Saturday, December 14, 2019

Woodshop 2.0 #MakerEd #PBL

One of the things that has been an interesting part of my evolution as an Makerspace Director is the popularity of the trade skills among students. It should not be surprising though. So many of us grew up with access to a woodshop class, metals class, auto tech class, or something similar. As school shifted toward testing and state requirements and the idea that college graduation was the only path to success, those classes vanished. Like most things, we are seeing a shift back to what worked before.

When I give tours of the Makerspace to parents, they are not quite sure what to make of it. When I tell them it is like Woodshop 2.0, it clicks for them. They always share their stories from taking those classes and lament the fact that students don't have the same change to take them anymore. That's where I come in and tell them all of the amazing things that happen in our space.

Our Makerspace is all about creating opportunities for students to learn by doing. By going back to the basics of education, our students have been learning skills that will serve them well beyond an educational settings. Students are applying their geometry and other math skills while building things out of wood, using the laser cutter, CNC machine, or 3D printer. By giving students the chance to build to demonstrate understanding of classroom concepts, they are also learning back tool skills. The number of high school seniors that do not know ow to use a drill is too dang high!

I'm lucky to have an apprentice in the Makerspace this year. She has been working hard on her capstone project to create a woodworking class and I have been teaching her different techniques and how to use different tools. Teaching her the design process and the research process has been awesome. One thing she recognized very early in her work is that there are very few women that do woodworking. She was also very frustrated by the marketing of pink tools for ladies as if they are suited for women. All that nonsense fueled her desire to be a role model for the younger students at school. She showcases her work to any of the middle school students that watch her work in the Makerspace and answers all of their questions. It is an awesome thing to hear young girls talk about their want to learn woodworking.

As educators, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Woodshop exists and can be brought back to your school in some small version through your Makerspace. People talk about wanting engage students and focus on skills, but they are ignoring these types of trade skills that have value. By supporting them in school, it shows kids that these skills are valued in our community.

If you want more info on our Makerspace, reach out to me at or come and see me presenting at FETC, TCEA, MACUL, and Spring CUE in the coming months.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Project Based Learning on @Reddit #EdChat

I hope everyone is having an awesome day!

I have been spending lots of time on Reddit recently getting tips on Woodworking and Turning as well as sharing my work on there as well. I got to thinking that it there should be a place for teachers to share and I was shocked to find that a Project Based Learning thread did not exist. So, I created it. You can find it here

If you are interested in joining a small, but slowly growing community of teachers looking to share projects, please join! Reddit is a great place to share and connect as a community. Twitter feeds are becoming clogged with unhelpful junk. I hope this is a nice place for teachers to connect, share, and support one another. 

Hug and High Fives, 


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Making for Mental Health #MakerEd

tl;dr - Making and the general act of creation/creativity helps support students' mental health.

It has been a number of weeks since my last blog post and it is simply because I have been too busy with students and personal projects to sit and write a full post. I'm posting plenty on Instagram and you should check out the student work there.

During this posting absence, so many different student projects were taking place. Students were building mousetrap cars in high school engineering, my Innovation and Design students were constructing bridges, and my Woodworking apprentice was feverishly redesigning the FabLab as part of her capstone project. In the middle of the craziness, I found myself obsessing over learning to use the lathe to turn pens and rings. As I look back now, it is surprising that all of the craziness of student projects, end of marking period, and holiday fun did not force my mental health issues of anxiety and depression to show their faces.

Today was another crazy day, but a day filled with so much making and fun that it brought a tear to my at the end of the day when I sat down to reflect. I take pictures all of the time when the Innovation is hopping with students. Here is a little rundown of what today was like.

Eve, my woodworking apprentice, comes to see me 45 minutes into the start of school saying we needed to act fast and get a cart because there are some logs from a tree that was cut down next to the school. She tried to get one of them last night, but they were too heavy. I grabbed my coat and, with the help of my good buddy Michael M, we picked up some quality pieces of wood. The student really wants to make a coffee table out of the large full stump piece and smaller projects (shelves, cutting boards, etc.) with the other pieces.

I also had seniors in their Engineering class working on their mousetrap cars and spent a great deal of time helping students learn to use various tools, problem solve design issues, and just getting to know them all. It was so fun to see a group of seniors just having a blast, working together, and learning things along the way. It was such a pure form of education. It made me smile. I showed a student how to lathe, use a mitre saw, cut circles on the laser cutter, use a drill (then how to reverse the drill), and so much more. It was all fun and laughs. 


During the craziness of the day, I found some time to explore my own making. I want to learn to turn pens and rings so I can add it to my Innovation and Design class. I've made one pen and one letter opener (same principle as pen turning). I am almost done with my second pen and I already know it will be much better than the first. 

I've also been working on an epoxy river table. Eve wants to create an awesome table that will include an epoxy coating and I want to make sure that I can help guide her through the process, so I needed to make my own table. Here is my table so far. I drew it, scanned it into CAD software, had the CNC carve it, colored and poured epoxy, and sanded it all down. I still need to stain and place a final coat of epoxy, but I like where I am so far. Eve's table is awesome and she loves showing it off to other students and explaining her process. 


It was a busy day, but I couldn't be happier. The more I reflect on the making that takes place in our space, all of the kids are just having a blast because making makes people happy. Making is great for mental health. Just like we need to give students time to run around and play, we need to keep giving them time to be creative and make things. As mental health issues for our children become more and more recognized as an important issue that needs to be dealt with, hopefully people will look at the act of making as a way to bring joy into the lives of our students. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A Growth Mindset in #MakerEd

There are lots of people that talk about the Growth Mindset as way to approach learning with students. However, just saying that and then not providing any means for students to see what that means is a waste of time for everyone. One of the things that has been important to me in crafting a class to help students understand the design process and how to improve critical thinking and problem solving skills was making sure the students have an opportunity to see their growth over the course of the class.

It is one thing to say that #MakerEd is all about the Growth Mindset, but it is not without some amount of structure and support from teachers. Here are some things that I have used to support a Growth Mindset in my new Innovation and Design class for middle school students.

  • Reflection space and time - When of the parts that is important in a Growth Mindset is having the time to actually reflect on what went wrong and how the problem can be addressed differently the next time it is encountered. This reflection time can be through a conference with the teacher, but I really feel it is important to give students a space to write and internally reflect before conferencing with the teacher. It depends on the maturity of the students, but time to process and reflect is huge if we really want students to have a Growth Mindset. 
I have created little journals that will be given to students to do reflecting and sketching. Just giving students a box to write in on the assignment sheet to reflect would be a good start for any type of assignment. 

  • Do not grade - This is a tough one for some teachers because they may be required to give students grades at the end of the marking period or have to have a certain number of assessments that are graded and in a grade book. I would suggest looking for ways to create some projects that do not need to be graded. I have found that not grading the projects in my design class has led to much higher engagement and perseverance on the work done in class.
There was one student who had created 5 or 6 different versions of his device to place around a Sphero that would allow it to drive around. When I gave him an opportunity to just post about the failures and what he learned, he refused. He told me that he did not want to fail at completing the task. He felt he was so close and wanted to try one more thing. His mom, who is a teacher in the high school, came down to pick him up a little early and he refused to go until he finished his design. The mom was blown away at the commitment her son had for the assignment. It was a wonderful example that reinforced my belief that a class like this should not be graded because students will try so much harder and take risks because they do not have to fear letter grade failure.

  • Allow students to share their work - This is a big one for me because it is important for students to take pride in their work they are doing, but also see the work that other students are doing in the class as well. By using tools like Google Classroom, SeeSaw, or other portfolio based type programs, students can collect and showcase learning to others. I really like using SeeSaw because it is much easier for parents to jump in and see the work that students are doing and comment on it. It creates a much larger learning community for students to share their work in and that helps students overall. Learning from others who are tackling the same problems and seeing how they found a solution aids in the overall learning of a student.
  • Give students a voice and a choice - Giving students a voice and a choice in their work has a huge impact on their ability to truly embrace a Growth Mindset. To put it simply, the students are more engaged when they have a connection to the work they are doing. When they are more engaged, they will be more resilient when things do not go their way. If a student does not want to make a poster board for their project, but that is what is required in class, they will not put in the effort required and will give up easily if things get too complicated. Allowing students the ability to choose their approach to creating something to address the problem or assignment is a great way to encourage engagement and support a Growth Mindset. If the student cares, they will not give up. 
One of my Seniors is really into woodworking after having a taste of it for a class last year. She built her entire capstone project this year around learning to do basic woodworking and creating a class to propose to the school in the Spring. She is teaching herself different aspects of woodworking with some guidance from me and it not being held back by any roadblocks that pop up. She is currently working on a table top that she is routing out based a sketch she had. She wants to use epoxy and stain to make the tabletop really come to life. She also wants to use a stump as the base of the table because she thinks it will look very cool. Dried stumps can cost a couple hundreds of dollars. Instead of letting that keep her down, she spent hours researching how to dry her own stump in the basement of her house to use for the project. Now she is looking for a stump. She could have quit, but she chose to learn something new and tackle the problem a different way. That is exactly what we want to see from our students. 

When it comes to MakerEd and the Growth Mindset, it is important to make sure we are setting up a framework that will support our students as they design and fail. Those frameworks will help supporting learning that will last long beyond their years in school. 

If you are interested in Growth Mindset, MakerEd, PBL, and other fun and engaging practices with students, feel free to shoot me an email and we can connect and share ideas.  

Thursday, October 24, 2019

More @IAmKidPresident from @SoulPancake! #EdChat

I'm excited to share some more Kid President with all of you! There are two more videos that you have to watch that explore our connections with people all around us. Please take some time to see how you might be able to share these with students in your class to have important conversations about empathy, refugees, and so much more. 

Next stop: the beach! Robby and Brad find themselves at a retreat for families who have a child that’s been diagnosed with cancer. Robby immediately befriends a group of kids to jump in the pool with, play ultimate frisbee on the beach, and launch into fierce card games. Yet, underneath all the joy, is the discovery that they’ve all been closely affected by cancer — either themselves or a sibling. Two sisters share their story of remaining hopeful and keeping each other strong, in spite of all that’s come their way. Archival clips include moments from ’Letter To a Person on their First Day Here’, the parade thrown for a postal worker, and the oft-quoted Kid President phrase “Treat Everybody Like It’s Their Birthday”. Brad and Robby are part of throwing a huge birthday party for every kid there with cake, music, and of course dancing. Brad even pulls out his ‘karaoke backpack’ to help celebrate.

Robby and Brad visit a town that’s been called ‘the Ellis Island of the South’. For more than 20 years, Clarkston, GA has served as a place of peace, community, and healing for refugees from all walks of life. They visit the Fugees Academy where they meet Luma Mufleh, who founded the organization shortly after fleeing to the United States from Jordan when she was 19. Three young refugees from completely different cultures are highlighted. Though they’re from entirely different backgrounds they’re all best friends and they don’t refer to it as ‘Fugees Academy’ but as the Fugees Family. Archival video includes the Pep Talk from Kid President To You, Kid President playing baseball with a young Muslim girl, and other select clips focused on unity, teamwork, and Robby’s love of athletics. Robby joins the Fugees Family on the field for one of their practices.


The Pressure of Failing #PBLChat #EdChat

One of the things I have learned over the years with project based learning is that some students are willing to take a risk and try something new to demonstrate their understanding of a topic and others will play it safe and stick to tools and resources they are comfortable using. There were many factors that contribute to playing it safe or taking a risk, but in school, being graded has a large influence on these decisions. Since removing grades from my new elective, Innovation and Design, I'm starting to see how much an impact grades were having on trying new things.

Students have been working to create prototypes of objects from the story, "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury. A student was very frustrated over the amount of time it has taken him to craft some type of cover for a Sphero so it could drive around easily and look like a mouse from the story. Time and time again, the student has failed, but gets back to the design and tries again. At the start of class I asked the students why they are willing to keep trying over and over again and they simply said because it wasn't going to hurt their grade if they tried something and it didn't work. They still have a deadline, but they can try crazy ideas that might work without fear of getting bad grades.

Giving students a space to try and fail without punishment is so important for students. They are given the opportunity to push themselves, explore new concepts, and see what they are capable of at the end of the day. A 6th grade student spent five 75-minute class periods figuring out how to use to design 2D images for the laser cutter to create a windows that could stay opened. After 5 or 6 failed prototypes, she was able to get the right size for everything she needed and then decided to add acrylic windows. Here is a shot of her work.

Kalie expressed some frustration that it took her 5 class periods to design something and cut it on the laser cutter in one day, but I told her she spent those days learning how to do something and then she did it. That's exactly what school is supposed to be about. As a 6th grader, she is now able to design to use the laser cutter and then set up the machine and cut on her own. This was all driven by her want to design the windows from the story. She was not chasing a grade and probably would not have chosen to learn an entire new program if there was a grade at the end of the project. This is the example, along with many of the other projects in the class so far, that shows me the extended value of Project Based Learning and a grade free environment. 

My new class still needs some fine-tuning, but I am confident the basic structure of PBL and no grades is going to create some amazing opportunities for student learning moving forward. 

If you are interested in connecting about bringing PBL, Design Thinking, and more to your school, please feel free to reach out to me at

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

@iamkidpresident visits Selma in new episode of Are We There Yet

I'm excited to see another episode live on YouTube from my buddy Brad and Kid President. In this episode they are visiting Selma, AL to see some kids doing awesome things in their community and to chat with Joanne Bland. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and was arrested 3 times by the age of 11 when she marched to Montgomery with Dr. King.

I think this video is important to show students because there is this belief that you need to be an adult to make change in the world and we are seeing that is not true today with Greta Thunberg, but child activists have a long history and I love that Brad and Robby are recognizing someone that many people never learned about in History classes.

Check out this video and consider sharing with your students.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

No Grades and The World Did Not End #MakerEd

I started a new class this year in the middle school. It is a design and innovation class that is supposed to help students explore problem solving and critical thinking skills. One of the things that I wanted to really explore was a class free of grades. I was nervous about how this might look because I have never done this before and I was scared about how students and parents would react, but I was surprised to find that the world did not end.

We have completed two projects in the class and are starting our third project this week. The main reason I wanted to avoid grades was because they can be a hinderance to students who are afraid of trying something new or risky because it could hurt their grade. Even though I assured kids no grades would be coming, some were still very hesitant to "go for it" on the first project. Using Design Thinking to create a home for a friend in Minecraft was something I hoped would ease students into the process of designing and building with a sense of freedom. Some students pushed themselves and others took the path of least resistance. I was worried that these students would always just do what they had to and try to get by with minimal effort. I decided to use the 2nd project to really push those students on their design and builds.

Students were asked to design a shoe using 4 pieces of newspaper, 1 foot of duct tape, and 1 foot of yarn. Once it was designed, they needed to create an ad for their creation. Some students really went for it and created some amazing, functional footwear, while others settled on a slip on shoe for their first design. I could have let it go, but I really wanted to push them to think bigger. I let those groups have a chance to redesign their entire shoe with new supplies if they wanted. I told them to just go for it because they are not getting a grade on this project or for the class overall. Every single one of them chose to go at it again instead of just sitting and "being done". It was awesome.

I could see that students have started to become more comfortable in trying new things and are not letting the idea of grade impact their choices. The next project students are going to design elements from Ray Bradbury's short story "There Will Come Soft Rains". I think I have built the capacity to try the tough things and learn without the fear of failing grades. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Science Fiction, ELA, and #MakerEd #NCTEVilliage

I'm super excited about the next project in my Design class. I will always be an ELA teacher at heart and really wanted to find a way to incorporate reading fiction into my class. I believe that all teachers are teachers of reading and writing, so I wanted to make sure I have reading and writing elements in my new class. I think I found an awesome project to accomplish this task.

Students will be reading the short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury. After a close reading as a class, we will discuss the different futuristic items written about by Bradbury and students will be challenged to create a prototype of one of the items from the story. Students will be following an Engineering Design Model. I created my own template in Adobe Illustrator for students to follow based on the one found on Link Engineering.

Students will spend the next few weeks researching, designing, and building their prototype. They will need to use the text as a guide to their build and focus on what is described in the text and infer what other parts are needed for their design based on the context surrounding the description. Once students create their prototypes, they will need to write a paragraph explaining what they based their build on in the story. 

I chose "There Will Come Soft Rains" because it is a favorite of mine that has lots of great examples to pull from, but I look forward to exploring and finding more diverse texts that can be used to accomplish the same task. Eventually, I hope to get comfortable with the process to allow students to choose their texts for the project. 

I'd love to hear any suggestions on how you might approach the project. Feel free to leave a message in the comments or send me a message. Until then, here is Leonard Nimoy reading "There Will Come Soft Rains".