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.

Friday, August 4, 2017

An Underwater Pond Camera with @Raspberry_Pi #MakerEd

I was out back and I was looking at my pond like I usually do most Summer days. Here is a shot of my pond. I built it all by myself. One of my earliest adult Maker projects. 

As I walked by and noticed how clear my water had become since changing filters, I thought it would be cool if I could see where my fish like to hide. I broke a few large Terra Cotta pots in half and placed them in the pond to create little caves for the fish to hide from raccoons and a white crane that hangs in the backyard. I immediately that that a my Raspberry Pi Zero W attached to my Dremel 3D printer would be perfect for this project. Here is a link to site that walked me through the code to create a Web Interface for my Raspberry Pi Camera

Since I had the program up and running already, I needed to come up with a to power the Pi and to keep it dry. After a quick run to the store for some Diver grade waterproof bags and battery pack, I was ready to put together my underwater Pi.


These are some photos of the camera in the bag with the battery pack. I also added this little LED light. I think it helped a bit.

Here is the bag floating on the surface of the pond getting some great shots of the fish swimming around. If I wanted, I could weigh the bag to the bottom of the pond (3.5 ft), but I'm not sure the wifi signal would be that strong.

Here are a couple of videos I posted to Instagram. (Note: Ignore the Time Lapse stamp. I forget to change that before recording.)

A post shared by Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteacher) on

This entire project was easy because I had a Pi set up for video and timelapse. I just needed to take it and make it waterproof. This was a fun project that I can really explore more deeply by thinking about building a motorized boat around the floating bag that would allow me to steer it around the pond to specific areas and get really tight shots.

Hugs and High Fives!