Wednesday, December 12, 2018

I Think We May Have It All Wrong

This week I had the pleasure of listening to Tony Wagner keynote at a state conference.  He shared lots of great ideas with the crowd but one particular point really stayed with me.  As part of his book Creating Innovators, he has researched schools across the globe looking for common threads throughout educational systems and found three things make a difference in schools:

Play, Passion, and Purpose

When it comes to innovation, do we pay enough attention to these three things?  Think about your own school or district.  I bet you can say with confidence that you know your purpose.  It is likely communicated and shared through a vision that rings throughout your buildings. That purpose is what we are all about, what we wake up everyday to do.  We want to provide the best educational opportunities for our students.  Our purpose is the kids and that is the heart of our daily work.

My guess is, that most schools probably do a decent job when it comes to passion.  We create learning strands that meet the needs of our students, providing them with innovative educational programs and opportunities to explore their passions in the classrooms through the curriculum that we implement and the way that our teachers skillfully craft engaging lessons.  We may focus on developing passions through our career and technical schools, our after school enrichment programs, or by implementing Genius Hour projects within our classrooms, but I think we probably fall a little short on the last P.

Is play evident in your school?  I don't mean just in the kindergarten classrooms, but in every classroom.  Not physical play in recess or gym class, but the kind of play that sparks curiosity and invokes passion in our learners.  Are there opportunities for students to explore, tinker, and wonder in every classroom, every day?  If not, how will we go about changing that?

My school district thought we were on the right track.  We have a motto that we call P3.  It stands for purpose, passion, and pride.  We use #P3 in a lot of our communication and social media content.  P3 has been a way for all 5 buildings in our district to share our message with our community.  It ties us together around a common mission.

But I think we may actually have it all wrong!

Instead of focusing first on our purpose as a district and using that as a starting point--what if we started with play?  From play come these amazing opportunities for learning that are personalized and truly student-centered. Without play, our students (and teachers, too) lose that sense of curiosity and the ability to let their imaginations run wild.  That is the true joy in learning and we let it fall by the wayside. Through play our students can bring new ideas to life and engage in creative problem-solving.

We need to disrupt the status quo and focus on the strategies that will create innovators in every classroom.  We need to embrace the importance of play, passion, and purpose in ways that meet the needs of our learners, but also pushes beyond what might possible.  Through a focus on play, passion, and purpose, we are developing the young people who will truly change the world!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Why I Haven't Been Blogging

It has been a long while since I have done any blogging.  It's not that I have been on a technology break or that I gave up on writing.  It's actually quite the opposite.  I have been writing more than ever!  I am currently under contract to write 3 different books.  What?!?  I know that sounds really crazy.  Believe me, I thought it was crazy too, as I contemplated my commitment to each project.  Needless to say, it has been a very busy several months.

About a year and a half ago I started working on a book idea that connected the idea of STEAM and Making (obvious passions of mine if you've read my book STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom) with literacy.  I was collecting lots of ideas in my notebook.  Yes, I carry around a traditional pen and notebook everywhere I go to jot down new ideas or wonderings.  The book started to come together and I pitched it to a couple publishers with no luck.  I sat on it a little bit longer and continued to re-work some ideas.  I kept on building it until I finally signed with a publisher in the spring.

In the meantime, I was a part of an authors group on Voxer and connected with JaimeDonnelly.  She was sharing the exciting process of publishing her first book with ISTE. Always-encouraging in her interactions, Jaime tells me that she just happened to mention my work with makerspaces to her editor, who expressed an interest in talking to me. We had a virtual meeting and before I knew it, we were talking about writing a book that would connect to the new ISTE Standards for School Leaders.

OK, so if writing two books wasn't wild enough, I received a DM from Mark Barnes from Hack Learning and when Mark reaches out to you, you definitely listen! He suggested that I contact a colleague of his regarding a new book series that they were started.  It was then that I met Chuck Poole---what positive energy! We Skyped and talked about his uNseries.  I immediately knew that I wanted to work with him. We talked about my interest in creativity in the classroom and how educators can unlock this power in the classroom through different strategies.  It was shortly after our initial meeting that I was signing another contract.

I need to be honest right now. I got a C in College Writing.  My track record in writing was not very strong.  I didn't even really like writing a few years ago!  Through my doctoral studies I had the opportunity to work with a great writing teacher (Thank you Dr. Jalongo).  She taught me so much and I even had a few articles published during that timeMakers in Schools.
.  I wrote and defended my dissertation in 2012 and have been hooked on writing ever since, publishing in journals and blogging for several educational organizations. This year I also wrote a chapter for the EduMatch book,

While the thought of writing three books was unimaginable, I had another colleague in the same boat.  Rachelle Poth, fellow Pittsburgher and PLN friend, was also writing multiple books with  different publishers.  Thanks to Voxer, we chatted, shared struggles and offered encouragement along the way.  It's great having a support system throughout the writing process. Rachelle and I will be in FETC in just a few months presenting and connecting with educators at the Meet the Author Booth.  (Thank you Jennifer Womble!)

While I vow to get back to blogging, my writing schedule has been a bit full lately.  This writing journey has certainly been an undertaking and it's not over yet!  I'm still writing one book and working through editing on the other two.

And insanely, I'm already thinking about partnering with an amazing educator to write another one soon . . .

Monday, May 28, 2018

What’s in your makerspace? From A to Z

Makerspace ABC

I've traveled a lot in the last year, talking to educators all over the US and Canada.  The one thing that people always ask me for is a makerspace supply list.  There are plenty of lists out there, so I thought I'd put a twist on it.  Here are makerspaces must-haves from A-Z.

A     aluminum foil, acrylic paint, art supplies
B     beads, brass fasteners, buttons, balloons, beans, battery packs
C     cardboard, card stock, cotton balls, crayons, clothes pins
D     duct Tape, dowel rods, drafting tables, Dot and Dash robots
   Elmer’s Glue, Energizer batteries, egg cartons
   felt, foam core, feathers, fabric, food coloring, First Aid Kit
G     greeting cards, glue sticks, goggles, green screen
H     hangers, hammers, hot glue guns,
    index cards, iPads, Instructables
J      jars, jewelry-making supplies
K     K’Nex, Kleenex boxes, keyboards, keys
L     Legos, LED lights, lab coats, label maker, leaves
M     markers, magnets, modeling clay, Makedo tools, Makey-Makey
N     nails, needles, notebooks, newspaper
O     oil pastels, Ozobots,
P     pipe cleaners, playing cards, pencils, popsicle sticks, Play-Doh, pliers
Q     Q-tips, quilting squares, quarts (containers)
R     rulers, rubber bands, ribbon, recyclable materials
S     sandpaper, screws, scissors, Snap Circuits, Strawbees
T     toothpicks, twine, tape, three-hole punch
   unifix cubes, uncooked pasta
   Virtual reality headsets, Vex Robots, vinegar
W     wrench, wallpaper, wax paper, wool, wood, weaving supplies, Washi tape
X     X-acto knives
Y     yarn, yogurt cups
Z     ZipLoc bags, zip ties

OK, so maybe they're not all must-haves, but some of those letters were tough!  What items would you add to the list? 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

5 Yard Sale Finds For Every Maker

While it's not officially summer yet, most of us are finishing up with the school year and planning to take a well-deserved break.  Some people will spend the time relaxing by the pool, others will binge on trashy novels at the beach, and others may plan a "staycation" right at home.  

Wherever the summer may take you, there is surely a spot in the back of your mind where you are already thinking and planning for next school year.  For some, that comes in the form of planning a new unit of study, reading a professional book to prepare for an initiative at school, or working towards your Level II Google certification.  

There are other educators who get ready for the fall spending their summers strolling flea markets and garage sales buying things for their classrooms.  They pride themselves on an awesome find at a rock-bottom price.  A teacher texted me last summer with a photo of a huge box of treasures--"only $2.00!" she wrote.  She returned to school in the fall and shared that box with her students who found all sorts of uses for the variety of items she scored.

With innovative learning spaces finding their way into many schools, summer is a great time to find new things to stock your shelves and bins and make any space into a makerspace.

A set of encyclopedias printed in the 1970s.  Piles of picture books with broken bindings and a few torn pages.  A stack of discarded magazines from Better Homes and Gardens or Reader's Digest.  

Books and other reading materials are at every garage sale.  Many teachers take advantage of 25 cent book bins and stock their classroom libraries.  Those with a Maker Mindset look at books and see an opportunity for a design project.  Disclaimer: I am a former reading specialist and book fanatic and hate the idea of ripping up books, but have you seen what some people can create out of old books?

Origami, bookmarks, wreaths, sculptures, and even purses are being crafted from old books. Folding, rolling, tearing, carving, gluing, and rethinking the paper from recycled books is a great makerspace project. 

Flexible seating
Classrooms are transforming with new seating options, giving students more choice. Check out Kayla Delzer’s classroom pictures at for some flexible seating ideas.  Mismatched chairs, industrial stools, or vinyl bean bag chairs might be at your neighbor’s yard sale, and all make for inexpensive seating options in the classroom.  

Be on the lookout for yoga balls, porch furniture, and seat cushions which can all find a second life in the classroom.  With a new coat of paint, benches or wooden furniture can serve a new purpose in a reading nook or collaboration area.

Broken toys
One of the most popular spots in our school makerspace was the "deconstruction zone".  Students took apart broken toys and electronics--some just to satisfy their curiosity but for others it became a challenge to repair or re-purpose the items.  One 5th grade student took apart a transistor radio into a million pieces, then put it back together again, in complete working order!

Picking up used board games, card games, or puzzles (even with possible missing pieces) also represent low-tech opportunities for young makers to hack a game and create one of their own. 

Building blocks
Wooden or plastic blocks in large and small sizes will be put to good use in a makerspace.  Be on the lookout for bags of loose Legos © or other brick-type toys that can be used for designing structures.  Lego© accessories, base plates, and storage cases are also great finds at a garage sale.  Many makerspaces are equipped with Lego walls or tables for students to make their building multi-dimensional.  Connect your 3-D model to a mini-motor and make it mobile or link to a robotics kit like Hummingbird and see what your students come up with!

Hand tools
Family garage sales are often overflowing with kids’ stuff, but don't overlook what dad might be getting rid of.  Hand tools like hammers, wrenches, and saws or small power tools may have a cheap price tag at a neighborhood sale.  Odds and ends from dad's workbench might also be for sale.  Small items like brackets, hooks, gears, or wires can also be put to good use in your makerspace.  Students will love the opportunity to tinker with tools and embrace the idea to take their vision and make it a reality.

Summer is the perfect time to recharge your battery and restock your classroom.  Well-loved makerspaces are always in need of replenishment.  Local yard sales and flea markets may have the items your students want at price your budget can afford.  So, get out there this summer and grab some treasures for the makers in your school!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Who Knew it? Huge Personalized Learning Opportunities with Hoonuit

Through the power of my personal learning network (PLN), I recently had the opportunity to connect with Jaime Donnelly, AR/VR all-star and all around amazing educator.  She shared with me the work she's been doing with Hoonuit.

I don't know about you . . . but I had never heard of it.  Little did I know that this powerful platform of professional learning was out there waiting for me!  With a motto to "empower educators to make better decisions, transform teaching and improve student outcomes", Hoonuit is a great way to engage in powerful personalized learning.

Already serving over 500,000 educators across the country, Hoonuit's online professional development content is exactly what I was looking for!  Self-paced, online learning modules that are created by content experts.  Engaging videos and relevant topics that can meet the needs of K-12 educators and school leaders.

Anxious to explore this new opportunity, I applied to be an "ambassador".  This status gave me access to all of the online content.  There were so many interesting courses, I didn't even know where to begin!

Since I have been actively looking to grow my PLN, I tried a course on just that.  Through the learning modules (about an hour or so), I considered ways that I could expand my network using social media.  The course prompted me to:

  • Reflect
  • Connect
  • Contribute

I reflected on the ways that I could expand my learning through a network of educators.  I thought about the ways suggested by the author to reflect on instructional practices as a means to connect with your PLN.  I also reflected on how I might entice the teachers in my district to consider doing the same.

It was through this course that I stepped up to the challenge and started thinking about how I might use tools like Facebook and Instagram to develop and grow as a professional educator.  I created new accounts and have been pursuing new professional groups that support my own learning and professional growth as an administrator.  These connections have helped me to push my thinking and learn from the perspectives of others.

Lastly, I thought about the ways I could contribute.

  • Tweeting out educational content.  
  • Supporting, retweeting, and "liking" the work of other forward-thinking educators.  
  • Creating a blog like this one to share my knowledge with others.  

My Hoonuit experience so far has been fulfilling and fun.  I'm enthusiastic about the opportunities that the learning modules can offer to teachers and administrators and I can't wait to continue on my learning journey!

For more information about how Hoonuit can support learning in your district, check out their website.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Welcome-Come on in!

What if we welcomed people into our classrooms the way we welcome them into our homes?  Would that make a difference in the the culture of our classrooms and our schools?  What if we approached learning in the same way that we approach a conversation with someone who has stopped by our house to visit?

Front Porch

Think about the front porch at your house.  Does it have plants or flowers? a wreath on the door? decorations? or perhaps some seating?  Are visitors greeted by a welcome mat?  Does it convey, "come on in!"?

As educators do we greet our students on the front porch with a smile, ushering them in for a great day of learning?  In what ways can we make our hallways, doors, and entry ways more welcoming? Does the front porch of our classroom send the right message?  Does it say, "Great things are happening in here--come on in!"

Living Room

In my living room, we have a large sectional couch.  It's comfy and can fit our whole family, our dog, and any number of guests who drop by.  (Sometimes it is also home to Legos, action figures, and random piles of Pokemon cards.)  It says to you, "come in and get cozy".  It's a place where we sit and read books, watch the neighbors pass by outside, or just relax.  It's where we live.

Do classrooms allocate space to living?  Most classrooms I've visited are filled with desks and chairs and filing cabinets, not much space for living.  What message does that send?  There's no living happening in here!  No space or time to get comfy.

How might we re-arrange our classrooms to reflect our homes? 


They say the kitchen is the heart of a home.  It's the place where families gather during the holidays, sharing stories, and a meal together.  It's the place where culinary creativity meets collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. 

In my house, we often find ourselves around the kitchen island, talking, snacking, doing homework.  It is our central hub for almost everything.  Pull up a stool or stand and chat as dad cooks.  There's room for everyone. 

Where does this exist within our classrooms?  A place to gather, talk, plan, create.  Do students have a spot to stand with peers, have conversations, and make something?

Sometimes the kitchen gets messy.  Too much clutter or a recipe gone wrong.  Education is messy, too.  Do we have a space in our classroom where messy learning is encouraged?  Lots of schools are creating makerspaces for messy learning, a place to foster creativity and innovation in meaningful ways.  How is that mindset reflected within your classroom space?

Welcome Home 

Our homes are personal spaces.  It's where build our most important relationships and raise our children.  We are doing those things in school, too.  We are building relationships with our students and learning with them in a space that often feels nothing like home.  Let's consider the ways that we can welcome students into our classrooms the way that we welcome guests into our homes.  How can we renovate our learning spaces so that they say--Welcome.  Come on in! 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why I Never Follow the Directions

I know you've been there.

Sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by furniture pieces, screws, tools, etc.

For many people this is the ultimate frustration.  Trying to follow the often poorly written directions to assemble some bookcase or complicated children's toy.  If you've opened up a box and found something that looks like this, the you know exactly what I mean.
I think that companies are figuring out how much their directions can cause stress for people.  See below.  Is this really telling me that I will need a beverage to complete this assembly of this item?

So, I just don't follow the directions.  I may take a look at the pictures.  I consider the steps and 99% of the time, I do just fine (much to my husband's dismay).  I've put new tile in our bathroom floor, put together new bar stools, and countless numbers of my sons' toys--all without directions. 

When I stop to think about it---I don't really follow the directions for a lot of things.  When I'm travelling I often create my own path.  When I'm cooking, I add my own touch to it.  Why do I need to follow along with what someone else has said?  

It's that rebel in me that embraces innovation in education.  I LOVE the unknown nature Maker Education and the improvisation that often goes into design thinking challenges.  I LOVE chasing the curiosities of students into new uncharted waters.  I LOVE trying new strategies or new tools that might create a new spark for learners.

Consider this: a student opens a robotics kit and follows each step in the sequence resulting in a cool, functioning robot.  That's great.  I am sure that the learner gained new knowledge through the process and enjoyed their new learning.

But what if students figured it out for themselves.  What if they inventoried all the parts, pondered their complexities, and took a shot at it on their own--without the directions. (Gasp!) Imagine the meaningful learning that might come from a project without directions.  This is where the sparks of innovation fly!

In schools, we have a conflict.  We are direction-oriented.  Don't get me wrong, I want my children to do well in school, but does that mean they will always have to follow the directions? I hope not.  I want them to have the chance to tinker and explore without boundaries.  I want them to to try and fail and try again.  Schools founded on compliance do not foster creativity.  

I believe that we are slowly moving away from this model of compliance and towards a more innovative vision for our schools.  But until things truly change in education, I'm going to skip the directions, keep taking risks, and carving out my own creative path.