Thursday, December 13, 2018

Season 1 of The Maker Mentality Podcast #MakerEd

If you are looking for some podcasts to fulfill your Maker needs, The Maker Mentality is exactly what you need.

The first season is available to binge right now! Season 2 will be dropping in the New Year and it will be filled with some amazing guests.

Check it out here, or you can go to the following podcasting places to hear The Maker Mentality.

Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Radio Public
Pocket Casts

Thanks for listening and let me know if there is anything you'd really like me to cover or someone you would like me to have a conversation with in a future episode. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

An Art Library at @UniLiggett! #ArtsEd #EdChat #MakerEd

I received an email the other day and it blew my mind. Email don't generally do this, but this one shared an idea that I fell in love with right away. I asked if I could share it out and I was given a big thumbs up, so here it is.

Here is the email,

The Liggett Art Library is finally live!

What’s the Liggett Art Library?

Over time, The Curators (a group of Upper and Middle School artists) hope to collect and create a body of student artwork from all divisions in order to:

-Loan artwork to faculty and staff to brighten classroom and office spaces
-Add artwork to empty wall spaces in common areas
-Refresh old displays with more recent artwork
-Regularly rotate art displays throughout the school
-Take a select number of space- or classroom-specific commissions annually
-Build an evolving art collection by keeping student work for a year or more before returning it to make room for new work

How does it work?

It’s pretty similar to any other library.  You can borrow artwork for the school year to hang in your teaching or working space(s).  Each June, artwork must be renewed or returned to the library.  This allows work to be shared, rotated through different spaces, and/or returned to graduating students.  

What’s the difference between the three collections?

The Permanent Collection is work that has been gifted to the library. Since these pieces do not need to be returned to students, they can remain in one location (upon annual renewal) for longer periods of time.

The Temporary Collection is work that student artists have loaned to the library upon condition that the art be returned to them when they graduate (sometimes earlier). If you’re interested in borrowing Temporary Collection pieces, please be sure to check the return-to-student date.

Commissions is the body of custom work The Curators will create for particular individuals, spaces, and/or units of study. Curators is a small group, and there are only so many commissions we can create in a school year, but we’ll do our best to honor your requests as we’re able.

How can I borrow work?

Please email me with your requests.  For now, please keep requests to 1-2 pieces unless you are looking to curate a larger shared space.  Requests received by this Friday 12/7 will be matted and framed for you by The Curators (Art Library Team led by Hope K ’19 and Lizzie L ’20) and hung over break by Jim K (thanks, Jim!).  Requests received after Friday will be hung in the new year.

Thank you for supporting this project.  We’re looking forward to bringing student artwork out of the galleries and into your classrooms!

Helen (& The Curators)

Isn't this idea amazing! I love everything about it! I've already put in a request for a mural for the Makerspace and piece of art done by one of my favorite Liggett artists, Hope Kulka. Here is what I requested,

I am a strong believer in the power of the arts to give a voice to those that feel like they do not have one and the Knights Forge Innovation Lab is going to be a place for all makers, including all artists, to showcase their work and make amazing things. I hope all teachers take advantage of this amazing program and fill their classrooms with amazing works of student art. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Where's Your School Culture? #EdChat

One of the things that stood out to me about my trip to Iceland was the culture of learning throughout the school. Everything was geared toward the learner. As I walked through the school, I didn't need to the examples of the learning culture pointed out to me. I could see it in the classrooms as students interacted with one another. I could see it in the hallways where student work was on display. I could see it in the way the teachers connected with others in the morning. Everywhere I turned, the culture was there and it was amazing.

As I talked to different teachers while in Iceland, I asked about culture and I wondered about how school mandates or new initiatives were rolled out or how teacher voice was part of the conversation. The one big thing I took away was that the culture of the school makes it easier to change whatever needs to be changed. The shared sense of community in the school is a culture that supports change for the good of everyone. Everyone feels like they have a voice in their school. Students feel like they are part of a large community supporting them in their studies. The culture supports the changes that need to be made and lifts everyone up when some are hesitant. They understand that changes are part of the evolving nature of any community. That is what is key. Change is part of any community.

As I talk to teacher across the country, the culture of their school shapes their teaching experience. I think this is one of the biggest obstacles of any school or district that is trying to make sweeping changes in their institutions. You can't expect complex changes to occur in teachers' thinking when a culture does not exist to support those changes. A culture of support needs to be in place before you can ask people to change what they do day to day. Without the established culture, resistance to any new ideas is going to be widespread.

Culture doesn't solve everything. You could have a great culture, but it could be destroyed by poorly thought out plans, ignoring teacher input, focusing on anything other than students, and much, much more. I've seen great school cultures killed. It is sad.

My school is a pretty progressive school and there is a concerted effort to build school culture for the teachers and for the students. In the Middle School, we instituted the House System to bring the sense of community across all three grades. We believe that we can bring everyone together with this system to help make any changes that might be needed over time. If everyone is on the same team, we can all support one another for the good of the school.

I was going to title the post, "What is your School Culture", but I wanted to ask where is it. You might think you have a particular school culture, but can you point to examples of it in your school? What does your school culture look like? Is it inclusive?  Can others outside of your school see these examples without have it pointed out or explained? Ask yourself these questions and think about how you can be a force of change.

Monday, November 26, 2018

@littleBits Are Not Stopped By Language Barriers

One of the things I was able to share with educators while I was in Iceland was the awesomeness of littleBits. With a Code kit and the workshop kit, I was able to open up a world of bits to teachers without the worry of language barriers. While the teachers can speak and read English well, that was not needed as they were able to just grab bits and connect them together. Here are some photos of them working. 

These educators had so much fun exploring each bit and what they could do with other bits. The code kit opened up another world for them because block based coding was new to many of them and it was a great way to take the coding I had just covered in my workshop and connect it with physical items. The teachers had a great time and planned on getting their own littleBits for their classrooms to help students explore the engineering side of making. 

When I look at this for students, it is a big deal because there are plenty of students that struggle with language every day and littleBits is a great tool to allow those students the freedom to create and express themselves even if they have limited language skills. These could be ESL students or others still learning to read. The color coded bits and the easy to use bits make littleBits amazing to have in the classroom because it is welcoming to all students, no matter where they are on their educational journey. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

What I Learned About Literacy After I Left The English Classroom #EngChat #Literacy

Making the decision to move from my high school English Literature and Composition job after 15 years to build a makerspace and support tech integration for teachers, was very tough. I loved working with students and helping them read and evaluate texts. I thought I would never again be able to work with students to help them explore the deeper meaning of a piece of poetry and how it connects to their lives. After a year and a few months in my job, there are some thing I have learned about literacy that were not clear to me while in the classroom.

Literacy takes many forms

One of the things I would always focus on in my classroom is the importance of reading, writing, and speaking. All three allow a person to understand and communicate. No matter where you go in life, these three things will always help you. I see that this is only partially true. A person can read, write, and speak well, but if they do not know how to use those tools to problem solve, how helpful are they truly going to be? Watching students struggle to solve problems in the makerspace has shown me that there needs to be more time given to teaching these problem solving skills as part of their overall literacy. Using those skills to know how to identify a problem, research the appropriate sources, create a protoype, and articulate the problem and solution to others is very important.

There is not such thing as grade or age appropriate (kind of)

All too often, students would want to read something or explore something and they would be told that is not appropriate for their grade or age. The curriculum is designed to for grade and age appropriateness and teachers are stuck in that box. In the makerspace, I have learned that there is no such thing as age or grade appropriateness. If the student is willing to take on the challenge of something complex and want to work their way through it, why should I, or the school, stand in their way? For those that are going to say things like, "So I should let me 5th grader read "Fifty Shades of Grey'?" No, you shouldn't, but you should probably talk to them about why they want to read it and see what is at the root of their request. Let students experiment and push the boundaries of their reading, writing, and making. That is where they will learn the most.

The struggle is real and important

It can be so easy to just write the topic sentence for the student or do the citation for them. It is much faster when you have 29 other students to conference with over the next 40 minutes. However, they struggle of learning to read and write is so important as long as students are allowed to feel comfortable to try and fail. I think I got better with the try and fail aspect of writing in my class, but, for too long, it was a one attempt and move on mentality in my classroom. The Makerspace has shown me how effective a try, fail, try again approach to learning is needed in literacy and everywhere else in schools. Give student the time to experiment with their poetry or their essays. Give the students time to try new rhetorical devices. Let them struggle to find their personal, beautiful, and authentic voice by trying as many voices as they like until the find the one that is just right for them.

Leaving the direct instruction position after 15 years to a position that supports students and teachers in different ways has allowed me to take a step back and really see what literacy, and instruction overall, can and should look like. The best I can do now is share with the teachers around me and write on this blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Adventures in Icelandic Schools #MakerEd #MakerMentality

I have been very lucky to spend a couple of days exploring Icelandic schools before providing workshops for the Icelandic educational community. I have been so impressed with the amazing things I have seen in the classrooms. Here are a few things that stuck out to me.

Here are a couple of photos of the woodshop class that students in grades 1-8 all take at Arskoli. They work on projects to learn various skills. I love that this is a required class for students in this age group. The more work I do with Makerspaces, the more I see the value in getting students comfortable using these types of tools at a young age. It really opens up the possibilities for projects down the line when they have a wider base of skills.

Here is a Home Ec class that these 3rd grade students are taking. They are making cookies and the teacher is recording them and posting their explanation of the baking process to SeeSaw. This is a wonderful way for students to work with their hands and demonstrate understanding of what was covered in class. Adding the video to SeeSaw for parents and students to see is an awesome addition to the process. 

In this photo, students are in Textiles class learning to knit, sew, crochet, and more. Again, all project based and students produce artifacts to demonstrate their learning.  

Art class students are making with clay. Students were making candle holders and small animals. One group was spending time making clay mice. I figured I would give it a go, but the side-eye from this young student suggests she was wary of my clay skills. 

The nice part about all of this is that these skills are all transferable to all of the other classes the students attend. Maths, English, Science, etc. are all using Project Based Learning to explore ideas and the students have the skills to create varied artifacts to demonstrate their learning.

Being able to present and connect with the amazing teachers from Iceland was an amazing experience. I also was able to spend some time with some fabulous educators from North America as well.

It was such an amazing opportunity to learn about the educational culture of another country and see how I can implement what they have done in my school so we can all be better together. There are more posts to come on my Icelandic Adventure, I just need more time to unpack them all.

Hugs and High Fives,


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Don't Forget the A when talking STEM #MakerEd

One of the things that has bothered me over the years has been the dismissal of the Arts as part of an important, well-rounded education. I don't want to think that it has been intentional, but I do know that many schools around the country will cuts the Arts programs before anything else.

With the push for a heavier focus on Science for our students, STEM has become the go to buzzword for educators around the country. We need STEM if we are going to be competitive in the world. We need more time to focus on STEM activities in the class. STEM is the only way we can prepare our students for the world ahead. These are the types of things that are being said. It drives me nuts because everyone seems to forget about the value and need for the Arts. It also seems to be cyclical.

We move away from the Arts, then someone does a study and realizes that the Arts are an important part of the education process. People act completely surprised and Arts teachers nod their head as they read the report telling them something they already know. It does not have to be this way though.

Ditch the idea of STEM and use STEAM. The Arts are an important part of becoming a well rounded learner. I'm tired of hearing, "But not all students are going to be artists, dancers, or musicians." No kidding. Not everyone is going to be a writer, scientist, historian, or mathematician. Yet, we drill these subjects into our students because they have been deemed an important part of becoming a well rounded individual.

We teach Math because it helps students grow problem solving skills. We teach history because it is important to know about the past as we live in the present and consider the future. We teach Science because it is important for students to have a basic understanding of the world around them. We teach these things because they are important. The arts are extremely important. They make students better learners. Here is a study that says so.

For all of the teachers/librarians out there that are thinking about Makerspaces and are hearing about how Makerspaces support STEM learning, push back a little and remind those people that a Makerspace can support all learning when you make it STEAM.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Makespace Starter Kit #MakerEd #MakerMentality

One of the most commons things I get asked about are the types of tools that are a must have for a Makerspace when getting started. It is an understandable question. Sometimes, a teacher is given grant money and they need to spend it quickly and are looking for some tips on what to purchase. To help save some those teachers some time, I will provide what a list of the most popular items in the Knights Forge Innovation Lab at University Liggett School.

If given the time to build a space, the first thing you should do is talk to students and teachers to see what their needs are before going and spending money on big ticket items. As the Makerspace Director, I ordered the following tools based on the needs of the students and the types of projects teachers want students to create in the classroom. This is not an exhaustive list and you do not have to have all or any of these tools to have an amazing space in your room or school. These are just some of the awesome tools in our space that students are using to create tremendous projects.

Copper TapeBatteriesLEDs

These three items can be used for any project you want to have lights! Teaching simple circuits using the copper tape, batteries, and LEDs is a wonderful way to engage students in Science curriculum. It is also fun to have in the Makerspace when students want to add lights to things. These are very inexpensive purchases that can have many different uses, so stock up your makerspace with these guys and watch the kids have fun.

Dremel 3D45 3D Printer

We have three of these amazing printers in our space and they are constantly printing. They were used to help print skulls for the high school Forensic Science class to aid in facial reconstruction. Students have used it to make phone cases, parts for a Nerf Gun they were building, and pieces for art projects. This printer has a heated bed to help prevent warping as well as aided leveling. Another awesome part of this printer is that it can print in Nylon and traditional PLA. Further, the filament from Dremel has a chip that allows the printer to read the type of filament you have placed in the printer and all of the settings adjust for that filament. It makes printing so much easier for people new to device and the various settings. The Dremel printers are sturdy and have not caused me a single issue since they were purchased last year. 

I will very rarely declare something as a must have for a makerspace, but cardboard is one of those consumables that have so many uses. If you are going to have cardboard in your space, then I highly recommend that you pick up a Makedo kit. These kits are plastic screws, saws, and screw drivers that allow users to connect their pieces of cardboard and then reuse the makedo parts as needed. So much duct tape is used in cardboard construction, it can become a bit pricey. The Makedo is perfect is allowing for prototyping ideas in a Makerspace without the waste of tape. My students love these and the help keep the cardboard creations under control. 

I love littleBits. There, I said it. These little guys are in constant use by students in the Makerspace. We are always having great discussions on circuits and switches and lots of other fun engineering ideas based on what students are creating with littleBits. The workshop kit might seem a bit pricey, but it allows for multiple students to come together and build. You can also check out the Pro Library Set if you have the funds and want even more students to build using littleBits. I have found that this tools is also great for students who fidget and need something to play with in their hands. Building with these has helped many fidgety students sit and focus while exploring littleBits. 

I use this app all of the time with students because it takes a crystal clear image of a student design and allows me to send it through Airdrop of email to my computer or the student's computer. Using the CNC machines or the laser cutter can be time consuming, but if you can just scan a student drawing and upload it directly to the program you are using, life is so much easier. It's a free download on your iOS device and I have been using it for years for personal document scanning and have only just seen the value in capturing student designs with it. It's a simple addition to any space. 

The world of CNC making became a whole bunch easier with the desktop Carvey. This guy is a self contained carving unit that you do not have to assemble. Everything comes ready made for you to dive into the world of CNC carving. Inventables has put together a wonderful product with an easy to use, web-based software that has a free premium account for educators! Each Carvey does need it's own computer because the computer needs to be connected for the duration of the cut job. Using an old laptop stripped down to only run a browser would be fine. Raspberry Pi (Linux) support is possible, but takes a few extra steps if you want to go that route. The Chinese language students designed stamps of their Chinese name and we carved them on the Carvey. It was a fun and simple project for the students. If you are looking for a larger CNC machine for your space, check out the X-Carve from Inventables. That is a heavy duty CNC that requires you, or your students, to assemble. Once it is assembled, you will have a much larger cutting space for creating large signs and other projects. Definitely check them out. 

I swear by this tape. I just love it so much. It holds everything down and just where I want it. Students and I have used it for various projects. I recommend this tape as a tape you need while prototyping or building. If you are looking for tape for duct tape projects, there are plenty of other tapes you should use for those projects. This is heavy duty, not messing around, tape that is perfect for a makerspace. 

The Muse is the desktop Laser Cutter from Full Spectrum Laser. They have a long history of making laser cutters and this is their hobby laser that is perfect for the classroom. It takes a little bit of patience to set up and align the mirrors, but once that is done, you will be cutting, rastering, etching, and more in no time. The Muse sports a design that allows you to remove the bottom so you can place it on top of larger items (doors, table tops, etc) that do not fit in the machine and still use it to etch designs. The interesting part of the Muse is that you connect to it through the IP address that has the design software. You design on the machine. I like it because it allows you to adjust anything you want before you start. The onboard camera takes a picture of the laser bed to allow for accurate placement of materials and designs. I never thought I would become comfortable using a laser cutter, but it has become an invaluable tool in the Makerspace for teachers and students.

Dry Erase Surfaces

There are many different types of this paint out there. I've used this in the past and I am fan. The students love using the tables to write out their ideas and just brainstorm. Their rough sketches have become full prototypes and teachers love having students in our design room to use those tables. When I had the desks in my class covered in the paint, it was great. Students would jot down notes and take pictures to study for later. The freedom to write on the desk or table to get ideas out during collaboration is a such a nice thing to have. If you have a table or two that could use some love, considering covering it in dry erase paint.

Raspberry Pi

I know that I am a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator and this might seem biased, but I can't help the fact that Pi is so versatile. We have Pis running so many different things in the Middle School, I'm not sure where to even start. A Pi is used to run the monitor in the student commons, I use a Pi to run a monitor that keeps my To Do list and calendar in view. We used Pi to create multiple Retro Pi gaming systems. Pi runs the Pi-Tops in the Makerspace that students use for coding. Pis are at the heart of the physical coding blocks I built. There is so much you can do with the Raspberry Pi that it would be crazy not to have a few of them in the space. You can buy full kits on Amazon for a reasonable price.

Your Starter Guide to Makerspace and The Maker Mentality


I know I am biased, but these books are really great at helping teachers and administrators understand the value of a Makerspace, how to build one, and how to create a culture around making that will support the makerspace. I've been lucky to see my book shared all over the world and in book studies in individual schools. These books are everyman's approach to making and makerspaces. If you have any questions about getting these books or starting your own book study, please shoot me an email and we can connect. 

I know I left some awesome things on the list, but these are the ones that stand out to me as I sit in our space, The Knights Forge Innovation Lab, and watch the students design and make. I hope everyone has an amazing day and please leave any tools you love in the comments below for others to see.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

It's Global Maker Day #GlobalMakerDay #MakerEd

I'm so excited for Global Maker Day! One day to recognize the amazing work being created by students and teachers all over the world. I've been so lucky to be in a position now for over a year that supports Making in all of its forms. As the Makerspace Director at University Liggett School, I have seen students and teachers design and make so many awesome projects. Here are just some of this cool things created in the Knights Forge Innovation Lab.

Global Maker Day is about giving everyone a chance to share their stories about why Making is so important in and out of the classroom. Adults need to make and model for students who have the itch to create, but are not sure where to start. The school needs to support a culture of making, a Maker Mentality. Without it, students and teachers will not feel as empowered as they could to create and share with the world around them.

As humans, we are makers. We have always been makers and that is how we have accomplished the most amazing things in human history. The minute we become a civilization of consumers only, we are doomed. Let's make time for making in our classrooms and at home. Have a great Global Maker Day everyone!

If you are interested in starting your own Makerspace or diving into the culture of the Maker Mentality, you should check out my two book on Amazon. They are a great place to start your Making journey and have been used as part of school book study groups. If you have any questions about my books, making, or just want to share an awesome story, please let me know.

Hugs and High Fives,