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,