Friday, November 14, 2014

Why CS?

I will always remember the moment.

It was about five years ago, and I was teaching seventh grade Social Studies. I had just starting using project-based learning with my class, and we were working through a project on the separation of church and state. Students needed to present policy recommendations for church/state relations.

Danielle asked me if she could email the mayor to get his thoughts on the matter. I thought about it and said, “Sure, why not? Just realize you probably won’t get an answer. He is busy.”

Five minutes later, Danielle let out a small scream and started rambling, “he answered, he answered.” The whole class ran to Danielle and read the email. They were so excited. Right then and there, I knew project-based learning (PBL) was a powerful way to engage students with the real world.

My students continue to amaze me. They use PBL to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and innovators. Most of the time, I have to kick them out of class. Imagine that!

I co-founded CrowdSchool to bring this type of learning to teachers and students across the world. We want to be the first platform to crowdsource the best PBL Challenges from the best teachers.
As the CrowdSchool project gathered steam, I was forced with a decision. Do I leave the classroom on a full-time basis to focus on its growth?

I thought to myself, why CrowdSchool?

Why will CrowdSchool create a genuine impact on education? I thought of Danielle. I remembered the faces of my students. I wanted to give that experience to teachers and students everywhere. I knew it would not be easy, I knew it would be a sacrifice, but I knew it would be worth it. I still love being in the classroom as a part-time faculty member, but I also really love working at CrowdSchool.
I know we are going to do some amazing things.

…And go ahead and email, I am not too busy for you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

She Asked About the Elections?

"What is going on with the elections next week? I see all these commercials and stuff."

That was the question one of my students asked me a few weeks ago. She asked unprompted, totally on her own.

A few classmates replied, "Yeah, what is happening?" There was a gentle buzz in the room. This is the stuff you dream about as a teacher, a perfect conversation for our 8th grade social studies class.

I was excited too! I am a political junkie. I love election season.

On the other hand, we were in the middle of a PBL unit. Students were investigating community problems and creating legislative solutions. The students were enjoying it and we had so much to do.

I paused, then spoke with wonderful intentions, "I am glad you are asking. How about we go over that in a few days?"

Did we go back over it in a few days? Let me give you a hint. The answer rhymes with smope.

I recently reflected on this moment. I consider myself a progressive teacher. I strive for full engagement by thinking outside the curriculum, by setting up large-scale, relevant projects. I am not afraid to try new things. I am not afraid to give my students choice and autonomy.

...But in a simple moment, a moment when a student came to me and asked, I felt like I needed to do what I had planned. I was dictating the moment. Who cares if that plan was a textbook or an amazing project? Who cares if that plan was a worksheet or a hands-on experiment? I missed an opportunity to stop everything and address that student's curiosity.

We can all get caught up in our great plans and our great projects that sometimes we miss the simple things, like a question. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Would You Eat The Dog Food You Serve?

In 1980, Apple Computer president Michael Scott wrote a memo announcing that:
"EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc." by the computer company, with a goal to eliminate typewriters by 1 January 1981. Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas (Inc. Magazine, 1981).
If Apple truly believed that word processing was more efficient and effective than the typewriter, it needed to show it. Apple refused to simply pay lip service to its innovative talk, it led by example. Apple ate its own dog food.

Zooming closer to the present:
Facebook rolls out most features to employees first, and only then to a subset of external customers. Employees, of course, already use Facebook every day and can provide instant feedback (GeekWire, 2013).
If a new feature isn't good enough for Facebook employees, why would it be good enough for the public? If a new idea doesn't jive with those closest to Facebook, how could it work with the world? Facebook gives its dog food to its own employees first. Would they eat it?

So what's my point here?

Think about your own classroom. Think about the work. Think about the routines. Think about the discipline. Think about the assignments. Think about the expectations. Think about it all. Would you eat the dog food served in your own classroom?

Much has been made recently of teachers and administrators shadowing students (read here and here). Some findings: kids sit a lot, kids are exhausted, kids passively listen most of the day. No surprise there. We tend to teach like we were taught. The dog food recipe hasn't changed much.

Its worth thinking deeply about.

Would I eat the dog food served in my classroom?

Would you expect someone else to eat the dog food served in your classroom?

If not, what can we change about the recipe? How we improve our dog food immediately?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Helpful Ogranizer for Designing or Developing PBL

We've all been there. You sit down to create a PBL unit. You're inspired. You have big plans. You're ready to do this. Then you just stare at the computer screen. Where to start? Even if you're lucky enough to plan with a team, creating a PBL unit often starts with a case of writer's block. The team needs a push to get the ideas flowing. Here are four quick steps to use design thinking to create a PBL unit.


Download this planner  
(The above planner is inspired by Design, Make, Play)

These four quick steps work well if you have a general topic in mind (i.e. standard, unit). It also works well if you do not have a topic and simply want a project that connects to students' lives. If this is the case you will concentrate more on what is important or relevant to them, than what is important or relevant to the topic in mind.  

Step 1: Once you arrive on a general topic, give yourself or the team 3-5 minutes to brainstorm one of the top two boxes (characters or setting). When you finish, give yourself or the team another 3-5 minutes to brainstorm the remaining top level box. Capture each idea on a post-it or sticky note and organize by appropriate box.

Step 2: Using the characters and settings from the top boxes concentrate on problems that may be interesting and engaging. This is the box on the lower left. Spend a solid five minutes brainstorming problems that can be solved in this setting, or with these characters. Capture each idea on a post-it or sticky note and organize in the "potential problems" box.

Step 3: In the last box, write down exciting, engaging, and inspiring ideas related to content emerging from the first boxes. These ideas should be deep and complicated. They often pose difficult questions that do not have a right answer and can even be controversial in nature. Spend a solid five minutes brainstorming big ideas. Capture each idea on a post-it or sticky note and organize in the "big ideas" box.  

Step 4: Take a step back and examine the notes for each section. I find that completing the first three boxes helps give rise to very inspiring big ideas. These big ideas, along with information from the other boxes, make formulating a driving or essential question much easier. Once you create the driving or essential question you have the start of your PBL unit.


Here is an example brainstorm around the general topic: student lunch improvement   

Start first with a place or setting: The school cafeteria
Lunch line


Other vendors

Potential problems with this setting and characters:
Students organized in cliques
Food that is unhealthy
Food tastes bad
A lot of bullying goes on at lunchtime
Too little supervision
Too much supervision
Ugly cafeteria design

Big ideas to wrestle with:
Social interactions amongst kids
Tradeoffs in mass food preparation
Design ideals

Now time to make an essential question: (Here is my thought, there could obviously be a lot more): How can we design a school cafeteria for optimal student experience?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Too Much Positivity?

A couple people got me thinking recently.

First, I read a fantastic, reflective post titled The Downside to Being a Connected Educator by @pernilleripp. In the piece, she talks about how connected educators CAN:

  • feel the need to be perfect
  • get a big head
  • think there is only one right way

I was struck by the simplicity and honesty. There is truth in those words.

Second, I went to San Gabriel Valley Cue's Tech Fair. In a session led by @jenwagner, we talked about how teachers share. It was pretty wide open and the small group had some great discussion. Jen, a very connected educator,  wondered out loud if teachers on Twitter were trapped in a bubble, suffering from a bias of 'watch me, I am a great educator.'

Once again, truth in those words.

So, I thought about it for a few days. Are teachers being too positive when the share on social media, especially Twitter and blogs?

I thought about myself. I often share my greatest successes, best lessons, and exciting experiences. This doesn't mean I am the best teacher, I could never claim to be. I struggle. I fail. I have discipline issues. I am not very organized. I often get lost in my big ideas.

But it feels very good to not always concentrate on the hard parts of being a teacher. It is empowering to share my voice with others. It keeps me focused on the very best parts of teaching. I think we personally focus way too much on the little failures in the classroom. We rack our brains when a student doesn't complete an assignment, or when a kid 'misbehaves' in class. Sometimes we forget that the student who missed an assignment completed ten others to finish a truly amazing project. Sometimes we forget the student that 'misbehaved' one day, was engaged and interested the other four.

Sometimes we forget that we are doing a really good job.

It helps to see others doing a great job. It helps to see their successes and reflect on how I could be better.  Focusing on getting better seems a whole lot more practical than accentuating all the mistakes I make. Learning is all about failing and making improvements. When we share with other teachers, we acknowledge this process. Even if it is not explicit, most share because at one point in time, they weren't so successful. Maybe I will ask for more help on my mistakes, but in the end I am thankful to learn for all the educators I follow and read. They help me get better.

Friday, October 17, 2014

(For Students) It's Always About Next Year

Although I am no longer much of a country music fan, I came across this song recently. The tune is called, “What About Now?” by the band Lonestar. I apologize in advance if it is now stuck in your head for the rest of the day. That wasn’t my intent (well maybe it was). Accept my apologies.

What is Lonestar doing in a story about education?

If you’ve ever been around a group of students you have certainly heard the phrase, “what about now?” uttered more than once.  Students ask, “what about now?” all day long in response to statements like:

  • “you will need to know X to learn a more complex concept next year.” 
  • “you need to learn how to write this type of paper to get into college.”
  • “you might not use this now, but you’ll thank me in the future.” 
  • “my job is to prepare you for the next level of school.”
  • “this test score will impact what happens next in your life.” 
  • “you need to learn this basic stuff before we can start hands-on learning next.” 


Poor kids. They must wonder whether anything they are learning is of relevance and importance right now, in the present.

I don’t blame teachers. Heck, I am a teacher. We are part of the solution, trust me. I blame a school system, even a society, that doesn’t value kids as kids. We live in a system that values kids as performers, so naturally we have to prepare them for the next big show. Schools, as a system, continually insist we need to prepare students for the next level, the next stage, the next grade, the next concept, the next test. Its no wonder students don’t care about school right now.

Let’s start really thinking about skills students can learn right now to solve problems that interest them. What skills help kids to be collaborative, critical thinkers right now? Besides skills, how might this change the subjects or topics we teach? How can we make their studies more relevant to their lives right now? How can school curriculum benefit them right now? How does learning help build or improve their communities right now? How will instruction help them finish an engaging project, problem, or invention, right now?

Its not always about next year.

Let’s funnel our inner Lonestar. What about now? Chances are that if we focus more on the present, students will be prepared for the future as well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We're Live: Support Our IndieGoGo to #ReImagineSchool with CrowSchool

Over six months ago, my team and I started working on a way to bring more project-based and creative learning to teachers and students. After much hard work and sacrifice, I am so proud to announce the IndieGoGo launch of CrowdSchool. 

CrowdSchool seeks to be the first online platform for teachers to crowdsource and share project-based Challenges. As I am still a classroom teacher, we need your help in building this. Support the campaign and join us in a journey to #ReImagineSchool.

If you think this is worthwhile please do the following:

1) Watch our great video
2) Back our campaign
3) Share on Facebook and Twitter  
4) We would love for other great teachers to blog and write about the campaign. Tweet me @Tim_Monreal or leave me a message in the comment!

Thank you so much for your support!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Next Time You Hear Kids are Lazy...Send This

This is what kids are capable of doing all the time. They care! They want to learn!

All we have to do is give them the opportunity. All we have to do is connect it with their lives. All we have to do is let them be the solution.

This is the definition of #EduAwesome.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


I stumbled across this Quora question:

What are the valuable skills that many young people are losing?


For the first 200 years of traditional public schooling, knowledge was the basis of education. How much knowledge could you collect? How much knowledge could you remember? How could we distribute the most knowledge?

Knowledge is still very important, but the internet makes the access to knowledge almost ubiquitous. With this realization, skills are finally getting their due. Think of the four C's of 21st century learning: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication. Those are skills, very crucial skills for the future. In fact, the four C's are needed to take knowledge further.

How can we create new knowledge? How can we use knowledge creatively?
How can we collaborate to evaluate knowledge, to create knowledge, to use knowledge?
How can we critically think about the quality, bias, and relevancy of sources of knowledge? 
How can we communicate about the knowledge we have? How can we communicate the most important knowledge?

Also, I encourage you to check out the Quora thread. It is fascinating. There are comments by teachers, professionals, parents, students, and young people. As an educator, it is great to get an understanding of what multiple groups and people think about this topic.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why Are Your Students Reading?

I am lucky enough to be a mentor/curriculum coach for a group of first year teachers. We email each other, arrange group meetings, and share the occasional happy hour. Working with them has been a blast. Their questions and passion challenge me; they challenge me to think of my own practice, especially my teaching philosophy.
First year teachers rarely have a coherent philosophy about teaching grounded in practice, theory, and research. I know I didn't. I just hoped to keep my head above water. Philosophy helps teachers not get bogged down by the small day to day of the job. Which reading strategy to use? How to head a paper? How to collect papers? There are much bigger questions and opportunities for teachers. 
If I can communicate that my decisions are informed by more than survival, I can communicate how important it is for them to develop their own philosophies, to think more big picture.

Recently, I received an email about guided reading strategy. I responded with some of my favorite strategies, gave a few links, and then wrote this at the end.
Then my final bit of advice is the following--Why are the kids reading? What end does it serve them? If they are reading for something, meaning to figure out an engaging, interesting question or to answer a project they see the relevance and are much more willing to by in.
 Those were my exact words. I didn't even edit for grammar.

The next time we met, I wanted to really emphasize this. Students will commit to reading, and see its purpose, if they are motivated. I don't mean by free pizzas or stickers. Students crave relevancy. Students crave purpose. Give it to them.

Make reading part of larger questions and problems. Make reading important to kids. This is the connection to teacher philosophy. Think BIG! Support grand ideas, support passion. Don't assign a chapter so you have a lesson (loosely defined) for the next day. Don't give the section review for the sake of creating homework. Have students read to solve problems, to make discovery, to be part of innovation.

As Seth Godin writes in his great e-book Stop Stealing Dreams, "When we associate reading with homework and tests is it any wonder we avoid it?"

Monday, September 22, 2014

I'm a Competitive Guy, But Not in the Classroom

Sport has been a life long passion for me.

At the age of three my parents enrolled me in gymnastics. There is even tape out there to prove it (working hard to destroy all evidence). My parents claimed it would make me more flexible, more athletic. It was the head start I needed to gain an edge on the competition. You see, I never really had a chance.

When I hit five, almost every weekend was filled with baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, or football. This really never stopped. I played sports through college. I play sports now. I love sports. I love competing.

Yet, I firmly believe competition in the classroom, and in the education system, is one of the most destructive forces in American schools. 


It would be easy to make a click baiting, top 10 list (trust me I have more than 10) or rant for thousands of words. Instead, I will offer one simple reason.

Competition seriously undermines the stated goal that all students should learn.

Our system of education pits students against one another even though learning is not a sport. When students are expected to compete academically, whether for awards, grades, rankings, or cute prizes, we are explicitly telling students that some kids SHOULD learn more than others. There is a perverse incentive to make sure the student next to you is NOT learning. Learning, in effect, becomes a zero sum game. It is not the learning that matters, but rather the winning. Competition tells students, in a very clear way, that getting ahead is more important than learning. Thus, keeping someone down is just as effective as rising to the top.

There is less creativity, less risk-taking, less cooperation, less vulnerability, less authentic learning. Intrinsic motivation is impossible because students are not trying to truly learn, but instead out-perform, and beat another student, for an extrinsic motivator—winning. If students are only motivated by the extrinsic reward of winning, or gaining a sticker, there is a negative effect on intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation one needs to learn for the sake of learning. Intrinsic motivation is needed to develop resilience, grit, and authentic passion. Intrinsic motivation is imperative to developing people who are innovative, who will do more than what the boss tells them or sees them doing.

So how is sport different?

As I grow older, I question many things about competitive sport, but I will save that for a different post. One major factor is choice. Usually, one chooses to play and compete in sports. There are different categories and divisions to ensure fair competition. There is no choice in school. There are very few opportunities to chose the subjects you take. You have very little time to study things you actually enjoy or are talented in. You are not asked to engage in competition, you are expected to do it by the very nature of our school system.

Another factor is fairness. We all go to school and are pretty much lumped into class by age, grade, and location. There are almost no other considerations to sorting. You have to compete against the people you are assigned to. No questions asked. It is akin to a 120 pound wrestler squaring off against a heavyweight— without choosing to do so. Any sports enthusiast would consider such a match-up ludicrous. No matter, we host similar mismatches in school every day. Situations like that are rarely positive, just like competition in school.

So how can we act differently?

I will throw out a few suggestions, but would rather hear from the crowd. Leave a note or write a response. How could things be different?

For one, de-emphasize grades. Either a student understands a concept or standard, or he/she needs improvement. What does knowing something 81.45% mean anyway?

For two, build formative assessment and check-ins into the learning process. We can talk to students, repair understanding, and learn together. We can build in mini victories rather than making learning all about the big game (a final test/exam).

For three, emphasize effort and perseverance. Scaffold meta-cognition and model learning to learn. We can show that those who ask for help are actually the strongest. This would build collaboration into the process. Without someone to beat, students could take the time to work together and see that learning is a lifelong process.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What Did you Create Today?

I remember as a kid my mom always asked, “How was school today?”

I was lucky my mom asked. Not everyone has parents who check in regularly with their kids. A simple question like this is actually quite meaningful. But I digress.

I usually replied, “Okay.”

She pressed on (thanks again mom), “What did you do today?”

I would name a few standard school exercises, “Did some math problems, answered some questions.”

“Did you learn anything interesting? Do you have any tests tomorrow?” she continued.

My reply might have been something like this, “We did chapter 5 in Math and have a quiz in section 3 for Literature.”

Let’s stop the conversation.

Let’s replay the conversation.

What did you learn?

Chapter 5

Do you have a test?

Section 3


How does one learn Chapter 5? How does one have a test on Section 3?

Learning is a whole lot more than naming the chapters you completed in a book. A test or assessment should be about concepts and ideas, not a section. How disconnected was I from actual learning?

This was —and is— school for most people. Students don’t dive deep into concepts; they aren’t given the chance. Students don’t even realize what they are learning. They go through the motions. One chapter, one section at a time. This type of routine is encourage by standardized test and rote curriculum. Learning is measured not by passion, but by how far one gets in a textbook.

What would have happened if my mom asked, “What did you create today?”

I couldn’t tell you.

I can tell you this is the question we should be asking our children, our students. This should be the expectation. We learn when we create. We learn when we are engaged. We learn when we see that education is more than a chapter in the textbook.

Let’s start a new after school conversation, “What did you create today?”

Friday, September 12, 2014

The 'R' Word

Synonyms include:


What popular education word am I referencing?

Its starts with a 'R' and ends with a igorous.

The word makes my ears scream and my body convulse. Okay, I am being a little dramatic, but I seriously loathe the word rigorous.

On any given day, I read numerous articles, talk to education stakeholders, and hear numerous influential people constantly reference the 'R' word.


Look at what the word really means. Please. Please. I beg of you. These are not words I want describing education. Yet over and over we hear how kids need rigorous instruction, rigorous curriculum, rigorous standards, rigorous teachers, rigorous schools. No where is the word rigorous more exalted than in urban schools, often those in lower socioeconomic areas. If we are harder on these schools, on these students, on these teachers than all will be well.

I know most people use 'R' word with great intentions. They want the best for students and schools. I get it. But please look closely at the adjectives you use.

There are better ways to describe a high quality education. In fact why don't we start there? Why not focus on high quality curriculum? High quality instruction? High quality schools? Another word we might use is relevant. Heck, let's combine the two: a high quality, relevant education.

Words have meaning. Using combative, repressive, and commanding words evokes a certain mood, a certain emotion. It makes one automatically turn to the negative, even if that is not the intent. This is why I push to stop using the 'R' word.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

QWERTY, Tell me what that means to you?


What do those letter stand for?

A vision chart?

A revolutionary acronym?

No and no. Take a look at the first row of your computer keyboard. Go ahead, I will wait. Reading on an iPad or iPhone? Pull up your keyboard. It still works.

You should see Q W E R T Y, exactly in that order. Ever wonder why those letters appear like that on the keyboard?

Let me inform you real quick. In the early stages of the typewriter the keys used to jam frequently, especially if commonly typed letters were located next to each other. The solution then was to separate common letters. Easy fix.

I hope this question popped into your mind--then why did we keep it like this?

Great question. It didn't take long for the jamming issue to be corrected, but we insisted on keeping Q W E R T Y. People complained the social cost of switching would be too high. We already learned to type a certain way, and if we switched people would lose the skills they learned. Although it might make sense to have a keyboard where the most commonly used letter are together, we bucked the 'rational' thought because we didn't want to change what we were used to. As Seymour Papert (1980) wrote, "preserving practices that have no rational basis beyond there historical roots in an earlier period of technological and theoretical development."

So what does this have to do with education?

Papert used Q W E R T Y as an analogy to how we use computers in the classroom. Although children can use computers to create, build, program, imagine, and discover, we use them for outdated pedagogy like drill and kill. We want the computer to do something to the child. We want the computer to make the child a better reader, a faster multiplier, a quicker memorizer. We have this backward.

Here's one more interesting question--when did Papert write the above points?

34 years ago in the year 1980!!!!!!

This is why I recommend his classic book, Mindstorms. It may not be the most flashy book or even the easiest to read. There are some parts that feel outdated and some sections are admittingly a bit tough to get through. But the overall message is extremely important to educators today. Computers can unlock powerful ideas, inspirational learning, and ultimate creativity in children. Children can use computers to be scientists and programmers, inventors and tinkerers. Children can learn how the world works through discovery and exploration. Children can learn skills like persistence, collaboration, and 'de-bugging'. Computers can make learning participatory and exciting.

Yet education technology and the way we use computers in the classroom smells a lot like Q W E R T Y. The pedagogy is outdated and we make computers fit that historic pedagogy. For what reason? The reason is we feel very comfortable and we really don't want to change what we are used to. Even if what we are used to makes no sense today. I think its time for that to change.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Just a little switch...

About a month ago I had the pleasure of leading a few sessions at a technology conference in Los Angeles. I chose to speak about Project Based Learning and how this type of learning is aided by technology. 

Teachers worked in teams to change typical assignments into projects defined by engaging, relevant, and inquiry based driving questions. Most were shocked that simple changes to promote exploration and open-endedness could trigger such inspiration.

Check out some of the driving questions/challenge statements brainstormed by teachers

Solar System:

-Design a city environment that would support life on planets farthest or closest to sun
-Create your own galaxy
-What does it take to survive on a planet? Create a survival kit for life on a planet

History and Social Studies:
-What is the cost of inaction? Recreate a the history and consequences of a event if a people or group had not acted
-Recreate the mission system from the POV of...
-What might they say? Create a blog or video blog from the POV of native Americans during the mission period?
-Should missions be funded as state parks?

State Reports:
-Who’s state? Develop a commercial /print/social media campaign for or against admitting your state to the union from the perspective of multiple groups (i.e. Native Americans, Hawaiians, northerners, southerners)
-Create an ad campaign to increase tourism in your state
-Create your own state

Book Reports:
-Who's story? Retell a story from a character’s POV
-Create an app that would change the plot of a book
-How do you create interest in literature? Create a book commercial or trailer
-How do turning points affect a story? Create a choose your own adventure/ending to a book that changes at main points in a classic story

-What do family trees look like today? Create a digital family tree
-How are building made? Create the tallest skyscraper out of block or legos-OR-Make structures that can hold your textbooks

How can my school get (or upgrade) their WiFi?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Simpsons Explain #Edtech

Why does this feel so correct, so many years later...

Most #edtech is simply a flashy front to the same out-dated pedagogy. Don't be wrapped up by the shinny new toy. Ask how it gets students to be active, engaged creators.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Makey-Makey Resources

The other day I had a 'light bulb' moment. It doesn't take much, believe me. Check this out:

I really enjoy meeting teachers at unconference events and often follow up via email. These emails may be thank you's, questions, or exchanges of resources. I spend time on this communication and love the connections and content they produce. comes the ahhhh-ha moment.

The emails are essentially blog posts. You fire off a good email and instead of having it live in a vacuum, turn it into a blog post. Two weeks ago at PlayDate LA, I met a vice principal interested in the Makey-Makey. I happen to love the Makey-Makey so I promised I would give her a few resources.

Here was the email (I mean blog post):

It was great meeting you at Playdate LA. It is also awesome that your students will be playing around (and learning a lot) wit Makey-Makeys. Here are a few quick resources I pulled together for you.


Sketching Instruments How-To PDF:

Makey-Makey Guides:

Instructable Makey Makey Projects:

Makey Makey Site has forums and project as well:

Hope this is a start for you! I would love to come and observe the kids working with the Makey-Makeys. I can also offer my assistance for the first after school lessons or some short PD for teachers. Let me know!

Finally, a few shots of my students work ;)

Have a great day and hope to hear from you soon!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pain of Education?

Yes, my blogging slows down to a halt during the summer.

...and I am not sorry about it.

Its summer after all. It is a time for reading, the outdoors, and projects. I am especially busy with projects this summer and can't wait to share some of them over the next few weeks.

I did finally finish Mindstorms by Seymour Papert and will be reviewing it soon. Hint: Its pretty freaking great. In the mean time,  I wanted to point out a few words from the current book I am reading, Design, Make, and Play.  In a section written by Dale Dougherty, he shares some bluntly true words. I felt they were worth sharing.

Many [students] understand the difference between the pain of education and the pleasure of real learning. Unfortunately, they are forced to seek opportunities outside of school to express themselves and to demonstrate what they can do (page 8).

Just chew on that when you start thinking about your upcoming school year.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Tough Year

It would be easy to say my school year was perfect.

It would be easy to put a bow around 2013-2014 by showing my greatest hits--great projects, wonderful success stories, and enlightening tips.

...but it may be more important to step back and say, I struggled through parts of the year. It is hard to put a finger on why I feel this way. I could point to some discipline issues or unmet expectations (mostly my own), but more than anything there was a feeling I walked through the end of the year with. It went something like "Damn did I do that right?"

To some degree this may be natural. I experimented a lot, tried a bunch of new things, even implemented a completely new learning theory to underlie my teaching (hint: it rhymes with sm-onstructionism) Good experiments blow up (or so I am told) and all is well as long as no one gets hurt. I just hope we all learned enough through the process to justify some of the explosions along the way.

In my heart, I believe we did. Students coded on Scratch, made innovative projects with the Makey-Makey, built circuits with Plato (oh ya, its not spelled that way), and even helped run a school children's museum. I wanted them to see education in a completely new way. I wanted learning to be something they owned, something they asked for, something that was limitless.

I felt like I needed to be better for them to experience the vision I set out. I needed to follow up on their questions more. I needed to be more consistent with them. I needed to be more skilled at coding, or making, or with hardware. Change is not easy and I felt it this year.

Next year is a new year and I am excited with some new opportunities I have. I may have struggled with some parts of this year, but then I look more closely and think...I learned so much because I struggled. I had to push myself. Hopefully, I will be even better because of a tough year.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Makey-Makey Water Piano

The Makey-Makey continues to inspire my students. It is just an awesome tool for creating, learning, and engaging. The Makey-Makey bills itself as the invention kit for everyone. I back that up! My students get crazy ideas and simply try them out. They plug it in and test their ideas, low entry, high ceiling. If the idea works, great. If not, then they try again.

In this project, two students took numerous online pianos and found the appropriate keys to produce the song they wanted.

Was this my idea? Nope! It was all them!

They spent countless hours, both in the classroom and at home, figuring out how to make their idea work. Not only did they dig in with perseverance and passion, but the piano built a wonderful context for learning and understanding the physics of sound. New content meant something to them because they constructed a mental schema to filter new understanding.

The best part is the intrinsic motivation. They wanted to figure it our so their song would work. They could care less about the grade they received or even if I liked the invention. It was personally satisfying, just as learning should be.


Friday, May 30, 2014

I Can't Send This iMovie Through My Email

Your students make an awesome iMovie on a school iPad. This is a good thing. Great!

End of blog post.

It is never that easy.

Once your students make the iMovie, your are now faced with one of the following problems:

a)The movie is too big to send in an email.
b)You cannot email from the school iPad.
c)The upload to Google Drive or Dropbox is taking forever.
d)Once the video is finally uploaded to Drive, it doesn't work.

What to do?

Here is an easy solution for Mac users (sorry in advance to PCers). It is not rocket science and chances are you are already using it.

1) Connect your iPad (or iPhone) to your computer using the Mac USB cord.

2) On your iPad (or iPhone) click "Trust" computer.

3) iTunes and iPhoto will probably pop up automatically. You can close them.

4) Open the IMAGE CAPTURE application on your Mac.

5) Select the .mov (or picture file) you want and simple drag to desktop.

6) Enjoy your students work :)

Monday, April 28, 2014


I want my students to see the classroom as a place where experimentation, academics, passion, and exploration meet. My perfect classroom would be something akin to a design studio, mixed with a library, mixed with a computer lab, mixed with a tinkering studio. It would be a place where if you dream it, you can learn it. Better yet, you could build it! In a perfect world, I would have the space and resources to make this a reality. I would have everything at my disposal to urge students to make, break, and create.

In the meantime, I do the best I can with what I have. If nothing else, I want to be part of a student attitude shift. I want them to truly believe their ideas, thoughts, passions, and interests matter. I want them to take risks and try new things. I want them to push themselves to think outside the box.

It is not easy asking students to take chances, to be creative, and to ultimately risk failure. It shouldn't be hard, but students are trained to take the easy way, to conform, to mindlessly memorize information. After six or seven years of this factory model, students feel comfortable being passive learners. They come to believe all school is the same-- sit down, be quiet, absorb, and regurgitate.

When I introduce project based and creative learning into the classroom, many students initially feel uncomfortable. We have choices? The answer is not given to us? How are you grading this? They are out of touch with the wonderful gift of divergent thinking. They are afraid to jump in and have fun learning.

It becomes necessary to work with students to loosen up this rigid approach to school. It is a job within itself to urge students to try crazy ideas. One thing my students have really enjoyed this year is brainstorming. No, not the brainstorming where there is a bubble map, and the teacher tells you exactly what to write. Instead, it is a brainstorm linked to design thinking. It is a brainstorm meant to generate ideas. It is a brainstorm meant to push the boundaries of what is possible. It is a brainstorm to innovate and create.

We usually have a topic, project, or problem and a small group of students work together to come up with as many ideas as possible. I have found post-it notes to be a fantastic medium for producing a bevy of imaginative ideas. After a fixed amount of time, the groups organize their ideas and start to work towards establishing a goal or path forward. One of the first times we used brainstorming, I prompted my students to design the restaurant of the future. It was fun to hear their ideas. Spoiler alert, our future restauranteurs really like robots and fusion.

I have found these two videos to be great starting points for design thinking brainstorming.

How to Brainstorm:

How not to Brainstorm:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Treat Learners The Way You Would Want To Be Treated

"Treat Learners The Way You Would Want To Be Treated"

I came up with this awhile back. Reflect on it for a few seconds.

Would you be motivated in your class? Would you be engaged in your own class? Would you be excited in your own class? Would you be motivated in your class? Would you be given opportunities in your class? Would you be able to explore in your class? Is work meaningful in your class? Would your passions be supported in your class? Is learning natural in your class? Is learning relevant and current in your class? Is learning hard fun (like real learning is) in your class?

Would you want to be a student in your class?

Teachers should ask this class early and often. I should ask it more often myself.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Participating in an #EduCafe

Thanks to my Professional Learning Network (especially Twitter), I have the opportunity to interact with progressive and inspiring teachers on a daily basis. While I learn a ton from teacher blog posts, stories, and pictures, it is very rare to actually witness the work of a respected teacher. I hear and read about the fantastic things going on in the classroom, but never get to see them live. Last week this changed.

An educator I respect very much, Beth Sanders (@MsSandersTHS), ran online streams during a class EduCafe. An EduCafe is a series of short student presentations meant to invoke discussion and participation. The topic of this EduCafe was the civil rights movement. Beth does a truly remarkable job using technology and social media to empower her students. She did the same for this EduCafe. Beth leveraged the power of her PLN to find authentic audience members for the presentations. Students asked specific people on Twitter to join them for the presentations. I was excited to sign up for a 10 minute talk on the Chicano movement and ecstatic to peak inside Beth's classroom.

On the day of the EduCafe, Beth and several students tweeted me a link to the live stream on Ustream. From there the process was simple enough. I followed the link and used Twitter to interact with the presenters and the class. It was inspiring to see well-prepared students explore relevant social justice topics. After the brief presentation, the real magic began. Class members asked the presenters questions and Beth took questions from a live Twitter hashtag. Students received questions from people around the country and offered up truly amazing responses. The classroom was not limited to the people in the room, the classroom was the world.

How cool is that?!

How empowering to students?!

They were able to see and experience the value of their knowledge, ideas, and opinions. They felt comfortable sharing personal experience and connections. They were held in high esteem, they were the professional learners. They took seriously the responsibility of tackling the subject matter at hand. They believed in the power of learning and action. What a transformative classroom culture!

During the question period I tweeted a question to the group. "Do you think people are afraid of Chicano empowerment?"

I could not believe the answer offered by one of the presenters. "I think people are afraid of any type of empowerment." I was speechless.

There is truly something special going on in that classroom. It was a wonderful experience for me to actually witness the inspiring work of another educator. Now to get my students a more authentic audience!

Monday, February 24, 2014


Rome wasn't built in a day

This cliche is often used to justify the methodical, careful construction of a project or idea. Solid construction is often methodical, it takes time. The greatest buildings, inventions, teams, or ideas were not built in a night. The opposite is true. Years of hard work, persistence, and trial and error often breed a culmination of triumph.

Yet, in school we expect things to happen instantaneously. Society (and politicians) believes teachers wave a magic wand and poof, knowledge is instantly transmitted. The sheer dearth of standards and content makes one rush from unit to unit.

Where is the time for students to dive into a topic?
Where is the time for students to explore their own interests for a given topic?
Where is the time for students to gain depth, not just breadth?
Where is the time for students to revise, edit, and recreate projects?
Where is the time for students to design and innovate?
Where is the time for students to make mistakes?

It is basically non-existent. The same goes for teachers. I believe that teachers, along with students, should be designers and innovators. But when will they manage this? When can they dive into a unit or topic, repair understanding, and start over? When can they recreate the end of a unit based on student interest? When can they veer of track and address interesting and complex questions?

It takes time for both teachers and students to produce authentic learning and amazing, well-done projects and assignments. I know this to be true because I see it in my class each and every day. You get what you pay for is another cliche. It is the same concept. If you give students one day to learn a lesson, you get what you pay for. If you rush students through a project, you will get what you pay for. You will get rushed work that barely touches the surface of a topic. There is no exploration. There is no innovation. There is no creativity. There is standardized work, like that done in a factory.

But if you encourage slow learning and the iterative process, you miss out on covering the millions of content areas we are expected to plow through. You may be pressured to finish a book, or have a department with standardized work. What is one to do? You would think the purpose of education is to create life-long creative learners. Obviously our structures of time are not conducive to this.

How do you create more time in the classroom? How do you do both depth and breadth? Do you see a relationship between time and innovation (or lack thereof)?  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Makes a Good Teacher (Think Walls)?

Think Walls are a great way to interject student voice, thinking, independence, and philosophy into the classroom. Think Walls provide a very low barrier for students to wrestle with thought-provoking topics. A small part of my room is dedicated to student thoughts and opinions on profound concepts and ideas. It is like a dedicated place for rich and meaningful thinking.

I recently posed this question:

What makes a good teacher?

Take a look at student responses

I loved reading their thoughts and opinions .I was struck by how honest and mature they were It also helped me understand what they want and need in an educator.  I invite you to try something similar.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#dinovember in the classroom: My Sea Crew

Over break I stumbled upon a Medium article called Welcome to Dinovember. Each November, two parents grab a handful of toy dinosaurs and bring them to life while the kids slumber. One morning, the dinos were caught eating cereal. One morning, the dinos tried to do the dishes. One morning, the dinos held a Ninja Turtle hostage. The parents seek to engage the wonder, mystery, and imagination of their children. They want childhood to be fun.

What a cool thing to try with seventh graders? Seventh graders like to act tough and pretend they own the world. They dish insults left and right, and act "too cool for school". In the end, they are still kids. So why not have fun? Why not engage their wonder, mystery, and imagination?

Something strange happened the first week of January in Mr M's class. A band of rubber sea creatures self-titled The Sea Crew started to show up most mornings. Look at the trouble they have gotten into.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Kids Really Think of "Break Work"

Ohh, Break Work. Most of us struggled through it at one point. All of us hated it. Yet, teachers see nothing wrong with repeating the same exact offenses they themselves hated as students. 

The excuses for assigning 'break work' come from all over the place:
We don't want students to forget important concepts.
They can't fall behind.
We have too much material to cover.
The other teachers in my school do it.
It prepares them for ... (insert next school level here)

Ultimately, it furthers one end: Students disliking school.

The below conversation comes from my brother-in-law. He is a high school senior in Buffalo, New York. He gets that the work assigned amounts to nothing more than busy work. It is easy to see there is not any real learning being achieved. It just makes one more jaded. 

Do you give 'Break Work'? Am I missing something?