Educators Can Make Engaging Learning If You Just Let Them!

A reflection of Maker Yourself PD

WOW! That is about all I can say after an amazing and powerful two days of learning and making with 15 passionate educators, coaches, and administrators for the Make Yourself Into A Maker: Builds 1-3 Workshop.

This was my first official two day workshop on making that I put together as part of my new job at the Mississippi Bend AEA 9 as STEM Lead. I was excited. I was nervous. I doubted my ideas. I worked tirelessly and stressed on every single detail more than I ever care to admit, but in the end of two days my heart was full, my passion fueled, and I am ready to continue to journey of helping to bring making into all classrooms and to continue to work to empower educators to tap into their inner superpowers, combine forces like Captain Planet, and make learning engaging and exciting for all.

As I posted online yesterday

This was my biggest takeaway. Educators are critiqued, analyzed, talked down to, and judged every single second of their professional careers.

They are often told to do more work

for more children

at deeper levels

with less support, PD, and resources every single year.

After spending two days with educators where they were given space, time, and materials to grow and learn I was reminded once again that people need to get out of their way and watch them work their magic.

While two days seems like a lot of time it really is not. We learned how quickly time flies when we are in our learning zones making our art come alive.

The goal of these two days was very simple. I wanted to empower educators to believe and trust in themselves that they are indeed Makers. They can make. They can create. They can bring their ideas to life.

I avoided templates. I avoided worksheets, packets, theory, data, research, etc. Everything that is usually thrown at them from the land of education theory I avoided. I wanted them to experience making. I wanted them to experience learning. I wanted their senses to be invigorated in their learning. I wanted them to be in the middle of it and not on the outside reading about it.

We had three different build cycles that we attempted to work through over the course of two days. These three builds were designed to have them work through the MIT Lifelong Kindergarten Learning Spiral. As they worked through their ideas, prototypes, and final products I wanted to build their own self awareness of their skills and thinking. I wanted them to feel empowered that this type of learning is not only possible, but essential for helping to ensure that the learning sticks.

I could not believe how AMAZING these teachers were with their ideas and creation. We allowed them the freedom to work at their own pace, collaborate with others as needed, to work on their own when they needed a minute. We were able to experience the learning and not just read about it. We took the feedback and adapted accordingly. We ebbed and flowed with the needs of the space and the learning.

We spent time during the morning of day 1 thinking about some longer term planning around the space itself. We worked through the book The Space by Dr. Dillon and Rebecca Hare. We were super lucky to Skype with Dr. Dillon and dropped some serious knowledge on us as we grapple with our spaces and what we can do with the spaces we have.

Besides the great questions and making that developed, many questions were brought to the forefront that we just did not have enough time to cover. This is why this PD is just the start. I have the framework for at least four more workshops where we will begin to dive into their questions in greater detail. The framework is built around the 4 P’s of Lifelong Kindergarten so that we can begin to help them infuse making and hands on into their current practices. This work cannot be one more thing or it will never take hold. It has to be part of a cultural shift where support is provided to help educators see how this type of learning and wonder can address standards and help with all the paperwork teachers face.

This is the real work and we will get there. However, this first workshop was all about mindset and empowerment. And we achieved this goal.

For example, check out the builds from the two days. We had everything from a marshmallow gun to a leaf bag holder to a baby toy to a cardboard city for preschool to a LED Coded tree to a trebuchet to a dog bed. The list goes on and on.

Teachers walked away with their creations. They walked away with some simple material projects ideas they can drop into their spaces this week. They were given a container of $100 of materials for them to use in their space. More importantly starting the first week of December we will be posting weekly creative challenges using the materials. You can join us by signing up for the newsletter.

These challenges will be used to empower teachers as well as for them to use in their spaces with students.

If you want to learn more about the two days you can access our website here. This is an organic site that will grow and develop over time. It will continue to be developed as more materials and ideas are created and shared by the group. If you have something to add, then simply reach out.

We have another cohort in December and then in January we will launch Builds 4-6.

In the end all I can say is THANK YOU! Thank you educators for inspiring me to continue to work in a profession that I believe with all my heart has the biggest impact on the world. Thank you for taking this journey with me. Thank you for stretching yourself like a rubber band to explore new areas of your own self discovery. Thank you for going back to your schools to lead the change for more engaging learning. Thank you for being you. Thank you as someone who believe in education. Thank you as a parent of three children who need you every single day to lead them to greatness. Thank you as a spouse to a teacher who reminds me of how hard the job can be some days.

Thank you.

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Would you enjoy reading student work if you didn’t have to?

Change. A word used all the time. An action pushed upon educators time and time again. Change is an important word to break down because if we don’t have a why and purpose change can lead us down the wrong path.

In the simplest term I can come up, I think asking yourself the following question leads to whether or not you(educators) should change is to ask yourself:

Would you enjoy reading student work if you didn’t have to?

Before I go any further I think this question tackles the fundamental principles to change in education. If we can answer YES, then we have something good and worthwhile for both educators and students and we have a win win situation.

If you answer NO, then perhaps it is time for change. If you answer NO after making the change, then perhaps you made change for the wrong reason.

In the book Innovator’s Mindset by George C0uros he defines innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better“.

If we go with this definition of innovation and keep the concept of change in the forefront of our thoughts, then what are some examples that are considered innovative?  How is it new and better than what previously existed?

These are very important questions for us to tackle and process. Anytime we think of innovation and change we must first think about how we teach, the way we conduct our classroom, and more importantly how do both the teachers and the students learn?

Time and time again we see examples of change happening all over the nation(primarily technology), but because they have not changed practice, pedagogy, and focused on the WHY of the change nothing really happens. As George states in the book, “we have many twenty-first-century schools with twentieth-century learning.”

What happens is that paper worksheets simply move to a digital version. The same old seat work of low level work, uninspired purposeful learning continues, but we convince ourselves we are doing innovative work. It instantly makes me think of a book idea I have called QR Codes Kill Education where I have examples of technology being used in useless ways. One example I see time and time again is student work hung in the hallways with QR codes attached, but never seeing a person scan the code because

  • there is a “no cell phone policy” in the school making it useless
  • in reality what parents or visitors of schools have QR codes on their phones?

Or why is it that children enter school loaded with a million questions, but by the time they reach the secondary level they have that zombie look where all life has been sucked out of them? We as educators must work to keep the flame of inquiry alive and burning so that we can all benefit from the learning process.

What I am challenging educators is to work towards purposeful innovation. If we remain innovative, then the result will be that students will create innovative work. This begins in the culture of the building. It cannot be something told to teachers and then expected they figure out on their own time. It should be built into the school culture. PD should be devoted to innovation. It should be part of the school day and if teachers want to explore further they can and should be allowed to as part of their professional learning and growth. And I would bet money that most teachers will devote more time because that is just who they are and how they operate.

Another way to push towards an innovators mindset is to focus on the possibility of innovative thinking. What happens when we think as a manager and not a leader(a whole other topic for another time) is we spend our time on all the bad and all the things we don’t want students to do. Instead of complaining about kids will do this and kids will do that, why don’t we focus on what kids will be able to do in a positive light?

 When schools roll out devices, technology, tablets, or whatever the product of the year is don’t spend time coming up with a telephone book of rules. Don’t spend time dwelling on all the bad. Why do this? All you are doing is ensuring that nothing will really change and therefore we have 20th century operations in a 21st century.

As I continue to read the book and process what I think is needed in schools and innovation I keep coming back to the idea that I wrote about earlier this year that average does not exist. Teaching is the most human connecting thing we do. We must make sure that we don’t simply reduce learning to letters and numbers. I was just discussing with an amazing teacher about how important it is to refresh ideas for teachers to tackle mental health, poverty, and all the factors that students deal with on a daily basis. Learning is more than numbers. We must connect with students as people. If we can do that, then innovation will start to grow and develop. I love the part of the book where Dr. Joe Martin says so well, “No teacher has ever had a former student return to say a standardized test changed his or her life.”

 Here are few ideas to help ensure innovation can occur.
  1. Leaders of the building(admin and teachers) must build and develop systems of support so everyone knows that the innovation is supported through the good and bad.
  2. Value and emphasis is placed on the process and not the end product.
  3. Moving away from simply focusing on obedience and letter grades
  4. Shifting the work to real world applications
  5. Raising expectations of what students can accomplish
  6. Asking more questions vs. spewing answer
John Maxwell who is one of my favorite authors is quoted as saying , “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” We can lead a horse to water, but cannot make the horse drink. The same is true for students and teachers. What we must create is an environment where the water(innovation/change) is so inviting that more and more want to jump in and drink it up.
It is time we model the way. It is time to celebrate. We(educators) must be the leaders in innovation. We have to model for the students what we want in order for them to understand. Simply paying lip service is not enough.
So as you stare down at the stack of student work, would you grade them if you were not required to to provide grades?
Follow #IMMOOC
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Insights from the Robodogs Robotics Summer Camp

Crosspost from LEGO Engineering

This is a cross post from a piece I wrote for LEGO Engineering. To me, this is a huge honor to have any of our work featured on this website. I have used this website as the go to resource for all things LEGO EV3, coding, robotics, and more.

When I was given a chance to share work we have done in our summer programs I was beyond honored.

Here is the piece in hopes that it helps propel your summer programs and provides everything you need to get started.

Feel free to reach out with any questions or ideas as a new summer is going to be here before we know it and I am always up for new ideas!

Insights from the Robodogs Robotics Summer Camp

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3D Print Your Very Own Cookie Cutter

I am happy to announce that after all this time I have finally published my first Instructables. I won’t even begin to go into how many drafts I have developed over time or how many tutorials I have made on YouTube where I thought I should post to Instructables…..and didn’t.

As I continue to share the message of sharing our work, being proud of our work, and sharing for the sake of helping others and not attention, I finally can check my box off my list.

For my first project I posted a simple TinkerCad tutorial on how to make a star cookie cutter and 3D print the design.

This is something we are doing in my nonprofit classes with the hopes that it serves as a baseline to individual innovative creative designs and more importantly some awesome looking and delicious tasting cookies.

Here it is! Enjoy and I hope you make something great and share with me and others. If you make cookies please let me know.

Onwards to the next project!

Designing 3D Print Cookie Cutter in TinkerCad 

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Jaw Snapping Pumpkin Tutorial

At 212 STEAM Labs, our October classes for middle school, high school, and adults we have been exploring how to write code for our Arduino. We have worked through a variety of projects and codes in the past two classes(find all tutorials here).

We are now to the point of carving out our pumpkins and wiring up the LED lights and servo.

I made a short tutorial explaining how to do this at home.

Here is a tutorial about how to carve and wire your pumpkin Arduino so you can experiment from home.

Enjoy! I cannot wait to showcase what we were making in class!

In our final class week I will have more pumpkins for us to carve. Additionally, we will explore some advanced coding using a remote control, ultrasonic sensor, noise sensor, and more.

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The Hidden Truth in Teacher Learning and Support

After spending two amazing days learning at the ITEC Conference and finding time to process all of my learning, new connections, and what my next steps in my learning path holds for me, I wanted to touch on an issue that stood out quite a bit this year.

In my makerspace session I shared with the audience that fact that my wife who I believe is an amazing educator(with or without my bias) has come home more stressed and exhausted than any other year in her teaching career. She is doing amazing work along with many of her colleagues, but the burden of teaching mixed with high expectations is taking a toll. This sentiment was expressed many times at ITEC with the educators I spoke with at the conference.

She is not alone in this story. This is not a bash to school systems as I know the issues all schools are facing. The pressures to perform. The pressure of test scores. The pressures of doing more with less funding. The list goes on and on. What I am referring to is a missing element taking place across the nation in schools everywhere. This element is one that I think is overlooked because it is not obvious to the general observation of schools, but I would bet that many educators can relate.

There is a fundamental issue happening in education right now and it scares me. The issue is the unintentional consequences of not supporting our teachers where they need it most. Here are some trends that I continue to see happen more every year:

  • The amount of work and time spent on developing ideas, framework, and systems around buzzwords that when the work finally reaches a stage of implementation it is replaced by another buzzword starting the process all over again.
  • The amount of pressure placed on teachers to perform miracles in the classroom increases every single year.
  • The amount of paperwork and papertrails on every single thing a teacher performs and a student exhibits is increasing at the rate of Moore’s Law, but instead of talking about transistors on a circuit board we are talking about the amount of data reported and collected in a smaller time frame of teaching. I like to call this Coffeechug Law
    • Coffeechug Law – the observation that the number of pieces of data collected in a dense overpacked school day doubles approximately every one year of service in education.
  • The expectation of educators to continue their “professional learning” to achieve all the latest buzzwords has become a mandate with very little support or empowerment(mostly due to lack of time, money, resources, and leaders who actually know the topic that they are demanding).
  • The guilt trip placed on educators when they do find a way to get out and learn to make themselves better.

Just this morning on Facebook I read a post where an educator was sharing how it is actually easier to stay at school super sick than to leave. Think on this for a minute. Is this the type of learning culture that we need our model learners(teachers) to be working in when they are sick and probably in no shape to continue to teaching, but have to stay because it is easier? Because there are probably not any subs? Because the guilt that is often placed on them is too much to bear(I think this is not intentional, but an unintended message).

While I was at ITEC I could not believe how many educators I spoke with between sessions were so excited to be able to have the chance to learn new ideas. They had an opportunity to relight their fire to continue in this job or perhaps just add a bit more kindle to their fire to realize that great things are happening. They had two days to connect with other educators who are in their same shoes working to figure out how to make it happen.


These same educators were having their learning impacted. They were stressed because they received an email from their admin that their students were not well behaved. They were notified that there were not enough subs(“Don’t worry we will figure something out! You just have fun at the conference!”). They were sent a text informing them to call a parent. They were reminded about the make up work they would have to do because they were not physically seated in a meeting that we all know probably lead nowhere except for another meeting.

They were given so many things to stress and worry about that were out of their control that I wonder how in the world could they possibly learn with eagerness and excitement when these things weigh them down?(Is this any different for the kids in the classroom?) I know that they had to spend countless hours writing sub plans, organizing the room, sorting out the materials, talking with other teachers about plans A, B, and C in case something happened.

There is so much work to be done for a teacher to actually learn that I wonder if the work is worth the opportunity to learn?

And yet, they will head back to their schools and be told that they must be lifelong learners. They must be innovative. They must differentiate for their students. They must collect all this data and make real time decisions. They must join this book study or read this article or watch this video. They must, must, must, but are not given the time, space, and freedom to actually learn. All of this work spills over into their personal life. We often speak of work/life balance or how work and life just blend together.

I don’t agree. I think work expectations steal our time away from family, friends, and our personal life. This is has somehow been deemed acceptable. However, when was the last time that you were allowed to have your personal life spill over into your work life? Exactly, it never happens. There is no blending, only a stolen mentality disguised as “blended” by those in charge.

I think we are facing an issue that is not talked about enough. We must support teachers. We must empower them. We must give them the time to go out and learn. It is why we see less and less classroom teachers at conferences like ITEC because despite the fact that teachers are urged to attend they are really tied down to their classroom by the pressure and guilt placed on them for leaving the room for a day or two. And yet still expected to learn and grow and develop.

I believe that if we are going to place all these expectations on teachers to differentiate and empower students, then we must do the same for teachers. Let them attend conferences that benefit their teaching. Let them learn without guilt. Support them when they return. Let them know that everything will be fine when they leave. It is not different than giving a couple a weekend break from parenting for the first time. You have to help them realize that everything will be okay and to get out and recharge the battery.

My fear is that if we don’t start providing proper support for our educators mentally and emotionally, then we will continue to lose them. Lose them when they leave the field of work. Lose them mentally and we are left with a physical body burned out by expectations that has transformed them into a robotic data collection device instead of a fired up passionate educators ready to change the lives of students. Lose them when they feel like their life work is not important enough. Lose them to buzzwords that change every few years. Lose them because they don’t feel valued.

We cannot allow them to have their flame of passion for learning die out. We must provide kindle, warmth, and support. We have to continue to provide the support to get out and learn from others. We have to celebrate their attempts to try new things. We have to allow them to be the professionals that they were hired to be.

It is time that we pour the same amount of time, money, and effort into our teachers that we do for students. They are just as important for the learning process to be successful and I would argue even more important. Without them, education and learning cannot happen. They are the most important element we have in our schools and we must continue to help feel valued and loved and most importantly supported in their learning journey.

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ITEC 2017 Resources

If you are attending ITEC or not able to make it I wanted to share where my resources can be found.

Speedgeeking with Coffeechug 4.0

This will be rapid fire session of technology tips, tricks and productivity tools that I use in my job to help make life easier for myself as an educator, parent, spouse, and productive human being. I will share out things I use in education as well as tools for my own sanity and survival of trying to keep things between the lines in this profession. These ideas will give you time to enjoy that cup of coffee and have fun at the same time! The key here is simplicity and productivity. Come learn about tools that you may not have considered before.


Googlegeeking with Coffeechug 1.0

Come ready to explore all aspects of the Google Universe. In this session we will explore parts of Google not always shared in education. 54 tools will be showcased that are a bit off the beaten path. We will examine shortcuts, general Google tips that are overlooked, Google gems left uncovered, some of my favorite extensions, apps, and add-ons that are rarely shared and discussed, and a few good old Easter Eggs. These are all ideas I used to keep productive mixed in with a laugh to help make it through the day. These just might be your ticket to sanity. These ideas will give you time to enjoy that cup of coffee and have fun at the same time! The key here is simplicity and productivity. Come learn about tools that you may not have considered before.


Makerspace Culture for All

Come ready to make things happen. In under one hour we will dive into the importance of focusing on the culture of a makerspace and not the tools. We will look at the possibilities of bringing the makerspace culture into all classrooms. Additionally, the audience will undergo a hands on immersive challenge to experience the culture before walking away with your own set of LEGO pieces to get started. New builds, new thoughts, and challenging questions for you to find your own answers for the culture to take root back in your school. The audience will learn how to apply these ideas into any classroom and school.


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054: Living On The Edge of Chaos – Living Your Passion

Check out the show and episodes on iTunes

Another great episode speaking with my good friend Jen Goetz who is helping to change the education landscape as well as coaching landscape by living with passion.

Jen Goetz

Junior High Special Education Teacher

Head Varsity Girls Basketball Coach for Pleasant Valley

Show Notes

  1. How do define the word leadership? (4:15)

  2. What is the process to become a leader? (5:45)

    1. Self Confidence
    2. Self Motivation
    3. Lifelong Learner
  3. How do you create enrollment into the vision?(8:30)

    1. As a leader you are the front cover of the book for them to decide where they choose to read and continue on or not!
  4. How do you sustain the passion? (10:30)

    1. Balance your life
    2. Rest
    3. Get away from the passion
    4. Failure drives and fuels the passion
  5. What is your WOW project of the moment? (13:20)

  6. How to deal with haters and those who don’t agree (21:00)

  7. Difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders (22:30)

  8. How does someone get started with leading? (25:00)

  9. How does one cross the swamp without fighting all the aligators?(25:00)

Lightning Round

10. What are you reading right now

  1. Leaders Eat Last
  2. Grit to Great

11. Who is someone we should all follow and learn from?

  1. PJ Fleck

12. Gift one book to someone what would it be?

The Energy Bus

13. What is your spirit animal?


14. Final Thoughts or Nuggets of Wisdom

Love Tough


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Arduino Pumpkin Class 1 and 2

*This is a crosspost from my nonprofit 212 STEAM Labs*

So much is happening at 212 STEAM Labs that there is barely time to write and document. The last two weeks we have been running Arduino coding classes to help people learn how to code along with physical computing.

We started out in class one understanding the basics of Arduino and how it works. We started to explore how to code an LED light in a variety of ways – blinking, multiple LED, push button activation, potentiometer adjustments, and more.

During class 2 we refreshed our skills with the LED lights and added in a servo motor component. These two basic functions will be enough to begin to create, carve, and code our very own robotic pumpkins during the next two weeks of class.

We are learning that coding takes time. It does not come easy and like anything in life it requires practice and patience.

If you want to learn more about what we are doing, then check out these two videos.

Additionally, if you want to learn more we have created tutorials of the work we are doing in class to help guide you at home.

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 1: What is in the kit?

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 2: What is an Arduino?

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 3: Download the Software

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 4: Syncing Arduino with Software

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 5: LED Light on Pin 13


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 6: Coding Variables for LED


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 7: LED Challenge

212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 7: LED Challenge Answer


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 8: Potentiometer Basics


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 9: Push Button


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 10: Multiple LED Marquee Style


212 STEAM Labs: Arduino Class Part 11: Single Servo


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