Wednesday, April 25, 2018

That "Teacher" Feeling #EdChat

As some of you know, I have been in a new position this year at such a great school, University Liggett School. I am the Makerspace Director and Middle School Technology Coordinator. That means I spend my time working with students in the Makerspace and with teachers and their lessons. I do not craft my own lessons and do direct instruction on my own anymore. I have to say, I do miss it.

I never thought I would say that because of how exhausting it can be, but it is easy to forget how rewarding it is when the lesson is just killer and the kids are super engaged. I was reminded this week because I am covering for a great teacher who is off with the grade 6 students on their camp trip. I volunteered to take her 7th grade English class and she said I could do whatever I wanted. She said she trusted me. Those are usually famous last words, but I was stoked to create a lesson and spend four days with the students exploring.

The first think I did was read up on Pernille Ripp and her writings on dealing with Middle School students in an English Class. After that, I dove into a story I love, "The Yellow Wallpaper". It is a great piece of American Gothic Literature about a woman losing her mind and sharing it with the reader through first person narration. As a reader you are not sure if the place is haunted or if she is crazy. It is a wonderful story easy to explore because of the rich imagery and the solid symbolism of the oppression of women.

I wasn't sure how it was going to go and I was sure I was going to be rusty running a class, but everything was great! The students were engaged and we had a great conversation about symbols and how women were treated and, in different ways, are treated today. Their comments were insightful and their questions were on point. They were engaged in the story and are looking forward to more discussions and the project where they are going to create their own example of a symbol that connects to a theme from the story.

At the end of the second class, I was just so energized. I had forgotten what it feels like to be "in the zone" with a group of students. I am going to make it a point to try and do solo lessons in English class once in a while to keep me fresh, connected to direct instruction, and for the fix of teaching a group of students something I love.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Why Kindergarteners Need to Learn Typing, and How to Get Them Started

As a nerdy teacher, I love it when my students explore coding, discover the joys of collaborative writing via Google docs, or immerse themselves in online research. But before they can do any of those technology-enriched learning activities, they need to master an essential 21st-century skill: typing.

That’s right, typing. Gone are the days when typing was a standalone class where middle or high schoolers sat in front of massive machines that they had never used before, struggling to master the home row and worrying that the teacher would smack them with a ruler or put a cardboard box over their hands if they peeked at the keys.

I vaguely remember having a typing/computer class in middle school, but I'm sure I spent most of my time in that class dying of dysentery. In high school, there was a keyboarding class that was just repetition of some program that would time me on how fast I could type these insane sentences that had all of the important words with the important letters I was supposed to master typing without looking at my keyboard. The boxes over the keyboard and your hands so you couldn't see the keys was an extra special touch that made me really hate typing. It wasn't until I needed to type for myself in college that I learned to type well.

With the proliferation of Chromebooks in classrooms around the country, typing has become a language that kids need to know if they want to unlock the power of connected learning—not to mention the fact that, in some states, kids as young as 2nd grade need to be able to type for assessments.

Clearly, we can’t wait until middle school to introduce our students to the joys of the home row. On the other hand, many kindergarteners and 1st -graders simply aren’t big enough to type “properly” on a full-sized keyboard. Here are a few tips for setting young learners on the road to typing.  

Make it Fun

We learn to type by repetition, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery. Many of today’s kindergarteners are already comfortable playing games on tablets or laptops, and teachers can easily find typing games that feel more like recess than homework.

Start with One Finger

Kindergarteners don’t need to go from zero to 60 words per minute. Free games like the ones you can find at TypeTastic teach them letter-recognition skills that lay the foundation for typing—and they can play them on a tablet with a single finger.

Do a Little Every Day

Helping students move from recognizing letters to finding the home keys to eventually touch-typing takes plenty of practice over time. If your students enjoy typing games, you can use them as a reward for work well done, or as a fun warm-up to get those competitive juices going at the beginning of the class.

No matter how you incorporate typing into your daily lessons, you’ll be preparing your students for a world where the keyboard is king.

This is a sponsored post, but that doesn't mean I don't believe that students need to start exploring typing at a young age so they can be comfortable exploring the digital world as they go through life. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Project Based Learning Helps Makerspaces Thrive #MakerEd

There is more to a makerspace than the tools that are in there and the pre-packaged projects for students to explore. I'm not knocking pre-packaged projects. I love them and have some in my makerspace that are perfect for students. I'm saying there is more to a space than just those projects. To really get the most out of a makerspace and the investment of time and money that went in creating it, there needs to be consideration given to the instruction that is happening in the classes surrounding the space.

I've written about Project Based Learning before (here and here) and have always been advocate of bringing it to as many classrooms as possible because of how positively it impacts the students in my classroom. When I took the leap to bringing a makerspace to my last school to enhance PBL, it was the best decision I could have made to support it. You see, a makerspace is about the tools that allow people to explore and express their ideas. That is what PBL is all about as well.

One of the best parts about the makerspace I have been helping build with the students and teachers at my new school is that it has started to make an impact on the lessons in the classrooms. It has been fun to see teachers explore the makerspace and see how it might influence their lessons. Right now, the 8th grade science students are gearing up for their end of the year project and the makerspace is primed and ready to support them and their work. It's the support aspect that I think throws some people new to the areas of project based learning and makerspaces.

Makerspaces are not designed to magically make STEAM connected to all content areas and for students to start designing using 3D software. There will be some students that are drawn to the space and will explore the different tools, but most students will not just venture to the space on their own without a specific goal in mind. Like many things that are popular in education, makerspaces is seen as a silver bullet to bring up scores in STEAM areas and create smarter and more creative students. That, of course, is nonsense. A makerspace is a tool that needs to be used to support sound instruction. (Shocker!)

To truly get the most out of a makerspace, there needs to be a culture of project based learning in the school. When you have a culture like this, having students and teachers in a makerspace will be a natural extension of PBL. With PBL, creating something to demonstrate understanding is part of the process. The Maker Mentality is already there for students and the makerspace provides them with the tools to dive deeper in different ways. Whether in Language Arts, Social Studies, Maths, Science, or a Language class, if students have become comfortable with the PBL model, they will be comfortable using a makerspace to create things that can help them demonstrate understanding in their various classes. It is tough to think about, but a makerspace is one large tool, filled with smaller tools that support student and teacher learning. It is the perfect tool for project based learning.

I made sure to have a full section on Project Based Learning in my makerspace book because it is important to get the idea out there that a makerspace is perfect to support this instructional model. There needs to be time dedicated to see how instructional practices can be be changed to allow students and staff to get the most out of the makerspace that goes beyond the pre-packaged units. When this happens, an entire school can be transformed and the culture of learning will be better than before.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Knight's Forge Maker Show #MakerEd #Makerspaces

I'm so excited to announce the creation of The Knight's Forge Maker Show! A few students came to me and asked if they could start a show on YouTube to showcase the different things students are creating in the space. I told them they would be 100% in charge of every aspect of the creation of the content, the filming, and editing. They told me it would be no problem and got started storyboarding their first episode.

This is their introduction and they are very proud of it. If you have the time to give it a thumbs up and/or leave a comment on the types of things you would like to see them feature on the show, that would be great. Long term, they really want to do interviews with other makers, students, and inventors. I'm excited about this student created and driven project. For me, it is a wonderful example of the Maker Mentality culture I'm working to establish at my new school.

They are all in 6th grade, so I have them for a few more years. They have already started talking about how they can take on 6th grade interns when they are in 7th grade to show them how things work and have them eventually take over the show when they leave Middle School.

Feel free to share far and wide if you want. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Focusing on Supporting Growth, Not Deficiencies #EdChat

One of the favorite parts of my life as an educator was when I was a coach. I coached soccer on and off for a few years and it was something I still think of fondly. There is something about students calling me coach that just made me smile. As an instructional coach, I find myself going back to those coaching days and thinking about how I was able to motivate people to change or try a new approach to better serve the teachers I am supporting.

When it comes to coaching, there are coaches that will spend their time focusing on the things the players do not do well and show them why those actions are bad, and by doing them, they make you bad. I never responded to this coaching method. By the end of this, I would usually feel bad at everything and the thought of trying something new was not possible. Sadly, I have seen this approach in schools and I have heard it from presenters/keynotes at conferences.  The "I know everything and you are doing everything wrong approach" is a terrible way to support teachers. Trying to shame them in to changing their practices is not helpful to anyone. Morale sinks and nothing changes as those teachers dig in as an act of self preservation. If we want to support teachers, we need to spend more time on the things they do well and less on why we think they are bad at something.

As a coach, it is important to remember that everyone is on their own journey and not everyone is going to be at the same stage of their trip as others. Some will require more support, while others will pick things up quickly and move ahead. For those teachers that are struggling, focusing on what they are doing wrong all the time is not going to motivate them to change their practice. That is why it is so key to focus on the successes along the way and help them create more successful teaching moments. Here are three simple things that an instructional can do to support another teacher.


Stop by for a visit and just check in with the teacher. See what they are doing in their classes and how their lessons are going. Spend a little time getting to kn ow the teacher and how they approach teaching. It is so important for any teacher to feel comfortable with someone if they are going to open up about their fears or frustrations with their instruction. Nobody wants to talk to a stranger and tell them they don't know how to do something. Spending the time getting to know a teacher will make it easier to help them down the line.


Depending on your relationship with the teacher, pop in to observe them in action or email ahead of time and let them know that you'd love to watch their lesson on (blank). DO NOT TAKE NOTES OR BE ON YOUR PHONE DURING THIS OBSERVATION. This is not a formal observation. This is just a peer watching another teacher in action. It is ok to take mental notes, because you are going to need them for the follow up email thanking them for letting you in the room. Identify some of the awesome things you saw and encourage them to keep up the great work. Later on, mention to them you had an idea or you found a cool article or tool that relates to what they did in class and you wanted to share it with them. Then suggest that it could be fun to plan something together to do with the students in class.


Co-teaching is an excellent way to work with teachers and help them build upon the great things they already do in the classroom. Working with another teacher can be so much fun. Sharing a shared passion for something and creating a lesson or project to present to students is a blast. It is during the co-teaching planning time that you want to introduce new elements to the teacher, but you don't force them do go it alone. By being their as a co-teacher, you can help rollout the new tool or instructional approach. Fear of failure is something that drives teachers to avoid trying new things, but if they have a partner to fail with, they are more likely to give it a try. With a successfully implemented and co-taught lesson, reflect on what worked, what needs work, and encourage them to keep doing awesome things. It usually only takes one positive experience with a tool or instructional approach to get a teacher hooked. Co-teaching is an excellent way to get that process started.

While it is easy to sit back and criticize all the teachers that are not teaching the "right way", getting off the stage or from behind the desk to help those teachers who need it is much harder, but far more valuable and effective. All teachers need to be willing to support one another if we want to see change in our educational system. We all need to feel comfortable telling our peers that we do not know how to do something or we don't know the answer to the problem we are facing. Instructional coaches are a perfect way to support teachers who need the help. However, they need to be focused on growth, and not just a teacher's deficiencies.