a modern day version of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible that explores the events of the Salem witchcraft trials.  According to the teacher, while collaboratively engaged in a contemporary retelling on BoomWriter the students explored “how the themes and ideas that Miller wrote about are still prevalent in today's world.”  

BoomWriter has also identified a way to support large urban school districts and inspire students to write using technology through its Technology Heroes Program.  Tech Heroes, which “helps teachers be champions of technology in their classrooms”, consists of BoomWriter partnering with larger districts and a third party corporate sponsor to provide every student and teacher with their very own free copy of the book they created using BoomWriter!  Tech Heroes programs have taken place within Boston Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, and the Oakland Unified School District, to name a few.  In a survey conducted of participating Tech Heroes teachers just last spring, 95% found BoomWriter to be an “effective instructional tool” and 97% of teachers would use it again in their classrooms.  One teacher raved, “I really enjoyed hearing my students beg to write. Students were thinking at home but writing in class.  They were talking about their stories during recess.  Students who never wrote full stories, began to write and complete their writing.  I am delighted with BoomWriter.  It is a valuable asset to my classroom.”

WordWriter graphic.png

BoomWriter continues to add new free resources and features to support teachers, such as ELA lesson plans, providing teachers step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate elements of personal narrative or literature into their projects.  By the start of the upcoming school year, BoomWriter will also feature two new products for use within and beyond the classroom.  The first is an interactive vocabulary application called “WordWriter” that will deliver a technology-based learning experience that is certain to develop greater interest and engagement levels around vocabulary instruction.  WordWriter will increase students’ overall vocabulary development by allowing students to apply, share, and assess newly learned words in original content.  The second product will facilitate non-fiction group-writing projects around Social Studies/History and Science/Technical subjects, and BoomWriter will support teachers with these efforts by providing free lesson plans as well.   

Increase the levels of collaboration in your classroom by registering for free on BoomWriter!

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Post I Can't Seem To Title, So I'll Tell You It's About Depression



It is how I feel at the moment. This is not about the fact that ISTE is over and I'm bummed that my friends have scattered to the four corners of the country.

I suffer from depression and this is the first time I have written about it publicly.

It is something I constantly battle with and for the past two years, I've been hit with some depressed episodes during ISTE. My dark times coincide with high levels of stress, terrible eating, dehydration, and hot weather. San Antonio last year and Atlanta this year have been perfect spaces for me to feel terrible. Despite my best efforts, my sad friend takes over.

One of the reasons I have not said anything about my depression is that I feel like so few people seem to understand it. Last year was an amazing year from me. I was the MACUL and ISTE Teacher of the Year. I was speaking all over the country and I was able to see all of my friends, but everything fell apart for me and I became an anxious mess in San Antonio. This year in Atlanta, I was coming off another amazing year where 20 Time ruled my world and I hosted a TEDx Conference. I even did an Ignite session where I sang a cartoon theme song and the audience sang along. It was wonderfully received and the kind words made me feel great. Despite these amazing years filled with so many reasons to make me smile, I fell into despair.

For a couple of days I could feel an episode coming, but was battling valiantly to stave it off. Sadly (pun intended), it took over in the middle of the night. Part of my depression is anxiety. I get anxious thinking about my depression and how it makes me feel and how it is going to impact the people I care about. That anxiety makes me more depressed, which brings me more anxiety...

It truly is a fun ride.

Here is a cartoon I found that explains how I feel.

Another reason I have been scared to say or write anything is the fear that people will no longer want to work with someone who is "crazy" or "unstable". Would anyone want to hire someone who deals with depression? I'm not sure the answer to those questions, but I feel like I have to speak up in the hopes this helps, not only me, but possible others dealing with the same feelings I am.

At 4AM, I woke up in a tailspin and knew I needed to get out of it. Over the years, I have learned to cope with my bouts of Depression and decided to get a jump on this one. There is a clip I love to watch that reminds me of the piles of good things and the piles of bad things. It is from Doctor Who and my favorite episode entitled, "Vincent and the Doctor". After defeating a monster that almost killed Vincent van Gogh, they decide to take Vincent into the future to show him how important his life would become in the hope of changing his dark future. Returning home, they realize that it did not alter his fate.

Here is what the Doctor tells Amy when they get back and realize that Vincent has still taken his life. 

I'm not comparing myself to Vincent, so please do not worry. I love this clip because it reminds me of the beauty of the world around us in what we do. So often we view ourselves as such failures in our jobs and have such anxiety of how the world views us, we can lose perspective. Maybe we are all misunderstood geniuses. It also made me think about how crucial it is to let people know how important they are so we can add to their pile of good things in an effort to make it bigger than that other pile. 

This clip led me to another by my friends at +SoulPancake

The video explains the science behind the fact that if you compliment someone, it will actually make you feel better. It seemed crazy, but it has worked for me ever since I saw this video and I try to compliment others as much as possible because of this clip. After watching it very early this morning, I wrote my letter in my head and felt good, but I wanted to share it here. (Sorry this is such a long post with so much media, but it's important to me.)

Dear friends (You know who you are and this includes my family, and most importantly, my wife),

I want to take a moment to thank you for all of your support and love over the years. Despite some of you not knowing about my sadness over the years, you have stuck by me and have always been supportive when things were not going my way. You have always had a smile and a warm embrace waiting for me when you could tell that I needed them. 

You have pulled me into the sunlight when all I wanted to do was hide in the darkness. My happiest moments are spent with you being goofy and just being me and I will forever be indebted to you for that. You have met me as a new friend, but treated me like an old buddy. Those little moments of kindness you do not remember are the things that get me through the toughest days. You have all added to my pile of good things while the world and my own brain try to add to my other pile. I hope I have done the same for you. 

I love you all, 


Watching these videos has made me feel so much better already. Truly, writing this post has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders and I feel ready to take on the world. So, please do not worry about me, I hope all of you will take time and add to the pile of good things for the people in your life. I will continue with my battle knowing that I have people who love me  and are ready to support me.

I'm going to leave you one last clip that has +Wil Wheaton explaining why it is awesome to be a nerd and here is a post from Wil that helped me understand Depression in a different way.