The Reality of Taking Risks and Leap of Faith

I have been inspired by a dear friend of mine with whom I have not had a chance to connect and talk with in quite some time, but he is a principal in a neighboring school district. He is one who pushes my thinking time and time again.

Recently, he posted a piece on Facebook where he listed all the flaws that he has to try to break down the perception of perfect lives on Facebook that we often see. A few weeks earlier he had shared with me a newsletter he sent his staff that opened my eyes for being grateful.

I also went and watched the movie Wonder which had my parent brain spinning. A post about this movie coming shortly.

Additionally, in recent weeks some pretty tragic events have happened to students of mine and to families. Life is never easy. Often times in these moments of tragedy we have a lightbulb moment where we pause our current mode of operation to reset the clock and think about our own lives. At least we should do this and not just gloss over to the next event.

This is shared to let you know that many events have lead to this moment of thought and deep reflection.

Anyone who has followed my journey knows that I have taken a leap of faith by leaving a school that I loved for a new job. During that time I also launched a nonprofit to go after my dream vision to how I believe learning and education should operate. Somewhere in the mix of all this I am still after that book of mine, coaching sports, trying to be a good husband and father, and finding time for myself and health.

It is hard. It is impossible most days.

I am in the crux of change and risk taking. The excitement of the launch of a new non-profit has worn off. The craziness of a new job has died down a little.

And here I am.

Thousands of time in my life I have provided the advice to take risks, to take the leap as Seth Godin suggests to family members, students in my classroom, teachers that I work with, friends, my own children, players I coach, and anyone else who I am not including.

Here I am still in midair of my own two leaps. I leaped for a new career change and leaped for the nonprofit. This was not intentional to do both, but it happened. Life happens.

Truth be told as I work to land back on the ground after taking the leap to create a ruckus in the world I realized something that often goes underreported when you read about risks and taking a leap of faith.

It sucks. It is hard. I have dealt with more stress in these last few months than I care to admit.

I don’t sleep well. I toss and turn. I worry. I sweat. I panic.

I get agitated over small things. I get angry at things in my life that I should not, but the stress bubbles over to my children, my job, and other things that develop. If not anger, then the feeling of blah where you get lost in your own head and cannot seem to navigate the maze to get out.

I think that there is a misperception on the realities of taking a risk. Despite the word “risk” we are often comforted by the notion that things will work out due to your courage. Things will be better because you will learn from your mistakes. You will be a better person because you are doing things nobody else is willing to do. We are told these things over and over and over.

While all of these statements do hold truth, I think what often does not get addressed is the sacrifice and frustrations that come with it.

I am 4 months into my nonprofit and here are some realities.

  1. I leave my kids to go work with other kids. This is flawed.
  2. I spend countless hours on social media campaigns, curriculum development, cleanup, teaching class, network meetings, and maintenance of equipment which cause me more time away from home or time spent with my children.
  3. Due to trying to keep the nonprofit going while holding down a full time job I work pretty much from  4 am – 9 pm almost daily. It is all I think about. This is not good for mental health.
  4. I took a risk giving up a robotics coaching job to launch the nonprofit and so far I have lost money every single month to keep the doors open. I am sacrificing our family finances when we face debt of our own, a foundation issue on our house, and just day to day finances that never seem to add up properly.
  5. I treat my mind and body like crap. Because I work all the time it is a constant barrage of garbage food. Hence the reason I have gained 50+ pounds and feel even more lethargic.

I share this with you to be open and honest. I think it is important that we continue to push our boundaries. We must continue to challenge ourselves to try new things.


We must remember that not all things work out. Sometimes we have to realize that when we leap we might not land on solid ground.

I have big decisions facing me in the very near future. I have to begin to look at life in a bigger picture. One thing I know for sure is that if I were to pass in the night unexpectedly nobody would really give a rip about the work I do. What would matter would be family and friends. What would matter would be memories of stories of connections with people, not a blog post or some new class I launched.

My kids are growing up too fast. One day they will be out of the house. These days I have with them are so important. I was looking up old blog posts and found this one

Things I learned from making a volcano with my kids  and this one and this one about geocaching.

Time goes by fast. My son is soon to be 13, Addy is not far behind, and Ava is rocking her 6th year in this world.

My health is important. When all you do is buzz around you build a vicious cycle of bad eating and habits. This does not lead the a lifestyle that allows a person to be at their peak performance.

We all know that we must not work all the time. I cannot express how many times I get angry at myself for sitting on the couch with my daughter and have a laptop or my phone on my lap and wonder why she always wants to be on my phone. I can get angry with her or realize I am simply modeling a behavior that I need to change.

One thing I continue to come back to time and time again is the notion of figuring out how to pursue your passions and dreams while not losing sight of the really important things in life. I don’t know if it is at all possible. Or maybe it is a misalignment of priorities. Perhaps it is realizing that my passions in life are not really the work I do, but the people in my home and the people who I call friends. Perhaps the work is an interest or hobby and I need to address the fact that this work will always be here.

But my kids won’t always live at home(at least I hope not).

My wife has dreams of her own.

And when I get older and the kids are out making their own journey come to life perhaps that is when you jump back into the game of trying to accomplish it all.

However, that is only if you are lucky enough to live to be old.

And so after 1100 words I am back to the start of trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.

I share this with you to let you know that I don’t have it figured out. It may seem like I do when I share online, but I don’t. It may seem like I have extra hours in my day, but I don’t. It may seem like….well I don’t know what it seems like to others and I should not worry about that. Instead, I will worry about myself and my family and figure out what exactly it is that meets the needs of them.

Remember to shoot for the stars. But, please remember that when you leap you might need to crawl back to start and prepare to leap again. Or realize that the ground you were currently on was not so bad after all. You only find out when you try.

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055: Living On The Edge of Chaos – Living By Leading with Laurel Braaten

This is a special episode speaking with a student of mine who has inspired me to step and lead by my actions. She has pushed my thinking into taking the leaps in life to find out what could be. This student, Laurel Braaten, has modeled the way to not only think about ideas, but to work hard to take the plunge to make the ideas happen.

Laurel is more than a student. She is a leader. She has inspired not just her peers, but adults, school leaders, and more to be inspired by being in her presence.

She has inspired me.

This episode was recorded just before the start of the school year as she was preparing for her senior year of high school. It is always amazing to hear the insights and remember that she is a student.


Check out the show and episodes on iTunes

Show Notes

How would you define leadership? (4:40)

What have you done to model how be a leader? (6:00)

How do you go about being a leader? How do you handle the adversity and setbacks? (9:00)

What are your methods to help get other people on board with the ideas? (13:00)

What is your WOW project of the moment? (19:30)

What is advice to help people start leading by taking action? (23:00)

Lightning Round

What are you reading right now?

  • Pamphlet from United Nations

Who is someone we should all follow and learn from?

What is your spirit animal?

  • Gazelle

Final Thoughts or Nuggets of Wisdom

  • Make sure you are surrounded by good people who are just as passionate as you are


Past Blog Posts Featuring Laurel to Learn About Her Work

Student Voice: What Exactly Does It Mean? 

#IowaSLI and #stuvoice has reinvigorated my life’s work! 

Authentic Student Voice and Creating Action

Group Work

What is the Purpose of Education? 

The State of Student Voice. My Thank You Letter 

Student Voice Campaign and Work

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Creating Cookie Monsters: A 3D Print STEM Project for All

One of the ideas or questions that comes up time and time again in my job is that teachers want help moving the amazing ideas of making into their classroom. This requires some help and guidance. How do we help them keep the maker culture alive while also aligning to the mandates of teaching.

A few weeks back I posted a tutorial on making a cookie cutter. I decided to take that concept and scale it into a project.

Full disclosure, I kept some things general on purpose. My goal is that any teacher can take the project based learning template and edit the contents to be grade/class specific. What I hoped to do was build the framework so teachers can see how this work could fit within the classroom walls.

All I ask is that if you do use the work to please share with me so I can share with other educators who are seeking help. Together we can help one another and continue to work to create engaging content and powerful learning experiences for students.


The goal of this project is to help students WANT to create in CAD. We use Tinkercad with students, but this project could be used with any software. I have decided to go the cookie cutter route. I know this sounds simple, but if you have ever tried to make a cookie cutter it is much more challenging than you think. Students have to work through negative space designing for the cookie. Then comes the creation of all pieces being together.

We take them through this basic cookie cutter design process first of the star to help them learn how to make. The real challenge then becomes designing and printing their very own afterwards.

We provide a foundation and then set them free.

The final step is to infuse STEAM yet again by teaching them the science of cooking by actually making cookies and then the art aspect of decorating with real cake designers.

This project is fun, engaging, and helps to serve a need for students while also keeping it real world for them.

I have instructions posted on Instructables to make the star if you need help.

I have YouTube Tutorial as well

Remember, the star is not the goal. The goal is for you to create your very own cookie cutter. Please share your designs with me as I love to see what people create!

Here is the complete project based learning template and lesson plan aligned with standards, differentiation for grade levels, and more. Let me know if you have questions. –> Link

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Educators Are The Best People In The World

I know my opinions don’t carry much weight, but I want all educators to know that I think you are some of the best people the world has to offer.

I have felt so blessed to work with so many amazing educators in my career.

You have done the work.

You have put in the time.

You have had those tough conversations with yourself and your team and others.

You have put in endless hours on top of endless hours because you care about students. You care about your colleagues. You care about your job.

You are dedicated. Sacrificing weekends, nights, time from family, friends, and other events because things simply need to get done because it is the right thing to do.

You put in the time and work not to win awards and recognition(however, these are nice reminders when they do happen), but because you want what is best for students and your school.

You care. You work hard. You work tirelessly. You exhaust your emotions and energy and have to go home and find ways to muster an extra dose of these things because your family needs you also.

You have grinded through a lot of work when perhaps there were more pressing matters at hand because you know the long term impact the work can have for students.

You meet all expectations and deadlines and duties while still trying to find ways to be the educator you want to be.

As a parent I am so grateful for all the educators that work so hard to provide my kids an atmosphere of learning that allows them to grow and learn in a positive environment.

As an educator I don’t know where you can find a more dedicated group of people anywhere else(and I know many other professions have great sacrifices and by no means am I downplaying any other occupation).

As a colleague to so many amazing educators, I am impressed by how you continue to work through obstacles and issues time and time again to do great work.

As a friend I thank you.

I know I am a small voice, but the work that so many educators do all over the world does not go unnoticed. I appreciate you. I appreciate your work ethic. I appreciate what you do for students.

Thank you for being you. Thank you for being an educator.

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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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My First Official Keynote(s) Reflection

Thank you MUSD

I sit here drinking some Thanksgiving Blend Starbucks coffee in the Oakland airport several hours before my flight leaves(traffic was not as bad as when I arrived) reflecting on the achievement of one of my goals I have set out for myself as an educator and leader in modeling how to lead by example.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Manteca Unified School District to help with a day of learning for their teachers and admin. I was so pumped to have the opportunity to connect with a few educators that I know from the MIE program and more importantly to learn from educators in a school district working hard to do what is best for kids.

I always find great pleasure in leaving the midwest to learn what other states and schools are doing to help navigate the waters of education.

For this particular day I had the following presentations.

  1. Speedgeeking 4.1
  2. Maker Keynote
  3. STE(A)M for All Keynote
  4. Make A Positive Ripple in the Lives of Students Workshop

I won’t even begin to tell you how much time was spent crafting these sessions and keynotes(another post all by itself), but after the countless hours practicing, editing, slicing, and modifying the frameworks I finally had a chance to share my message.

With any keynote one of the primary goals is to inspire. I know we can get caught up in the value of a keynote talk, but I do believe that teachers need a little inspiration to be reminded that this very difficult work they have devoted their life to is worth it and meaningful.

They need to know they matter because they do.

They need to know that the work is worth it because it is.

They need to know that their work is being recognized because it should be.

I also wanted to challenge. I wanted to have them think. I wanted to stretch their thinking and reflect on the work they are doing and how it could be tweaked with a new perspective.

All my talks, sessions, and workshops revolved around four key ideas.

  1. Perception is our reality – for better or worse
  2. We are all makers
  3. We have to believe in our professional instinct to do what is best for kids.
  4. The small things matter more than we realize and can create the biggest impact.

I want to develop a rally cry for educators to join forces. If educators merged together around the world and stood their ground to demand to do the work and type of teaching that they know works for kids, then the education system would change overnight. It would be such an unstoppable force of positive change.

I know that anything I presented had to be crafted in a way that it was not “one more thing”. Educators do not have time or energy in their already crammed day to do one more thing. I believe that in order to move the needle forward it requires the shuffling of the deck of tools we have gathered over time and using them in new ways. I believe that if we can help educators and students make small calculated moves to try something new then momentum can be gathered and big change will occur.

So often we bite off more than we chew. We go all in on a massive initiative to only watch it sink like the Titanic when everyone realizes it is not sustainable.

This is why I believe in the investment of people instead of systems.

I believe in educators with all my heart and soul.

I believe that they hold the key to truly taking education and schools to the next level.

I believe in students and providing them the space to tinker with their ideas, to develop and wrestle with the learning, and to give them the freedom within constraints to find their own answers.

I always talk about the small things that make a difference. I cannot express how grateful I was for the staff of Manteca for going out of their way to ensure I was taken care of as a speaker. The communication leading up to the event was amazing. They worked hard to provide the materials needed for the workshop. I had my own parking space! I was greeted and made sure I knew where I was going. My great friends from the MIE group took me out to dinner for great conversation. This leads to my gratefulness of the MIE program because without this amazing PLN this opportunity may have never presented itself.

I also have to thank LEGO Education for helping make sure I had enough ducks to empower educators. As the saying goes it takes a village to raise a child……it takes village to empower one another.

As always, I have to thank my family for putting up with me traveling. My wife continues the grind of being a mother, teacher, and spouse at home when I leave. Never easy, but she supports and believes in the work also. Now if only educators were given the opportunity to visit other schools and share their message(another rant for another day!)

I felt at home. I felt like I belonged. It is these types of gestures that keep people working and hard moving forward. The same gestures we need to show educators. The same gestures we need to show students.

Basically, it comes down to the good old Golden Rule. Pretty simple in premise.

Just like in my keynote we don’t need to overcomplicate things. It is just a mixture of GOAT and MTXE.

Until next time, I will continue to reflect and continue the work I am passionate about to continue to help education reach a point where students are jacked to come to school every single day.

Thank MUSD. I am #proudtobemusd

All resources and links from my sessions are here

Teachers kicking butt making LEGO ducks and more during Make Yourself Into a Maker keynote

The amazing MIE Experts gathering and sharing ideas from California to Iowa!

Always a pleasure to share my message of nerdiness of making and learning.


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