Monday, August 29, 2016

5 Things Students Should Know About Teachers Starting The School Year

I started lesson planning for the start of the school year yesterday. When I start lesson planning, I go into full teacher mode and start thinking about everything I need accomplish from September through June. I was also struck by all of these things and how most students have no idea what teachers are thinking when the school year starts. So, I thought I would write about the 5 Things Students Should Know About Teachers Starting The School Year.

1. We get anxious at the start of school.

I do not mean that we are looking forward to it, I mean we are driven my that awful feeling in our gut that stems from (sometimes) irrational fears. We worry if the students are going to like us or if the lesson plans from last year will work again. We stress about knowing the names of the students and how badly we will pronounce them. Are there going to be new rules that we have to follow? Will I remember them? What happens if I don't? Am I up for evaluation? Is my teaching certificate up to date? Do I have enough PD hours? Are the contract negotiations going well? We get anxious over all of these things and more and it can make getting out of bed tough, but we do it. We do it because, despite all of those things, we love what we do.

2. We believe all of you can be great.

No matter what your skill level, we know that all of you are going to be great in something and we want to help you find that one thing. It could be Science, poetry, photography, drums, or any other thing we can't think of, but you love it with all of your heart and we will help you with it. Some students make it harder on us to be helpful, but we are up to the challenge and will work with all of you so you can move closer to your full potential.

3. We care more about you than your grade.

It's something that all teachers think about. We want to know that all of our students or doing well. Not just at an academic level, but at an emotional and social level. We want school to be a fun and safe place for all students and we worry about the students who do not feel that way about school. Grade are important in one aspect of school, but your overall wellbeing is most important. We love all of our students in a way that only teachers truly understand. You are our kids once you enter the classroom and will be our kids forever after.

4. We are not kidding when we say, "Come and talk to me if you need anything".

We do not say it because we are told to say it (we're not), we say it because we mean it. We want you to know that we are here for you if you need anything at all. It might seem weird to talk to your teacher about personal stuff, but sometimes, we are the best ones to help. It is cliche, but we were teens once upon a time. Man of the issues you are dealing with have happened to all of us. Teachers deal with depression, anxiety, divorce, substance abuse, and other issues in their personal lives because we are people just like you. Please reach out when you need it.

5. We are going to fail you.

I do not mean you will get a failing grade on the essay. I mean that we are going to let you down in some fashion. It is inevitable. We will not do it on purpose, but we will make a mistake, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, because we are human. It breaks our heart knowing that we are going to fail some of you, but we promise to keep trying and make everything as perfect as possible for every student in the classroom. We can only promise to learn from our failures and come back better, smarter, and stronger the next time around. We will always forgive your failures and we hope you will forgive ours.

There are many more things that run through a teacher's head before school starts, but these are just a few that I think of every year that I want students to know. Feel free to add any thoughts you would like students to know in the comment section below.

Have an awesome school year everyone!

Hugs and High Fives,


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Check out @TeamKano for #BackToSchool

Enter in Nerdy2016 and you can get 10% off!

I've had the best time playing with the Kano Computer Kit. I will just start right away by telling you that you need to order a kit right away if you are interested in getting your students or own children learning to code and assemble their own computer. The new Computer Kit comes with a Raspberry Pi 3! Ok, let's get to the basics.

Kano Computer Kits come with a Raspberry Pi which is the computer that runs the OS. The OS comes on a microSD card that comes preloaded with the Kano OS. Here are some pictures of unboxing and putting the Kano Computer Kit together. Below are a ton of pictures that I wanted to share because this really is something that is important to see as well as read about.

The Computer Kit has a nice package

Keyboard dongle is plugged in and ready to go
Power ready to light up the Kano
Assembled and ready to go!

Once everything is assembled, you are ready to connect your Kano to an HD monitor. This can be a TV or another HD capable monitor you have access to at home or school. I connected mine to a large SMART board. Once I plugged in everything, here was the first message. 

Fun little picture

Made a mistake and they helped me fix it
 Once I set my user name and I followed the initial steps, I was then taken to some screens to help me get going. The tutorial setup was very easy to do and was wonderfully paced.

Working the keyboard

Killing bugs!

Setting up the desktop was sooooo simple

Karate Avatar
 Once the desktop is all set and you have created your avatar, you set up your online profile so you can access the great community that Kano has set up for users to share content and try new things others have created.

Once you have set up the account, Kano walks you through the different apps that can be found pre-installed on the OS.

Once you have done all of this, you will earn your first badge! I was so excited to earn my first badge. I'm not going to lie. I might have done a fist pump. 

First badge
 The first app i jumped into was the Snake app. I wanted to make my own Snake app and the game walked me through all of the code I needed to make it run. It was very simple to type out and establish in the system. I then was able to play the games I created.

 When I was done, I shared my creation to the Kano Community.

As I continued to play with Snake and try out the new levels, I earned a badge!

I continued to earn more badges as I played different games and learned different things about coding and creating on a computer. 

Eventually, I leveled up to 2 and was very excited about this accomplishment. The more I played, the more I leveled up. It was a bit addicting. I spent my entire off period and lunch playing with the different games. I was hooked. 

The more levels I earned, the more content I earned for my avatar. 

I know I have shared many many photos, but I've done that to show you how beautiful the UI is on the Computer Kit. It is wonderfully designed and easy to use. The cartoon graphics are well rendered and look great on the HD screen. The UI is so important if you are going to get adults and children hooked on using a device. These are key and Kano has done an amazing job with it.

I played pong, did a text based Python script game, I played with Scratch for the first time and made the Cat dance around the screen, and I did all of this with a huge smile on my face. The true test was to give it to my son and see what he thought.

Leo is playing with the Computer Kit and the Screen Kit. He was hooked right away. He LOVES Scratch. He wants to play it all the time. Leo is 5 and he was moving around the Kano UI easily. He figured out how to do things on Scratch without any support. While Scratch is a different program not created by Kano, the Computer Kit allowed Leo to have easy access to the program. The keyboard was the perfect size for him to click the keys and use the trackpad. He was able to draw a submarine and make it bounce on the screen without asking a single question. Dropping the pieces together was simple for him and Kano allowed him the easy access to a great tool. That is what makes Kano stand out for me. 

The Kano Computer Kit retails for $149.99 and it is worth every penny. The kit that will have the Pi 3 will not need for you to connect a wifi dongle. That will make it a little nicer for the set up. 

Leo continues to play with the Kano Computer Kit and asks me about playing the "Cat Game" (Scratch) all the time. He also loves to play Pong once in a while. He is slowly learning the different aspects of the Computer Kit and he is doing it with little guidance from me. These are such important skills for him to learn. He will be a coding expert if he keeps this up. 

I look forward to seeing the Kano OS grow, expand, and mature with its users over time. Kano will only improve on its stellar UI and offer new applications that will be easily downloadable and added to the desktop. Kahoot just announced that they have connected with Kano. Check out the story here

You need to hurry up and reserve your Kano Computer Kit before it is too late. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tips for New Teachers #EdChat #BackToSchool

The start of the new school year is upon us and it has me thinking about the past 15 years of teaching. I was thinking about all of the things I need to get ready for at the start of school and then I started to think about how many of those have nothing to do with curriculum. These were things I learned from colleagues or on my own over the years. I thought I would share some of these nuggets of information with Internet in the hopes that it will make the start of the school year a bit easier.

These are not in any order of importance, just the order they came to my brain.

1. Get to know the support staff as soon as you can. The secretaries, custodial team, special education support staff, ESL support staff, the cafeteria team, and any others in the building working to support students outside of the traditional classroom environment. You will need to rely on these great people at different times during the year and it is so important to know them by name and have a strong working relationship with them.

2. Find out where the closest bathroom is for staff and students. This might seems a bit silly, but when you only have a very limited window to use the bathroom, you need to judge how much time it will take for you to get there and back before the next class starts. For students, this allows you to know about how long it will take for them to get to the bathroom and back in a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes students will want to stretch their legs and take the long way around. If they do this often, have a private conversation about this and see if there are other issues going on there.

3. Never ever discipline a student in front of other students. This is hard because it requires checking emotions at times, but it is so important to make sure these exchanges are in private. I'm still guilty of this once in a while, but I have gotten better over the years. If you need to address an issue with a student, just calmly ask them to see you after class. This prevents a blow up and the student acting out to save face in front of peers.

4. Do not spend the first day of class going over all of the rules. Most of these rules are the same as every class, so they will already have a sense of how class is supposed to work. Instead, spend the first day getting to know your students and letting them get to know a little about you. Play some icebreaker games and just have a relaxed environment. Save the syllabus for day two.

5. Greet the students at the door. No matter what you have going on, get to the door and say hi to each student. This should happen almost every day, but there is always something that will get in the way. Greet them on the way in and try to be at the door when it is time to go. These little acts will go a long way with students, especially those that feel like they do not matter in school.

6. Make time for lunch with your staff. This is one of the biggest things I missed my first year. I felt like I had to work, work, work, to stay afloat my first year, I missed building relationships with my peers. Hanging around adults after teaching teens or children half the day is a great breath of fresh air. It is also a wonderful time to pick their brain and ask for any tips or tricks they might have. If you do not connect at lunch, you will find that there is little time do so the rest of the day.

7. Become best friends with your school librarian. They are one of the most important humans in the building. They are usually in charge of the computer labs, the Makerspace, and other odds and ends. They can help you set up assignments and provide support for projects. The librarian needs to be a person you can quickly email if you are in a research jam with your students. Bring them coffee, bagels, donuts, and the like to make sure they are always happy and ready to help.

8. Let the students choose their seats. This is one that will get some push back from people and I they have great points, but I love letting the kids sit where they want. The rule I have is that they choose first and, if needed, I will choose second. There will always be a couple of kids that need to be relocated after a few weeks, but the class is much nicer when they can sit by friends. It might be tough to get to know all of their names because they are not sitting by last name, but it is worth it in the long run.

9. It's ok to take your kids outside of the classroom. I was always so afraid to leave my room and go to the hallway or outside for a class period. Nobody every said I could not, but nobody ever said I could. Once I build up the confidence, I took my kids around the building to explore and see different things. Sometimes, I just wanted a change of scenery. Leave a note on the door and head out with the class. The students will love the change of pace.

10. Make sure you check all websites you want to use at school before using them with students. There is nothing worse than getting to school and finding out a website is blocked. Test them at school and find out the process to get something unblocked as soon as you can. Sometimes the block is an accident and other times it is because nobody has ever used that site and it is labeled something funny that gets it blocked. I've learned this the hard way, so please test at school.

11. Find out who the All-Star Sub is in the building. Every building or district has a few subs that everyone knows is the best. They can be trusted to do everything on your sub plans. Ask a few people and they will give you the name(s). Keep there info saved in your phone so you can reach out if you need a sub last minute or months in advance. Having a good sub can save you stress while you are out.

12. Find out where you get your supplies for the classroom. Supplies might be limited, but they are there. Sometimes we just buy what we see when we are out, but school has them in a closet somewhere. Also, save receipts for stuff that you buy because you might be able to get paid back!

13. Use your mentor. Most schools will assign a new teacher to a mentor and you need to go to them when you are stuck or have questions. Over the school year, you will find that you will gravitate to another teacher other than your mentor as you learn the personalities of the rest of the staff. This is ok and I think it is good to have a mentor outside of your department as well. They can give a different perspective on how things are in the school.

14. Learn to say no. You will be asked to chaperone every dance, attend every sporting event, be the advisor for many clubs, and you have to know when to say no. It is ok to do extra things and be part of the school. That is important and you should do them as long as it does not take away from needed rest and relaxation that allows you to focus on your craft. I coached and advised during my early years and it was a great way to connect to students outside of the classroom, but there has to be a limit. Saying no does not make you a bad teacher, it can make you a stronger one.

15. Lastly, embrace who you are an translate that into your classroom. Odds are, you were hired because of who you are and what you know. Students will care about who you are in the classroom and can spot a phony a mile away. Be genuine with your students and they will be genuine with you. It took me years to embrace my inner nerd. Once I did, my classes became even better.

These were a bunch of tips that may or may not apply to you. Feel free to share with friends or add any tips you might have in the comment section.

Have a great school year and reach out if you need anything!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Make Waves, But Teach People To Surf #EdChat

As the school year starts for teachers and students around the country, new ideas are running through the heads of passionate educators. They have spent the Summer learning new things and they want to share them with their classes. Sometimes, a school is not excited about new ideas or changing the way things have always been done. This can be frustrating to an excited teacher who is looking to change things up to support students in a new way.

Wave makers need to be willing to go the extra step to see the change take place. People do not like waves because they do not know how to handle them. New ideas can be scary and frustrating for those without the skills to traverse them. That is why the wave maker also needs to be the surf instructor.


Providing support to those that are nervous about change is a great way to make sure that those waves are not scary and can actually become fun for everyone. Surfers actually like bigger waves because they know how to handle them. The more experienced the surfer, the bigger the waves they look for when they go out into the water.

The same is true for educators and students. If you want to change things up and make some waves, be prepared to teach the students and staff how to surf so they can have fun with your new ideas. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fun With the @HyperDuino Maker Kit #MakerEd

I first saw the Hyperduino kit when I was at ISTE this Summer. I was intrigued by the setup and thought it would be an awesome addition to any Makerspace. I was finally able to get one and I was not disappointed.

Hyperduino is the creation of Roger Wagner as a simple way to create interactive Maker projects. Here is a quick video of a Hyperduino project.

The real beauty of this kit is the Hyperduino Chrome extension. This allows all computer users the ability to use the kit without any issues. It is also much easier to use than the Arduino IDE, so it is perfect for beginners. 

The kit comes with the Hyperduino shield and a Funduino. A Funduino is the same as an Arduino board. All of the wires, LEDs, and parts you might need come with the kit for anybody to create a fun and interactive project. I quickly connected the shield to my Funduino and I connected the wires easily and plugged in the LEDs and push pins. After I connected the battery, I had created a touch sensitive light switch. 

The first think I thought of was the possibility of adding a buzzer to the system so I would have a cool clicker/buzzer/light system for fun quiz games and things like that. I think this is exactly what makes Hyperduino so amazing. 

This kit is what makes Making so awesome. It comes set with ideas for you to create fun and interesting projects, but it sparks the imagination to create something new and meaningful to them. I think this Hyperduino kit would be a perfect addition to any Makerspace and would encourage those of you out there to check it out and see what amazing think you and your students could come up with at school. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Making a Nightlight #MakerEd #Makerspaces

As a Dremel Idea Builder Ambassador, I wanted to share a fun and easy project that would be great in any Makerspace or home.

Arduino Nano
3D Printed Box - I used my Dremel 3D40
LED Lights (2)
220 ohm Resistor
Soldering Iron
Yoda Bust
Micro USB Charger
Crazy Glue

The first thing you want to do is get your box ready. I designed a box where the lid will snap into place. Take a look at the Tinkercad file. I was able to take the file and drop it into the Dremel printing software by Autodesk, Print Studio.

This works really well because you can actually size the box however you want with the software. If you decide that you want a larger box or a smaller box, you can just adjust the size.

After you have the box, you will need to print your Yoda Bust. You can actually use any bust that you want as long as you adjust the size to match the size of the box. It is also important to print the bust using a translucent filament so the light can glow properly.

Next, you need to use program the Arduino. Make sure you have downloaded the Arduino IDE so that you can upload the Blink sketch. Follow these directions on how to wire the LED to the Arduino and upload the sketch. To make sure the LED does not blink, you need to change the number 1000 to 10. This actually makes it blink so fast that it appears on to the naked eye.

It shows you how to connect just one LED, but you can always add more LEDs if you want by adding pins to the code or connecting another LED to the one wire.

Once you have the Arduino wired, you will need to create holes in the box and hollow out the bust. You can create the holes and hollow out the bust with a drill. Make sure that you drill deep and wide enough in the bust so that you can fit the LEDs.

Once you have everything wired and the holes created, you can assemble the project. I used Crazy Glue to keep the bust on the lid and then around the edges of the lid so it will stay closed. You can plug the micro USB into the computer or you can use any wall charger and plug it into the wall. Here is a shot of my completed project.

As someone who has been doing lots of Making, I had all of these supplies around the house. If you are brand new to Making, this is a great entry project to get you started.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Rule You Room Kit from @littleBits Is Amazing

The Rule Your Room Kit from littleBits is the perfect entry into the world of making with littleBits. At $99, this kit is a fun way for kids to get engaged with very interesting bits. The best part of this kit is that it comes with a Makey Makey bit, so there are so many possibilities with this kit. I dove into the kit with my 5 year old son Leo and he was ready to Make.

The first thing we wanted to do was create our own sound activated scary eyes. This is straight from the littleBits Rule Your Room guide.

The kit provides you with all of the bits needed and the creepy eyes. Leo and I added some color to the eyes by coloring some paper and taping it on the inside. After adjusting the sound sensor's sensitivity, Leo tried to creep into his room. 

After this project, Leo wanted to make sure that his piggy bank would be safe from any robbers that might come into the house looking for a collection of loose change. Luckily, there was a great guide on how to keep the piggy bank safe.

Here is how I tested out the project with Leo as the cameraman. He has a great eye with that phone.

There are other projects that can be found in the littleBits guide and online. The Rule Your Room kit is a fun entry to the world of littleBits and can inspire the young and old makers around the world. You can order yours today!

littleBits sent me a kit for the purpose of a review, but that doesn't mean it is not as awesome as I said.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Photo Booth Fun with #RaspberryPi #MakerEd

Over the past week, I've become a bit obsessed with creating a photo booth. I saw this very cool article in Make: Magazine and thought I could do that. Well, it turned out that that I could not do that. For whatever reason, I was having serious trouble getting the code to work and it was becoming a headache. So, I turned to The Google to find a different approach to creating a photo booth.


Raspberry Pi 3
Micro SD card - The larger the GB, the more pics it can hold.
Monitor - I used the 7" Raspberry Pi Touchscreen, but any screen will do.
Tactile button
Wire to connect Pi to button

I found some interesting resources and wonderfully helpful people online and they helped me put together a slightly different photo booth. I settled on a great code written by jallwine that was shared on Github. This was a great starting point for me to see what the photo booth could be and I could tweak the code to add different things. Not only did he have amazing code, but he helped me when I got stuck trying to tweak his code. Jallwine is the perfect example of how awesome the Maker community can be. He didn't have to help me with his code that was a few years old, but he did it anyway. 

I added a button line so the photo booth would work with the press of a button. I found a version I could use on Raspberry Pi's website that was helpful. The idea of using stop motion as the trigger for the camera made sense to me, so I dropped that in there. 

I also wanted to add a countdown clock so people know when to expect the picture. I really struggled with this because I was approaching the problem from the wrong angle. I was looking for a code to create a timer, but that was overly complicated. Instead, I used the camera.annotate_text line to create text over the picture. For the text, I used numbers that lasted for one second. That created the timer for me. It worked great!

I didn't use the the next parts in the final code, but I figured out how to use random effects on the pictures so they could be really silly photos. The regular photo is currently in, but I could quickly drop it in. You can find out how to do that on Raspberry Pi's website.

Next, I wanted the pictures uploaded to the Cloud so I could grab the when I wanted and share them with others easily. I found a great code for DropboxUploader on Adafruit. I took the code for something different from a photo booth and was able to spin it into a nice addition to my project. I felt super cool being able to put this together. 

I added a few more lines so that the Camera Preview would say "Ready" when it was ready to take pictures and "Processing" when it was formatting and uploading to Dropbox. 

When I was finally done, I had a full photo booth system that will take 3 pictures, duplicate them side by side, upload them to Dropbox, and start all over again. 

I used the Raspberry Pi 7" touchscreen because it was easy to use everything together. You could use any HDMI connected screen you wanted. It could be cool to connect to a large TV screen at family functions are large events so people can really see the images. 

The final step for me will be to create a case to package everything together so it can easily be moved around from place to place. I have a big red button ordered from Adafruit. I can place that on the box and people can give that a push and have their pics. I was thinking of  simple box that had a dry erase or chalkboard front that would allow people to personalize the booth based on the event. 

Here are some pictures of what I was able to put together.