Monday, February 24, 2020

Don't Waste Money on a Makerspace... #MakerEd

...if you are not going to support your staff with professional development.

One of the things I encounter on the internet and in my travels are schools that have spent lots of money on makerspaces, but have not provided a framework of support for teachers on how to get the most out of them. I have seen the same thing done with interactive whiteboards, chromebooks, and other pieces of technology rolled out into schools. Makerspaces require much more support than one would think. It is because teachers need to shift their instructional practices to truly get the most out of the new space.

Project Based Learning and Design Thinking are a couple of approaches that can help teachers truly understand and lesson plan in ways that will have students utilize a makerspace. It usually starts off with teachers creating lessons that just allow students to make things at home or in the classroom. As their creativity increases, there will become a greater need for a variety of tools. That is where a Makerspace can truly have a wonderful impact on instruction.

If you are considering add a makerspace to your building, please consider finding ways to provide professional support for the instructional practices that teachers will need to best utilize the space. Trust me, you do not need to spend an arm and a leg to do it either. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Let Your Students Be Storytellers #MakerEd #EdChat

Anybody that knows me, knows that I love to tell a story. I also love hearing a good story. There is something so beautiful about the exchange of stories between groups of people. People think that stories are only verbally shared between people and that is not true. Look around you right now and you might not notice it, but you are surrounded by stories. Everything ever made has a story. It is a very cool way to look at the world. 

When young makers come into the makerspace, I want them to not only think about what is going to be made, but what story is the piece going to tell. Making, whether it is painting, coding, knitting, etc, is part storytelling. It is why there are such large and supportive communities dedicated to making various things. I have become part of the Turning and Beginners Woodworking communities on Reddit and it has really made me appreciate the amazing work being done by others and the stories that are shared. 

As we look at the different ways we want to engage our students in learning, storytelling is a wonderful approach. Give the students a chance to create something amazing and have them tell you the story of the learning that happened through the piece. That is what we want to see in the classroom. That is the type of education we need in the classroom. We have gone decades focused on creating consumers. It is time to support our students as the storytellers they naturally are and let them create amazing things. 

Project Based Learning really changed everything about my classroom. It is one of the best approaches to instruction that I have ever used in the classroom. If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning and implementing it in your school or classroom, feel free to reach out to me or you can check out my book, Beyond the Poster Board

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Please Adjust Your Mask Before Helping Others #EdChat

I am on my way to #TCEA and I was listening to the pre-flight instructions when the safety video came on. They showed how to put on the O2 masks and a line that I have heard many, many times, stuck a chord with me.

"Please make sure to adjust your mask before helping others."

For whatever reason, this really stood out to me. I have been writing about MakerEd and Mental Health the past few months and maybe that is why I connected with this statement. February can be a hard month for teachers. Especially teachers in the North that are not getting enough sunlight day to day. It is so important to make sure we, as educators, take care of ourselves first so we can help others around us. 

As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, making sure that I get a good handle on my mental health is key for me being successful in the classroom each day. If I am a hot mess in my head, I will be a hot mess in school. For those that are dealing with the same malaise as many other teachers, here are some things that have worked to help take care of myself so I can help others. 

1. Eat Healthy

A study from last year looked at how a diet can impact mental health. A group of people were given a Mediterranean-style diet for multiple weeks and were found to have reduced feelings of depression. An article from Harvard found that the different types of food you intake can have drastic implications on mental health in the short term and long term. Personally, when I have made a specific effort to cut back on red meat, eat more fruits and veggies, and whole grains, I am less likely to deal with bouts of depression. Making these types of choices can be hard, but the Science behind doing it to support mental health is very interesting. 

2. Exercise 

I have struggled with multiple herniated disks, a bad knee, and a bad ankle. I have always been an active person, but it gets harder when you get busier and older. Just 5 years ago I trained and ran a half marathon. It was the most in-shape I have been recently. However, back problems had me stop working out, which led to weight gain, which causes more back pain, which leads to sitting more, which leads...

Here is an article from Psychology Today that explains the Science behind exercise and mental health. 

"...exercise reduces the likelihood of depression and also maintains mental health as we age. On the treatment side, exercise appears to be as good as existing pharmacological interventions across a range of conditions, such as mild to moderate depression, dementia, and anxiety, and even reduces cognitive issues in schizophrenia.
But how?
Put simply: Exercise directly affects the brain. Regular exercise increases the volume of certain brain regions—in part through better blood supply that improves neuronal health by improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients; and through an increase in neurotrophic factors and neurohormones that support neuron signaling, growth, and connections. 
Of critical importance for mental health is the hippocampus—an area of the brain involved in memoryemotion regulation, and learning. Studies in other animals show convincingly that exercise leads to the creation of new hippocampal neurons (neurogenesis), with preliminary evidence suggesting this is also true in humans."
Finding the time to workout is easier said than done. Finding the best workout for yourself when you deal with chronic pain is also difficult. I have found that VR workouts have been awesome for my knees and back. I do VR boxing with the Creed app on my Oculus Quest. I can get in a good swear in 45-60 minutes punching virtual sides of beef or a virtual Rocky Balboa. It is pretty low impact and it works great for me.
3. Indulge in a Hobby
I've recently written about the positive impact of making on mental health. I am a person that is happy when they are working on something. I have made so many things over the past decade to help me with my depression and anxiety. I've built with Raspberry Pi,

and have started to spend more time teaching myself the ins and outs of woodworking using a lathe. I have made pens, bowls, rings and more.

When I'm making, I get lost in my world. All the fears, anxiety, and depression melt away. It is such a nice and calming thing for me to do. I try and set aside time before school to make something or continue on a larger project. That calm really gets me going for the day. It is important to find the hobby that makes you happy and make time for it. It will make you feel better. It is Science. 

4. Compliment Others

It might sound weird, but complimenting other people can actually make you feel better. Surprise, there is Science to back this up. Here is a video from SoulPancake that shows the power of simple compliments in a relationship. Just by giving more compliments in your day, you are likely to receive more and everyone around you will be happier. This happiness is an awesome feeling and great and taking care of yourself and others. 

Taking care of yourself is not something many teachers have been taught. We are expected to give all of ourselves to our students and take what is left over and give it to our loved ones at home. What does that leave a person for themself? We cannot run on empty all of the time. It is not good for anyone. Take the time and adjust your mask first so that you are better prepared to support the ones you love in the classroom and in your home. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Mental Health and Making #MakerEd #EdChat

Image result for mental health

I have been thinking about the benefits of being a maker in connection to my own mental health the past couple of months. I have been very open about my depression and anxiety and am always looking for ways to help reduce both of those aspects in my life. I have found a calming attribute to making. When I'm in the "making zone", everything else in my life vanishes. No anxiety, no depression, just making. I just assumed this was a "me" thing, but I have started to pay more attention to the small comments students have been making while in the Makerspace. Here is a just a small sample of what I have overheard, 

"I love just escaping and being here."

"I love having a place that just allows me to be creative without grades."

"Making something, anything, just lets me chill."

"I'm not artsy, but I like just keeping busy with my hands and stuff. It's relaxing."

"It sounds crazy, but the chaos of the Fabrication Room actually calms me down."

I look at these words and I see the code that students, many people, use when discussing anxiety but do not use that exact word. The Knights Forge has always been designed to be a place that students can use to build stuff for class or for fun. Learning while making something that matters to you. I had not planned on it becoming a safe space for those students who need a minute or two. I wanted to look a little deeper and I found some great research out there. 

While most of the research focuses on the calming impact of the arts, making, as far as I am concerned, falls under the arts wing because it is about being creative and making something. An article from 2015 on CNN, discussed research that found that being involved in the arts was similar to meditation. Our nervous system can only do so much at once, so when we engage is something that takes concentration (knitting, woodworking, sculpting, etc) out attention is drawn to the actions and everything else in the world just fades away. It is called "the flow". Sounds like another name for "the zone" to me. 

Other studies have found the same positive impact of creativity on mental health. Being involved in Music Therapy decreased depression and anxiety for all participants. For anyone that plays music, I am sure this does not surprise them one bit. Music has had a calming impact on people for a very long time. The science backs it up across the board. 

Lastly, making things is actually a natural anti-depressant. Your brain releases dopamine when you are happy. Sitting and making stuff that you like and creating something that makes you happy increases your dopamine levels. This shot of dopamine helps you feel awesome when you finally finish a project or enjoy the process. 

When we talking about making in schools, I think it is important to point out the positive impact that creativity has on student mental health. Students need to create. The world around them is chaos and they need outlets to let them express what the world means to them and to relieve the stress they are facing. Depression and anxiety is rising in our students and we do have the tools to combat it. I'm proud of the work we are doing at University Liggett School that allows for student voice, choice, and creativity. 

Please share this with your staff if they are hesitant about embracing making, PBL, and other forms of creativity in the classroom. 

Project Based Learning really changed everything about my classroom. It is one of the best approaches to instruction that I have ever used in the classroom. If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning and implementing it in your school or classroom, feel free to reach out to me or you can check out my book, Beyond the Poster Board


Friday, January 24, 2020

The Joy and Fear of Not Knowing Who You Are #EdChat

Teaching in middle school the past couple of years after over a decade in high school has opened up my eyes to the things that I have actively worked to repress from my own years in middle school. Middle school students spend so much time trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in. They look at adults and think it is so easy because we know our place in the world. If they only knew how far from the truth that really is.

In software terms, every year is a new version of yourself. You start off in Beta and eventually you will turn 10 and make it to version 1.0. Right now, I'm Nicholas Provenzano v4.0. Next year, I will have an upgrade to 4.1. Version 3.8 had no idea how to use a CNC machine, laser cutter, Adobe Illustrator, a lathe, and so much more. 4.0 me can make pens, turn bowls, design bendable wood book covers on Illustrator, and so much more. Sometimes the upgrade is really a downgrade in some ways, (Pegged jeans, acid washed denim, etc.), but we take user feedback and improve the next time around. I am determined to be the best version of myself and that is exciting and filled with joy. Every version of me comes with bugs that will be worked out over time and that is the joy of the process. Working to become a better me.

I think it is important to let young students know that an end goal of who you are going to be doesn't exist. Lifelong learning is real and helps us constantly evolve into better versions of ourselves. If the software analogy doesn't work, compare it to Pokemon Evolutions, experience points that cause a character to level up, or make a TikTok video to explain it to them.

I used to let the fear of not knowing who I was and who I was going to be consume me. I now embrace that unknown future and do my best to just be the best version of me I can be every year. I feel like the more honest we are as adults about how we don't have being a grown up figured out all the time can really relieve some of the stress that our students feel. IDK. I might be wrong. Hopefully the next version of me will have a better handle on it. That, and a slimmer case.

Hugs and High Fives,


Monday, January 20, 2020

Contest! Win my books! #EdChat

Good morning! I thought I would do a contest for my new book, Beyond the Poster Board, that would give away my best selling books, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces and The Maker Mentality.

The contest is simple,

1. Go to Amazon and purchase my new book, Beyond the Poster Board.
2. Read the book.
3. Write an honest review of the book on Amazon.
4. Screenshot your review when it goes live.
5. Tweet the screenshot making sure to tag me, add the link to the Amazon page, and the hashtag #BeyondThePosterBoard

A winner will be chosen at random. I will DM the winner and mail my other two books to you when the contest is over.

The contest will end on Sunday February 23rd.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Supporting ALL of You Students #PBLchat

In my early years of teaching, I struggled to find the lesson that would engage the entire class. I envisioned this scenario where I created the ultimate lesson and every students was engaged in what I created. I have often referred to this magical lesson as my "white whale". It wasn't until I had many years under my belt that I realized that the type of lesson I was searching for did not exist and I should just accept doing the best I can to get the majority engaged. It was discovering what Project Based Learning truly was that made me come back around to my "white whale" hunt and get so much closer than I have ever gotten before. 

With project based learning, students were able to explore the content in ways that were meaningful to them. They were able to create artifacts that explained what they learned using skills they had. It was removing all outlined activities from my assignment that led to higher student engagement. My job was to support students with the content. Help point them in the right direction and steer conversations n class if it was needed. Dictating every aspect of the assignment was what was leading students to disengage with the material before the assignment even started. They knew they would just have to jump through hoops at the end and they did not want to jump. By allowing them to create their own hoops, not only were they willing to jump through them, some would do backflips and twists through them because they were so excited to do them. 

The minute you start to give students ownership of their learning through project based learning, student engagement increases. It is not an easy process to convert all of your lessons to embrace project based learning. That is why you do it one at a time slowly rebuilding your assignments to allow for students agency. It took me a few years to get the all of the lessons I wanted replaced with strong PBL assignments. Once I felt comfortable with what I had, I have been able to add new assignments and change things around as needed. 

Students who would be considered struggling learners or students with learning challenges excelled in class because they were able to learn and create at their pace using their unique skill set. When we can remove barriers to learning, we can increase student engagement. By allowing students to take control of how they learn and how they demonstrate what they have learned, they can fully engage in the learning process. 

I would love to hear about the different ways that you have implemented PBL into your classroom. Shoot me a tweet or an email ( to share. 

Project Based Learning really changed everything about my classroom. It is one of the best approaches to instruction that I have ever used in the classroom. If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning and implementing it in your school or classroom, feel free to reach out to me or you can check out my book, Beyond the Poster Board

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Beyond the Poster Board - New Book Available Today #PBL #ELA

I am so excited to announce that my newest book is available on Amazon right now!

Beyond the Poster Board: Project Based Learning in the English Language Arts Classroom is a book is all about the different ways that an ELA teacher can integrate Project Based Learning into their classroom. Having students glue or draw things on a blank poster board is not real Project Based Learning. That's not to say I have not assigned this type of work to my students. I did and I have learned to go beyond it. 

I have spent over 15 years in the classroom and have tried many different approaches to instruction and Project Based Learning is the one that has had the most positive impact on the students in my room. While this book is geared toward English Language Arts because that is where I tested all of the these ideas out, it can be applied to any content area. 

The book is filled with examples of how to each type of Project Based Learning approach was used in the classroom and how you can use it as well. I also broke down what students and teachers are doing in each instance of PBL to make sure it is clear what the expectations are for everyone in the classroom. 

I am really excited about this book because I think this can really help many teachers who are looking for a way to improve engagement and change things up in the classroom. If you have any questions, please let me know and I will happily answer them. 

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Happy Anniversary to @TheNerdyTeacher #EdChat

Here is the tweet that started it all for me,

The account was created to share my blog I had started on the same day and my second tweet was,

No need to follow the link, here it is,

"Let's see where this thing takes us." Never in my wildest dreams would I think that I would get to work with amazing people from all over the world. I have travelled to Singapore, Iceland, and many places in between sharing the love of learning and teaching. I have written 4 books (New PBL in ELA coming this month!), one audio book for Audible, and countless blog posts on here, for Eduotopia, and other places. I have also started a new job running a makerspace at an amazing school that supports me in every way. It really is a dream job. All of it is awesome and I am so lucky to be able to do it all. It can all go away at any moment and I try to get the most of it while it lasts.

All of those things are awesome, but I'm most proud of the friendships I have formed online over the past decade. I've been to the wedding of an amazing friend, presented with some of the best humans on the planet, seen babies become teenagers, and share in the ups and the downs life throws at all of us. I have had my fair share of dark days and my "internet friends" have been there through so much of it. Sharing my successes and failures has taught me so much. 

As I head into the next decade, I am excited about my growing passion for woodworking and using the lathe. I'm excited to continue to share the amazingness of project based learning and makerspace with educators far and wide. It has been a wonderful adventure the past 10 years and I can't wait to see what the next 10 have in store for me. 

If you were part of my last decade, thank you for everything. I'm better because of you. 

Hugs and High Fives,



Just for fun, here is the 3rd tweet,