FETC 2015 Recap

FETC 2015 Recap

Way back in January, I attended and presented at the Florida Educational Technology Conference in Orlando.  Since it’s only an hour away, I’ve been attending this conference every year since I started as a media specialist five years ago.  Most years I just went to the vendor hall, until last year when I started attending sessions.  This year was my first time attending the entire conference, and also my first time presenting, and it was amazing.  Rather than give you a play-by-play of which sessions I went to and what I learned in each session, I want to take a broader look at my experience at FETC as a whole.

Meeting awesome people

Awesome people I met at FETC

Awesome people I met at FETC

From left to right, top row to bottom:

Drew Minock and Brad Waid, Nancye Blair Black, Steven Anderson, Shannon Miller, FETC Tweet-up with Jerry Blumengarten and Susan Bearden, Eric Sheninger, Erin Mulcahy of littleBits, Sylvia Martinez, Abbe Waldron

Other people I got to meet/hang out with but didn’t get pictures with: Samantha Morra, Tom Murray, Jennifer Scheffer, Kristy Cleppe, Bob Dillon, Tim Clark, Jen Womble plus my local friends Josh Newhouse, Sundi Pierce, Glenda Pierce, Wendy Lopez and probably other people whose names I missed

To me, the best things about conferences isn’t all the amazing sessions, the cool gadgets in the vendor hall, or the endless swag.  The best thing at a conference is getting to meet and be around inspirational fellow educators.  Conferences really were the beginning of my connected educator journey.  I love the opportunity to meet up with friends and people who have inspired me.  While reading blogs, participating in Twitter chats, and watching webinars are all great, there’s nothing quite like talking to someone face-to-face.

Of course, there were also a lot of awesome sessions; check out videos of some of the featured ones.

Edu-furniture & other vendor hall stuff

So much beautiful furniture

So much beautiful furniture

I’m a self-proclaimed edu-furniture nerd, so the most exciting part of the vendor hall for me is not the gadgets and gizmos; it’s the amazing, innovative furniture.  With booths from the likes of Bretford, Interior Concepts and KI, there was a lot of awesome stuff to look at.  I think I need a bigger library, because I want to get all of it.  Or maybe someone will give me a budget to completely makeover an entire school.  It never hurts to dream ;)

Other awesome vendor stuff

Other awesome vendor stuff

I did, in fact, check out some gadgets in the vendor hall too.  I’ve decided that I seriously need one of these locker style charging stations for my library – how cool would that be for my students?  I also got my first chance to play with a 3Doodler – those things are harder to control than they look.  I met up with my friends at littleBits in the Makers Hub and was happy to see so many people tinkering and playing (littleBits wrote up an awesome FETC Recap too).  I got to try out zSpace, which is a pretty awesome virtual reality education system.  And I got to play a little with Osmo, which is pretty ridiculously fun.

Presenting and sharing with the world

Presenting at FETC

Presenting at FETC

Probably the biggest conference game-changer for me has been branching out into presenting.  There is such a thrill in getting to share my experiences with others.  I always get nervous, but it’s immensely satisfying to hear from people who attend my sessions about how they’re going to start a Makerspace when they get back, or how they’ve built a LEGO wall in their library.  Conferences should be about give and take –  I always used to just attend to get information and inspiration from others.  It really makes a difference to also give back and help others.  It’s amazingly fulfilling.


Do you attend educational conferences?  What’s your favorite part?

My other FETC 2015 posts:



Scholastic Bookfairs and Makerspaces

Scholastic Bookfairs & Makerspaces

One of the most frequent questions I get about Makerspaces is how to fund them.  There’s a lot of creative ways to do this, including DonorsChoose projects, writing grants and asking for donations.  Another great option is to take a look at funding sources you may already have.  Many schools out there host Scholastic Bookfairs every year, and while these events are great for adding new books to your collection, they’ve also got a lot of great resources and products for Makerspaces.  This post features some of my favorites.

Book Browser with Plastic Bins


This book browser (which is actually a Copernicus classroom library cart) is probably my favorite item for Makerspaces from the Scholastic School Resource Catalog.  Finding organization methods that work for Makerspaces has always been a challenge for me.  Then I got one of these carts at my fall bookfair.  It was amazing for storing arts & crafts supplies and made a great mobile Makerspace – I could wheel it out for events and then store it when not in use.  Recently, I repurposed it into a K’nex storage cart and it’s been amazing.  I plan on getting another one to organize our LEGOs.

Our cart in action

Our cart in action

Classroom Toolkit

toolkitI got one of these toolkits to go with our Tech Take-Apart pop-up station and it’s worked great.  My only recommendation is the remove the hammer, otherwise your deconstruction zone can quickly turn into a destruction zone.

Maker Books

Maker books


Books with project ideas and inspiration are essential for any Makerspace.  We support our students’ interests with books, so we should make sure to have Maker books.  Scholastic has a ton of great books for Makerspace libraries.  These are a few of the ones I found:

Craft Supplies


There’s often great craft supplies at the fair and in the catalog.  In the fair you’ll often see things like washi tape and craft packs with instructions and supplies.  The catalog sometimes includes things like origami paper.

Maker Inspiration Decor

Pop Charts

I love to decorate my Makerspace with posters and other things to inspire creativity in my students.  Scholastic’s Pop! Charts posters are fantastic for this.





The Stewart Library Makerspace Story

We entered the Follett Challenge this year with a video telling the story of how we started the Stewart Makerspace and the impact that it has had on our library and our school.  Unfortunately, we weren’t among the winners this time around.  Still, I’m so proud of how this video has come together, and I want to make sure that I am sharing it as much as possible.  I think that it makes for a great overview of our Makerspace journey, and I hope that it can serve as an inspiration for other schools around the world.

So please watch our video and enjoy :)

The Stewart/Lamar Catapult Challenge

The Stewart Lamar Catapult Challenge


I don’t remember exactly when the first conversation happened, but somewhere through chatting on Twitter and the interwebs, Colleen Graves and I decided that it would be awesome to connect our Maker kids.  I have an afterschool group that meets on Mondays at the same time as her group, even though we’re in different time zones.  I had some technical difficulties the first time we tried to connect, and ended up Skyping over my phone.    It was more informal, students sharing various projects we were working on.  After that first meet-up, we decided to up our students’ game by giving them a joint design challenge, The Catapult Challenge!


Even though it started out as the Catapult Challenge, it quickly became the “make-something-that-flings-something-across-the-room-without-poking-someone’s-eye-out” challenge for my kids.  There were crossbows, ballistas and trebuchets (which are NOT catapults, my students were quick to explain to me).  We had some regular old catapults too of course.  As we were sharing our projects on Vine, Twitter and Instagram, Colleen was sharing projects from her students as well.

Google Hangout

At the end of the challenge, we met up in a Google Hangout and shared our projects.  Colleen’s students had made some amazing giant catapults capable of flinging multiple ketchup packets at once.  My kids proudly showed off their creations and were ecstatic that they worked (the trebuchet was having some issues).

We’re in the midst of our next challenge now, the MaKeyMaKey challenge!  More on that later, but be sure that you’re following me on Vine and Instagram to get the latest updates.


Tinker, Make, Learn GHO Interview

Last week, Robin Bartoletti and Tom Kilgore from the massive open online course Tinker, Make, Learn, interviewed me about how I got started in the Maker Movement, what steps I took to create my Makerspace, and what some of my favorite maker activities are.  Check out the video, follow the hashtag #TMLOOE, and consider joining the course and checking out all the amazing Makers and resources there.  It’s pretty awesome :)

For links to resources I mention in the interview, check out my page in my presentations section.

Link Round-Up: February 1, 2015

link round up

*Welcome to Link Round-up.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo, I come across a lot of great resources that I think others would benefit from.  This post is my place to bring together some of my favorite finds and share them with you.  Enjoy!*


  • Why I Am Not a Maker – The Atlantic :  Amazing, thought provoking article engineering professor Debbie Chachra on why we need to be cautious about insisting on people identifying themselves by what they make.  While I don’t necessarily agree that encouraging people to make things devalues education and caregiving, it is a valid criticism to think about.   tags:maker atlantic makered linklove
“I’m uncomfortable with any culture that encourages you take on an entire identity, rather than to express a facet of your own identity (“maker,” rather than “someone who makes things”)…  There’s a widespread idea that “People who make things are simply different [read: better] than those who don’t… The problem is the idea that the alternative to making is usually not doing nothing”

Education/ Libraries

“Because the truth is, while being thinner and grading papers faster may be good goals, my students won’t remember me for either. They’re going to remember how I treated them and how I made them feel, long before they remember how I looked or how many days I took to return their work.”

Technology/ Tools

Happy Birthday, Stewart Makerspace

January 29, 2014 - The birth of our Makerspace

January 29, 2014 – The birth of our Makerspace

One year ago today, I took a leap that one change my life.  One year ago, I took three bins of K’nex out of our storage closet, dusted them off, and put them out on our library tables.  I didn’t have an action plan. I wasn’t sure how my students would react.  I didn’t know where it would take us.  I had no prompts, no policies and procedures, no instruction manual on how to start a Makerspace.  But I took the risk anyhow.  And this simple decision to just go for it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my students, my library and myself.

One of our pop-up makerspaces from last year

One of our pop-up makerspaces from last year

The journey of this last year has been amazing.  My students have connected with other students and makers through Skype and Google Hangouts.  We planned our first mini Makerfaire together and received a warm reception from our school community.  We got new STEM books, won a littleBits pro library and received a grant for new furniture.  We had nine DonorsChoose projects funding over $5,000 worth of supplies.  We built an Epic LEGO wall and painted a whiteboard wall.  Our after-school STEAM club has connected with Colleen Graves’ students at Lamar Middle School on design challenges, sharing our projects through Google Hangouts.  We’ve shared our story with the world through Twitter, Instagram, Vine, here on this blog and at state and national conference presentations.

Our library in action

Our Makerspace at one year old

Some things worked, some things didn’t.  Some days there were LEGOs all over the floor.  Sometimes LEDs broke.  Projects would fall apart with the first prototype.  But we persevered.  We kept going.

All of this has happened in the last 365 days.  I can’t wait to see what the next 365 will bring :)

Happy Birthday, Stewart Makerspace.

Rethinking our Library Space

Before and After

Before and After

Over the past five years, we have redesigned our media center and transformed it into a more flexible, collaborative space.  This is the story of how we got there.

(Note: this post is based off of one of the presentations I did at the FETC Executive Summit.  See slides here)

Too much furniture, unwelcoming obstacles

Too much furniture, unwelcoming obstacles

Removing obstacles and clutter

When I first got to Stewart in 2010, the collection hadn’t been weeded in decades.  My supervisor had come in and gutted the worst of it before I got there, but even then, I was finding books on the shelves that hadn’t been checked out since 1971!  Not only were the shelves cluttered, but they also took up all the space.  About 50% of the floor space was taken up with massive floor shelving.  Every inch of available wall space had shelving too.  There was no room to breathe.  The small instruction area had ten 60 x 36 heavy wooden tables and about fifty heavy wooden chairs that couldn’t stack.  There were odd extra desks and tables taking up a ton of space too.  Students were constantly bumping into furniture and each other.

Opening up the space

Opening up the space

I began massively weeding the collection, paring it down to the books that students were actually reading.  I broke up the monotony of the shelves by creating displays within them.  I rearranged the books and removed wall shelving to open up some space.  I had the district come out and remove excess furniture that we weren’t using.  I got permission to remove the often broken alarm system to open up more room and make the library feel more welcoming.  All of this didn’t cost our school any money, but it made a huge difference in the functionality of the space.  Sometimes, less is more.

Adding color

Adding color

Adding Color

When we received a $5,000 grant from Lowe’s Toolbox for Education last year, it included money to get paint and painting supplies to add color to our library.  We have no windows, which is a problem that I haven’t been able to fix yet.  With the dull beige walls, it felt kind of like a cave in there.  So we brightened things up by adding blue and green to our walls.  It’s made a huge difference in our space – it’s helped our library to become a more vibrant and active space.  Even if we hadn’t been able to get the grant, the cost of paint and supplies was only a couple of hundred dollars, which many schools could get donated from local businesses or PTSA.

Adding furniture that allows movement and flexibility

Adding furniture that allows movement and flexibility

Movement and Flexibility

The heavy wooden tables and chairs our library had were not flexible enough for our space.  The table legs were frequently breaking from the tables being dragged across the floor and rearranged.  Whenever we needed more floor space (ie. bookfairs, special events) we had to stack the wooden chairs one on top of the other in an awkward way in front of the bookshelves, preventing students from checking out books and potentially causing safety hazards.

The majority of our Lowe’s Toolbox grant was spent on purchasing six 60 x 30 Bretford Flip & Nest tables and four quarter round whiteboard top tables.  We also purchased forty blue stacking chairs.  This dramatically increased the flexibility of our space by allowing us to quickly rearranged tables and chairs to suit our needs.  The chairs are lightweight and comfortable and can stack six high and are easy to store in the backroom if we need more space.

We also funded a DonorsChoose project to add six Hokki stools to our library.  These have been fantastic for our kinetic students who find sitting still to be torture.  You’ll often see students pulling one up to a table to work on a project with fellow students.

A variety of seating options

A variety of seating options

Variety of seating

One thing I learned from the book Make Space is the importance of having a variety of seating options.  High.  Low.  Hard.  Soft.  So I’ve been proactive about ensuring that there are plenty of options for my students.  There are comfortable soft chairs in our brainstorming lounge, perfect for dreaming up their next project.  We have high cafe tables and stools, perfect for sharing a game of chess or chatting while waiting on other students to finish checking out.  We have “rocking” chairs and Hokki stools to allow for movement.  And we have standard chairs to make sure we have enough seating for everyone.

Creating interactive spaces

Creating interactive spaces

Interactive Spaces

Libraries should not be static places.  If you look at the offices of innovative companies (Google, Facebook, etc) you will find plenty of interactive spaces for employees to relax, collaborate and have fun.  Drawing from this inspiration, I’ve been intentional about adding more interactive elements to our library.  The most obvious is our Makerspace, where students are invited to sit and tinker with LEGOs and K’nex.  Within this space is the centerpiece of our library, our Epic LEGO wall, where students can build amazing vertical LEGO creations.  We also have our whiteboard wall, where students can doodle, collaborate and brainstorm.  We have lots of whiteboard tables throughout our library too, which students often take advantage of to jots notes for their homework, work out an algebra problem or keep score during chess.  We also have an interactive short throw projector in our instructional space.  Inspired by Laura Fleming‘s concept of digital breadcrumbs, we often put up interactive educational games for the students to try their hand at.

Providing charging stations

Providing charging stations

More Power!

We are a BYOD library, and one thing that I noticed was how students (and teachers) were always struggling to find outlets.  They’re all hidden underneath our bookshelves, which make them difficult and awkward to get to.  As we’ve removed some wall shelving to make more room, we’ve opened up access to more outlets.  We’ve also added several charging stations where students and teachers are invited to charge up their devices.  These areas have become the new water cooler, as students gather around to charge their devices.

What changes have you made to your library’s physical space to help bring it into the 21st century?

FETC Executive Summit 2015

FETC Executive Summit 2015

It was an honor and privilege to attend and present at the FETC Exeutive Summit this past week.  It was an amazing event focused on Digital Transformation in the Age of Wireless, Wi-Fi and BYOD.   The event was mostly attended by IT leaders, superintendents, principals and others in leadership positions in their schools and districts.  Eric Sheninger put together the event and gathered a fantastic group of speakers, including Tom Murray, Bob Dillon, Tim Clark, Jennifer Scheffer, Samantha MorraKristy Cleppe and many others, including myself.  It was a day and a half of amazing professional development and connecting with like-minded educators.  There was a lot of take in, but I’ll try to summarize my main takeaways here.

If it's important to you, you wll find a

Eric’s keynote lead off the event, and his perspective on leadership is always inspiring.  I’d just recently finished reading his book, Digital Leadership, and it was great to hear more about many of the things he talks about in it.  My favorite take-away from this talk was the fact that we educators need to stop making excuses.  If we are truly passionate about something and want it to happen, we will find a way.  If we keep making excuses, then we never really cared about it to begin with anyway.

Part of digital leadership involves stepping out of the way, allowing teachers the space that they need to come to change on their own, and releasing control to allow for student voice.  I love that in his school, students are free to get coffee in the common areas, use their devices when they need them, and even take naps if they’re tired.  It’s a student-centered perspective.

Another major takeaway from Eric’s talk and many of the other speakers was that good pedagogy and a learning culture are more important than technology.  It may seem surprising, being that we were all at a technology conference.  But if a teacher doesn’t already have good pedagogy in place, giving him or her a cart full of iPads isn’t going to magically make the students innovators.

create a culture of yes instead of a culture of no

Bob Dillon reminded us of the fact that we need to stop telling our students “no” to everything they want to do.  Too many schools have negative rules about everything possible.  Don’t have your phone out at school.  Don’t listen to music while you do homework.  Don’t whisper to your friends in class.  Don’t get up without permission.  But if we were asked to do these same things as a conference, we would walk right out.  How does these rules make our students feel?  We need to have some parameters for safety and structure, but they shouldn’t be at the expense of our student’s education.

Try to find ways to shine - whining hasn't gotten us anywhere

Samantha Morra’s awesome presentation focused on Digital Pedagaogy.  Check out her slides to see more.  She spent a lot of time on the 4 C’s: Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking, which are always near and dear to my heart.  But my favorite takeaway from her talk fits in with what Eric said earlier – we need to stop complaining, stop making excuses, and focus on being the best educators we can possibly be.  If all we ever do is whine and complain, nothing will ever change.

Do you realize that your cell phone is the worst technology that your students will ever use?

Tom Murray wrapped everything up with a talk on Future Ready schools.  He emphasized how we need to recognize that schools need change.  If you look at a picture of a classroom from one hundred years ago and the average classroom of today, they will look frighteningly similar – rows of desks in straight lines, with a teacher lecturing up front. Today’s students are vastly different from those of 100 years ago – we need to change how we teach.  We’re preparing our students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.  The technology that currently seems so cutting edge will be vastly outdated by the time our students are adults.  We need to worry less about the device and more about teaching our students with good pedagogy.

Look - I'm in the program!

Look – I’m in the program!

The FETC Executive Summit was all-in-all an amazing experience, and I’m so glad I was able to be there.  My talks focused on transforming our library into a flexible, collaborative space, and reflecting on the various implementations of technology in my school.  If you’re curious to hear more, check out my slides on my FETC presentations page.

FETC Link Round-up

FETC Link Round-up

As I’m processing all the amazing things I learned last week at FETC, I thought it would make sense to go ahead and post a link round-up of some of the amazing tools and resources I learned about.  I’m organizing them here by the sessions I was in.  More detailed posts on my conference experience will be coming up later this week.

Connect, Create and Collaborate with Digital Tools,  Shannon Miller

  • Shannon’s resources and slides
  • Symbaloo – great system for organizing links and resources
  • Diigo – curate resources with social bookmarking
  • Pinterest – gather resources visually
  • Flipsnack – create eBooks from PDF, great for app smashing
  • Tuxpaint – free paint tool
  • StoryboardThat – powerful tool for creating storyboards (costs $)
  • Photos for class – website with database of free, creative commons licensed photos.  Automatically adds citation when photo is downloaded
  • Recite This - make quote posters; great for app-smashing
  • Storybird – create books based on illustrations
  • Piktochartinfographics maker
  • Smore – newsletters, digital pathfinders, great way to collect students’ digital work
  • Spell with Flickr - free tool, lets you make graphical words
  • Padlet – lets people share a variety of resources in one place
  • PicMonkey – photo editing tool
  • Soundcloud - good for podcasting, foreign language practice, spoken word, poetry
  • FlipGrid – students can record video answers to questions, great collaboration tool (costs $)
  • The Peanut Gallery – make classic movies, kids talk to it, voice translated to text in slides
  • Crumbles – uses video clips to make a statement – different clip for each word
  • Thinglink – create linked images
  • Plickers - free student response system with printed out cards
  • Chromville – augmented reality app where you can color a coloring sheet and watch your creations come to life
  • Flocabulary – Schoolhouse Rock for 21st century

Journey to a Makerspace, Abbe Waldron

Leading the Maker Movement, Eric Sheninger

Inspire Innovation by Fostering Collaboration and Creativity!, Drew Mincock and Brad Waid

  • Cargo bot – coding app for the iPad, designed on an iPad
  • Codea – app on the iPad that lets you code and design apps for the iPad
  • Pixel Press – draw a video game on paper, scan it, and publish it
  • Canva – great tool for creating professional looking graphics
  • Tinkercad – design objects in 3D, then print them on a 3D printer
  • Minecraft – it’s a big force out there whether you embrace it or not

PBL Gets a “Make” Over: Prompts, Scaffolding and Assessment, Sylvia Martinez

Curating Content the Right Way, Steven Anderson