Mystery Box #1 Teacher Creativity Challenge

I am running a summer PD for teachers to help them rethink their classroom and projects. The class is called Building Deeper Learning in the Classroom through Projects. We have already completed our first day of learning and in between classes we have two weeks to give them time to work and edit their projects. During this break I have worked with some amazing educators from around the world to provide them something fun, creative, and applicable to their teacher.

At the end of the day 1 they received a bag full of 9 mystery items. Each day during the weeks we spend apart they will receive a video on Slack that will tell them when to unwrap, what to do with the item, and then how to apply it to the classroom.

While I cannot give everyone a mystery bag outside of the class, I thought it would be fun to share with the world in hopes that some of you join us from home. The items are cheap and easy to find. The more I thought about it I began to think that I wanted everyone to share and be part of the journey whether in the class or not.

It is good to keep our brain cells active.

So besides sharing on our Slack group each day I will also post the challenges here on the blog in case you want to join us from home. If you would like to join our Slack group please message me and I will add you as well. We will be developing our projects and helping one another in this space and will gladly add as many experts as I can!

Below is the information for day 1. If you join please use the #coffeepbl on social media.

I hope some of you will join us to strengthen the tribe.

Mystery Box #1: Enjoy! Watch the video first before checking the document.



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Treat People Right

Lessons learned from my time at PITSCO

A simple concept. When I had a chance to visit PITSCO Education I did not realized the treat I was in for. In the town of Pittsburg, Kansas there is a company that understands culture. They understand what it takes to find people who are proud of their work. They understand the importance of creating a sense of family in the workplace. This was clear the minute I checked into the hotel to have a little gift box from PITSCO welcoming me on my trip.

When I finally arrived on the campus I was met by Nancy Peterson. She is someone who I admire so much over my years of knowing her. She has provided me countless advice, ideas, and book suggestions. I was given a tour by the president, Lisa Paterni. I had a chance to meet the owner Harvey Dean. Each and every single person I came across treated me like I was one of their own. Nobody was too good to speak to me. Nobody is too good to not do any of the work in any of the buildings when needed. I had the chance to hang out with VP Matt Frankenbery for several hours to help me understand my vision, STEM education, and how to fit all the pieces together. I could go on and on with each person I met, but in every single case I was blown away by their treatment of me and their interest in me as a person.

This matters. It matters so much that I started to think about why we always gloss over this element when we try to figure out how to improve schools.

I kept thinking over and over again how many times we act like we are better than others? Maybe not intentionally, but it happens. I felt like I belonged. I was able to walk through all of their buildings. I walked from corporate to packaging, to R&D, to where they print materials, to the marketing wing. I spoke to the IT department and everyone else in between. In every single case, the people were genuine. The people cared about their work. They were proud and wanted me to know.

This type of culture does not happen overnight. There is not a book you can buy to replicate. It once again comes down to a few things.

  1. Believing in the cause
  2. Making sure your actions speak louder than you words
  3. Treat people right
  4. Love your job

These four things are hard to do. Many people can probably claim one or two, but not all four.

I left the tour of the space understanding that the words I write, the ideas I think, and the vision I want to craft for my own non-profit can happen. I witnessed it. I was able to see that as I develop and grow the vision I can create the culture that I want by

  1. Leading by action
  2. Learning to say NO
  3. Understanding when not fall prey to easy short term gains that sacrifice the long term vision
  4. Find people who believe in the cause just as much as I do
  5. Work really damn hard

You can do the same. You can be the catalyst of change that does not give up and become part of a toxic culture. You can choose how you treat others and how you approach your work. If starting fresh, then you have a clean plate that you can fill up with greatness. No matter your situation you can begin to develop the culture that we all know we want to work in by taking a step forward and leading with our actions. Don’t lose sight of this when you have a bad day or you are tired. You must fight through it and keep your eyes on the prize.

On my second day of visiting the PITSCO Education operation I was able to get a tour of the manufacturing plant. This is like a makerspace on steroids that delivers real world products. I was once again so impressed by the passion people have for their work. What is amazing to me is that every single person I talked to wanted to provide the history of the building, of the company, of the owner, and how connected they are to the operation. There are over 25 employees who have worked at PITSCO for over 25 years which is amazing considering how small of an operation the company is in size.

I asked each person who I met(I met a lot of people) what they loved about working at PITSCO and almost every single person provided the same answer with the same reasons

  1. The company cares about them as a person.
  2. Working at PITSCO feels like family.
  3. Every single day is a new challenge and not like the day before.
  4. There are very high expectations that they must meet, but when they do they are appreciated.

Is this not the ingredients for anyone who wants to feel fulfilled in their work? How many of us would love to have a workplace like this? I know I would.

The thing about it all is that I felt like I belonged and I don’t even work there. I felt like I was part of the family. People were so interested in my thoughts. They were invested in my family. It was everything that I could think of when I imagine the culture I want to create and work in.

Nothing felt fake. There was a sense of pride that I have not seen in many places. There was nothing fancy as everything was about the product quality and treatment of each other and the customers. I was curiuos as to how they make this culture happens and one story brings it all together.

When I was touring the manufacturing plant and checking out all the awesome equipment they have(like the machine that uses electrons to spread aluminum on plastic wheels in this vacuum apparatus) I was amazed by how it all comes together. We were watching the creation of furniture and it was shared with me that the guys don’t just sit on the assembly line all day. Once the product is created, packaged and ready for delivery the trucks head out on a Friday. The crew who assembles the furniture in the plant are then asked to travel on Sunday to the location of the order to build it all out for the school. The workers don’t just sit all day doing the same things, but they are able to see the fruits of their labor. They are able to see the impact they are making in their work. They are able to understand how important their work is to the education of the students who will be using their products.

This is awesome. This shows people care. I love it.

As an educator who has very little sense of the business world and how things come together I was blown away by what it takes to bring a product to a school. As a person in school I see the catalog, the online social media sharing, and the products when they arrive. I had no idea what it takes to design, test, prep, package, deliver, and ensure all standards are met. PITSCO does just about everything in house which goes against what most companies do. But it works for them.

In the end, I learned a great deal. I learned how important it is to have a vision and to stay true to the vision. I was reminded about the importance of the treatment of people. We have to treat people right to allow the proper mindset to develop in which then allows people to feel valued enough to believe in the vision as well.

I hope one day that the work I am developing takes off and I can create a similar culture and return the favor to others by having them experience something similar to what I was able learn from these few days. This might have been one of the most inspiring and insightful moments of my learning career and am so thankful to have had the chance to have this opportunity.

If you need to understand culture, then I would look no further than PITSCO Education.

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Treat People Right

ISTE Reflection Part 1


I am finally able to get words from my jumbled brain onto the blog from my first trip to ISTE. I am going to have to break things up in parts for it all to make sense so please bear with me.

Three and one half days of ISTE 2017 changes you. This conference was my first experience of a complete ISTE and I now realize why we people from all over the world come together to this conference. It is a transformational experiences that brings together people who have such synergy that could literally change the face of education for the better.

The things I have learned all come down to a few essential truths.

  1. Treat people right
  2. Don’t be fake
  3. Never stop learning

As much as these all seem to be ideas that have been discussed at great length in many books, podcast, tv, movies, and more, they are all essential to impacting education and making the necessary changes.

Often times what sets back the learning for students and teachers is not a lack of materials or resources, but a culture of toxicity where we don’t treat people right, therefore leading to situations where:

  1. Educators don’t celebrate excellence because of ridicule
  2. Educators look for the bad in students and trying to catch them in the wrong act instead of praising the good acts because this is what happens to them
  3. Educators feeling like they have no more to learn as they know all they need to learn or there is a fear of learning because it is not worth the risk to try something new
  4. Educators feeling not supported by leaders in their building/district

Everyone I talked to at ISTE was full of passion and pride for their work. It was contagious. You just catch the bug and spend the whole time recharging your battery as you embrace the passion of others.

Something I want to figure out is to learn how to create the culture of ISTE where there is celebration of learning while also actively challenging ideas and bring that back to school districts.

It is amazing how the Golden Rule once again comes back around to the essence of all things. So simple and yet so hard for many to do.

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Writing is hard, but essential for clarity

It does not matter the purpose to your writing. What matters is that you are writing.

There is a calmness that leaves the brain when words are released from the inner swirl of your head onto a canvas(whether digital or analog) where they appear one tiny letter at a time.

I was reminded this morning during my morning reading to take nothing more than 7 minutes to pause and appreciate life.

During this moment of coffee, my dog, and birds, I started to think about my blog and how I have not been writing as consistent as I should  want to during the week.

I stopped

Sipped my coffee


And watched birds

This morning I am reminded that it does not matter the form of writing as long as you write. I have been writing, but not publicly. I am learning a new form of writing known as a business plan. It is hard. Does not make sense to my brain.

It is essential. It is forcing me to prove my ideas. To think thoroughly over my goals. To be clear. To be concise. To share with the world my vision that is indeed swirling around in my head.

I have to tell myself that just because it is not public does not mean it did not happen. I can run without posting the miles all over social media. Or people can do a Crossfit work without telling the world(I think this is possible?).

So I am going back to take another 7 minutes. To make sure my head is clear. To make sure I soak in this world. And when the time is right the writing will happen.

Make sure you take time to write

  1. Goals
  2. Dream
  3. Weird thoughts in your head
  4. Fiction
  5. _______

Find a space and write. Craft time to be a creator and not just a consumer. Trust me. You will feel good.

Your new morning workout prescribed by me

7 minutes of clarity

7 minutes of writing

Go be awesome!

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LEGO EV3 Robotics Camp: Motorized Box, Dragster, Mowing, Balloon Battles and Soccer!

Many of you have been wondering where my blog posts have gone to?

Where have I been? What have I been doing?

While the blog has been quiet for most of June besides one big announcement of a major life change, my work has been anything but quiet.

We are currently underway in our second week of robotics camps. This year I decided to package it all into one individual website so that anyone could use for their own benefits and not have to sift through everything here on the blog.

You can access the site here  where everything has been created such as rubrics, lesson plans, tutorials, examples of robots and more.

I hope you find this helpful. As soon as camp wraps up this week the blog will be back up and running full octane. Until then you can find my work being updated daily on the robotics camp site.

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Leading By Example: Taking a New Job


I posted on social media the other day a quote from a book that read, “Why, having been endowed with the courageous heart of a lion, do we live as mice?”


At the time of posting this quote less than 48 hours ago I was in a moment of my life where I had a difficult decision to make. I have dragged the decision out for quite some time, but the other day I had a moment of clear thinking and made my move on this chess board of life.


I have decided to accept a new job. I will be leaving BMS to pursue a new job that I hope will help achieve some of my life goals and dreams. I have accepted a position at the Mississippi Bend AEA as the new STEM Lead for this part of the state. It is a new job with an open canvas to hopefully bring the AEA back to a place where people are excited to use them again. Additionally, I have also filed for a non-profit called 212 STEAM Labs where I hope to launch a new innovative space for the community to enhance education for both students and adults in partnership with an art gallery and some other organizations.


I have a lot of big life choices on the horizon.


Change is scary beyond any horror movie. Change is not easy. As much as I write, talk, coach, and discuss the idea of change, when it hits you at your core you are instantly reminded of why so many people choose to accept being stuck and unhappy in parts of their life because it is indeed easier. As I read in yet another book, “We must ask ourselves if our desires to feel safe and accepted are in fact enslaving us to popular opinion – and to boredom. We must ask: When will we be ready to ascent to another level of existence?”


Courage is a choice and permission to move forward with boldness is never given to the fearful masses. I am reminded in this moment and in this decision that when seeking change we must remember that it requires a bit of insanity. I indeed feel like I am insane.


To everyone who I have worked with over the last 13 years at BMS I want to thank you. In some shape or form you have impacted me to learn about myself and the world. It was not that long ago where I was student teaching with Cheryl Johannsen, teaching sixth grade social studies, preaching about life lessons of Brown Trout and Little Suzy at camp, trying to figure out to how meet the needs of kids in ELP, and now working with the awesome educators here to figure out how to best reach students in the classroom. To those that have become friends along the journey, relationships don’t end because of a job. More importantly, to those that want to brainstorm, ask questions, and work to improve this lifestyle(I don’t believe teaching is a job, but a lifestyle and way of living), I am just down the road.


Since making the decision I have had an outpouring of stories and connections with so many people. I feel loved and blessed. I feel honored to have the memories that I have been part of with teachers, admin, and students. For each story my heart tugs me back into changing my mind and not leaving. It tears me up inside. However, I know that these moments have been leading me to the next step of my life where more memories will be created.

In my Coffeechug Book Club of Empowerment, I posted a video yesterday about the concept of failure is the way forward. In the book we are reading there was a line that hit me hard. It read, “….to not pursue my own projects became the failure”. 


What is the worse that can happen? I am miserable in the job and I go back to doing what I love which is teaching. When I process the gains vs. losses I realize the gains outweigh the bad time and time again despite my emotions telling me otherwise.

To the students I have worked with I hope you see this as another example of not waiting for the perfect moment. Life is all about not knowing, and then going out and doing something anyway. Take the leaps and find out what is on the other side.

After about a week of sleepless nights I believe this is the right move. Thank you to everyone for helping me become a better person, educator, parent, and coach. I just began a huge new life project with a driving question of, “What does the future hold?”.


Stay awesome.



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Coffeechug Book Club of Empowerment for Summer 2017

I am a reader. I am pretty avid in my reading. I love to highlight, scribble in the margins, blog about my ideas, and find books off the beaten path.


For years I have tried book clubs both online and in person.


They never seemed to work for me. Either the people were not on my level, I was not on their level, the book choices did not interest me, or they seemed to feel like school(barf).


So, I read alone and did my thing, but I always wished to read with a community. A community where real talk could happen. A safe zone. A place to open up. Share ideas, stories, thoughts, concerns. A place to feel human and not worry about the labels of teacher, father, husband, coach, etc. However, I want to read and talk about things freely that turn around and helpme be better in all of these labels.


This is my attempt to do this. I am creating this Facebook Book Club Group. Each month we will have a book to read. You choose if it is a good fit for you. You choose how you want to share whether that is via

  • A new post
  • Comment on another post
  • Facebook live video
  • Link to other articles and thoughts
  • Long length posts or short posts
  • Memes and gifs


You choose the pace at which you read. I always hated waiting for the next chapter to talk or waiting to read the next part. The book will be chunked to not spoil anything, but the entire book will be loaded up at the first of the month so you can read at your pace and discuss when you are ready.


To get things going I will choose the books, but I hope that as things start to pick up momentum and a tribe is formed(Tribes? A potential book by Seth Godin) we can start to vote for new titles. In the beginning I will pick the books to give a context for what I hope to gain and in return you too.


Sound good? I hope so. If so, then join the group. It will be private so only those in the group can read and interact.


The first book is already posted in the group. Trust me, the first book will let you know I am going big!


If interested head to the group here

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Google Tip: Zapier + Google Sheets = Happy Google Calendar

This tutorial will showcase how I use Zapier to easily migrate events in a Google Sheet into my Google Calendar. You can use Zapier for a variety of tasks that operate much like IFTTT. Let me know how you use Zapier and hopefully this tip will save you time.

If you want more tips, then head over to my Google page where I have 50+ tips to make your life easier.

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Awesome Ava and Dorky Dad Ep. 7 – Pencil Holder

Here is our next video. This is a short and very simple little project Ava has learned to do. This all started when I was traveling for a makerspace workshop and she FaceTimed me and for 20 minutes explained how to make one of these.

We made one and this video is pretty much her all the way.

Enjoy. We have some really cool ones heading your way soon so keep watching.

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Fidget Spinners Aren’t The Problem

But Perhaps You Are!

Now before you get all huffy puffy with the title of this post, please hear me out before you get to bashing me with comments in anger. I have been reading all the blog posts, media outlets, and social media posts and felt I needed to chime in.

First, a few disclaimers.

  1. I am not a stereotypical classroom teacher. I am an instructional coach. I operate a makerspace for project based learning. I know that many of the haters of this article will quickly point out that if I were indeed a classroom teacher my thoughts would be different. I would disagree as I believe that it is all about the culture and respect you build with students. This won’t solve everything, but it will take care of 97%(fake news as I have no solid proof of this percentage, it is an estimation) of the problems.
  2. I love making fidget spinners. It has been a great learning challenge for me and I have worked with kids I have never had the chance to before. I have been working with them to understand CAD and how to create ideas on a computer to bring to life.
    1. Tinkercad Tutorial Ruler and Dimensions 
    2. Fidget Spinner Tutorial 2 Using Tinkercad
    3. Fidget Spinner Tutorial Using Tinkercad!

The distraction is not the kids with fidget spinners. The distraction is that they have become a scapegoat to blame a cheap little device on the reasons kids are not paying attention instead of possible rethinking the lesson being taught. We take our anger out on the spinning device rather than study why classrooms still operate like they did 100 years ago where kids are bored and sitting in rooms operating in DOK level 1 material.Or using it as an excuse to not challenge the bigger issues in education right now at both the national level and state level(I live in Iowa). Or using it as an excuse that we have completely forgotten what it is like to be a kid and deleted all memory of the fidget devices of decades ago i.e.

  • Pogs(I still have mine somewhere!)
  • Gum wrapper chains
  • Snap bracelets(I have a solid collection in my room!)
  • Folding paper in squares(I was never smart enough to figure out how to make one)
  • Pagers – anyone remember this fad? your pager would go off and then you would have to scramble to a payphone to decipher the messages entered in numbers?
  • Paper football
  • Pencil wars
  • Pokemon Go

Don’t let us forget that distractions don’t need to be a fad in order to be effective. These distractions happen all the time and everyone just accepts them:

  • Farts
  • Overhead PA announcement right in that moment your lesson was going to WOW! them
  • Fire or Storm Drill
  • Air conditioning not working and the aromas of middle school bodies

I bring these up only to remind ourselves that we cannot lose our minds over these things. As schools are moving to banning policies and giving out punishments I once again think about how close schools are starting to feel like prisons. The students are treated more like prisoners rather than students as rule books and punishments lurk around every single corner. There is so much stress in education right now that I am surprised that teachers are not using fidget spinners. The pressure to meet goals. The pressure for all kids to be proficient on standardized testing. The pressure of national politics on education. The continual growth of student and family needs.

And this is just pressure for the adults. We have not even talked about the pressure that trickles down to the students.

What if we started looking for the good instead? Maybe we are creating a bigger distraction by the way we are operating with these devices.

A typical day for a student requires hours of sitting in uncomfortable desks listening to adults.

Are we going to ban pencils when kids tap them on the desk? Are we going to ban cell phones when teachers all discretely check them during PD? Are we going to ban air when a kid burps(a bit dramatic, but you get my point). Can these devices be a tool instead of a reward? This is perhaps a topic for another post, but how many times do we introduce a tool to education and quickly create a system where it becomes a reward and not a tool?

I get it. I really do. It is the end of the year. Kids are ready to be done. Teachers are ready to be done probably even more. But we can’t lose our mind on the bigger issues at stake here.

As schools are pressured to score high on tests, recess is being cut, electives don’t exist, and drill and kill become the norm. No wonder kids are stressed and fidgety.

So what if kids use them as a toy? Every single time I get a new phone or a new thing to build I feel like it is my birthday. I become obsessed(like I am with Clash Royale right now). It consumes my life and despite knowing my life won’t radically change I enjoy it. The same is true with the spinners.

Before I dive into some ideas on how to use them for good, let me say one more thing. Kids needing to fidget in classrooms is nothing new. There is a reason why I continue to this day to have no fingernails because I chewed them all the time when bored or nervous. Or how many kids twirl their hair, chew gum, pick junk off their shoes, write on their binders, ask to go to the bathroom, etc.

This is nothing new!

Or even better – we celebrate the classrooms that have created flexible seating to help with this very problem, yet here is a little device working the same way and it is consider a device of complete evil.

Now, how do we use this nasty device plaguing classrooms with a spinning fury for good?

  1. Talk to the kids – Have you sat down with the students and developed rules? Has there been a conversation or did schools go straight to a ban policy? Sometimes treating them like people solves many of the problems. Not all, but more than we give them credit for.
  2. Study the bearings – why are some better than others? What causes a good spin vs. a bad spin? How do we know and how can we prove it? Try this little blog to get started.
  3. Science – study how inertia, centrifugal force, rpm, and more all account for a quality spinner
  4. Science Idea #2 – use them to teach about magnets
  5. Copyright and Patents – Teachers love to stamp the mandates of copyright and citing sources for everything. Why not take the case of this poor lady who invented the idea, let the patent expire, and now not earn a single penny because she gave up ownership of the idea. Use this story as a way to not only support why we provide credit to where it is due, but when we have a great idea why we should protect ourselves.
  6. History lesson – what goes around, comes around. The favorite mindset of any educator who has spent more than 8 years in education. We see the same things come and go with a new name on it time and time again. The same when we study history and look for patterns. The same thing with the fidget spinner. It was developed in the 80’s – yes, 30+ years ago. It is coming back like stonewashed jeans and Crocs. Why does this happen? Use Google Trends and see if you find data correlation. Take boring old history that most kids don’t care about and connect it with something they do care about.
  7. Class Structure – tell students they can use them during a brain break. What? You don’t have these built into your class so kids sit the entire time? Sounds like the perfect time to bring out a fidget spinner.
  8. Class debate – Students do research to discover whether or not these are helpful. There is so much online right now that it would lead to great discussions on credible sites, facts, and research. Heck, have the students wage a debate against you the teacher. Turn it into a mock trial….wait a minute……
  9. Mock Trial – Run a mock trial where the fidget spinner is on trial for ruining education across America.
  10. Math – What is the spinning time of each spinner in the room? What is the class average? How do we display our findings? Is there a correlation with cost and spin time? Materials vs. spin time?

We survived bottle flipping earlier this year(barely). We survived the slime phase and nobody was injured during that fad. This too shall pass so why not tap into the moment and use it as an entry point for solid learning?

These fads are just like water. We cannot stop the power of the fads just like we cannot control the tides of water. However, we can build channels to funnel where water goes and we can create channels to funnel how student energy and devices like fidget spinners are being used. I know it is the end of the year and kids are going crazy just like the teachers. Remember to hold on tight and keep your sanity. There are many great lessons to be taught. All great lessons are never easy.

All I am saying is that the world will not come to an end because of fidget spinners.

So, my challenge to you is how can you take this moment and make it something positive? We cannot afford to make a sweeping generalization about fidget spinners. We don’t like it when it is done to us as educators so why would we turn around and do the same. It might be helping more kids than you realize.

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