Monday, March 30, 2020

Day One Remote Learning Expectations #EdChat #covidEDU

Tomorrow University Liggett School will start our Remote Learning Adventure. I spent my Spring Break with our Admin team to create a system that will allow teachers and students to connect in synchronous and asynchronous ways. It was a very busy couple of weeks, but I feel we have a solid system to connect students and teachers using Zoom, GAFE, and SeeSaw. We are an Independent School that is BYOD, so all students have devices and we are very lucky to have all of our students have access to wifi at home.

There has been lots of digital talk about the expectations of teachers, parents, and students for learning at home. I have broken down the expectations I am going to have more my classes and think that other teachers/parents should consider if they are involved in Remote Learning.

1. Wellness

The first and most important thing for me to do is to check in with my students and see that they are doing well. Mental wellness CANNOT be overlooked by teachers during this time. Do not spend every class period you have with kids focused on racing to the finish line to complete your curriculum. Spend some time talking to the students and seeing how everything is at home. Talk about whatever the students want. Let them know they are more than just a small video screen to you.

2. Engagement Over Busy

One of the things that I am going to focus on is engaging my students in thought and work for my class. Project Based Learning is perfect for the current remote learning setup because students will be the ones that drive their engagement by creating artifacts to demonstrate their understanding of various topics they choose. It might be 3D design, playing in AR, coding, drawing, sculpting, or anything else they have access to at home. I am not worried about trying to accomplish everything I had set up to do this trimester. I want kids to be engaged and learn.

3. Feedback = Assessment

One of the things that does not worry me about the move to remote learning is the worry over tests. Some people are frantic over how they are going to give students tests. Huge eye roll from me over those concepts. You cannot expect to recreate the classroom digitally. Grades are not important right now. That is easy for me to say because I was running a gradeless class, but it is still fundamentally true right now. If you do not think students will do your classwork without grades, that should tell you something about the work, not the students. Students in my class will submit their projects and I will provide detailed feedback through SeeSaw and 1:1 Zoom meetings. The feedback is more important than any letter grade or number I could enter into a gradebook. Kids smile a whole bunch more when they hear how much you loved something as opposed to seeing a letter grade in a box on a grade sheet.

4. Compassion

Kids have so many things going on at home that we do not know about when they sit in our rooms every day. Now, those students are trapped in their home. School was sometimes their only escape from the anxiety of a complex home life. Imagine those students being home, managing that anxiety, and then trying to engage in remote learning. Some kids are not going to be able to step up as we might hope, but that is why wellness is so important. If you have a strong idea of how your students are doing, you will have an easier time showing compassion if students are a little behind or are struggling. Be compassionate all of the time, but now more than ever.

5. Have Fun

Have some fun with your students. Surprise them with an amazing Tik Tok dance or wear a funny hat and act like nothing is different. Just be a little goofier and sillier than normal to lighten the mood. The kids need reasons to laugh and have fun like they would in the classroom. Don't take your video class meetings too seriously. Release your inner dork and have fun. My kids might just see some hardcore karaoke to TSwift in the near future.

I do believe that school is going to be like this for the rest of the year. You might be in a state where that decision has already been made. If that is the case, these 5 things can make the rest of the year a little bit easier for you, parents, and most importantly they students.

If you have tips or suggestions, please feel free to comment them here or shoot me a message on Twitter.

Virtual Hugs and High Fives,


Monday, March 16, 2020

Interactive Fiction Webinar - Python Coding in ELA #EngChat

Thanks to everyone that made it to the webinar yesterday. I was able to take the recording and add it to YouTube. You can watch it below. Feel free to share it with your students and with others around the internet. Here are the links to the resources used.

Raspberry Pi Tutorial

My game with advanced elements

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out and we can connect.

Virtual Hugs and High Fives,


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Why and How You Should Implement #PBL in your Virtual Classroom

I have written many posts on Project Based Learning and have recently written a book about using it in the classroom. None of them cover the value of a PBL during a nationwide shutdown of schools to prevent the spread of disease. With all of the talk about distance learning and how are teachers going to manage classrooms and instruction for the next 3-4 weeks, people are too focused on trying to do what is done in the classroom virtually. We can't repackage what is already done into a digital format. That is a recipe for disaster. We have to embrace the change in environment and adjust our pedagogical practices to create successful learning opportunities for our students. Here are some thoughts on how you can do this.


1. Your curriculum is so much more flexible now

One of the things that will hold teachers back is the feeling that they are at  specific point of the curriculum map and they need to build virtual lessons around that specific point. That boxes you into a corner and will lead to very stunted lessons. Look at this as an opportunity for students to dive deeper into areas you have already covered or shift to new areas that will grab a student's attention. Doing what you were already doing will not get students engaged. Look for something new.

2. Students are not going to sit and listen to you talk to them for 40 minute classes

The absolute worst thing you can do at this point is have students log in and listen to you for 40 minutes. Nope. Don't do it. I read once that YoutTube measured that the average watch time of a video is around 4 minutes. After that, people move on. Now, I'm not suggesting that you only talk to your students for 4 minutes, but I will ask you keep in mind that students have a world going on around them and listening to their teacher for long periods of time on a device is not the best way to go about instruction.

3. Students are going to explore learning on their own anyway

Students are going to be bored. They will have their video games and other things to keep them busy, but a full day over and over again with the same thing will get tiresome. Students will need the structure and the guidance. They will love discovering new things and will want to share it with people outside of their home.

4. Create independent life-long learners

Students need to be able to identify things they want to learn and figure out how to learn it. That is what adults do every day and that is not something that everyone has naturally. Helping students find information to help them learn things they are interested in is a great job for teachers right now.

5. Students ain't got the time for this

Please do not think that students will have all of this structured time to sit in a seat and do school at home. There are so many crazy dynamics at every single house that it is foolish to think kids will have large junks of time to sit and listen to teachers for 7 hours over the course of a day. Lessons needs to be created that allow students far more independent time to explore and learn with smaller windows dedicated to checking in with the teachers to share their learning.

6. Portfolios are more important now than ever

Now is a great time for students to start a portfolio of their learning if they don't have one. We use SeeSaw at school, but a Google Drive folder or even a manila folder, are perfect for storing the work that students create so they can share it later. Whatever you use, a portfolio offers the ability to store artifacts that they created to demonstrate their understanding of different parts of the curriculum.


Approach 1

  • Identify a part of your curriculum that you want students to explore in depth on their own. 
  • Provide them some links to resources that can help guide students to finding the information they will need for a deep dive and encourage them to explore other resources they find on their own. 
  • Give students the freedom to create some sort of artifact that demonstrates their understanding based on the research they did in class. 
  • Use virtual class time to check in with students and hold office hours to guide students who might be struggling to find information or create their artifact. Everyone should check in, but keep this time short and sweet and only request those students who truly need the extra support stay a bit longer for check in. 
  • Have students post shots of their work in progress. These snapshots will provide a little insight into what they are researching and the artifacts they are creating. 
  • Have students present their work to the class when the deadline has passed. 
  • Do not worry about grades! Going ungraded during this time seems crazy, but students will do the work and try more complex artifacts if they are not afraid of failure. 
This is a good option if you are under pressure to have your students stick to the specific curriculum.

Approach 2

  • Ask your students what area of your content have they always wanted to learn about in class. 
  • Tell students they can make a proposal about what they want to learn, how they are going to learn it at home, and what artifact they will create to demonstrate their understanding of the content. 
  • Use virtual class time to make appointments with students to discuss their proposals and help them fine tune it. 
  • Set a reasonable timeline for students to complete their research, learning, artifact creation, and presentation. 
  • Use the virtual classroom time to check in with students throughout the project. Have students share what they have learned and show some artifacts. 
  • Set up presentation times for students during virtual class time so they can share what they have learned with the entire class. 
  • Do not worry about grades. Let the kids explore, learn, and share. 
This is my preferred approach because it gives the students educational freedom to explore what interests them. It is what learning is supposed to be at its core and we want to promote this aspect of learning as much as possible.

When it comes to tools you can use to accomplish this, there are plenty out there, but I am guessing your district has some in place that are perfect for this. 

Google Classroom is a great tool to use to share all of the information the students will need and keep a running chat of questions and answer students might have. 

Google Drive could be used as a portfolio for students to keep the work and research that can be easily shared with teachers. 

SeeSaw is a wonderful portfolio tool for students to share their artifacts with the classroom and allow for feedback from the teacher. 

Adobe Spark is a free tool that is perfect fo digital creation. Static images, websites, and short video are perfect for students looking to create digital media at home. 

These are just a few thoughts on why and how to use PBL in your classroom. Please do not hesitate to reach out here, on Twitter (@TheNerdyTeacher) or through email ( if you have any questions. 

Sending you virtual hugs and high fives during this trying time,

The Nerdy Teacher

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Share Your Creativity With Students #MakerEd #WhatImMaking

One of the things I have seen shared on the Internets and in schools I have visited are signs by classroom that share what a teacher is reading to show students that everyone reads. I have always thought that was nice and I would share what I was reading in my classroom on the board. As I have shifted to my role as a Makerspace Director, reading has not become less important, but I wanted to share more than just my reading selections. I decided to put a maker twist on the currently reading boards.

This is a board that hangs outside the Prototyping Room of the Knights Forge Innovation Lab. I made one for each classroom teacher and they use them for various things. I thought it would be perfect for "What am I making?" updates. Too often, students think they are not creative because something like drawing or playing an instrument does not come easy to them. Creativity is so much more than the traditional arts. Teachers are the same way. How often have you said, "I'm not really an artist or I'm not very creative to your students"? We are all creative in our own way and we need to show that to our students. 

I am currently in the process of making a shelf and some wall hooks to manage the cables behind the new Newline board in our commons. The shelf is installed and I am designing and printing the wall hooks right now. 

You can see that the cords are a bit of a mess, at least for my taste. Some wall hooks that can organize the flow of the cables will settle my anxiety a bit. ;-)

I would like to challenge all of the design teachers, arts teachers, maker teachers, or any teacher really, to create a "What I'm making?" board and share it on social with #WhatImMaking. Tag me in it and we can show everyone what we are making and how we are all creative.