Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What Does Failure Look Like? #MakerEd #EdChat

It is almost the halfway point of the school year for me and it has been crazy. I've spent lots of time the past few days thinking about what has worked and what has not. I know that I'm too critical of the things I do, but I still need to look and see where I can be better.

As I have been reflecting, I was thinking that there is still so much to do in the Makerspace and that I am not where I would want to be with student engagement. I have very dedicated students in the Makerspace on a regular basis, some that come in from time to time, and others that have not interest in what is going on. For me, I feel like I have failed to bring in the students I wanted into the space to see them explore and grow. However, I received a couple of recent compliments from teachers saying they have been seeing cool things coming out of the Makerspace. They are excited to see it grow even further in the second half of the year. It really caught me off guard. I thought I was failing at what I was trying to do, but I was succeeding in the eyes of others. So, what is failure then?

If a lesson does not go exactly as plan, but students still learn and are engaged, is the lesson a failure? Just because I did not hit randomly chosen numbers of usage in the Makerspace, does that mean that my efforts have been a failure?

My badging system took off at the start of the year, but it has slowed down a bit. Students have been trying to find time to use the space, but sports and other assigned work has stopped some from fully engaging in the space. I have many kids that want to spend more time, but have conflicting schedules. It's tough for them to get down here. Is that a failure on my part or is it a success that students want to be come down, but they are not able to do for reasons outside of my and their control? Students are still earning badges and the steady trickle is probably what it should be until I'm able to get more resources.

I think I'm just rambling at this point, but that is sort of what reflecting is for me at times. If others view my work as a success, but I think it falls short, is it a failure or a success? If a tree falls in a forest...

Most importantly, not everything is perfect in the Knight's Forge and I still have plenty to learn and understand from others and from the overall Maker Community.

Special thanks to @gravescolleen for getting me thinking about this. She is awesome person to talk/text with when something is rumbling around my skull. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

'Tis the Season (for Sadness)

I've been open about my battle with Depression and it's ugly cousin Anxiety for a few years now and I like to touch base on it publicly because there are so many stories to tell about it that are so similar to others out there. One of the things I've learned about sharing my struggles is that there are many people that reach out to thank me for sharing the story they are not ready to share themselves.

The holidays are a time filled with joy, happiness, and other nice things for most people. For others, the holidays bring lots of dread. While many people deal with the stress of family and friends at this time of year, many others, myself included, feel the pain of anxiety at trying to balance all of these different things in life and trying not to let anyone down, but ultimately feeling like everyone has been let down. The anxiety brings on the depression and the Winter Break for a teacher designed for relaxing and recharging becomes the opposite. I'm lucky to have great family and friends who have been supportive as I figure out what works and what doesn't for me.

For students, going home for 10-14 days could be the worst thing in the world for them. Sometimes, school is their safe space. It's the place where they can count on a meal. Their friends are there to comfort them after a rough night at home. They look at the break as dark period of time before school starts again and they can escape their home life. While dealing with those issues, students can deal with severe anxiety leading up to the break and might act out at school. Students need so much empathy and compassion during this time because they are scared. Teachers need to be a rock for them no matter how crazy life is for them.

If you have loved ones in your life that deal with Anxiety and/or Depression, know that they might need an extra hand or just a nice hug when things seem a bit crazy. For your students, offer them a safe spot to talk before or after school and help them find things to keep them occupied over the break. Focusing on the anxiety and depression will only make it worse. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Flat Earth - It's not funny

It's not funny people. Stop giving people that deny Science a platform to deny Science to a larger audience. Teachers have it hard enough getting students to understand what is fact and what is fiction. Pretending like the people that believe that the Earth is flat have the same factual basis for their arguments as actual scientists is nonsense. Denying Science can lead to very harmful and dark times. History has played this out for us already.

Whether it is Climate Change or a flat Earth, we need to stop pretending that a different opinion is the same as evidence that has been around for millennia in some cases. Science is based on questions. To get started with any type of Science, there is a question. Throughout history we have discovered the answer to many different questions. One being that the Earth is not flat. Stop pretending this is a debatable topic and focus attention on things that matter.


(I can't believe I had to write this post)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Having Fun with Cubelets

The awesome people at Modular Robotics asked if I would take a look at their Cubelets 12 Kit and share some thoughts.

To be honest, I was not sure what to expect when I opened the box and saw these Cubelets that snapped together using magnets. Like always, I tossed aside the directions and just start connecting cubes. Within seconds, I had the cubes with wheels sprinting off the table with the light cube on the front and a light sensor on top. I had accidentally created a light powered train! I had a huge smile across my face. 

The kit comes with 12 cubelets, hence the name, and here they are;:

Inverse Cubelet - Directs the flow in the opposite direction.

Passive Cubelet - Lets data and power pass through it. 

Blocker Cubelet - Passes on power, but blocks communication between blocks. 

Rotate Cubelet - One face of the cube spins at the relative rate of power it receives.

Flashlight Cubelet - Strong LED

Brightness Cubelet - Light Sensor

2 Distance Cubelet - Infrared light sensor that detects how close or far an object is away.

2 Drive Cubelets - Cubelets with wheels.

Battery Cubelet - Chargeable Cubelet that powers everything connected to it. 

Bluetooth Cubelet - Control your Cubelets from your phone by connecting via Bluetooth and the Cubelet app.  

What is nice about these Cubelets is that they can be connected in any order. The build options are limitless with the cubes. There also two connectors that allow for the addition of LEGOs. I like this feature because you can connect your LEGO creations to your Cubelets and use the Bluetooth Cubelet to control your LEGO creations. I love any tools that can allow connections to other tools. 

Modular devices are very nice and allow for many different creations for students. I can see students building their own robots with the Cubelets serving as the power, sensors, and wheels. Add some arts and crafts and your personal little robot could be connected to your phone through the Cubelets app. 

It is a fun tool that is a great way for young children to engage in creativity using sensors without the full hassle of soldering and computer boards. Playing with Cubelets would be a wonderful way to introduce students to those concepts down the line. 

Cubelets has a great site for resources to show how Cubelets can be used in the K12 environment. Their lesson plans are a great way to engage students with Cubelets. 

If you want to dive in to the coding world, Cubelets has a couple of programming options worth checking out on their site. Using Blockly and Flash, you can program your own blocks to do exactly what you want them to do. 

Overall, I think Cubelets is a diverse tool that can be used for many different age groups and are worth exploring if you are looking for something new for your classroom or Makerspace. 

Cubelets was nice enough to offer a Promo Code for the readers. 

Add the Brick Adapters to your cart along with any purchase over $30 and apply the code at checkout to get the Brick Adapters for free. 

Promo Code: NerdyFreebie

Cubelets did send me a kit for the purpose of the review, but that doesn't make the product less awesome. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Are We Asking the Correct Questions? #EdChat #MakerEd #MSChat

I'm always thinking about questions. Not just the questions I get throughout the day, but the questions I ask students and my own son.

"What did you do today?" This is the most common questions I ask my son, but I know it is the wrong questions. I need to make sure I ask, "What did you learn today?" This question leaves open so many possibilities for him. He could talk about so many different things. Asking him what he did will limit him to actions performed, not ideas created.

This is the same idea I'm trying to bring into the Knight's Forge Makerspace at University Liggett School. Is the correct question, "What do you want to make?" or is it "What do you want to learn?" I ask students what they want to make, but I feel like I have it backwards. I should ask them what they want to learn and then help them find the tools that best support their goal.

The realization struck my yesterday when a student came in and he said he wanted to learn how to make music using code. He was focused on learning to do something, not just accomplishing something. I think that is a very important difference that people, me included, sometimes miss when want want students to create. Is it just the act of creation that we want, or is it the act of learning. If it is learning, shouldn't we frame makerspace better if that is not the message out there.

I don't have the answer to these questions, but they are questions that are bouncing around my brain and I thought I would share them here for all of you to think about and hopefully share your thoughts.

Hugs and High Fives,


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Student Driven Learning in the Makerspace #MakerEd

One of my favorite parts of managing a Makerspace is the freedom it gives me to allow students to explore areas that interest them. I have no idea what might spark a creative fire in them, but I like to leave lots of things out so students can find things on their own.

A perfect example of that is the GoPiGo3 from Dexter Industries. I had the kit in my room for a week or so when a student asked what it was. I told them it is a cool Raspberry Pi powered robot that you can control through coding on your computer through a wifi connection. For a novice student, that might have sounded like gibberish, but this young lady had already earned multiple badges programing the Raspberry Pi. She was strong using Python and had used block coding in previous years. She asked if she could spend her study hall time building it. I was happy to let her dive in.

It is always fun to watch a student explore something brand new. You can watch them encounter problems and find ways to solve those issues. You can watch their frustration turn into joy as they complete one step after the other. There were very few times that she needed my help to move her along. I was very impressed by her grit as a 6th grader having never built a robot before.

During the course of the build, I had an opportunity to meet her parents and they wanted to let me know that she is talking nonstop about the build. Every day she had gone home and filled them in on the steps she has taken to build the robot and she can't wait to drive it. As a teacher, it always warms your heart to hear a student talk so passionately about something to their family. That is always a huge win.

When I sat back and watched her drive the GoPiGo3, all I could think about was that this was because she wanted to do it. This was not a class assignment, this wasn't extra credit to bring a grade up, this was a student who was interested in something, dedicated the time to learn and explore, and then created something meaningful to them that they wanted to share with her family. This is what we want to see from our students and I'm glad the Makerspace is the spot where she could do that.

Sometimes teachers can get caught up in the need to cover the curriculum that they forget that taking some time to find out what interested them can make a huge impact on their learning over the course of the entire year. I know I have been guilty of that in the classroom. That is why reflection time for teachers AND for students is important. Find out what is meaningful to students and see if that can be incorporated into the classroom.

I'm very lucky to teach at a school that is supportive of student driven learning and the teachers here really afford their students the time to explore areas of their content area that interest them. It is a wonderful learning environment and I think the Makerspace adds that extra element that covers the things that classes do not. This is why I think Makerspaces are so important to the educational system.

The young girl is excited to keep coding the GoPiGo3 and see what she can do with the distance sensor. I might have a future engineer in my space on a regular basis and her love this area might have started from just pointing to the GoPiGo3 box and saying, "What's that?"

Thanks to Dexter Industries for sending me the kit. The student loves it and I think I will be creating a special badge just for her to show off the hard work she has put in for the project.

Check out the GoPiGo3 here and see how it might be a nice addition to your Makerspace. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Micro-Credentials in Middle School Makerspaces #EdChat

One of the things I wanted to explore for the Makerspace I'm putting together in the Middle School at University Liggett School is a way to recognize the skills the students pick up through their work. I believe that a Makerspace should be a place where students can explore anything they want. This makes a putting together a system to recognize their achievements tough because the possibilities are endless when it comes to what would need to be recognized. I have been interested in micro-credentialing for a little while, but I could not find a way to make it work in my Literature classes. A Makerspace, on the other hand, is the perfect spot to pilot a badging system.

I set out with the goal to create badges that students can earn for demonstrating various skills in different areas. It has been a very time intensive process to find the different skills that students are interested in and then create a scaffolded system that recognizes their acquired skills and awards them a badge. It has been hard work, but it has been worth it. The soft rollout of the badging system has been amazing! It has been too good to be honest. Students are earning badges left and right and I'm trying to keep up with the student demand for entry level badges to various skills.

I started out with basic skills in physical computing with Raspberry Pi (LED, Buzzer, Button, Motion Sensor,  and Light Sensor), design and building in Minecraft, and 3D design and printing. I thought this would be a good starter spot for me and would give me time to create other badges. It is now near the end of October and I need to ramp up the badge production. I have littleBits on deck and I will be adding MakeyMakey to the mix. I have more things I can add to the Raspberry Pi set so students can earn a level 2 Pi badge and I'm open to students suggesting badges in areas where they are experts.

I made digital copies of each badge I have offered using this free website, openbadges.me. From there, I have printed them on sticker paper and have cut out the stickers and given them to students who have earned them. Here is a picture of a student proudly displaying their badges on their laptop.

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

These are the stickers I've created so far and I keep a record of the digital badges. I am still looking for a good portfolio system to deliver and store the digital badges. We use SeeSaw in the Middle School, so that might be what I use, but I'm still looking at other options.

I think if we want to see change in our education system and move away from traditional grading practices, we need to start to look at areas where it is possible to pilot new ideas and I think a Makerspace is the perfect spot to explore micro-credentialing for students.

If you have explored using badges for recognizing student achievement, please share your story. I'd love to see how others are doing this. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Just #LetStudentsMake

I was going over some old lessons and student work and I was hit with something that I just blurted out, "Just let the student make!"

I'm so lucky to be at a school that allows students the creative flexibility to explore learning in a ways that are meaningful to them. The students can express their understanding in a variety of ways and I get to see students engaged in learning. It is hard for me to believe that there are teachers that do not trust that letting students make is a positive force in the classroom. It has been a while since I've tried to get a hashtag up and running, but I thought this is worth it. 

I would love it if everyone could share student work on Twitter with the tag #LetStudentsMake. I want to everyone to see the great things that can happen when we get out of the way and let students show us the amazing things they can do to demonstrate their understanding of a variety of things. 

Here is one of my all-time favorite student projects. It makes me smile every time I see it. I asked students to show me that they could identify connections between The Catcher in the Rye and other books read over the course of the year. I had joked for years that I've really wanted to see students do an interpretive dance. These two amazing students granted that wish and blew me, and everyone in class, away. Enjoy.

Please share student work over the next few days and show educators everywhere to just #LetStudentsMake!

Hugs and High Fives,


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Who Run The World? #STEAM #MakerEd

I was working in the Knight's Forge getting things ready for students who were buzzing about the space and I just looked up and this is what I saw,

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

I am sure I had the biggest smile at that moment. The girls were moving around, exploring coding, 3D design, physical computing, and Minecraft. They were helping one another when they got stuck and everything  was awesome.

For me, I wanted to make sure I created an environment that was welcoming to all students and I have plenty of work to do moving forward, but this is a good start.

I'd love it if more people shared photos of their ladies working in Makerspaces to show that these are spaces for all students interested in exploring new ideas and Making things that Matter to them.

Please tag @TheNerdyTeacher and @uniliggett with pictures of your girls making so I can share it with my girls.

Hugs and High Fives,


Friday, October 13, 2017

Making in the Middle #MakerEd #Badges

Our makerspace, the Knight's Forge, is in complete disarray after school...and I couldn't be happier about it.

One of the part of my amazing job at University Liggett School is to build a Makerspace for the students at the Middle School level. While this is a school that is project based and student driven, the Maker Mentality had not been explored fully. I wanted to really create a space based on what the students wanted to do and help them show off what they learned. After going back and forth over where to start and what to do, I settled on Minecraft and Badges!

I spent time talking with students and found that many of them were into Minecraft and I figured that would be a perfect place to start. I dove in and started creating badges and skills students needed to master to earn the badges. Here is a one of the badges I created, the Level 1 Minecraft Badge.

Students were pumped about the chance to earn badges and jumped at the chance to get started. I had 6th through 8th grade students reaching out to me to sign up to use the Makerspace during their study hall. Quickly, I found myself in the great problem of not having enough space for all of the students who wanted to Make!

There were still students who had not come to the Makerspace because Minecraft was not something they were excited about doing. So, I talked to students and the idea of coding seemed interesting, but I did not want students to just sit in front of a screen. I wanted them to explore physical computing like I did when I went to Picademy. I recreated some of the hardware that Matt Richardson and the North American Raspberry Team created for the World Maker Faire so my students could get their hands dirty. Based on Matt's original designs, I added a Motion Sensor and a Light Sensor.

I only have three kits set up for the students to use for the physical computing, so I had to create a waitlist! I never thought I would have this much excitement for the new space.

As word spread about the different things students were doing in the Knight's Forge, more students showed up to see what was going on in the Makerspace. Soon, students started to explore 3D design on Tinkercad and have started to design items of their own.

I have not even had a chance to dive into littleBits, Sphero, Makey Makey, and other great tools because I am just swamped. Kids are flocking to the space, but I wanted them to explore more on their own and create something new instead of just following directions. I wanted to install that Maker Mentality aspect of exploration. To do that, I asked if anyone in the Middle School wanted to help create gadgets to protect against the zombie apocalypse.

Raspberry Pi has a Pioneers program for Middle School students that gives kids a challenge and a set time to accomplish it. Sadly, the competition is not currently available in the US, but I figured that didn't mean we couldn't build cool things. After sharing some tweets, I connected with a school is Mass. and we are going to support one another as our students explore the different projects they create using a Raspberry Pi.

I had two groups form right away and start brainstorming on what different types of gadgets they could create. They were driven to explore different sensors and the code needed to learn how to use them. The students have until December 22 to create their gadgets and the guides on how to build them. My budget is tight, but I might have to start a 3rd group because the project is very popular.

Multiple students have come in to earn their LED, Button, Buzzer, and Motion Sensor badges and that leads to more students wanting to do the same thing. I am a bit overwhelmed because I haven't had time to print the sticker badges and set up the digital portfolio aspect of the badging system.

I have a great problem that I'm too busy and I don't have enough supplies for everyone. This is way better than sitting in the Makerspace after school with a very sad look.

All of this is possible because of everything I learned in building my first Makerspace. I'm avoiding the mistakes and have the pulse of the students body. More students want to make and explore what is possible. Not because they want to play with new toys, but because they want to explore and learn new things.

If you are thinking about creating your own Makerspace, check out my book, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces, and drop me a line if you have any questions. I'm happy to help in any way that I can.

Hugs and High Fives,


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Zombie Protection Team Challenge #MakerEd

One of the many cool things that Raspberry Pi does is run a Pioneers Program. This program is designed to challenge groups of young students in the UK and Ireland to use Raspberry Pi to solve a specific problem. It has been very cool to watch these students create very fun and exciting projects. The only downside of the Pioneers program is that it is currently unavailable outside of the UK and Ireland. :-(

The newest challenge was released a couple of weeks ago and it is a zombie focused challenge. Students need to create devices to help protect humanity against the zombie hordes terrorizing the world.

"This project sounds amazing and I really wish our students could do this!" That is what I thought, then I thought, "Why can't my students do this?"

While we might not be able to enter the competition in the UK and Ireland, teachers and students in the US can still have some fun with our students and build some fun devices and share them here. A

After chatting with Dave Quinn from MA, we decided to put together our own teams and have them build some fun devices with Raspberry Pi and share.

Then I thought, "It would be cool if more people joined and had students creating awesome things!"

So, I have put together some information if you are interested in joining the fun and having student groups create devices using Raspberry Pi to protect against a Zombie Apocalypse.

The challenge will run until December 22.

I'm also working on a fun digital badge students can receive after completing the challenge and, possibly, a sticker they can proudly display on their device.

See the link below to register your team. Please do so by Friday October 13th to ensure your team has enough time to design and build.

Team Registration 

Once you have registered your team, you will receive an email with info you need to get things started. If you are curious about the overall project, please watch this great video by Raspberry Pi that explains the challenge to the Pioneers.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Aspects of Effective Project Based Learning #PBLChat #EdChat

I've been meaning to write about my adventures in Project Based Learning for a while. It's a topic many teachers are interested in, but are unsure of how to implement it or know if it is working. After much thought, I have broken down Project Based Learning into the 5 parts that make it effective in the classroom.

Long before my Epic Romeo and Juliet Project, the first major project I created was during my student teaching 10 years ago. I thought it would be a great idea to do a mock trial in my class after reading Huck Finn. I wanted to have the students put Mark Twain on trial for being a racist. At the time, there was some more uproar across the nation on whether or not Huck should be taught in schools. We had discussed the topic in class and I thought this would be a great way for students to explore both sides of the issue and make up their mind.

As I look back at the project, I notice all of the things that made this project work that lead to deep understanding. Here are 5 major parts of Project Based Learning that make it valuable to the classroom.

1. OWNERSHIP is key. For this project, the students were not listening to me on why Twain was or was not a racist, they were showing me and the rest of class what they thought. They were invested in winning their argument. They knew that their work was going to determine if he was guilty or not. Although I gave the assignment, the students were in charge the rest of the way. It was their project and they wanted to do it. When students feel they own what they are doing, they will work harder. When the audience is larger, they want to impress everyone. These are not crazy ideas, they are the results of owning the work they are doing. OWNERSHIP is a major factor in the value of PBL.

2. CREATIVITY is the another major part of the PBL and is closely linked with OWNERSHIP. Students were allowed to be creative in their work as a lawyer or witness. Witnesses needed to stay within character, but could add their own elements on the witness stand. Allowing the students to create gives them a bigger sense of OWNERSHIP.

3. Another part of the PBL is COLLABORATION. Students were working with each other trying to decide the best plan of attack. Witnesses would meet with their lawyers and discuss how the questions they were going to ask and how they should dress. The Jury worked on group projects researching the previous public opinions on Twain and his writing. Students were sharing ideas freely with one another. I had three sections of American Lit at the time, so I had three trials running. Lawyers would help others in the other classes and trash talk the opposing lawyers as well. It was all in good fun, but the collaboration had students working hard with one another to accomplish this goal.

4. Depending on how you set up your project, CRITICAL THINKING, is also an important part of PBL. With my Twain Trial, students needed to think about both sides of the argument. Students needed to prepare their witnesses for potential cross-examination questions. They needed to anticipate problems each witness presented and be prepared to counter them. In a world were homework can be tedious and memorization rules supreme, PBL is a great way to get kids thinking critically.

5. Lastly, Project Based Learning can be FUN! It seems obvious, but I have seen many projects that are very tedious. They have kids go through the motions and leave very little room for FUN or CREATIVITY. Projects are a chance for students to break the regular routine of reading and writing in some classes. Most kids are excited to do a project because they finally see it as a chance to express themselves in a format other than a test or essay. The FUN comes from the freedom students feel. Working with their friends (COLLABORATION), taking charge of their learning (OWNERSHIP), solving real problems (CRITICAL THINKING) and allowing students to create (CREATIVITY) all lead to the students learning in a FUN environment.

Once, my students created their own Transcendentalist Society. A colleague and I tweaked a lesson from Gwen S. Price. It went very well and really drove class discussion. The kids would go back to it throughout the year and discuss the elements of the project and the unit and how they connect with the current class discussion.

If you have any thoughts on bringing PBL to your classroom, please do not hesitate to contact me.

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

My First Fail #DigCit

One of the things about starting a new job with new expectations is that I will be encountering tasks for the first time. Not only that, I will be trying to navigate a great new community and try to make sure everyone is supported. As much as I would love to just share my success on this site, that is not realistic. As a reflection tool, this site is supposed to help me look at the good AND the bad. My first big failure was last week and I finally have some time to write about what has been running around in my head.

Part of my job as the Technology Coordinator is to run the Digital Citizenship for grades 6-8. I was left resources from Common Sense Media by the amazing lady who had the job before me. A schedule was established before I arrived that would have me working with each grade 6 times for 45 minutes over the first two and a half months. My goal was to use the resources provided to me and try to recreate what had been done in the past. What a rookie mistake.

I worked hard going over all of the materials and made copies of the handouts from the previous year, I made a presentation and felt super ready to go from my meeting with the 7th grade. Nope. I had a room filled with 40 seventh graders and I tried talking to them about what the digital world around them looks like today. I had support of another teacher in the room and it helped keep the students focused, but it was still a mess. I know I can be hard on myself, but it was a mess because I was trying to do something that is not who I am. Any teacher that is not authentic to who they are, will be eaten alive.

It was embarrassing to give a presentation to students with a peer watching that falls flat. Well, it was beyond flat. It fell through the ground into the lower mantle of the Earth's crust. That embarrassment was a great motivator for me to reassess how I plan to move forward. I'm supposed to give the same presentation to the sixth and 8th grade in a week. I felt like I did not have the time to really process my next steps because I was preparing for the Eighth grade Leadership Days. It was this event that ultimately inspired me to make the changes I think will be most positive.

The teachers spent the time with the Eighth graders talking about taking ownership of their school year and being leaders for the rest of the Middle School. This was something I loved about the event. As we talked more and more about Leadership and Ownership, it struck me; students should be in charge of their Digital Citizenship. Instead of talking to students about Internet Safety, I can work with students who are exploring Dig Cit to present to other students. This is the Project Based Learning approach I used in the classroom and it should be able to work outside of the classroom as well.

One of the cool things about University Liggett School is that the Middle School has a Morning Meeting. The entire Middle School comes together to hear announcements and see varied presentations that are designed by a different Advisory (think homeroom) each week. A captive audience each day for 10 minutes would be a perfect time to share a Dig Cit tip each morning. The students will be more engaged if the tip comes from their peers. It seems so obvious now, but I was too stuck in trying to recreate what someone else had done.

I've got some work to do as I look to provide the Advisory classes with some info on the topics to tackle for the their Morning Meetings, but I'm excited about working with students as they explore Digital Citizenship instead of just talking at them. Updates to come as I put this together.

Hugs and High Fives,


Monday, September 18, 2017

A Look at Leadership in the Middle School #EdChat

Moving to Middle School has been a fun adventure and I've had a chance to experience so many different things over the past two weeks. University Liggett School is filled with so many great programs and opportunities for students, it is hard to just focus on one, but here is one that really stands out to me from last week.

As a member of the 8th grade team, I helped organize the Leadership Days. Since this was my first year, I really just sat back and watched the amazing educators on the team whip everything together. I helped where I could and offered to run a Breakout Edu room for the students. It was a really amazing event and I just wanted to reflect on some of the things that stood out to me.

Reflection Time:

One of the things that I really loved was the built-in reflection time the students had after different aspects of the two days. After the Breakout, we made sure to use the discussion cards with the students and discuss what worked and what the obstacles where for them. In my room, the students started to give shoutouts to individual students who stepped up during the Breakout. They started the shoutouts on their own and it just made me smile to see the smiles on the students who were surprised to receive recognition for their help.

We also had time to reflect on the community service projects as well. We sanded and painted two sets of bleachers at a local park. It was a messy couple of days, but we were able to get the job done. We had a good conversation about work ethic, leading by doing, and the value of community service as a leader. It is important for students to know that as members of a community, it is crucial to be an active participant in keeping it nice for everyone. Donating time to make a difference in the community is a great way to show leadership. Students were able to make these, and other, observations when we gave them time to do so.

Lower School Connections:

Another aspect of our Leadership Days was connecting with the Lower School and doing some reading. It is a very simple thing to do that the young students loved and will remember. Having students model reading to young students and making connections is a powerful thing. Watching students smile as students gave them hugs of thanks was wonderful. The 8th graders even had a chance to see what it is like to try and keep a young student engaged for a short period of time. One students had to pull a little one out of a tree! Don't worry, everyone made it back in one piece and 8th graders and younger students walked away with some wonderful memories.

Upper School Connections:

During dinner on the first night, a few Upper School students stopped by to answer questions about what life is like after 8th grade. It was cool to see these students share their tips on homework, procrastination, and overall high school life with the 8th graders. As the 8th graders acted as role models for the Lower School students, the Upper School students had a chance to show the 8th graders what leadership looks like after Middle School. I loved seeing how the cycle of leadership is present from Kindergarten to 12th Grade.


I wanted to end with this because I think it is so important. Being a leader is so much more than just hard work and tough decisions. You can be a leader and have fun too! We had some great team building games, played hide and seek in the school, roasted marshmallows, and just played on the playscape. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Giving students the opportunity to have some fun, be a little silly, and create memories is part of growing up and becoming the person you want to be. Leadership is just one aspect of that.

It was a great couple of days and I can't wait to debrief as a staff and see how we can continue to support the students and make an even better event for next year. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Tips for Kicking Off Your Makerspace! #MakerEd

I'm really excited about the opportunity to build a new Makerspace at my new job at University Liggett School. After learning so much from my first experience building a space in a library at a high school during my former job, I feel like I have a great opportunity to really create something special with my students. For those that are interested in starting your own Makerspace this school year, here are some tips that can help you on your journey.

- Talk with your students

As an educator, it is important to have a conversation with your students to address many important questions. The most important is, "What do you want to make?" This needs to be the driving force behind every decision moving forward. If you have students passionate about code, look at various coding tools. Some students might be interested in the learning space aspect of a Makerspace and have ideas regarding the environment. These conversations will help direct the path of designing a Makerspace.

- Find the funds

This step might be optional depending on your situation. If you already have money from your district. then you do not need to worry about this step at the moment. If this is a solo project and your district/school cannot offer much financial support, grants will be needed to make your space happen. Look at state and local groups that offer grants for schools. You might find one that supports STEM/STEAM projects that would be perfect for your Makerspace. Another approach is to reach out to local businesses who might be interested in sponsoring specific purchases for the space. Sometimes businesses feel more comfortable giving money to a specific item instead of a blanket donation that might go to anything. It never hurts to have the students work on presentations to make to these groups. It is much harder to say no to students.

- Prioritize you wants and needs

Once you have the idea of all the different things a student wants in their Makerspace, it is important to prioritize everything. Placing items in a "Want" and "Need" category is a nice way to see the importance of various requests from the students. You should have a fixed budget that will help determine what is a need and a want. You might find something is a want that is outside the budget, but you could have an different grant purchase it or a specific business that might want to donate to help you purchase it. One thing to keep in mind as you develop your list; establishing a solid base for your Makerspace can help you later on when you write more grants or ask for support from your school district and community. Sometimes it takes a "proof of concept" model to show that the space is viable and worth the money.

- Reach out to the Internet for ideas

Do not be afraid to reach out to amazing experts out there who have helped build Makerspaces in their schools. Colleen Graves and Diana Rendina are excelllent resources when it comes to Makerspaces. It is always great to connect with other educators to see what has worked and not worked for them. The #MakerEd community is filled with great people looking to help those interested in providing students with an opportunity to grow through the use of a Makerspace.

- Document your journey

It is important to document your journey when creating a Makerspace. This comes in handy in a few different ways. First, it can be used to show granting institutions, administrators, and local businesses  how their support has impacted the space. Secondly, the documentation can be used in future requests for funds. They can show a "proof of concept" idea where you tell different groups that you would be able to do even more if you had more funds. Lastly, it is fun to have portfolio of the different things that students have made over the course of the year. They can really see how their projects came along over the course of the school year.

- Be OK with failing

Set the standard with your students that there are going to be times in this new space where things are not going to go as planned. Despite all of the planning, failure can happen and students AND teachers need to know that is OK. This allows everyone to feel comfortable taking risks and trying new things. We want students to explore areas they are passionate about and their might be a risk of failure. We do not want that fear of failure be the reason that a student does not try something. Tons of great learning will come from these failures.

These are some good starting points for building a Makerspace. (Shameless plug) I have more detailed and nerdy suggestions in my book, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces. This book is filled with my experience building a space and nerdy analogies to help make connections. It has been used for book studies and was a best seller on Amazon. If you are interested in purchasing any books for your district, email me and we can even get you a discount!

If you have any questions, please reach out to me and I will be happy to answer any questions.

Hugs and High Fives,


Saturday, September 9, 2017

A New Adventure in Robotics with @uniliggett #LiggettLearns

One of this things I am most excited about is my new connection with the Robotics team in the Middle School. I have never done robotics or It is known as the First Tech Challenge in the Middle School and I have lots to learn.

I spent the day with some of the Middle School students learning about design strategy, programming, servos, etc. It was a very exciting learning experience for me and for the students. I always love an opportunity to discover what I don't know and how I can make those things I do know.

It looks like we will have an all girls team again this year and I am excited to connect these young ladies with other female engineers, designers, programmers, etc to show them the possibilities to take what they are learning in FTC and turn them into careers. (If you know any amazing ladies in these fields, please reach out so I can connect them with my students.)

I've always had an interest in robotics, but never had the opportunity to explore it more in depth. I'm excited to be learning along with the new students. I hope I can learn enough to start to build my own robots. I've always wanted to build a Johnny 5. I might be able to by the end of this school year.

If you have any tips or tricks on mentoring a robotics team for the Middle School, please leave a comment or send me a tweet. I can use all the help I can get.

My Future Robot Build

Hugs and High Fives, 


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Some Thoughts on the "Edupreuner" #EdChat

An article in the New York Times by Natasha Stringer, Silicon Valley Courts Brand-name Teachers, Raises Ethical Issues, went live today and I'm featured in it. I wanted to write a post to share some of my more in-depth thoughts on the issue. Not because I feel the article got things wrong, but because there is limited space in an article and I wanted to share a bit more of what I think.

I agree that becoming ambassadors and working with edtech companies does raise interesting ethical questions. For me, I have only agreed to work with companies that I have already used their product and think it is good for students and/or staff. That is my prerequisite when I think about ambassadorships or the like. I do not feel I can honestly write about or support a product I do not use or like. That just seems like a basic aspect of what I do. I wouldn't be a Google Certified Innovator if I did not use Google Products. I do understand that there are those out there that rack up ambassadorships like badges and that hurts the overall community because it can lead to distrusting the authenticity of people's opinions.

There have been times when companies have sent me items to review for the site and they are not any good. These have ranged from small edtech items to 3D printers. I always try everything out, see how it could support learning in my classroom or school, and then share the feedback to the company. If the product is not good, I provide some feedback and do not write a trash article on my site. I do not do bad reviews. In personal conversations, I will steer people away from bad tech if they mention an interest in it. I never want to be associated with bad tech just for some free swag.

When I do find something that is awesome and my students love it, I share it with anyone. My first ambassadorship was with Evernote. I was a vocal Evernote user and shared about it all the time. They reached out to me and asked if I'd be an Education Ambassador. It did not impact me and the way I wrote or shared about it. I was already loving it and sharing. This is true for the most of my commitments. I love their products, share about their awesomeness, and someone reaches out to me and a relationship is formed.

I use the word relationship because I am a busy person and I want to make sure the people I will be working with over time are people and their mission is something I believe. I have had a wonderful relationship with Dremel. They have been supportive of getting 3D design into classrooms and have listened on how to engage teachers effectively and how best to support them. I also love working with littleBits. They have an amazing team of people looking to get STEAM into the hands of as many children as possible. I love working with them and support their work. I did this long before they had any ambassador program. I was interested in Raspberry Pi, signed up for their Picademy, was accepted, fell in love with all things Pi, and think they are one of the best tech companies out there. I have to feel a strong connection to a company if I plan on working with them long term. I have to like their staff and feel that they are actually listening to me to make their product better for educators and students.

I have always disclosed the different groups I work for in posts because I never want to hide anything from my readers. I have the badges on my website for everyone to see and I note on the end of posts if the post is connected to an Ambassadorship. I have always disclosed the things I bring into the classroom with students, staff, and parents because I want to be honest. It is important to follow all of the rules and guidelines your district has in place. I had a meeting with my district that clarified how this would work.

I am able to bring in expensive edtech to my school without straining a budget. There are plenty of companies out there that do not have good edtech products. If I can review the good ones and pass along those to other teachers so I can save them from wasting money, that is a good thing.

I also have received top notch professional development from these these various companies. That experience and knowledge tied together with my years of classroom experience is what helps me in my career, not just getting free stuff.

I know that budgets are tight for schools around the country. If my experience with a piece of edtech can help schools make an informed purchase that saves them from spending money on bad tech, then I have done a good thing. I feel like I have helped students and teachers in places far outside of my school and I like that.

When it is all said and done, I advise everyone to look for multiple opinions on any piece of educational technology to make sure you are getting the very best for your students and staff. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Check out @littleBits Droid Inventor Kit Right Now #MakerEd

Stop everything you are doing and watch this video from littleBits about the Droid Inventor Kit.

I have not played with this kit and only found out about it 30 minutes ago, but this video really got to me for some reason. 

The music, the feeling that there was something special going on and the young girl was on an adventure to see what it was about, and the community of inventors working together to create these droids was just very cool to me. It just felt awesome to see. 

My new role as a Makerspace Director has me thinking about what I'm trying to accomplish and the atmosphere in the room at the end is what I want to see in the Makerspace. Lots of movement and collaboration. Lots of support and smiles. 

I've been drawn to littleBits over the past few years because they are committed to supporting young inventors. They want everyone to have an opportunity to make and break. I love that mission and it makes me smile when I can see parts of my childhood be reborn like littleBits has done. 

I will be waking up early to make sure I can order my own kit or two when they are available. 

Thanks littleBits!

Hugs and High Fives,


Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Great Homework Debate #EdChat

I wasn't sure if I was going to weigh in on this topic, but I figured I would because that is why I have a blog and Twitter account. To be honest, I'm actually pretty tired of seeing the HW debate bounce around the Twitter feed and the stances that people take. Maybe I'm not so tired of the HW debate, but the stances. Very few things in education are all or nothing.

Education is nuanced. You cannot just say all homework is bad and teachers are bad because they assign homework that takes students away from valuable family time. Ugh.

As a HS English teacher, I assigned reading almost every single day. No more than 20 pages per night. The reading has to get done outside of the classroom because there is no way possible for a HS English teacher to cover 3 novels, 2 plays,  and numerous short stories and poems in 180 days of school. It could be possible if all students did in class was show up and read with no discussion or assessment, then maybe there is enough time. I still gave students in class reading time for novels we were reading because they do have busy schedules and I try to be understanding, but students will have to read at home. That is work that is done at home. Homework. I have yet to find an instructional strategy that allowed all of the curriculum to be covered while not allowing students the time to read at home.

There is bad homework though. Work that is designed to keep students busy and they have to finish it at home. That is busy work. Word searches and crossword puzzles are the worst. In my view, most worksheets are awful and need to go away, but I do not teach all grade levels in all areas, so I could be wrong in some instances.

The problem with all homework is bad is that it is a very final statement. Twitter is not a very good place to have a HW debate because you are very limited in what you can say and education, as I said earlier, is too nuanced to be addressed  in 140 characters.

As the school year starts, I recommend all teachers to take a look at the assignments they intend to give this year and see if it is something that students need to do. Take notes on what students are doing at home and revisit the the assignments at the end of the year to see if they need to stay or go.

The final verdict from me is that there is good homework and bad homework. If we spend more time helping teachers get the most out of their instructional time, this will limit the need for homework. If something needs to go home, teachers should be supported in creating the best possible homework so students can get the most out of that take home educational experience.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments below to continue the conversation.

Hugs and High Fives,


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

First Impressions #EdChat

I always think about this at the start of the school year. What is the first impression I want students to have of me that sets the tone of the whole year? I remember an old teacher adage about never letting students see you smile for the first few weeks of school. It easier to go from stern to kind than it is too kind to stern. These have always bugged me because it makes it seem like there are only two ways to interact with students.

Here are some things I have done that have helped me set the tone for the school year that have nothing to do with curriculum, but everything to do with relationships.

1. The First Five Minutes (Extended Version)

I've written about the First Five Minutes before and feel it is an amazing strategy for student engagement and community building in the classroom. The extended version of the First Five Minutes is just a longer chunk of time where the teacher just walks around and interacts with students and joins the conversations they are having. Sometimes, it is starting a conversation and seeing what students think of a particular topic. The one rule for the First Five Minutes is to avoid any content or curricular stuff unless the students bring it up. If they have questions about homework or something, save that for class time. If they want to talk about connections they made with the content on a personal level or they want to discuss how the content relates to the world around, that is awesome. Give students the freedom to discuss what matters to them and be engaged in their conversations. You want them to be engaged in your class, so engage them in their thoughts.

2. Ask Students What They Want To Learn

One of the things about a syllabus that has always bothered me is that it dictates to the students exactly what they are going to learn and how they are going to learn it. However, not every students is going to walk away with the same knowledge and others might feel overwhelmed seeing everything for an entire year planned out for them. How about asking the students to think about what they want to learn this year? Have them right it on the first page of their notebook, in their planner, or pass out notecards to write down their goals. Students need to feel some sense of ownership to their learning if they ware to truly engage. While the teacher will still cover the various aspects of the curriculum, the student can still have a focus of their own that can drive them to grow as a learner.

3. Start with Collaboration

If you want a classroom where students feel comfortable collaborating and making projects, it is smart to start off the year with a collaboration project. One of the first things I did in the Google Certified Innovator Academy a few years back was to try and build the tallest tower using marshmallows and pasta. It was a fun, silly, and challenging way to bring people together to solve a problem. People got to know one another and engage in conversations while building a tower of marshmallows. Another fun project is to use a BreakoutEDU kit to start the year. Have the students work together to solve puzzles and kick off the school year. Anything that brings the students together to let them know that the year will focus on relationships and collaboration is a great thing to have for the first day.

4. Greet Them and Send Them Off

Greet students at the start of class and send them off to their next class. Simple things like shaking hands, fist bumps, high fives, etc are a great way to make a connection with students. While some students will not think twice about the high five or hand shake, for some students, it might be the only positive physical contact they have had since the last time your greeted them or sent them on their way. Saying goodbye to students at the doorway is also a great way to recognize students in class that really stood out and participated or did something amazing. It's easy to forget to recognize students at the end of the class because teachers are so busy getting ready for the next thing, but these moments are perfect for making lasting connections and impressions on students.

These are just a few ways to engage students on the first day and throughout the school year. We need students to feel safe and welcomed in the classroom if we truly want them to engage. It the job of every teacher to make sure the students know they have someone in front of them that cares more about them than the work they are going to do. If a teacher can accomplish this, the are going to have an amazing year filled with fun and learning.

Please share any ways that you engage with students on the first day to make a great impression in the comments section below.

Hugs and High Fives,


Monday, August 21, 2017

#MakerMonday with @HueHD #MakerEd

Happy #MakerMonday everyone! I wanted to start something on my website to support those educators that are always looking for cool things for their library or Makerspace. 

A Makerspace is NEVER driven by stuff. A Makerspace is ALWAYS driven by people. The people that are part of the Makerspace community should decide what is in there based on their interests. If you are an educator looking to stock a Makerspace, I hope you have talked to your students first and asked them what they are interested in making. That should be what guides you in making your purchases. 

You have a chance to get a copy of my book and a Hue Animation Studio kit! All you have to do is tweet a picture of something you've made to @TheNerdyTeacher and @HueHD with the tag #MakerMonday by Sunday August 27th for a chance to win. The winner will be chosen at random. If you have any questions, please tweet @TheNerdyTeacher. Thanks and good luck!

Featured: HUE Animation Studio.

What is HUE Animation Studio?

"HUE Animation Studio is a complete stop motion animation kit which includes the HUE HD camera, a single license for HUE Animation and the HUE Book of Animation"

Personal Thoughts:

I've had HUE Camera for a number of years. It has been an excellent camera for my computer when computers did not come with a built in camera. Then I heard about the Animation Studio and had to play with it. My students had done stop motion projects in the past and I thought this is something that would be nice in the Makerspace. I sat down and dove into the software and this is what I created in 20 minutes.

This was so much fun! If I had more time, I would have done an entire Simpsons scene with voices and everything. I could download audio as well and import it into the video if I wanted the theme music playing or actual character voices.


The kit comes with a Book of Animation that walks the users through various projects. One that I will try at home with my son is the melting Ice Cream. Time laps photos of melting ice cream and played in reverse is a cool effect of having ice cream born from a puddle of goop. Lawn Skating is another fun project that will get you outside to take some fun videos.

Hue Animation Studio was such an easy program to pick up and use. I did not read any of the directions and the UI was very intuitive. I took the pictures, added the audio, exported the video, and uploaded to YouTube. I only needed a laptop, the kit, and someplace to point the camera. For only $70, this is a great deal for a camera and the software. If you are looking to add a but of animation to your classroom or Makerspace, you have to check out the HUE Animation Studio. You will not be disappointed. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Where Does EdTech Fit in the World Right Now? #EdChat

I've had a hard time finding things to write in the wake of Charlottesville. Everything that has come to my mind has seemed trivial. The frustrating aspect of this is that, as teachers, we need to speak up against hate. My Grandfather fought in WWII and passed away years ago. I can't imagine what he would have thought seeing the Nazi flag fly down American streets.

Where does EdTech fit in? Does it have a place in this conversation? Yes and no is the best answer I can think of at the moment. Tools to talk about tools is not what is needed right now. Tools that can be used to help students better understand history and connecting them with experts and FACTS, is key. There are tools out there that teachers can use to help the conversations that need to take place this year. Here are 5 websites that teachers can use to help start the conversation or support the conversations already taking place.

The Anne Frank House Virtual Tour

I was able to visit the house in my 20's and I remember that I wrote in my travel journal that every single person in the world should be able to visit this house. It would change the world. This is helpful website that allows that to happen. Students can see what it was like for Anne to live in hiding with friends and family. The virtual tour uses Flash, so it might be a bit wonky on your computer, but I'm sure that will be addressed soon. Here is a link for teachers showing how to incorporate the Annex into their lessons.

Holocaust Memorial Center Virtual Tour

This museum is actually in my backyard and it is so very important. The museum is filled with the stories of people who lived through this terrible time in our world and their stories must not be forgotten. The website has excellent resources and it worth adding to the classroom for all students to see and hear the stories.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the Smithsonian group of museums in Washington DC, this museum is filled with great bits of history that are often forgotten or completely ignored. The above link is to the educator's page that has wonderful information to start conversations with your students.

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Another museum in my backyard. This is a great museum dedicated to telling the story of Africans Americans from their point of view. I remember my visit a few years back where I was able to see a reconstruction of a slave ship holding area and how slaves were placed to fit as many slaves as possible for the journey.


This is a website run by the Southern Poverty Law Center and it provides resources for teachers looking to talk about diversity with their students. This article explains the alt-right (White Nationalists, Supremacists, Racists, etc). Sometimes teachers need a starting spot to have these tough conversations. This is a good resource worth sharing with your teachers.

I know there are many other resources out there, but I wanted to share these five with everyone today. Please feel free to share more resources in the comment section below. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Case for Kits #MakerEd

There is a point of view that kits are not good for Makers/Makerspaces. Their is a belief that kits take away from the purity of exploration of a Makerspaces and trying new things and failing. One big question from these people is,

Are you truly Making if you are just following directions?

My answer to that is yes. A big, fat yes for that matter.

I love starting my learning with kits. If I want to tackle something completely new and have no idea where to start, I will order a kit so I can get my bearings. After going through the motions with the kit and understanding what everything can do, I start to branch out and explore my ideas based on what I've learned. That is the beauty of kits. They are the gateway to more in-depth making.

I get very frustrated that there is a "my way or the highway" approach to Making and Makerspaces. Not everyone is going to follow the same path when it comes to Making and that should be embraced and supported by all educators. Our students are not starting in the same place, so why not offer them a kit or challenge to help guide them on their journey. I think it is called differentiation.

Companies (littleBits, SparkFun, Pimoroni, PiSupply, etc.) offer a simple access point to complex electronics that might be too intimidating for beginners to explore on their own. I appreciate any company that wants to try and make STEAM concepts more accessible to a variety of learners. Can these kits be pricey? Yes, but getting all of the pieces for various projects and creating the guides for them are not cheap and a person is paying for the convenience the kit provides.

As a Maker community, please let us be kind and supportive of all learners, adult and child, that are trying to explore the creative world around them in ways that work for them.

Hugs and High Fives,


Wrong kit. This is K.I.T.T.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

It Started With An LED #EdChat

One of my most exciting moments in the Maker world was when I made my first LED blink at Picademy. I was playing with a Raspberry Pi for the first time and I had no idea what I was really doing. I was following the directions and trying to keep up. Then, I made the LED turn on and then I made it blink. Here is how I felt about it,

From that moment, I was hooked. I had the itch to keep learning and to dive deeper because of that experience. I am not sure if the blinking LED was supposed to be the skill that hooks a Maker, but it hooked me. I think this needs to be kept in mind for teachers out there. 

We want our students to explore the world around them to see what they can learn and love. We do not have any idea what will be the lesson, book, comment, or idea that will set them off on a journey of discovery, but we need to make sure we give all of our students an opportunity. 

As the school year starts, there will be plenty of time to focus on the curriculum that needs to be covered. I hope as educators, we think about the experiences we want to create for our students. Those are the things that can alter their trajectory for the rest of their life. For me, Picademy launched me into the world of Raspberry Pi and Making that has led me to great learning and sharing with a passionate community. That has allowed me to connect with my students and pass the awesomeness to them. Life is made up of experiences and school should be designed to give students the best learning experiences possible. 

What experiences do you want your students to have this year?

Monday, August 7, 2017

#MakerMonday Featuring @SparkFunEDU micro:bit Kits

I’ve been seeing micro:bit on the Internets for months now and I even own a few, but I have not found the time to really dive in and see what I can do with it. Sometimes, I like to just dive in with a device and see what I can hack together, but other times, I like to use a kit first so I can get an idea of what is possible and go from there. SparkFunEDU has the perfect kits for learning all about micro:bit and they are the feature of this week’s #MakerMonday.

I spent time playing with the SparkFun micro:arcade kit, micro:bot kit, and the micro:climate kit and I loved them. I am going to focus my thoughts on the micro:climate kit for the purpose of this #MakerMonday, but here are some quick thoughts on the other kits I played with from SparkFun.

Feratured: SparkFun

Focus: Electronics

Grade: All Ages

What is SparkFun:

“We’re here to help you start something.”

I love this line on their About Us page. It says so much about the Maker Mentality as I see it and how companies can support students and educators looking to open up to Making. They are here to help us get started and that is exactly what the micro:bit kits do.

Personal Thoughts:

Quick Thoughts on the micro:bot and arcade:bot kits:

The micro:bot kit was a fun build, but a little more complex than I expected out of the box. I have a good feeling it was my own fault because I tend to rush and can skip a part of the directions because of that. Once I got everything together and uploaded the coded provided, everything was awesome. It was cool to watch the bot roll around and change directions when it hit an obstacle. Following a black line is fun for a bit, but it is just a start to more complex coding fun anyone can have with a bot.

The micro:arcade kit is great for those looking to get started with gaming projects. I have already built varied projects that involved joysticks and found this to be very easy to assemble and use with an online game. Connecting this to a Raspberry Pi and playing RetroPie games is a fun starter project for those that are looking into starting small for their gaming projects.

Deeper Thoughts on the micro:climate kit:

Out of the box, the micro:climate kit has everything you need to assemble a weather station to get tons of data. When I was opening the package, there was a weather system moving through in 30 minutes and I wanted to get this put together and on my deck as soon as I could.

Here is what I was able to assemble and code in that window.

Here is another video I posted on Instagram. 

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

I was able to assemble the entire kit and mount it in place before the first drop hit. Once the sky opened up, I was able to see the the data on the bit LED matrix. The wires are long enough to come into the house so I could keep it dry for a longer period of time, but a simple plastic bag worked just fine. Long term, I see myself building a case for it to stay outside. More 3D design in my future.

I was connecting the micro:bit to my computer and changing the code, but that is not a very practical option if the bit is going to stay outside and is in a case of some sort. So, it made sense to me to hook it up to a Raspberry Pi 3 that I could VNC into and upload the new code as needed. (Note: I tried using a Zero W, but it was just too slow to do the things I wanted.)

I was able to combine some code that was provided by SparkFun and have the bit provide me with Temp and Wind Speed. It took some tweaking to convert the C to F, but I was pretty stoked when I was able to code it and get it to work. Sometimes it is the little success that really drive me forward, not just the big ones all can see.

The SparkFun website has a great manual and really guides the user though the creation of each possible project that can be made using the kit. They have direct links to the code that can be downloaded and added to the bit. This made using the Pi remotely so much easier. I just downloaded and uploaded in under 30 seconds and the bit was working.


SparkFun is filled with amazing kits and pieces of Maker goodness for all interests. It is worth checking them out when you are in need of conductive thread, alligator clips, or any other supplies to help you get started with your project.

Final Thoughts:

I loved the kits and see exactly how they can fit in a Makerspace, but also how they can fit directly into any STEAM program. Almost all grade levels have some type of climate unit that the micro:climate kit can be used. The level of data collected will be dependent on the skill level of the students, but the teacher can modify as needed with this kit.

The micro SD board in the micro:climate kit that allows the user to store collected data directly to the bit is great for research. Students just need to grab the card and insert into a computer to get the data they need. SparkFun walks the user through the process as well.

The soil temp sensor and the moisture sensor are great add-ons to the bit that will continue to provide information to the user. Connected to a Raspberry Pi, I can see the camera module set to video or time lapse used along with the micro:climate kit to pull in a host a data that would fit perfectly in a multimedia presentation sharing important data points with class.

If you are looking for a diverse set of kits for your classroom, library, or Makerspace, I highly recommend checking out the micro:bot, micro:arcade, and micro:climate kits. Their diversity of application makes them perfect for K-12 STEAM exploration in and out of the classroom.