Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Ed of #MakerEd

When MakerEd is talked about, there is a heavy focus on the Maker part and not so much on the Ed part. I know I am guilty of this. I think it has lots to do with the fact that the Maker part is something that is easy to share. I can showcase the thing I built or the projects the students have built, while the education part often goes unseen. As I've been thinking about MakerEd and how important it is for schools to explore and integrate the ideas into their learning culture, I wanted to make sure that I share the education side of MakerEd in the hopes to convince more people of the value of this approach in the classroom. Part of that is looking at the research and I found a great website that has links to a variety of educational studies that explore the impact on MakerEd in the classroom. 

Makers Empire is a company that makes a 3D design software that supports digital making. Through their website, I found a page dedicated to MakerEd research. Check out the Research page here. There are lots of great articles and links here, but I wanted to share some that stood out to me. 

Here is a wonderful article on The Maker Movement in Education. It was published in the Harvard Educational Review and here is a synopsis,

"In this essay, Erica Halverson and Kimberly Sheridan provide the context for research on the maker movement as they consider the emerging role of making in education. The authors describe the theoretical roots of the movement and draw connections to related research on formal and informal education. They present points of tension between making and formal education practices as they come into contact with one another, exploring whether the newness attributed to the maker movement is really all that new and reflecting on its potential pedagogical impacts on teaching and learning."

The interesting points are the one on the tension seen as MakerEd and formal, or traditional, education collide. This is something that I have seen first hand with my work with schools. It is tough to bring teachers to the table to explore new concepts in pedagogy because it is hard for teachers to not feel like they are being pushed into another program that may not be helpful or even supported long term. The pushback is very real and it is something that educators need to be aware of if there is going to be a push to integrate MakerEd into the classroom. 

The other part that I noticed was the idea that MakerEd is not actually a new idea. One of the things I love to point out is how Kindergarten teachers have been Maker teachers longer than anyone. The idea of learning through making and play is ingrained in the PreK and K curriculums around the country. As a society, we recognize the value of this in our early education systems, but move away when it becomes time for college prep or high school prep. The difference between the two approaches can be seen as night and day. One focuses on creativity and learning through the process and the other is more focused on rote memorization and test taking. This approach was great for churning out people to work factories, but it is not helpful in supporting creative minds, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. 

I encourage all of you to take the time to read the article and check out some of the other research on MakerEd to better understand why MakerEd should have a place in schools as we look to a variety of approaches to support a diverse group of student learners. 

Hugs and high fives, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Exploring Hydroponics with @ForkFarms #SciChat #EdChat

The thought of growing my own food in the dead of Winter never seemed like much of a reality for me since I live in Michigan. Having a whole system that would allow students to do it and learn about sustainability, agriculture, and more seemed impossible. Fork Farms has made this all a possibility with the Fresh Farm system.  

Through a partnership with Demco and Fork Farms, our students are going to be able to explore hydroponics in many different ways in our K12 setting. We were able to set up the system last week and I shared some images on Instagram. 


The one thing I want to point out from the start is how easy it was to build. I enlisted the head of the high school robotics team and middle school robotic's mentor to help me build the Flex Farm and his vast engineering skills were not needed. There were only two screws that required a screwdriver. Everything else slid and snapped into place. The entire build took around 45 minutes. It took us a little bit longer because we were pausing on various steps to make sure it was as easy as it showed in the directions. It was!

The system comes with a full curriculum that walks teachers and students through the process of hydroponics from start to finish. The system comes with all of the chemicals, seeds, and other supplies needed to get the first batch of veggies going. They have a subscription service to help replenish your supplies or you can get your own. 

The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to classroom application. One great example our MS Science teacher thought of had to do with the Space unit in 8th grade. She thought it would be cool for students to explore the need for hydroponics in deep space exploration. Asking students to think about what would need to be grown, how does growing your own food have a positive impact on a space mission, and more. We also have a Botany class in the high school that will take advantage of the system as well. There are many possibilities for using Flex Farms in the classroom. 

I am excited to see what we can do and I'm also very excited for all the fresh veggies we are going to grow for the school! If you have more questions, check out the video below and/or reach out to @ForkFarms on Twitter. 



Monday, October 18, 2021

Be Brave Today #EdChat #MentalHealth @SaraBareilles

I wanted to share this on Monday because I know many of you are so brave to get up and get to work today despite the feelings of anxiety and depression. I am so proud of you. It is not easy. If you are struggling, here is a link to some resources provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

You are all brave. Here is a song from Sara Bareilles that helps me on days that are tough. 


Hugs and High Fives, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Dog Days of Fall? #EdChat #MentalHealth

The time from the start of school until the Thanksgiving break has always been the longest part of the school year. When you break down most calendars, it is one of the longest periods of time in the school year without a break. It can be 10-12 weeks without a week off to recharge. It is so important to find the time to take care of yourself in ways that are going to make it possible to be your best self as the school year continues. 

Everyone practices self-care in very different ways. Here are just a few things I have done in the past during these Fall months that have helped me make it to the first long break of the year. Maybe some of these will inspire you to give them a try.

Workout the Stress

I have finally gotten back on the bike for my physical wellness. That is not just fun wordplay, I have invested in a Peloton bike and have been riding regularly since August. I am not a fan of big studio bike riding where I'm surrounded by other people. Being by myself where I can just ride and sing along to the music has really helped me stay in shape and lose some weight. If you have the bike and subscription, you also have access to all of their non-bike workouts as well. I have been working on stretches and things to improve my back health. I suffer from chronic back pain and I'm hoping I can work on getting everything in a better place. If you can make the time for some physical wellness activities, it can make the Fall time a little bit easier. If you live in areas that gets ton of snow, try to get outside as much as you can before the weather makes it impossible. 

Find Peace

I have started to do more meditation at night before I go to sleep. It has really helped calm my mind and would encourage everyone to try it out. It is not for everyone, but it works for me. My anxiety slammed brain needs something to calm it down before trying to get to sleep. Doing some breathing techniques and thinking routines has really helped calm my thoughts and prepare me for a restful night of sleep. 

If meditation is not your thing, find something that brings you joy. It could be cuddling up on the couch wrapped in a blanket reading your favorite book. Maybe it is sitting at a table and building a puzzle or creating something amazing with LEGO bricks. We all have those things that make us feel calm and relaxed when we get to do them. It is important to make the time to connect with those activities and feel good about doing them. 

Take a Break

This one can be tough to do, but can be very important. Take a break from grading one day a week. Pick a day and choose not to bring the grading home. Dedicated that time to yourself and your family. It is very easy to write this here, but I have found that making that choice has led to a less stressful environment. Taking work home every day and over the weekend is exhausting and leads to burnout. It is ok to take the time for yourself and leave those paper on your work desk for an extra day. Once you establish this routine, it will be very easy for you.

Just Say No

The hardest thing that a teacher can say is no. We are hardwired to want to help and that can be taken advantage of by others who do not consider how much stress the extra work can bring to people. Every person only has so much bandwidth to give to a variety of projects. While it can be tough to tell someone know, it is important for your health to advocate for yourself and set those boundaries. I have had to tell people that I'd love to help, but my plate is full and I do not have the time to do a project to the best of my ability. Honest conversations about what you are able to handle at that moment can be effective is lessening the load during the entire school year. 

This school year is the second full school year impacted by the pandemic. Teachers have been pushed to the brink in many different ways. The long stretch in the Fall has been very tough for many educators and the winter months, especially for those that are going to deal with lots of snow, are only going to get tougher. Please do your best to make time for yourself so you can be happy in mind, body, and heart. If things become too difficult, remember to reach out to friends and family to get the support you need. You're not alone on this journey. 

Hugs and High Fives, 

The Nerdy Teacher


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Mistakes As Part Of The Process #PBL #MakerEd #PBL

It is so tough trying to convince students that mistakes are part of the process of learning. I have found that the older the students are, the more fearful they are of mistakes. The same is true for teachers as well. 

It took me so long to be comfortable to make mistakes in front of my students. As teacher who has dyslexia, writing on the board caused me tremendous anxiety because I was afraid to spell things wrong. As an English teacher, it was very embarrassing. Students seem to never pass on a chance to point out a teacher error. I would turn bright red and correct the mistake. I would be anxious the rest of the day. The only way to overcome this would be up front with my dyslexia with the students and let them know in advance that I will be making mistakes and mistakes are ok as long as we are willing to learn from them. The first year I did this, students were super accepting. Some even said they deal with the same issue and it was nice to see a teacher be honest about it. It lifted a weight off my shoulders and some weight of the shoulders of my students. 

I decided to extend that approach to admitting to mistakes to all parts of my class. Telling students that there are going to be times where I misspeak, say something incorrectly, or I might be flat out wrong. Being wrong is just part of the process. I don't know everything, I don't expect them to know everything, and we will support one another when we make mistakes in class. By focusing on creating an environment where mistakes are ok by modeling what that looks like, students felt more comfortable making those mistakes. 

Students in my design class were reflecting on a project and a student was really hard on themself for doing their design over multiple times because it was not working they way they wanted. They thought that was a negative thing and I had to remind them it was the opposite of that. Going forward with a design you do not think is right is way worse than going back to the drawing board multiple times. It shows that you are committed to getting it done correctly and not just getting it done. 

The fear of making mistakes and the fear of failure is very real. The first step that teachers can take to create an environment that supports failure and mistakes as part of the process is to admit to the class that they will make mistakes. After that, it is supporting students when they make their mistakes and guiding them through the process of reflecting on those mistakes and how they can learn from them. 


Hugs and High Fives, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Student Agency in Project Based Learning #PBL

One of the things that is hardest for any teacher that is trying to infuse more project based learning into their classroom is giving up some amount of control. The traditional model of education has the teacher with all of the control. They will decide what the students will learn, when they will learn it, and how they will learn it. It was how we were taught in school and how many of us were taught how to teach. The traditional lesson plan sheet is designed to give the teacher all of the control.

This document is the perfect example of how much control a teacher has in the traditional classroom learning model. While there are important times for the teacher to be the sage on the stage to lay out the big ideas for the students, there is space for the students to start to take ownership of how they want to engage with the content. 

When students have agency, voice and choice, they will be more engaged. Student agency is key for a successful implementation of project based learning. The more choice that a student has in the process, the more likely they are to engage in the entire learning process. 

Implementing Project Based Learning is not something that happens overnight and is perfectly implemented with every lesson. There are going to be growing pains and mistakes. That is to be expected and is part of the process. I have found that being open and honest with the students about the implementation process actually helps because their feedback on how the lesson went is wonderfully helpful. 

I encourage all teachers to take a look at their lessons this year and see how you might turn one into a project based learning focused lesson that gives more agency to the students. I think you will see how engaged and excited they are to dive into content in ways that are meaningful to them. 

I hope all of you are having a great school year so far. 

Virtual Hugs and High Fives, 

The Nerdy Teacher

Monday, October 4, 2021

A Year Packed Into A Month #SemiColonEdu #MentalHealth

The constant message I have been getting from my peers is how burnt they are and they have only been back to school for a month! My heart breaks because there are so many great teachers out there who are struggling with the weight of their educational world on their shoulders. The "Grin and Bear It" crowd that wants teachers to just do their job is already wearing thin on educators. 

There are teachers that are leaving the profession and not looking back. I do not begrudge those teachers. Mental Health has to be number one for people. If you can't take care of yourself, how can you take care of others. 

One of the things I want to remind everyone of is to find your people. Find those close people that can listen to you vent. Those people that understand what is like to go through the ringer the first couple of weeks of school. Teachers are not encouraged to share their mental health feelings publicly like many professions. If we want to normalize mental health conversations in the education community we have to start having these conversations publicly. 

There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to mental health. I am treated for anxiety and depression. I'm no longer embarrassed of that fact. By being open about this, I have helped other educators and some students. They felt comfortable to reach out for support because they knew I was someone who would understand. Before we can truly support the mental health of students, we need to build a network that supports teachers and their mental health. It will look a little different for everyone, but we have to start working on connecting and supporting. It could be teachers jumping on the Peloton for a 30 minute rock ride to get the stress out of our system, or it might be virtual Yoga or Meditation as a group. 

There tons of ways to support one another we need to think of how we can do it because nobody is just going to do it for us. 

Sending all of you big virtual hugs and high fives, 

NP

Monday, August 9, 2021

Back To School Letter to Teachers #EdChat

 Dear Educators, 

As you get ready to start school, or, for some of you, engage in the first week or two of school, I wanted to write a letter to you. The first thing I want to say is thank you. You might be in an environment where you do not hear that enough. Thank you for getting up and getting ready to tackle another insane school year. When they told us teacher would not be easy in college, they did not tell us about the possibility of teaching multiple years in the midst of a pandemic. Despite the change of your entire teaching environment, you have altered your lessons and have come up with some pretty cool ideas that I am sure will stick around when this virus is passed us. 

You are going to face more challenges over the course of this school year and you are going to make mistakes. That is ok. We are all going to make mistakes. You will rise up over those mistakes and still do an amazing job. The students will look to you for guidance and grace and you will show it to them. When you don't, you will step and make it a teachable moment. I am so sorry that this is going to be another year of students coming and going because of quarantine, another year of having that pit feeling in your stomach when you, or your loved ones do not feel well, another year of trying to figure out how to take care of your own children at home and the ones in the seats in your room, and another year of thinking you are just not good enough. You are good enough. You are better than good. You are freaking amazing. You have made it this far and you decided to come back for another year. It is not easy, but you are doing your best. 

I also want to make sure you take time to take care of yourself. Your mental health is important you DO NOT need to burn yourself out in the first couple of months of the school year. You have friends and family that need you and, most of all, you need yourself. Take those breaks from grading at home. Spend time watching the true crime documentary you have had saved for a few months. You are no good to anyone if you are not well. You are loved by so many. We all want you to be well. Take time to make sure you are.

Lastly, to any new teachers starting their first job this year; welcome to the club. You don't get a shirt, but you will wear your job as a badge of honor for years to come. It is not going to be easy, but find yourself a mentor to help guide through all of the things you need to know that are not taught in school. Be eager to learn, be yourself, and don't be afraid to say, "I don't know". Those three words are some of the most honest words you can say as a teacher and more people need to feel comfortable with saying it as long as they follow it with, "But I'm going to find out and get back to you." You are going to feel like an imposter this year, and probably a few years after. To be honest, you will not feel truly good abut what you are doing until your 5th year or so. That's ok. We've all been there. 

I know this year is going to be tough, but I know that teachers across the country and around the world and going to do their very best to make sure our students feel welcomed, loved, and safe. You've got this and share this message with other educators that need the pat on the back. It is a small act with everything that is going on, but sometimes support starts with a small act and grows over time. 

Sending you all of my love and support, 

Nicholas Provenzano aka The Nerdy Teacher 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Interactive Fiction with Python! #MakerEd #Coding #ISTE21

Thanks to everyone that made it to the webinar. 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.

Trinket.io

Raspberry Pi Tutorial

My game with advanced elements



Here is my game I made. Press play to start.

 

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

Virtual Hugs and High Fives,

NP


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Teach Creativity with Adobe and Khan Academy

I am very excited to share with you the FREE online course that Adobe has created in partnership with Khan Academy. As the school year winds down, this self-paced course is something I would recommend to all educators looking to improve their practice. Below are a few highlights from my experience completing this accredited course. 


Self-Pace Yourself


One of my favorite aspects of this course is the fact that it is self-paced. Online classes that meet on a regular basis can be tough on our busy schedules. Unlike the set meeting times I had to work around while getting my Masters degree for Educational Technology, this course allowed me to work through the material at my own pace. 20 hours of work can be done over the course of a week or a month. Find the time that works for you and get the work done when you can. 


The Four C’s


I love that this course focuses on Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical Thinking as these Four C’s are pillars of my design class. Instead of simply stating how important these skills are to foster in students, the course features over 100 lesson plans and adaptable materials for teachers to use.  Here is a practical assignment that a social studies teacher could use in their class.


As you know, I am a huge fan of Project Based Learning so anything that has students create something to demonstrate understanding always gets my attention. 


Digital Literacy and Content Specific Examples


Another part of the course that is awesome is its focus on digital literacy. A staple of Khan Academy is its videos and this course does not disappoint. There are great videos with every lesson making the course that much more engaging. Here is an example of a lesson in the Digital Literacy unit of the course that teachers can use in their classrooms and modify however they need.


If you're like me and enjoy walking away from a professional development course with something tangible you can implement into your class as soon as possible, you'll find this course especially valuable. 


The course also provides a breakdown to help educators apply these digital tools to whichever subject area they teach. 



Too often, examples leave out a wide variety of content areas and teachers are left wondering how they can apply their learnings to their classrooms..This course features unique examples for each specialty areas, like math, history, and literature, to be relevant to various educators. Best of all, understanding how teachers in other subject areas can utilize the same digital tools may even open the door to cross-curricular opportunities. 


Pixar in a Box


The last thing that I want to point out is how the course connects to the amazing Pixar in a Box lesson released earlier this year. These 9 lessons give students the chance to really flex their creative muscles. 

I will be introducing this lesson to my students in my new digital design focused class next year as it looks like an amazing way to engage my students in a fun and creative way. 


Overall, this course is the perfect resource for teachers looking for ways to expand their knowledge base, but at their own pace. While this post was created in partnership with Adobe Education, Teach Creativity with Adobe and Khan Academy is something I encourage every educator to explore when they have the time. Not only will you not be disappointed, neither will your students.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Shout out to @AdobeSpark

This is the Week of Making 2021 and I wanted to give a shout out to Adobe Spark for making it super easy for me and my students to share our making with the community. 

I have been using it for a couple of years now with my students and I love how easy it is for them to create and share with the class. I use it for examples for the students as well. Here are a couple of examples,




For my middle schoolers, it is important to not overwhelm them with lots of bells and whistles when it comes to new tools. Spark is great because it is very intuitive and the students can play around until they get their project to look like they want. Whether it is a poster like these, websites, or video, Spark gives my students options for their work so they can share with the community. 

I am an ACE Rewards Program member with Adobe, but that doesn't make Spark any less awesome in my classroom. 


Friday, May 14, 2021

Using Adobe Aero and Adobe Spark for Project Showcase

I’ve been playing with a variety of Adobe apps the more I have been working in the makerspace. As more and more students use the space, the more variety in projects we are starting to see. One of the projects I have started using in my Innovation and Design class is a Design Thinking exercise.

Students need to create a shoe for a partner using limited supplies; 4 sheets of newspaper, 1 foot of duct tape, and 1 foot of yarn. Once students completed their design and build, they needed to create an ad to sell it. It has been lots of fun to see all of the different shoes and ads the students created.

Students share their ads on SeeSaw and parents and the teacher can see it, but what about everyone else? Then I explored Adobe Aero on my phone and iPad and realized I could import images I had saved from SeeSaw. With that, I created an AR gallery of some of the student ads. You can watch the video below.



If you want to check it out yourself, you can download the app on your mobile device and click on this link. 

Another cool feature is that it can connect to the Creative Cloud so any creations you have made and stored there can be pulled into Aero. I was thinking about how cool it would be to use different Adobe apps to create the different planets of the solar system and then import them to Aero to create a moving solar system. Maybe recreating an animal cell and seeing closeups of the mitochondria? There are so many possibilities for teachers and students. New apps like this make project based learning even more appealing to students. 

Disclosure - - I am an ACE Rewards Program member with Adobe, but that doesn't make this idea any less awesome. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

#NotAlone - National Mental Health Awareness Month

 

It has been a crazy week for me and I wanted to make sure I share it out in the hopes that it could help at least one person who feels the same. 

Almost 7 years ago, I shared my first post about my ongoing battle with depression and anxiety. It was not an easy post to write, but it is one of the most important ones I have ever written. We need to end the stigma around talking about Mental Health because too many people suffer in silence. Not everyone is ready to share their story, but the more of us that are ready and share, we make it a little easier for others. 

This past week has been rough for me. For a reason I cannot figure out, I have been having anxiety attacks. I have an amazing family. My job is the best in the world. Everything around me is pretty amazing right now. And yet, I have this sense of impending doom that comes out of nowhere and I find myself fighting off a spiral into depression. I still take my medication like I always do, but something about this week has set off the funky parts of my brain. The crazy part of these feelings is the guilt that comes with it it. Why do I feel this way when everything is so good here?

I'm lucky to have an amazing support network in place because I was open about my mental health years ago. I can reach out to my friends and they can talk me through the nonsense in my brain. I'm not sure where I would be during the pandemic without my meds, my therapist, friends, and family. I'm lucky to have these things in my life. 

I encourage you to speak out and share with others your battles with mental health if you are comfortable. Sharing makes a difference and can save lives. Teaching is tough. Teaching during a pandemic is tougher. Teaching during a pandemic while dealing with mental health issues is next to impossible. Whether you think you should or should not have these feelings, know that you are not alone. You are loved. 

Please share this far and wide so we can help end the stigma of talking about mental health. 



Monday, May 3, 2021

The Home Stretch #Wellness #TeacherAppreciation

Here we are. We made it to May. I've been in-person and hybrid teaching all year and I'm tired. Non pandemic Mays are tiring for teachers, but add in-person/hybrid teaching to the mix and I am downright exhausted. This is the time of the year where I have to remind myself to make sure I make time for Self Care. Here are some simple tips that can help you make it through the final weeks of the school year while maintaining what is left of your energy and sanity. 

1. Close your email

One of the toughest things to do is to take a step away from your work email. This is the time of the year where I regularly take time away from my work email on the weekends. It allows me to focus on me and my family and not the stress of what I have to deal with on Monday. For some, this might not be an option, so I suggest cutting off email after a set time of the day. It could be 5 or 6 pm or something sooner. Find time away from the tether of your school so you can focus on you. 

2. Do that thing you like

That is a pretty vague statement, but I want people to do just that. It might be knitting, gardening, gaming, painting, readings, yoga, etc. Whatever it is, make time in your schedule to do the thing. Work with your partner and see if they can help hold down the fort while you make time for an hour here and there to do that thing. Doing that thing will make you happy which is great for your brain when things get stressful at the end of the year. 

3. Talk to someone

One of the best things I have ever done was decide to speak to a therapist. While talking to my wife is helpful, I don't want to unload all of my stress and anxiety on one person. A therapist allowed me to unpack lots of feelings and find some peace when things would get hectic. If you are not ready to speak to a therapist, it is important that you have someone to connect with to share your thoughts and feelings. Bottling everything up will only lead to more stress and anxiety over time. 

4. Be OK with OK

One of the toughest parts of teaching is accepting that everything does not have to be perfect. Covid teaching adds another level to this. The best thing for me in the current teaching environment is to be OK with OK. Not everything is going to be perfect, but I'm going to try and create a fun and engaging learning environment every day. Some days I will succeed and others I will be fail. I have to be ok with being ok so I can get back up and try the next day. 

5. Keep hope

Lastly, keeping hope that things will get better is important. There will be days where it feels impossible and there will be days that are filled with hope. It is important to ride that rollercoaster and keep hope in your heart. If you are reading things, know that you are part of an amazing educational community that will support you if you reach out. Keep up hope. Things will get better. 

These are just some of my suggestions as we wind down the school year. Some are easier than others, but they are all important. We can all do this together. It is one of the toughest jobs in the world, but you wouldn't be here if you weren't tough. Even the toughest of us have our weak moments, but know that you are not alone in having them. 

It is Teacher Appreciation Week.

From one teacher to another, 

You are appreciated.

Hugs and High Fives, 

N Provenzano


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Project Based Learning Q&A Part 3 - Assessments #PBL #EdChat

Assessments are a big part of any class, but they are sometimes misunderstood. When people hear the word assessment, they think of a test. A test is an assessment, but not all assessments are tests. This is very important to remember as a teacher. There are multiple ways for a teacher to assess what a student has learned during class. That is why Project Based Learning can be a valuable tool for assessment. 

When a Project Based Learning assignment is given in my class that gives students latitude to create a project that demonstrates understanding in a way that is meaningful to them, there can be a wide variety of projects that could be submitted. That leads to a common question from teachers, 

"How can you equally assess a wide variety of projects?"

The answer is simple as well as a bit complicated. The simple part is rubrics. Rubrics can be written in a way that don't focus on the tools that are used to demonstrate understanding, but focus on the concepts that the students are trying to convey. That part is where things get complicated. 

Rubrics are not an easy thing to throw together. I wish I had more instruction on rubric creation in college. That would have helped me so much in my journey. One of things about rubric writing that needs to be embraced is that the first few rubrics are not going to be great and you will have to get used to adjusting them to ensure they are assessing the correct things and awarding points. 

One of the very first rubric creators I used was Rubistar. It allows for the creation of multiple columns and rows that can be filled with language they provide or edited language that better fits your needs. After reading a novel in one of my ELA classes, I might create a rubric that focuses on the student's ability to demonstrate understanding of themes, symbols, motifs, etc. When it came time for student presentations, it was easy to have the rubric in front of me and check off the boxes that matched how they demonstrated understanding. I would jot notes down and then discuss the rubrics with the students the next day. 

I have found that as the year went on, the students became more comfortable with the rubric structure and improved their projects over time based on the feedback that was given. That growth is what you are looking for in a class and the rubrics support that growth. 

In terms of adding a grade to the gradebook, assigning points to each row and column can be difficult and it is important to try and balance the rubric so one aspect does not make or break the entire project. Also, avoid adding columns/rows that focus on non-instructional issues. For example, do not award/deduct points for "neatness" or "turned in on time" or any other concept that is not about understanding the material. I created some terrible rubrics in my early PBL days that gave too many points for things that focused on the aesthetics instead of the content. Rookie mistakes I hope this post can help you avoid. 

Rubrics opened up a world of communication with my students because it allowed for specific feedback that created better conversations when we were able to sit and discuss their work. The back and forth about the final project were strong because of the rubric and the fact that I was there with them throughout the process. 

If you are exploring Project Based Learning and are worried about assessment, that is natural, but do not let it be the reason you do not give it a try. Below are some resources that can help you on your journey.  

Resources for creating rubrics: 

Edutopia - 5 Tips for More Meaningful Rubrics

IUPUI - Creating and Using Rubrics - This site has a link to a bunch of other sites to support rubric writing and provide some great examples. Check this out if you are serious about using rubrics for assessment. 



Monday, April 19, 2021

Project Based Learning Q&A Part 2: Group Work #PBL

Welcome back to the next installment of the PBL Q&A posts where I answer commonly asked questions about Project Based Learning. You can find the first post here if you want to catch up!

Another set of common questions I receive about Project Based Learning has to do with group work. Here are three of the most frequent,

1. "Should I assign groups or let students pick them?"

2. "What if a student doesn't want to work in a group"

3. "What do I do if I have students working in a group and one of the students is not doing the work?"

These are very tough questions to answer and can cause lots of stress for a teacher, especially if they are new to Project Based Learning. Let's unpack these questions and see what we can do provide some support when you encounter these in your classroom. 

1. To assign or not to assign...

Group work is tricky because most of the time, it comes down to the chemistry of the group. As a teacher, if you do not know your students very well, assigning groups could be disastrous. The inner workings of the social structure of your students group might not be evident and conflict could pop up if students are forced to work together in groups. I have found that the start of the school year leans more toward student selected groups with some minor teacher intervention as needed. 

Like all things school related, the age group of the students is important to consider. High school students are much better at choosing their own groups than middle school students. In my experience, having an honest conversation with students about choosing partners for projects really helps set the tone for the rest of the year. I explain that it is great to work with your friends, but you need to be able to trust them to do their part. I had friends that were great friends, but terrible work partners for projects. High School and Middle School students respond well to these conversations. Ultimately, I tell students that they can pick their groups and I will only get involved in extreme situations. 

An extension of this part of the process focuses on the students that are not asked to join a group and this where it is important to really know your students. I have found asking a group of students to include the one looking for a group to join to invite them in is often very successful. I have seen amazing friendships blossom because of this approach. Other times, there are students who are not included in groups because they have a history of not doing their work. This issue leads to question 2.

2. Flying solo in group work

Many people find it hard to believe, but I am an introvert in many ways. Large scale group projects are not always my things and I only enjoy them if I can do my part of a larger project on my own or I am working with a close group of friends that understand my eccentricities. We often forget about our introverted students in the classroom in a rush to have everyone socialize and have "normal" interactions in the classroom. Sometimes it is ok to let the "quiet kid" stay the quiet kid. 

Every lesson I have created that has a PBL element allows for the flexibility to be completed as a solo project. Every project has the opportunity to be expanded based on the number of students in the group. For example, if the average group size was three, an assignment for a novel we read might ask for 3 examples of theme and three examples of symbolism be showcased in their project. That would break down to each student being responsible for a theme and symbol example. If the group had four students, It would be up the examples to four. I tell the students that if they want to add more students to the group the work, and the expectations, go up. Group work is not about packing in as many bodies as possible to reduce the workload for everyone. After a certain number of students, there are diminishing returns. 

For the student that goes solo, I will have a conference with them and see what we can do to adjust the assignment for them to meet them where they are. There are so many different reasons why a student might want to go solo for a project. I think it is important to have conversations with your students to find out where they are. I have had students tell me they are working the late shift the next two weeks to help their family and can't work in a group because they'd never be able to meet up with them. Some have had serious anxiety issues that make it difficult to connect with others outside of the classroom. Having these conversations with students is important because it will inform you on how much you will nudge them to work with other students. 

I've encouraged students to push themselves to work with other that might not be in their friend group and see how different ideas can come together to create some interesting projects that really push their thinking. There have also been times when the group got the work done, but it was not an awesome experience. That is the reality of group work sometimes and it is important for students to understand that as well. Sometimes group work does not work the way we want it to and that leads us to questions 3. 

3. Carrying the group

The toughest part of group work is when someone in the group is not doing their part. It is important to be upfront with students at the start of the year about the process that is in place when students are in groups and they feel one of their partners is not doing their work. Every teacher needs to create a process that is good for their students and must be comfortable adjusting it from class to class as needed. Here is the process that I had in place for my classes,

Student Responsibility 

1. Talk to your group member to see if they need any help with their part of the project. Encourage them to see the teacher if they are having trouble getting started. 

2. Privately talk to the teacher if you feel the project is getting close to the end and a group member has not completed or started their part of the project. 

Teacher Responsibility 

1. Once a student has had a conversation with you about the lack of progress, go over to the entire group and check-in with them about their progress. (Note: Hopefully project check-ins are a normal part of your class period while students are working on projects so this should not seem weird.) Ask each student where they are at and if they need any support. This is usually when you will see that a student has not been doing the work needed for the group project. 

2. Have a private conversation with the student to see what type of support they need to be successful for the project. Some many things can be going on in a student's life that a school project is not a priority. This check-in can inform the next steps.

3a. The student was just stuck on an idea and was afraid to let their friends know. You help them get started and they are back on track with the rest of the group. An extension can be given for the whole group if the student needs a little extra time. 

3b. The student needs to work on their own because of personal issues. The project is adjusted for the student so they can be successful and focus on the project in a way that does not add to the stress and anxiety they are already facing. Consider reaching out to other teachers and the appropriate school resources depending on the severity of the personal issues. The project is adjusted for the group as well as so they can focus on their work and not worry about the loss of their group member and the work they needed to complete. 

3c. The student says they will get it together after the talk and shows some progress. Unfortunately, they do not finish their part of the project and the rest of the group is worried about their grade. Luckily, the project can be assessed based on the different parts that the students completed as individuals and their grade will not be harmed because a member of their group did not complete their part. 

This last part opens the door to the next question I will write about next week that addressed the grading of project based learning. Here is a hint, it involved rubrics!

Every project in every class will present teachers with a new problem that has to be addressed. Group projects can lead to some amazing leaps in learning. Some can be downright disastrous. I will leave with a project from a group that I was worried about, but managed to pull it together and blow the class away. I present to you, The Great Gatsby Rap

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments or to message me on Twitter @TheNerdyTeacher

Monday, April 12, 2021

Project Based Learning Q&A #PBL

I've decided to start a series of posts based on the common questions I get from teachers about Project Based Learning. There are some commons problems that teachers encounter when using PBL in the classroom and I thought I would help address them. Also, there are some misconceptions about PBL that some teachers have that prevent them from embracing it in their classroom. I will also talk about those and hopefully clear up confusion about them. 

Problem #1

"I feel like I don't have anything to do when students are working on their projects."

There is this feeling that teachers that use PBL in the classroom are not "doing" as much as teachers using a traditional lecture approach to instruction. This is both correct and incorrect. During PBL in the classroom, you should not be spending much time lecturing. In a sense, you are doing less in terms of lecturing and that is why it might feel like you are not doing as much. 

During PBL time in the classroom, since the teacher time is not dedicated to lecture, it should be dedicated to engagement and conferencing. While it might not be possible to conference with every student in one class period, it is possible over multiple periods. Start with the students who might need more attention and work your way around the room. The conversations are good for helping students fine-tune their project or get support in other ways from the teacher. It is also an opportunity for the teacher to get to know the students a little better as they explain their approach to the project. You will find that you are busier checking in with all of these students than just standing and talking to the class for an entire period. 

The difference in these two approaches is they type of engagement that happens in the classroom. 

The teacher speaking and the students listening is passive engagement. Even then, you cannot be sure if a student is even passively engaged because they might be looking at you, but you can't be sure their focus is on what is being said. Passive engagement does not work for many students. They need something more from the class if they are going to be successful. 

When the students are working and the teacher is moving around the room, you have active engagement. Students are researching, designing, building, and are otherwise engaged in different ways. The teacher is physically moving around the room and engaging in conversations with students to learn about their projects and offer support as needed. You can see if students are actively engaged because they will be doing something or talking directly to you. 

Project Based Learning is about giving the students the chance to explore and learn in ways that are meaningful to them. As a teacher, it is important to fight the urge to just become a passive member of the classroom during this time. Get up and engage the students in their work and you will find that you are "busier" than the times you lectured for the class. 

Come back and check out new posts on PBL. If you have a PBL questions, send it to me and I could make it the next post! You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @TheNerdyTeacher. 



Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Who is an authority in STEAM? #MakerEd #PBL #EdChat

 There was a tweet sent out by an awesome educator, Scott Nunes, that sparked an interesting sharing of ideas. 




 This was a follow up question to the tweet,



These ideas really had me thinking. For the first question on who is an authority on STEAM, some people responded by naming people they thought were an authority. I took it the question as something a bit more abstract. More of "what makes someone an authority on STEAM".  You can find my thread here, 




Overall, I think the A in STEAM covers the humanities. I think ELA is in STEAM. I think social studies is part of the A in STEAM. I think STEAM is school. Because of that, I do not believe there is anyone that can claim to be THE authority on it. I think there are people that bring tons of knowledge to the STEAM arena, but it is next to impossible to be THE authority. Being an expert in STEAM doesn't make you an authority on it either. I do not have experience in urban/rural STEAM, but there are those that do. How can I be an authority in STEAM for those areas where I lack experience? I have written books, spoken internationally, and worked with schools from across the country on MakerEd, STEAM, PBL, and other topics. I have learned from every group I have worked with over that time. While I think I can help educators on their learning journey, I do not have all of the answers and can't claim to be the THE guy in these areas. Everything I have learned has come from experience and what others have done before me. I am lucky that I have the opportunities to share that learning with others and I make sure to connect people with others that can be more helpful than me. It's important to know that you don't know everything. That is how we grow. 

Ultimately, I warn everyone to be wary of anyone that claims to be THE authority in any field. It suggests that they have very little to learn from others and that is not someone you want to bring into your school/district. 

What are your thoughts? What makes someone an authority on anything? 

Friday, March 26, 2021

Makerspaces in a post COVID world #MakerEd #PBL

As March comes to a close, some schools are starting to think about what the 2021-2022 school year is going to like for their students. One of the things that I hope sticks around is how many teachers embraced Project Based Learning as a strong pedagogical approach to learning during the pandemic. I have been lucky to work with different teachers across the the country that have embraced PBL and have seen the benefits it has for their students. The big questions is, "How do we maintain this positive movement into the next school year?" I think this is where an investment in makerspaces can be a great idea. 

If your school has embraced PBL, focusing on creating a space that supports these teachers and students is a wonderful way to keep the momentum. With teachers and students being able to work more closely next year, there will be a surge in possible project ideas that need to be supported. Having a dedicated space that would allow for a wide variety of projects would be great. By adding tools to a space, teachers will be able to expand the possible project offerings to students. If students have more freedom to choose their projects, having access to a larger variety of tools will help bring equity across the board. Having worked with schools that have built spaces to support PBL, I know what it is like to see students and teachers become more engaged in the process of learning with the addition of these learning spaces and the tools in them. Striking while the iron is hot is crucial. 

If you are a teacher that is excited about the strides you and your colleagues have made during the pandemic and you want to keep the great work going, I suggest you explore the plausibility of makerspaces in your school. There is so much that can be done to support students and their ideas when they have access to a makerspace. Some schools will look at the 21-22 school year as a chance to return to "normal". Other, more progressive schools, will look at the 21-22 school year as a chance to fix some of the problems that became glaring during the pandemic. Dedicating time and resources to support a positive change in instruction and learning is the best thing we can do moving forward. I have seen what a makerspace can do for students pre-pandemic and I know it will be a difference maker post-pandemic. 

If you are interested in exploring makerspaces and have questions, I'd love to connect and help in anyway that I can. If you have worked on setting up makerspaces, I'd love to connect and see what we can learn from one another. 

Have a wonderful day everyone!



Friday, March 19, 2021

Minecraft and Literature #MakerEd #PBL

 I wanted to share a fun project that I created for my students when I had to be out of class for a couple of days. My middle school design students were working on a Design Thinking project, but could not work on it because the world was with me on my computer. I needed something for them to do that would have them think and create. It came to me quickly and I think it is going to turn out wonderfully. 

I gave students links to "The Raven" and "A Tell-Tale Heart". I like Poe and these were chosen for that reason and that they are both very short. I wanted students to be able to listen/read them in class. I used the YouTube videos of Christopher Lee reading them and you can find them both below. 

 


After reading/listening to these two pieces, students have to choose a scene from each that stood out to them and design a version of it in Minecraft. Students would start with a paper design and then move to Minecraft Education Edition to fully flesh out their design. They would post their design and multiple images of their completed build in SeeSaw with explanations of why they chose the scene and how they built it. Here is the example I created for the students to see what I was looking for from them. 

My sketch is very rough, but it conveyed the idea I had. 

I really thought I did a good job showcasing the eye here. 

The full scene from afar. 

If you want to see my SeeSaw post, you can check it out here. 


These students are very gifted builders and I can't wait to see what they can create using Minecraft Education Edition. I think this is a great way to allow students to demonstrate understanding and meaning of texts in a way that is comfortable to them. Imagine students building entire towns or homes of characters and explaining their symbolic value in the story. Themes, motifs, symbols, characterization, and much more could be discussed in depth through their creations. I think there is so much here worth exploring and I would love to hear how other ELA teachers are using Minecraft to connect their students to the reading. Tweet or tag me @TheNerdyTeacher and we can connect!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Is Maker Fatigue Real? #MakerEd

There has been something that has been eating at me for a few weeks. It is this idea that you can just be worn out from creating all of the time. Constantly trying to create something new or solve another problem can be exhausting. I call it Maker Fatigue. I searched the term and could not find it anywhere, but it is possible I've heard it somewhere. 

There are times where I feel just spent after building something that the last thing I want to do is think about the next project or problem. That feeling has me thinking about the way that we do projects in my design class. Am I jumping from one project to the next too quickly? Do I need a class period to let the kids reset their minds and decompress to get in the right mindset again? I think it is possible to do too much making and there needs to be a time to all the students to just consume something for a little bit. Maybe I am way off on this though. IDK. 

What do you think? Is it possible to do too much making and become fatigued? How do we address this for our students? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Hugs and High Fives, 

TheNerdyTeacher


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.