Monday, November 28, 2016

What Teachers Can Do #EdChat

President-Elect Trump has nomintate Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. This has angered teachers because of her complete lack of experience in education. She was never a teacher and does not have any type of degree in education. However, that is nothing new. We have had people in this position that have never had educational experience. President Clinton and President GW Bush appointed people without ed backgrounds. This is problematic. There are things Teachers can do to address this.

Contact your Senators and let them know that you have a major problem with someone who advocates taking money away from public schools and sending it to charter schools will little or no track record of success. You can find your Senators by clicking this link. Call and leave a message. Get your friends and family to call and leave a message. Emails can be deleted. Tying up phone lines for hours at a time to hear how upset people are going to be is how you get the attention of those in power. Let them know how this will impact your vote in coming elections.

In the classroom, we will continue to do more with less. This is nothing new for many of us. We have seen budgets cut and have still done our very best to provide the best education possible for our students. We need to make sure that we offer a safe environment for all students and all of the tools possible to prepare them for the world ahead. We need to teach them all of the things that a bubble test can never assess, but still prepare them to fill in ovals while speaking out about this dreadful over-testing practice seen in out schools today.

We still have a voice if we choose to you it. I encourage you to use yours to let your Senators hear what is truly important in education and to let students know that you will always be there to support them.

Hugs and High Fives,


Monday, November 21, 2016

Nerdy 9000 with @Raspberry_Pi and @AmazonEcho #MakerEd #ImAMaker

This weekend, I thought it would be fun to attempt to turn my Raspberry Pi in to an Amazon Echo. A number of people have tweeted at me since this started to be shared around the Internet and I thought I would give it a go.

Here are the supplies you will need to get up and running:

Raspberry Pi 3 with the current Jessie build (Other Pis will work, but the built-in wifi is a huge time saver.
USB microphone
External speaker that can plug into the Pi
HD monitor, keyboard, and mouse to set up the Pi

After gathering the supplies, the next part was to work through the programming. Here is a link to the Github page that will walk you through the programming of the Raspberry Pi. The programming was simple as long as the directions are followed as they are written. One misspelled word or misplaced comma will cause errors. Take your time and you should have the code up and running in about an hour. I opted to run the voice recognition software so it would respond to "Alexa". It is possible to dive deeper into the code to have it respond to other programmed words, but I have not gotten there yet. Maybe during the Holiday Break.

Here is the first video after I got it up and running. No case or anything, just the program working as it should.

Once it was working, I knew that I wanted to do more than just have a Pi and a speaker sitting on my desk. I thought about HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would be very cool to have something like that to connect the Alexa Pi. I jumped on Thingiverse to see if there was anything out there and I found a design from Makerperson that I could totally tweak as needed.

I shrunk the design a little bit to make it shorter and not as thick. I also edited the HAL out and replaced it with Nerdy instead. I knew I wanted to add an "eye" so I printed half a sphere to fit in the whole. I drilled out the back, wired up a red LED, connected the wires to the Pi, wrote a script to have the Pi turn on the light for Pin 26, and I was good to go.

Here is a the printed case, added "eye" and attached red LED.

I let it sit for a little bit and thought it needed something a little bit more. It would be awesome if the light faded in an out. I did not want it to blink, but do a slow fade in and out. This was a bit outside my skill set, so I need to do some searching of the Internet to find the write code to do what I want. I found some helpful instructions on, that walked me through the process. I had to rewrite the code to make it work for just one LED, but that was nice practice. It was fun to learn about GPIO.PWM.

Here, I was able to make the LED slowly pulse or breathe as it awaits instruction.

This might seem like a project that is too complex to tackle, but it is doable. If you eliminate the 3D printer, you can still have the system set up and do exactly what you need it to do. You have unlimited possibilities when it comes to creating a housing for your new Amazon Echo. If you are looking for a fun project, check this out and see what you can do with your next Raspberry Pi.

Looking to learn more about Making and Makerspaces for you and your school, check out my book Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces for nerdy tips on getting started.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I Wish I Did Not Have To Teach Huck Finn #EngChat

Ever since I've started teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I've longed for the day that I would not have to teach it any more. It's not because I think it is a terrible book. Actually, I think it is one of the most important pieces of American Literature ever written. I still wish the day would come where I don't have to teach it.

I say this because Huck Finn is a beautifully written piece of satire on race and white society's view of race, and it is still very relevant today. I long for a day that the book is no longer needed to draw parallels to modern society where easy comparisons are made. I hope every year we will get a step closer to viewing the book as an example of the archaic times we used to live. For every year I thought we were a step closer, we took steps back.

A surface reading of the text would have some claim that Huck is a wonderful example of a white person standing up for what is right and protecting Jim, the runaway slave. That is the easy view. It's the view that makes most people feel better about themselves. "Huck can't be racist, he has a black friend!" This is far from the truth. Huck Finn, the character, is racist.

We can have the debate, and we do in class, about whether or not Huck's racist view of the world is his fault or is he just a product of his society. At what point is a person maturation can you no longer claim it is how you were raised? When do you become responsible for your beliefs, and not the beliefs of your mothers or fathers? These are the tough questions we tackle in class because they are still relevant. The minute the book not longer connects to the world we live in, I will happily retire it. Sadly, we are not there yet and I'm not sure when we will get there.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still a challenged book in this country and that is sad. We need to be having these conversations now more than ever. We need to own our history, discuss it, and look to the future. Twain was not a perfect person, but he wrote a book that still makes every person think about their lives, their privilege, and how we can move to make the world a better place.

I take pride in the fact that I have the honor to help students navigate this text and I hope I can do Mr. Twain's book justice. If I don't, I might be stuck teaching the book until I retire.

Hugs and High Fives,


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why Does A Makerspace Die? #MakerEd #ImAMaker

Since my book came out, I've had the opportunity to talk to teachers from all over the world about Making and Makerspaces. I found myself saying something over and over again when asked about creating spaces in their schools or classrooms.

"Makerspaces will die if the culture of Making is not there."

Building a space in a classroom or library is awesome, but students need to understand what is possible in these spaces. Teachers need to know what they are capable of doing with access to a Makerspace. Administrators need to know what they can do with PD now that a Makerspace is available.

Making is a culture. It is an awesome inclusive culture. All are welcome to Make and try new and crazy things. This is a culture that needs to be supported in all levels of education. District admin need to support building admins that are looking to try new things and support student growth and student focused ideas. Building admins need to let their teachers know that it is ok to take risks in the classroom and to try new things that allow more student freedom and self expression in the classroom. Teachers need to create lessons that give students the opportunity for my choice and ownership in their learning. When all of these things happen, you will see a culture of Making take over the school and a Makerspace thrive.

Just putting in a space with fancy gadgets and labeling it a Makerspace is set up to fail. Teachers that are passionate about the space need to receive support from admins to keep the idea going. This will allow them to connect with other teachers and bring them into the fold. The more teachers that are planning on using the Makerspace, more students will interact with the space and seek it out on their own. Without support, Makerspaces die and money is wasted. Sometimes, it is important to just let teachers go and create amazing things and trust them to do a good job. Micromanaging never works. The same is true for teaches as well. The more that we try to micromanage student assignments or projects, the less invested they are in the final product and the sense of ownership vanishes.

Learning about Makerspaces is the first step in creating one,  but the long term goal needs to be creating the culture of Making in the school and trusting admins, teachers, and students to create the best space possible for all learners. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

What are you waiting for? #EdChat

I found myself saying this a bunch the past few weeks. We've been discussing Transcendentalism the past few weeks in my American Literature class and we focus on the importance of the individual and what conformity means in today's society. I'm always a bit saddened by some of the defeatist attitudes of students when confronted with the idea to change who they are and follow their passions. At the high school level, some students already feel like it is too late to explore what matters to them or to stand up for their beliefs. It hurts my heart hear such young people think this way. Some students say that they want to follow their heart. I always shoot back,

"What are you waiting for?"

I make it a mission to encourage students and offer support to them in thinking about making changes. The words of Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman are bookended by the songs of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Katie Perry to show the students that finding who they really are is still very relevant today. We discuss social media and the illusion of perfection we often try to portray to the world around us, when a student suggested it is the imperfections that make all of us special and beautiful. I'm constantly reminded of the words of Emerson,

"Trust Thyself" and "Imitation is suicide"

These simple aphorisims are so important to remember and so difficult to follow. We strive to please the world around us and are afraid to follow our heart. We need to create a world where our students are not afraid to believe Emerson and be free of the fear societal judgements.

As I think about encouraging students to find out who they are outside the influences of society, I think about teachers who have trouble finding their voice and identity in the classroom. It took me a few years and a great friend and mentor to help me find me. I'm not sure I'd still be teaching if I hadn't found me. For the teachers out there still looking to find who they are or want to show their real self to the classroom, I will say to you what I said to my students,

"What are you waiting for?"

Hugs and High Fives,