Monday, March 1, 2021

#MakerEd and #PBL Together

One of the things that stands out most to me as I work with schools is how easily teachers make the connections to #MakerEd once they embrace the ideas of Project Based Learning. I see a repeat of what happened to me as an ELA teacher 7 years ago. 

I worked with my Media Specialist to construct a Makerspace in the library so students could have access to a wider variety of tools for the different projects we were doing in my classes. I wrote grants and spent lots of my prep time in the space trying to figure out exactly how this whole thing was going to work. At one point, another teacher asked me I was spending so much time working on a makerspace because those are for Science classes. I tried to explain how a PBL approach lends itself to the use of makerspace, but it was hard for them to grasp because they did not practice PBL in their classroom. However, once they took their class down there for the first time to explore the space and see what students could do for their first PBL lesson, it clicked. 

It can be tough to see the connection between a makerspace and PBL right now if you are not implementing PBlL in your classroom. That is why I advocate for taking baby steps. Start with a little PBL and see how students can create artifacts to demonstrate their understanding and your involvement with MakerEd will slowly grow. 

I encourage everyone out there interested in MakerEd and PBL to start exploring PBL and how you can use it in your classes. From there, you will naturally start to see how MakerEd works into your classes. Lastly, when it doubt, do not hesitate to reach out to people who have done it before. I love connecting with educators and working through these struggles. We are all better together and I'd love to chat about PBL and MakerEd with you.

I have received Covid-19 shot and have a limited travel window this Summer, but I am still booking PD opportunities with schools and districts. Slots are starting to fill up, so please reach out and we can make something work in person or virtually. 

On a side note, this is my 1,000th post on TheNerdyTeacher and that is crazy to think about. I've been very blessed to work with teachers all over the world because of this little blog. I look forward to the next adventure. 

- NP

Friday, February 19, 2021

Gamer Fun with @MSMakeCode Arcade #MakerEd #PBL

Hello everyone! I wanted to share a great tool I used in my class this trimester for students to work on their computational thinking through coding. 

MakeCode Arcade is a program that allows users to create their own 8-bit arcade game for free! This Microsoft tool is free to use and does not require any sign up or login. Tutorials are provided and all of the games that are there already can be explored to see how their code works. You can build your game using block code or Javascript. This has been a huge hit in my design class and I wanted to share one project that really stood out and has taken the Middle School by storm. 

The assignment asked students to create their own video game and a commercial to advertise it. One student decided to make a game based on one of our teachers and it is very fun and the commercial is amazing. Here is the video,


Here is the game, 

Shademania!


What is great about this assignment is that the students can make the game as simple or as complex as they want. The commercial has the students explore design from a different perspective. One it is all done, the students have basically created their own game company. I'm a huge fan of MakeCode and think you should give it a try in your class. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

#MakerEd Supports #MentalHealth

There are so many different reasons why #MakerEd is important to me and helpful to students. One that stands out to me recently is the value of MakerEd when it comes to Mental Health. I could provide tons of anecdotal evidence on how students creating things improved their moods and brought joy to their life. 

I could also share how the act of making helps me when I am feeling most anxious in a way that my medication cannot. 

I'd like to share an article that links to a variety of studies that show the value of crafting (making) when it comes to supporting mental health. The article, you can find it here, shares the studies surrounding art therapy and how it impacts depression and anxiety. Art therapy is not a new trend. It has been around for decades. It is no surprise that having students create and make will improve their mental health. By removing some of the anxiety inducing elements of assessment and using Project Based Learning and MakerEd in their place, you can engage learners on a level that is supportive a strong mental health approach to learning. 

I hope you will read the article and the research and consider implementing more opportunities for students to make in your classroom. 

Hugs and High Fives, 

N Provenzano

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Give #MakerEd and #PBL a Chance For Your Students #EdChat

One of the things that I have seen while working this year was how important it has been for the student to create things in class and at home. With extra screen time and the inability to collaborate like they are used to, being able to create things has helped students feel engaged in the classroom. 

I spent the past two weeks presenting at TCEA and FETC sharing the amazing things that students are capable of doing when they are given a framework that encourages them to make things to demonstrate their understanding. Students have made digital and physical objects to showcase learning and students at home feel more connected to the class when they can create and share.

My students will be designing mini-golf obstacles that others will be asked to code a Sphero through in the fewest moves. Students will be showing me their design skills and their coding skills for this specific lesson. I am very proud of the work they have been able to do during this pandemic and really want to encourage your to consider giving students a chance to create in your classroom. 

Sometimes, teachers feel the pressure to try new things and think they have to redo all of their lessons right away. That's not true. I'm asking you to consider trying one lesson that will encourage students to create something to demonstrate their understanding of the content. This can be digital or physical. Embrace that it will not be perfect and that you will be learning with the students. Heck, do not even grade it and really let the kids have a go. 

We are in a time where trying new things should be encouraged by administrators and teachers should look at the educational landscape and try something that has always interested them. I'm an advocate for PBL and MakerEd because I see the positive impact it has students every day. I want more students to have this experience. 

If you have any questions about implementing PBL and MakerEd, please reach out and we can make it happen. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Remind Students You Are Human #EdChat

One of the things that holds true for many teachers is that students often look at us as if we are different from other people they encounter in their lives. The awkward looks a teacher gets from students when they are see out in the wild at a store is an example of this. Many students do not have any other context to consider their teachers. This can be problematic because it can cause the creation of an us and them mentality. 

I have found that it is important to humanize yourself as much as possible with students. Going about school every day all of the time sends only one message to students and that can make it hard for them to connect with you and potentially reach out if they have some non-school issues. I'm not suggesting opening up your closet and sharing your inner most feelings, but connecting with students in real ways can lead to stronger class connections and more engagement. Here are a few ways I have done this in the past. 

1. Like many teachers, I make mistakes. I will type something up and share/post it for students. At the start of the year, a student will, almost gleefully, point out the mistake on the screen. I always take this as an opportunity to talk about mistakes and share my learning disability with them. I am dyslexic. I went undiagnosed until college. Things were tough and I just had to work harder. Despite that, I still chose to be an English teacher and choose to write as a means of self-expression. I am very honest with my students about this. I do not want them to think that I think I am perfect. The mistakes are going to happen and I let them know I appreciate letting me know, but there are better ways to do that than putting me on blast in front of the class. By sharing my learning disability, I know it has made a difference with students. Parents have told me how their child has come home to tell them that I struggle like they do and it gives them hope that they can overcome it. 

2. For one of the books I wrote, I shared the first edit from the editor with my class. We had been talking about the value of proofreading for many weeks at the start of the year, but I wanted to let them know that I never expect perfection. My manuscript was read by 5-6 other people before it went to the editor and I still had plenty of mistakes and comments that needed to be addressed. Showing students that a book can still be filled with errors despite multiple people reading it over really reenforced the idea that proofreading makes pieces better. 

3. I do something called the "First Five" in my class. I dedicated, roughly, the first five minutes of class to connect with students and talk about anything of interest. It might be sports, it might be music, it could be movies, or possibly video games. No matter what it is, I engage with students, sometimes one on one or in small groups, to talk about what is important to them. I might not be knowledgeable on all of the topics, but I'm ready to listen and engage. Those small moments at the start of class build relationships with students that lead to more engaged students. 

It can be easy to get into the hustle and bustle of teaching day in and day out, but we need to make time as teachers to engage students to remind them we are human too. These small reminders can build stronger classroom relationships and increase student engagement. You don't have to the "cool" teacher, you just have to be an interested teacher. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

#PBL and #MakerEd Anthem

It might seem silly, but I feel like everything has an anthem. A song that represents the essence of that particular thing. It is not the same song for the same thing for everyone, but it is a song that connects a person to that thing in a personal way. There is one song that is my Project Based Learning and MakerEd Anthem that I want to share with you. It is playing on my Instagram post on a project that I finally completed after multiple design and prototype failures. 


It might seem silly to some people, but this song just gets me going whenever I hear it. Sometimes, I play it in class for the students before a project. The song might be too on the nose about trying and failing, but I still find it inspiring. Do you have a song that you love that is your anthem? Share it on Twitter or in the comments below. 



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Planning #PBL - Where to Start?

One of the things that stands in the way of many teachers engaging in Project Based Learning is finding out where to start. Not knowing where to begin can paralyze people and prevent them starting and that is a very normal thing. Also, there are so many resources out there, it is easy to be overwhelmed by it all and just stick to what you already know. I wanted to share a little bit of help on where to start when it comes to project based learning that I know has helped me on my journey and has worked with other teachers I have coached. 

1. Do not focus on your entire curriculum

One of the biggest mistakes teachers make when exploring PBL is thinking about their entire curriculum and how it can be converted to a PBL approach. Not surprisingly, that be overwhelming and things top before they get started. Start with one lesson. Pick one lesson that you have been thinking about revamping and take another look at through the lens of project based learning. 

2. Identify what students are supposed to know by the end of this lesson

It is important to have a clear idea of what you expect students to know at the end of the lesson. These clear objectives will be needed by the students as they explore the ideas and create something to demonstrate understanding.

3. Ask yourself this question, "Is there something students could create that would demonstrate understanding of this material?"

Not every lesson is perfect and easy to convert to PBL. In ELA, it was easy to have students focus on themes, symbols, characterization, etc when creating projects for a novel or short story. Doing it for a grammar unit, for me, would have been a tough place to start. Everyone knows their strengths as a teacher and should focus on those when starting something new like PBL.

4. Consider how you will assess the projects

If you are required to grade all of the work done in your class, consider using a rubric for PBL. It is a great way to provide feedback and let students see where they can grow and what specific expectations they are expected to meet for each level. 

If you are not required, just let the kids have a go at the project and see the things that students create. Sometimes, you can get a better idea of how to assess in the future by taking a non-assessment approach for the first project.  

5. Let the students know you are trying something new

I always let students know when I was trying something new in class and let them know I would like their opinions when it was done. I also told them I might pivot quickly if the lesson is not working. The kids respected the fact that I was willing to try something new and liked that they would get to try it out. Sometimes kids like to be guinea pigs for lessons. Some of the best feedback on lessons has come from students over the years. 

My last bit of advice on getting started with project based learning is to be ok with failure. Exploring PBL in the classroom is really no different than implementing any other new lesson into the classroom. Sometimes you hit a home run right away and other times, you strike out. Either way, you get back in the box and try again. 

If you have any questions about Project Based Learning, feel free to reach out and I will see how I can help.


Hugs and High Fives!

N Provenzano

Monday, January 11, 2021

Remote Project Based Learning #PBL #EdChat

Teaching during the pandemic has forced many of us to reevaluate how we approach instruction. Trying to "do school" in a remote format is a recipe for failure. For those of us that have focused on a project based learning approach to the classroom, remote learning was not a terribly difficult switch to make. 

One of my favorite parts of project based learning is giving the students the freedom to create something that demonstrates their understanding. There are so many different ways that can be done, but remote learning has limited those a bit in the makerspace. One tool that has not been hurt by remote learning has been Minecraft Education Edition. MEE has been a wonderful tool in my design class before the pandemic and during the pandemic. It allows students to collaborate from home and engage in creation. 

One of the projects that I have students in my 6th grade design class work on focuses on the design thinking process. I ask students to build me a house, but they are not allowed to ask me any questions. They are not given any information on how long they have either. After a couple of days working on the house, I tell them that time is up and I inspect their homes. The houses are nice, but none of them ever fit all of my needs. I tell them I would not move my family into any of the houses and they tend to be very frustrated. When I ask them why, they say it is not helpful to build without a known deadline and without any information about me and my family. I ask them if they want to try again, but they will be allowed to ask me two questions each and I will set a deadline. They agree to this and get to work. 

After taking notes on the answers to their questions and working on a set schedule with a hard deadline, here are some of the examples that students created for me and my family. 









These students did an amazing job creating something that meets the needs of my entire family. They discussed the advantages of being able to ask questions and how it impacted their designs. As part of the building process for this project, I wanted students to see that when they are designing something, they are designing for someone. That someone will change, but it is important to keep that in mind when focusing on the entire process. 

Using Minecraft Education Edition during remote learning gave students the chance to connect and collaborate to create something awesome. They have great skills in Minecraft, but they were able to focus them and create something specific based on their ability to ask questions and listen to the answers. 

Project Based Learning allows for the flexibility in the classroom if you are in person or remote. It gives students the power to focus on creation, instead of sitting behind a screen focusing on consumption. We need to give students a chance to create amazing things if we want to keep them engaged. This is true if they are in our classroom or in their bedroom. If you have any questions about project based learning, please reach out. I'm happy to connect!

Hugs and High Fives, 

N Provenzano


Monday, January 4, 2021

Moving Forward While Looking Back #EdChat

My website turned 11 on Saturday and it had me thinking about where I have gone since that first post 11 years ago.  

It is hard to even cover all of the amazing things I have done and learned in the past decade thanks to starting this blog. I've written books, presented internationally, been recognized within my state and by ISTE for my work, and I have made some of the most meaningful friendships of my life. This blog led me to Twitter which opened a world of information to me that made me a better teacher. 

"Let's see where this thing takes us"

Those final words on my first post resonate with me. As I look forward, I make sure to look back and see what it all started and that helps center me. When it is all said it done, my goal is to learn and share. My love of Project Based Learning and Makerspaces is something I will continue to share to anyone that will listen. Covid-19 will be a part of my journey that forced me to re-evaluate what learning can look like and how my pedagogy can change for the best to support learning no matter what it looks like in the moment. 

I look forward to sharing stories and learning from others in 2021. I'm not sure when the next time will be that I can be shoulder to shoulder with all of you learning and growing as colleagues and friends. 

If you ever want to talk about connecting and talking about Makerspaces, Project Based Learning, or other things, please let me know. I'm hoping I will be able to visit some of you this Summer if possible!


Hugs and High Fives, 

N Provenzano