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.