Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Having The Tough Conversations in Class #EdChat

This Summer has seen some important events in our nation's history. Primaries, conventions, Supreme Court rulings, anger, hate speech, violence, death, and so much more. Now, there have been great things that happen every day in this great country, but how we cope and understand the worst that happens is how we grow as a nation. Tough conversations need to happen in the classroom. 

That is where teachers need to step in and step up. 

As a literature teacher, one of my many jobs is to connect our current events to the literature of the past. Asking students to make these connections is how I can drive the conversation and let them explore the value of reading these texts. As I sat and watched the conventions, I was thinking about the readings we will do in my American Literature class and I was drawn to a speech by Jonathan Edwards, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". This sermon used fear to bring people back into the fold of church. It used tremendous imagery to scare believers into coming back to the church. 

"The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him."

"And you children that are unconverted, don’t you know that you are going down to hell to bear the dreadful wrath of that God that is now angry with you every day and every night?"

Questions I might ask students:

How does Edwards use fear in his sermon? 
Is it helpful in making his case?
Do speech writers still use this tactic? Can you find an example?

I also think about Patrick Henry's Speech at the Virginia Convention as well. Trying to convince a group of people that it was time to make the difficult choice and openly rebel against the Crown. 

"Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it."

Questions I might ask students:

What is the "painful truth" Henry is speaking about?
Who might give this speech today? Support your answer with text similar to this. 

I think about these passages and questions and I hope my students can make the connections to the world around them. It might take a little poking, but it is important to let the student get to where they are going on their own. 

The value of classroom conversations is when the teacher sets them up and backs away to let the student think out the connections and share their thoughts. 

To do this, it is important to establish a safe environment for all students to share their opinions. This has taken me time to master, but my students know that they can speak their mind in our class as long as they are respectful of others. 

This year, think about how you can create an environment for your students to talk about important events in our nation. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Just Make and Have Fun! #MakerEd #ImAMaker

I've been home from my June/Early July presenting tour and it has been great. Besides the obvious awesomeness of spending time with my amazing family, I've had time to sit and think about Making things. This past week, I was able to complete two projects.

Project 1:

I was cruising eBay and I did not have a set goal. Sometimes it is just fun to window shop a bit. I stopped to look at an old rotary phone that was in a cool looking box. I was struck with the idea that I could turn the the handset into speakers that could play music. I wrote a quick post on it and shared it out.

After the phone arrived, the real work started. I had to open it up, remove the guts and see if I could figure out how to wire a headset to an earbud 3.5mm jack that would go into the Pi. I found that the wiring was pretty easy and the sound was pretty good coming from my iPhone and the speaker in the handset, but it was only one speaker and it was not very loud. I decided to strip a set of small speakers I do not use and install those speakers into the handset. It had clear sound, but it was not loud. Turns out the audio from the jack is just crappy. The Internet told me all about it. So, I ordered a USB Audio Card, installed that in the guts of the phone, and the audio was great. The other aspect of the phone I really wanted to hack was the plunger. I wanted to push the button there and turn it on and off. So, I found a push button on/off code and used an LED code as well to let me know if it is on or off. Lastly,  I needed to run code to turn the Raspberry Pi 3 into an Airplay device. I did not write these codes, but I tweaked them to fit my needs. You can take your Pi and put it anywhere and design a case around it. 

Project 2:

Nintendo announced you can buy a retro/mini NES that comes pre-loaded with 30 game for $59.99! What a deal? I had some time to kill while I was waiting for my USB Audio Card, so I took out my Raspberry Pi Zero, a Nintendo Controller themed mint can, my drill, and I got to work.

This link will cover the details of how to download the RetroPi image onto your Pi device. For me, the challenge was taking the tin and making it able to hold the Pi Zero and have openings for the two microUSB ports and the MiniHD port. Just a bit of measuring, drilling, and my Dremel to sand the rough/sharp metal edges to complete the project.

I used a USB SNES controller I had from another RetroPi project and connected it to the Pi Zero. The shot of link was just an image I placed on the Pi because it would not be cool to download old games from the Internet for free. Not cool at all...

You can find tons of free games online if you just Google search things like ROMS. There are developers out there that make great games that you can find and play for free.

As I finished these two projects, I was filled with this awesome sense of accomplishment. I wanted to share it with my family and friends. I figured out how to do some tough wiring and tricky coding (It took me hours to tweak it just right). I want to share this with all of you out there because I want to encourage all of you to get out there and try and Make something. It is so much fun to do it and share with your family.

If you have any questions, please drop me a line.

Hugs and High Fives,


Monday, July 25, 2016

The Nerdy Robot with @EZ_Robot #MakerEd

At the start of the 4th Quarter, my students wanted to do something different in our tech class. They suggested building a robot. I thought this would be cool, but I had no idea where to start. Lucky for me, I attended ASCDs annual conference and met the amazing folks at EZ Robot. I was shown a demonstration of their JD Robot and I was hooked. Here is a quick video from them that shows what JD can do.

The cool thing about the robots is that they are modular. The parts slide into place and can be replaced with other parts as needed. You really get the feel of building a robot because you need to assemble it out of the box! Watching the students gather around in groups and assemble their robots was such a fun experience. They spent a couple of days looking at the different parts and seeing how everything went together and how they might possibly tweak the robot to meet their needs. It was not long before the robots where up and running and the kids were programming their very own robots. 

EZ Robot comes with its own software to program their robots. The full software is available on PC only right now, but they do have light versions for the Apple and Android Mobile Devices that work very well. Most of my work with the robots has been done on the iPhone and iPad because it is so easy to set up a quick script to make my robot rock out. Their software also comes with a Scratch based system that allows for easy drag and drop programming for beginners. It really is a strong programming system for all ages and skill levels. Here is an example of what you can do with the software. 

A video posted by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

Another awesome part of EZ Robot is that designs for the various plastic parts are available as files on their site. You can download and 3D print pieces as needed. This was huge for me after a trip this past week. My EZ Robot, which was protectively wrapped when I packed it and later manhandled by airport luggage workers ended up breaking both arm joints of my robot.

Look how sad he is. 
I was able to download the files at the conference, set them up for printing, and then print as soon as I got home. Here is TNT (The Nerdy Teacher) with his new arm parts.

My EZ Robot was back in action and looking good. I designed the microphone as well. I can have him sing and dance as much as I want!

The best use of the robots in class was having students design a maze for the other groups and then program their robot to make it through the maze. It was a very fun lesson that challenged the students to think about the different parts of the maze and how their robot would interact with it.

A photo posted by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

Here is a video of students figuring out how to get their robot to track a color.

A video posted by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

I love all of the possibilities of having a robot to play with at home and in the classroom. It is cool to learn how to code and possibly design parts for the EZ Robot. I think my guy needs his very own bowtie. Check out EZ Robot and their educational package that could take your Makerspace to the next level.

A video posted by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why Do We Need Digital Citizenship? #DigCit

This is what I have seen across social media the past few days:

One "celebrity" share a secret recording of another "celebrity" on the phone. 

Another "celebrity" stand up for that secretly recorded "celebrity" only to be attacked by others on social media and another "celebrity" posting a fake NSFW photo of her.

The wife of a candidate for President gave a speech at a national convention that was plagiarized from a speech given by another wife of a President. 

Defenders of the plagiarist have denied (lied) using the excuse that common phrases are used by many people and this is only a big deal because the other person running for President has people making it a big deal. 

A Presidential candidate was not given permission to use a song and used it anyway.   

I use celebrity in quotes because I have a hard time validating the actions of people like this with suggesting their actions should be celebrated at all. 

I refuse to tag any of these people and their tweets because I do not want to drive traffic to anything that might support them. 

I also think everyone knows exactly whom I'm talking about despite my lack of names and direct links. That is why we need Digital Citizenship. 

We are living in a world where students are exposed to more sources of information and have access to share their own information. Sadly, the crazy, mean-spirited, violent, angry, and bigoted voices are becoming louder on social media and people that are in the public eye are using these spaces to say awful things and, sadly, it helps support their "brand". It is disgusting and there needs to be a louder and better voice. 

Schools need to step up and provide strong examples of what appropriate use of social media looks like and how using it hurtful ways, or using the Internet to plagiarize, or using songs without permission is wrong and possibly illegal. Twitter does not seem able to block everyone that is being bad on Twitter, so schools need to educate students AND parents on best practices of using the Internet. 

If we do not do it, who will? 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Making with @littleBits Arduino Kit #MakerEd

I've been having some fun with the littleBits Arduino Kit the past couple of days. I've had some experience using Arduino for smaller projects, but I had never used it with littleBits before. I wasn't sure how this would all go together, but I'm pretty pumped with what I was able to come up with after I got the hang of the code.

The first project I wanted to create was a random number generator to select students in class. The concept was pretty straightforward, but I could not get the code working.

With this setup, I wanted to click the button and have the code run and give me a random number. It makes sense in my head, but it did not make sense to the bits. The button placed here controlled the power. A quick push only gave a quick dose of power. My project was never going to work. I had to make one simple switch to solve this problem. 

It was not my code, it was the button. Ugh. Now I can press the button and have a random number appear on the number bit. The number bit is not part of the standard Arduino Kit from littlebits, so you would need to get this bit from another kit or purchase it separate. You can find the entire project on the littleBits site.

My next project uses only the bits in the Arduino Kit and I think it is a fun way to show whether or not you are in the office or if a kid has left the room with a pass.

The code for this one was very simple. It was just using the Button Code found on littleBits. The servo turned on its own and the light is powered by the button. You can find the entire project here

It has been nice to sit down and start making with something fun. It has been a crazy few weeks where I have travelled and talked to other educators about the importance of Making, but I have not had much time to make. Sitting down and working on these two projects caused a little stress, but I was filled with such happiness when I figured them out and could share them with others. 

I hope others will get out there and make some fun things with littleBits or anything you can get your hands on. 

Hugs and High Fives!


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Retro Rotary Phone @Raspberry_Pi Project #Picademy #MakerEd

I was cruising Ebay yesterday and I stumbled across this interesting rotary phone. It's completely self-contained in this cool box. If something is old and self-contained, I always think of different ways I could possibly hack it. I was able to win the auction for this phone for $10.50. The shipping is going to cost more than I paid for the phone. Total: $28.00

I'm thinking that I can hack this guy with a Raspberry Pi 3 and have it set up to stream music. To do this, I will replace the speaker in the headset and the receiver with another speaker so the handset becomes the speakers for the Pi. What I really want to do is have the button that the receiver releases when it is picked up be the on/off button. In theory, that should be a simple GPIO connection, but I'm not 100% sure on that. Using the receiver button saves me from having to install a separate button or running a python script on boot. I can easily add the microUSB port to the phone for charging. I could run it through the old phone port. 

I wanted to share the very beginning of this project because I thought it was cool and to ask for any suggestions on using a button to turn the Pi on/off. I'm happy to accept in coding help if you have an idea about the button. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

It's All About The Community. #MakerEd #Making

I was very lucky to work with some awesome people at ISTE2016. So many crazy things happened, it is impossible to shine a light big enough to cover them all. So, I want to write about something that really inspired me and made me excited about the future.

Making has become a bigger part of my educational life the past couple of years. I have been diving into Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Python, etc. As an English teacher, it has been a trippy journey. I never thought I'd write a book about Making or Makerspaces, but I have one ready to go in September. I mention this because I never could have done any of this without the support of the Maker community. I'm not talking about the Educational Maker community. They are awesome and I love them too, but they are part of the larger Maker community. They are dedicated people that want to make things and help people make things. In other areas of life, there can be a "this is mine" or "do it yourself" mentality, but that is not what you tend to see in the Maker community. I have had so many questions about how to do things and every Maker forums I've been to have been filled with support. It is awesome to be embraced for the Nerdy things you are doing. At ISTE, it was taken to another level. 

I've been following rockstar education Makers for some time, but felt like I could not match their awesome level of Maker knowledge. I was able to meet these amazing people and realized that I am not even close to possessing a fraction of their knowledge. That's ok though because they were more than happy to share what they knew and I know I can go to them if I have questions or ideas. The community is crazy strong and it extends to those companies that "get it" when it comes to Making in education.

I have been a total fanboy over Ayah Bdeir after watching a video of her conversation at SXSWEDU. and her TED Talk. She is an amazing and passionate person trying to take littleBits into every classroom so all students can feel like inventors and creators. I was lucky enough to run into her at the littleBits booth and talk for a minute. She was awesome and I shared that on Twitter. Her response floored me. #NerdHeaven

This really cool moment was just one example of meeting someone in the Maker community and having them quickly embrace what you are doing and they want to know how they can help. Ayah was awesome, but I also want to say that the entire littleBits team was awesome. I just love seeing people that are passionate about what they do and just full of smiles even when they are exhausted from hours on the showroom floor. Check them out to see what I'm talking about.

I also had the pleasure of getting to meet Collen Graves, Diana Rendina, Jeff Branson in person. These are three all star Makers who rocked it at the Maker Competition. I had never met them personally, but I had followed their work. Watching these three Masters at Making go to work was awesome. It was so interesting to watch thinkers think like I think. I learned just from watching them and they were eager to share with anyone that came to their table. That is the beauty of Making and these three amazing Makers are examples of what the best of Making looks like. Check them out! I do not want to leave our my friends Bill Selak and David Saunders. I've known them for a few years now and we have met multiple times. Their contribution was amazing to the event as Master Makers. They are great people and amazing friends. 

I want to encourage everyone out there that is thinking about Making or starting Makerspaces to reach out to the community. They are awesome and passionate people just like you that want to see more people Making. Get out of your comfort zone and get Making!