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. 



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