Minecraft Education: Getting Started With Code Connection

As I work to help educators wrap their heads around all things code, gaming, computer science, and more I understand how overwhelming it can be.

I often feel overwhelmed myself trying to sift through it all to make sense of what to use and why I should use it.

One of my favorite platforms as of late has been MakeCode. I like MakeCode because I can use it for a variety of projects, goals, and lesson plans.

In this piece, I wanted to share two beginning tutorials explaining how to use MakeCode with Minecraft Education. Anytime I can use one platform across many others I am happy.

The first video will help you understand how to use Minecraft Education and Code Connection to get up and running.

The second video walks you through the first challenge to the Agent Trials Tutorial World to help you learn how to begin coding with MakeCode and Minecraft Education.

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LEGO Design Thinking Experience Workshop for Students

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to have the chance to head back to the middle school where I worked for 14 years to help an outstanding and dedicated group of educators launch their project based learning unit for 150+ sixth graders.

We developed a LEGO Design Thinking Experience that placed a focus on two key areas that must be covered when doing high quality PBL with an authentic audience:

  1. Teamwork
  2. Communication

These are two essential building blocks among many others that we must teach students. We often discuss the importance of group work and basically just put them in groups and say “work it out”. We wanted to avoid this type of mindset and really create an interactive experience for them to understand how important these concepts are when working as a group.

We wanted to develop an experience that was fun, fast, and furious. We knew we had to grab their attention. We knew we had to keep them moving. We knew we had to keep them discussing and working together to build these skills out.

We knew that in order for any of this to work the learning had to stick. We had to connect to emotions, the senses, and hands on learning. Anytime you place over 150+ middle school students in one space you better move quick to hold their attention and it better be worth their time.



We had students work with their teams that they will be working with during their project to help them build bonds and connections. This helped to put into the context why we were doing the work we were doing.

You can access the entire slidedeck above so you can follow the work, but we began the event with setting the stage about the importance of this work and understanding the people that we work with. I really wanted to emphasis that this work is inside all of them. They all have their own unique superpowers(Captain Planet reference) and when we combine forces we can even more amazing together(Captain Planet).

Once we discussed the importance of working together and setting up expectations and norms we had them open up their bags of LEGO. I provided each student a bag of 20 pieces that they could keep at the end of the workshop because no matter your age we all love free stuff!


We started with a few quick builds to get them warmed up to the pieces. We live in a day and age where not every kid has played with LEGO. Not every kid has the chance to simply build and play. Some kids don’t know how to play. We wanted to make sure they were excited and ready to do the work so we crafted some quick builds to get them used to the format of the workshop.

From here we dove into a more specific build project of making a duck. We used this to emphasize that every single one of us has an answer inside and none of them are wrong! A task as simple as using 6 pieces to make a duck lead to over 100 different duck designs. It is a powerful visual for them to experience.

After we discussed this important idea and how vital it is that we allow everyone on our team to contribute their ideas to the work we do in the classroom we raised the level of thinking and sharing by diving into the concept of metaphors.

We challenged them t0 a build where they take 5 random pieces and have to explain how this is the answer to a statement provided them. This gets them to learn to open up and share ideas. Trust me, this is very hard for kids. We naturally fear being “wrong” even though there is no wrong. To communicate our ideas for something like this where we are trying to make the abstract concrete is challenging. Students really struggled at this phase to share ideas with confidence. This was a moment where we learned how important it is for us as educators support students to share ideas without fear of being wrong.

At this point we cranked things up. We had a table stashed in the back part of the cafeteria where we had a prebuilt structure. Each table had a “communicator” that could walk over to the table and come back to their team to explain how to build it without touching the pieces. This really focused on communication. Once again they were learning how important communication is when working with others.

We had one group complete this task in the 4 minute time window. We did not stop there, but instead cranked up the communication challenge. This time we had one communicator who could see the build. They then described it to the communicator #2 who then walked back to the table to describe how to build. This is an important lesson in asynchronous communication. Many groups struggled here because to describe and focus is hard under pressure. The kids did amazing work during this phase trying to figure out the best method for making this successful.

We had many other builds to do, but unfortunately we ran out of time. The time flew by and we had to adjust our builds and bring things to a close.

I am not going to lie, this one of my favorite days I have had in a long time. It was wonderful to work with educators so dedicated to creating authentic learning for their students. They designed a full day launch to help get students ready for the pbl unit that they are about to embark on. The project itself will be making positive impacts across our community in a variety of ways.

It was wonderful to come back and work with middle school students. I was again reminded how amazing they are when we give them the space to do so. I was reminded about how hard it is for them to open up and share ideas. It reminded me about the importance of educators and how the calling of educators stretches far beyond a simple standardized test score.

At the end of the day we further proved that you cannot treat people like machines. Humans don’t respond like machines. We cannot manage people like we manage machines. The creative process does not work like that. We must provide support, empathy, emotion, and a foundation to help people feel safe to share and build their ideas.

It was inspiring to know and work with people who are passionate about their work and passionate about doing what is right for kids.

At the end of the workshop we wrapped up the event by celebrating the good. The adults in the room shared out examples of what we noticed in the workshop on these topics:




Risk Taking




We wanted students to know that we noticed. We were watching and we were proud. We must acknowledge the good. We must bring light to the great things they are capable of doing.

I cannot wait to do more of this work and am already heavily invested in making more of these types of experiences for students and adults.

Check out the video below to see a recap of the day.

We had recorders at each table using this chart, but we needed more time. This is something I need to figure out how to capture more of the thinking. The idea was good, but not realistic for them to accomplish while trying to build and network at the same time.


However, one of the teachers saved the day by having students use Flipgrid to capture their thoughts about the day. Check out these ideas because it inspires me to keep developing experiences for students. 

Kids are amazing. They get to be amazing when they have educators who are dedicated like this crew. I cannot wait to see how this project unfolds.

If you want to see more from the day, here is our photo album of the event.



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Micro:bit Triggered Minecraft Selfie Project

Here is a project I developed by remixing a bunch of tutorials of various other projects I found online.

This project is one that never gets old as people love to see their images printed into a Minecraft World.

It took me a long time to learn how the code works and how to make sure it runs smoothly, but in the end we have a project where you press a button via the Mico:bit which leads to turning on the Raspberry Pi camera to take your selfie. From there we have Python code convert the pixels into Minecraft blocks as it prints your image in the Minecraft World.

To learn how to do this check out my Instructable

This video gives you a quick overview of how it works


This video is a tutorial in case you don’t want to follow the typed up instructions on Instructable

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Using Sway As An Online Resume Builder

There are so many options out on the market today to do anything that you want to do.

Sometimes the key is simplicity in a tool that will allow for the user to still have the ability for a personal touch.

Sometimes we want the tool to serve many needs depending the project and goal to eliminate having to learn one more thing.

Sometimes we need to look at the tools we currently use through a different lens.

Every single time we consider technology and a new tool we must be thoughtful in the question of Why? Why do I need to use this tool? Does it actually serve the purpose of the goal we are trying to reach.

This is exactly what I did with Sway.

I have used Sway in the past for many different uses. I have used Sway as a student newspaper newsletter, updates on activities in summer camps I run, basketball team updates, tutorials for students, to document my Skype travels with students, applications for professional learning and networks, and as a way to sort new learning.

Recently, I wanted to enhance my resume. I already have LinkedIn, but wanted something more visual. I need something that I could send out with one link that would showcase my work to those that needed to see the big picture of what I do and how I can be helpful. I decided to give Sway a try. I wanted to embed documents that would update when I changed them. I wanted to include video and images as artifacts without being a burden to access. I wanted a portfolio that would allow the user to grab what they want when they want it.

In the end I developed this Sway which is still being developed. I have a bit more work to do, but the mainframe is complete.

As I think about this concept,  I think about how great this would be for students to develop something similar. If students had a Sway where they could document their learning journey as they see fit. This would be the one stop shop for them to include video, images, documents, presentations, social media, etc. Login is easy. Sway is accessible on nearly any device. There is no cost. It is a low level learning entry tool with a ton of personal touches.

It is a tool that does not distract the user from being caught up in fonts and animations, but instead keeps the user focused on the content.

At the end of a project they could use it as a guide to showcase their learning.

I think we need to give Sway a more professional focus and really start to see how the tool could be used for a whole new level of learning and documentation.

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Creative Challenge For Your Makerspace: Deck of Cards Challenge

I posted this activity in my latest newsletter, Make Yourself Into A Maker Newsletter: Chapter 5, but I wanted to be sure everyone had a chance to use it.

Do you need an idea for your makerspace?

Do you need an idea for your child at home?

I have created a new maker challenge for everyone. This one deals with a deck of cards.

With the help of our amazing graphics person at the AEA(Susan Waddell) we have made a printable poster that you can put in your makerspace.

I cannot wait to see what gets posted to the Padlet or Flipgrid. We have provided two options to see what people prefer.

And adults don’t be bashful! Get in there and learn and share as well.

When posting to Twitter or Instagram please use #maker9 hashtag.

Get going with your bad self and start being creative and learn something new!

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Awesome Ava and Dorky Dad Make a Magic Wand with MakeCode and Circuit Playground

Ava and I ventured into the world of coding and making using MakeCode and Circuit Playground.

I have been using MakeCode quote a bit lately with some Micro:bit projects I have been building, but this was the first time using it with Circuit Playground. Ava and I had a blast making our magical wand. This is just the start to a whole new project line as she was already developing new ideas.

For this project you will need the following:

This project is very simple and one of the first projects listed on the MakeCode site for the Circuit Playground.

We also subscribe to the Adabox so you can follow their guide here.

In the end this was very worthwhile. We are already discussing plans to design our own special wand after seeing some examples like this

More importantly, Ava is only 6 years old. She needed helping coding, but we had some great conversation about how to do things. Our  wand has been coded several times and she took it to school for others to see. If we can create more learning moments where students are proud of their work, then we have an opportunity to develop some pretty awesome kids.

If you make the wand, then please send us pictures of your design. We would love to see what others are making.

Thanks and we cannot wait to show you our next version of the wand and future projects.

And this will also be a summer camp for kids at our nonprofit STEAM space



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Awesome Ava and Dorky Dad Make Cinnamon Glitter Slime

In this episode Ava and I make slime that smells like cinnamon and has a nice glitter effect.

For this recipe you will need:
1/2 cup clear glue
1/4 teaspoon of Borax
1 cup of hot water(half mixed with Borax and the other half with clear glue)
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ginger(we suggest a little less)
1 tablespoon of glitter

Mix water and glue
Add glitter, cinnamon, and ginger to the water glue mix

In a separate container mix Borax and 1/2 cup of water
Slowly add this mixture to glue mixture until slime is set the way you want.
Add more cinnamon for a darker color


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Looking Back at 2017: Coffeechug Social Media Sharing

I really hesitated in piecing this together and then sharing online. I am in the same mindset as Krissy Venosdale when she tweets and posts her amazing posts on Instagram when she says, “You are so much more than a number”. She also has an amazing piece on Facebook going into more detail about the thoughts behind this quote in relation to how kids value themselves as a person.


I want to clarify that this was not put together for me to gain value based on likes, retweets, favorites, and views. I always look at the metrics each year to see how my journey of learning and sharing has grown. What I find fascinating is how my journey of learning continues to unfold.


When I started blogging many years ago it was to share book reviews of young adult books to inspire them to read. As I have changed roles in education and morphed into new learning opportunities and passions, my sharing of my learning has changed as well.


What I find fascinating every year is what people click and read the most  vs. what I believe are my most powerful pieces. Every single year I see such a stark contrast. The pieces that I believe are important for conversation and thinking rarely make the cut. Often times they are safe pieces that don’t rattle the cages too much.


Typically, I will only look at my blog, but this year I analyzed more. I had a goal this past year to really develop my YouTube presence in sharing DIY Maker activities and I achieved this goal. In many ways, it is becoming my main platform as I continue to want to inspire others to make, experiment, build, and code.


Check out the pieces below. This is what people enjoyed the most from 2017. I look forward to 2018 and seeing where my journey leads.

My goals for 2018
1. Write more clear and concise with more long form posts
2. My book will finally be ready for launch
3. Clean up video editing for better YouTube videos
4. Develop online classes for learning in the maker world
5. Promote and develop quality computer science curriculum.
Top 15 Posts of 2017
Top 10 YouTube Videos of 2017
  1. 5 ways to prevent students from sharing a Google Quiz? https://youtu.be/n9t9lvoqxv4
  2. Scratch 4 Arduino: 3 LED Lights https://youtu.be/kKCEea8DRbk
  3. Office Lens + OneNote = Productivity Success!! https://youtu.be/oDHnok7hmEs
  4. Fidget Spinner Tutorial Using Tinkercad! https://youtu.be/KLXQ0TJhqdw
  5. Bald Eagle Screech https://youtu.be/tz0Dq9tFCmo
  6. LEGO EV3: Move Steering Tutorial https://youtu.be/xwPA9JsY0cQ
  7. Raspberry Pi: GPIO Programming in Scratch https://youtu.be/A-ZgItztkMg
  8. Google Chrome Tip: Picture in Picture https://youtu.be/SVDpFyWv__g
  9. Google Sheets ImportRange Function https://youtu.be/QuOXkO40m8o
  10. LEGO EV3 Tutorial 3: Move Tank, Large Motor, Medium Motor https://youtu.be/xrAKWrsEwT0
Best 9 on Instagram
Top 15 Tweets
  1. Can’t get enough of @PlayCraftLearn and #codebuilder so much potential in learning @MeenooRami #microsoftedu #iste17 pic.twitter.com/d4gUsyuyt8
  2. The excitement for learning at #playfullearning is why I love teaching @LEGO_Education @FIRSTweets http://ln.is/www.instagram.com/p/YfCtF 
  3. What I experienced at FIRST World Championships http://coffeeforthebrain.com.ln.is/5bCCQ  @LEGO_Education #FIRSTChamp #FIRSTChampionship #iaedchat #stemed
  4. Google Chrome: Access Multiple Tabs from Other Devices http://ln.is/coffeeforthebrain.com/JW7Kz  #gttribe #gafe #gafechat #gafesummit #edtech #googledu
  5. Global Educators of Awesomeness Voxer Group http://wp.me/p4covo-1Px  #deeperlearning #mieexpert #pbsdigitalinnovator #iaedchat #pblchat
  6. Another dose of deep thought by @chrisemdin #iaedchat #deeperlearning pic.twitter.com/C2yG8K6wK2
  7. 4 Easy & Cheap Ways to Decorate 3D Prints http://wp.me/p4covo-20Y  #makered #makerspace #3Dprinting #stemed #iaedchat #fablab @tinkercad pic.twitter.com/flxwxs3VlU
  8. So excited to bring @SkypeClassroom to our #pbl course today with @iro_st Thank you for your time Iro! #mieexpert #sitc pic.twitter.com/2X8yH0d4uV
  9. Check out these awesome #LEGO Halloween builds & learn more about monthly build challenge https://www.212steamlabs.com/212-steam-blog/2017/10/31/lego-challenge-1-halloween-creations  @LEGO_Education #makered
  10. Fidget Spinners Aren’t The Problem http://wp.me/p4covo-1SC  #iaedchat #deeperlearning #fidgetspinner #mieexpert #nccechat #stemed #makered
  11. 055: Living On The Edge of Chaos – Living By Leading with Laurel Braaten http://wp.me/p4covo-200  @laurelbraaten #bettpride @zakmal #iaedchat #leadership #edchat #stuvoice @IowaSLI
  12. Smart Home AND Smart Classrooms http://wp.me/p4covo-1Oy  #iaedchat #pblchat #deeperlearning #pbsdigitalinnovator #edchat #smarthome
  13. LEGO EV3 Programming Tip: The Power of the Comment Block http://wp.me/p4covo-1VG  @firstlegoleague @LEGO_Education #Robotics @stemed
  14. Perhaps my favorite education quote ever! @pernilleripp https://twitter.com/farkasstem/status/913115040210997248 
  15. So excited to launch the beginning of a series of two day #makered workshops for educators. Tomorrow we begin and the site is ready https://sites.google.com/view/makeyourselfintoamaker  I welcome all feedback and look forward to adding more daily! #maker9 #stemed #iaedchat
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Global Debate Project Pushes Boundaries of Learning

Whew! We did it! Another round of debates on the topic of Revolution is in the books. This year proved much more difficult for a variety of reasons, but despite the issues I believe the learning increased and we explore new ideas that would have never have been achieved otherwise.

First, this debate project includes over 900 students from all over the globe. We have students who debate, judge, listen, and more during this project. Trying to manage a project of this size with zero financial support on top of many other duties of another job can be stressful. Trying to coordinate debate times for classrooms as teachers when there is so much pressure to perform high quality can be challenging. Coordinating and depending on everyone to do their parts is a miracle in and of itself.

And yet it all comes together.

This debate project started back on October. In October we coordinate teachers and schools. We try to make sure all teams have another team to go against. We spend time sharing materials and resources and doing lots of front end teacher prep to make sure everything is ready to go. This year we had over 10 schools involved from Iowa, Colorado, India, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Taiwan. Kansas and Michigan.

The first challenge was my new job has me outside of the school in which I used to work and host the debates. This provided unique challenges to find time to stay on top of all the details. It also proved difficult to stay connected with the day to day operations of the debate. By the end of October we were all setup and ready to go.

November, students started to record. Over the course of November all speakers recorded. This went smoothly for the most part as the teachers are dedicated and understand how important it is to stay on schedule. Once again, like many things in education, teachers deliver and knock it out of the park.

December our goal was to complete all judging. We always try to get all results back before the winter break. This year we ran into our biggest snag in four years doing this project. We had a teacher drop on us the week of judging. Just like that we lost 100 judges setting us back to score all 130 debates. Judging is critical as we like to use this for students to work on standards for listening, critical thinking, and communication. More importantly, it provides a bias free result.

We went into scramble mode. This is where the amazingness of people shine. This is where the unexpected learning comes together.

We had friends from Maryland, Texas, Indiana, Taiwan, Iowa, and more step in to offer help judging. Vicki Davis share a request in her newsletter which proves how wonderful she is always stepping in to help when she can.


Our new friends from Taiwan were AMAZING. Major shoutout to Thomas Williamson from Kachsung American School for not only helping, but providing very thorough feedback to the students with both written and oral feedback to students. This new friendship is going to take the project to the next level next year when we revamp and expand the project.

We had lawyers, stay at home parents, teachers, students, and more all step in and help at a time of year when everyone is super busy.

I cannot say THANK YOU enough. It warms my heart to watch people come together to help students. So much talk in education is negative and I wish more stories like this were shared to give credit to the teachers and people in the global community who are willing to do what it takes to keep learning going.

Despite not getting the results done before break I believe it was worth it.

  • Students are able to see the nature of people and goodwill in stepping in and helping them get feedback on their hard work.
  • Building new connections globally for a better version of this project
  • I had to step in and judge 30 debates and I was able to think of ways to push the thinking and learning for this project

In the end the results were very close. It came down to the negative side eeking out the victory in overall victories in a narrow 67-64 margin. 

If you want to learn more about the project you can check out our handbook. 

This handbook will be getting overhauled into a more professional look and feel and made available to all very soon. We are combing through it to align to standards, build in competency work, and just tighten up the flow to be better for everyone.

Additionally, we will be looking to move into more of the aspect of Revolution as a theme and not so specific to the American Revolution. As we expand our reach in this project it is time to open up the channels to have students explore the concept of Revolution vs. the time period of American Revolution.

In the end we made it. It was successful although taking longer than we all wanted. Once again I am reminded that teachers are amazing.

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4 Easy & Cheap Ways to Decorate 3D Prints

As I wrap up another successful class at my nonprofit 212 STEAM LABS, I wanted to share one final tip for your 3D prints. We have been spending time learning how to create using CAD with programs like Tinkercad and Vectary. We have moved into using Turtle Art to develop mathematical art designs to be 3D printed and cut out on vinyl.

One of the key pieces to understand when it comes to 3D printing is that the print is just a prototype. They are never designed to be a perfect looking finalized piece. However, with a bit of patience and an eye for detail you can take a simple one color print and make it look really nice.

I have created a short video explaining 4 ways to paint your prints using very cheap and simple materials.

Nail polish

Acrylic Paint

Spray Paint


These four methods work really well if you take your time and do it right. Be sure to let me know your other tricks of the trade so we can continue to refine our work to make it even better in the future.

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