Building our Epic LEGO Wall – Time Lapse

Check out this time-lapse video of our Epic LEGO Wall as it was created.

5 Tips for Creating DonorsChoose Projects

5 Tips for Creating DonorsChoose Projects

I was first introduced to DonorsChoose a few years ago when they had the promotion with Starbucks where gift cards were given out to patrons to spend on projects.  I had several successful projects at that time, but I didn’t really use DonorsChoose much again until last year.  It was around the same time that I started becoming more of a connected educator; reading blogs, building my Twitter PLN and discovering other like minded educators led me back to this amazing resource.  I started creating projects and mobilizing donors, and I haven’t looked back since then.  At this point, I’ve had ten projects worth over $6,000 funded through DonorsChoose.  With budgets being slashed left and right, this is an essential resource for educators looking to do something new and innovative in their schools.

Note: I’m assuming at this point that you already have a DonorsChoose account set up and are familiar with how they work.  For the basics of how to submit a project, check out this PowerPoint from DonorsChoose.

Here’s my tips to help you have a successful project:

Our Hokki stools, which we got through a project focused on serving our kinesthetic learners

Our Hokki stools, which we got through a project focused on serving our kinesthetic learners

1: Start by looking for posted projects similar to what you want to do.

As they say, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  If you have an idea of what you want to do (tinkering station in the library, after-school yoga club, lunch-time sewing group), search for projects that are doing the same thing.  Look at their essays and materials lists.  Many times, this will help you to get a good idea of which vendor to use for a project.  Also, sometimes you might have an idea (like an arts and crafts cart) but you aren’t sure about exactly what items to get.  Finding a similar project can help you get started.

Mindstorms cart

Our new cart we received for our Mindstorms robots.

2: Look for matching offers

On your account page, there is a resources tab.  This will take you to a state by state list of current match offers for projects.  Check out the list – there’s bound to be something that you can work with, even if it wasn’t your original idea.  For an example, last year I knew that I wanted supplies to get my library’s Makerspace going.  Disney was offering a match for projects that involved hands-on learning about the environment.  I was able to create a project where students would learn about renewable and alternative energy through lessons with Snap Circuits and a K’nex renewable energy set.  Disney matched my project, and we got our supplies.  Recently, Hasbro had an offer to match projects where 50% of the supplies were Playdoh; we made a project for supplies for our MaKeyMaKeys and got funded in a couple weeks.  If you’re pursuing a match, make sure you check out other projects that received this match to see what they’re funding.

A cautionary word: be careful not to stretch your concept too far – I tried to get a physical fitness match for our Hokki stools based on the fact that they allowed movement in class and I didn’t get it.  It took a lot longer to fund that project since there ended up not being a match.

One of our MaKeyMaKeys in action

One of our MaKeyMaKeys in action

3: Don’t just ask for technology for technology’s sake

I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve seen fail where someone was trying to get an iPad/Chromebook/laptop because it was the next greatest thing.  You can certainly get technology through DonorsChoose, but donors tend to give less to tech projects, so you need to make sure you have a really good concrete plan.  I saw one project where a classroom teacher had been giving his students voice by letting them create blogs, but they only had one computer in the classroom that they all had to share.  His request for several Chromebooks got funded.  If you do create a project for tech, try to do it one item at a time.  If you go for a set of ten iPads all at once, it’s going to be really hard to raise that much funding.

Our LEGOs and LEGO books

Our LEGOs and LEGO books

4: Keep it simple

I have had some larger projects (around $800) funded, but it took a lot longer to raise the funds and it was harder to keep the momentum.  Keeping your projects smaller (at least below $500, better yet below $300) will get them funded much faster. From a donors perspective,  it feels like you’re making a much bigger difference to donate to a project that only has $300 to go than one that has $1000 to go.  You can always break up a larger project into smaller chunks.

Our LEGO wall, funded through two separate projects, thanks in part to

Our LEGO wall, funded through two separate projects, thanks in part to

5: Market your project like crazy

Once you have your project up, it is essential that you market the heck out of it.  For the first week, donations can be matched when using a code e-mailed to you by DonorsChoose (up to $100 per donor) and you want to get as many of those as possible.  Get a donation up there right away – I will often donate $10 to my projects on the first day just to get the ball rolling.  Consider giving $10 to your parents or to your best friend and ask them to donate too.  Projects with recent donations tend to show up earlier in search results.

Make sure you let your school parents, PLNs and friends and family know that your project is going on.  Post to Twitter, connect DonorsChoose to your Facebook page, send out an e-mail/text message/call home to your school’s parents.  Get over feeling like you’re begging for money; you’re not.   You’re offering others the opportunity to play a part in helping improve the educational experiences of your students.  People value that.  When they see your passion to help your students, they want to help you.

What are your favorite tips for having a successful DonorsChoose project?  What materials have your students received through them?



Weekly reads: September 28, 2014


*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, 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 of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*


Education/ Libraries

Technology/ Tools

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Recent Epic LEGO builds

I’m starting up a new regularly occurring segment on Renovated Learning where I’ll share some of the awesome stuff my students have been making over the past week.  I’m still trying to figure out exactly what to call it (Build of the Week? Project of the Week? Feature Friday?) so if you have any suggestions, let me know :)

Recent Epic LEGO builds

We’ve had our Epic LEGO Wall up for a few weeks now and my students absolutely love it.  It makes me smile everyday when a student will walk in and be awestruck by it; and I smile even more when they ask me if they’re allowed to build on it and I tell them to go for it.  There’ve been so many amazing creations – from abstract art to classic video games, words and letters and everything in between.  My students beam even when they just get to add a few bricks.   I hadn’t really thought about it until recently, but making gives my students a voice – it lets them make their mark.

Here’s some of my favorite recent LEGO wall builds:

Collaborative 9-11 tribute

Collaborative 9-11 tribute

My students were either infants or not yet born when 9-11 happened.  But on the anniversary two weeks ago, several of them worked together to create a flag on our LEGO wall.  Then several more students added to it later, making sure that it had exactly 13 stripes and 50 stars.  I loved seeing them work together on something so meaningful, planning out exactly how to lay it out to make it correct.

There's been lots of words and names

There’s been lots of words and names

Sometimes even the simplest projects can be the most appealing.  I love how my students are leaving little messages on the board, from “signing” their work to statements like this one.


Skyscraper on the wall

Even the teachers have gotten in on the making.  One of our reading teachers built this one during our after-school program.  I love how it takes the traditional concept of building up with LEGOs and turns it on its side (literally)

Forests and little bits of abstract art

Forests and little bits of abstract art

I love all the little projects that sneak into the nooks and crannies between the larger ones.  One of my favorites is the little forests that keep popping up.  They’re a relatively simple build, but they look so whimsical.

People and Portal

People and Portal

One of my student assistants got super excited when he told me that he wanted to create something from one of his favorite games, Portal.  I’d never heard of it before, but I told him to go for it.  Soon after he finished, almost every student exclaimed: “Cool! It’s Portal!”.  So maybe the LEGO wall will help me stay on top of things (even though this game is actually a few years old).

That’s just some of the awesomeness.  If you want to see more, make sure you follow me on Instagram and Vine, as I post images of the Epic LEGO wall there too.

My Orlando MakerFaire Experience

My Orlando MakerFaire Experience

Welcome to MakerFaire

Last weekend, I went to my first ever official MakerFaire in Orlando.  This was Orlando’s first year of having a fully-fledged MakerFaire and not just a MiniMakerFaire, and it was receiving a lot of attention.  I was particularly excited about the Educator’s Forum on Saturday, so I got up early on the weekend, made the hour long drive to Orlando, and got ready for some awesomeness.


The awesome Educator badges

One thing I love about MakerFaire is that they get that educators play an extremely important part in the Maker Movement.  They did a lot to recognize us, including a forum featuring Dale Dougherty, Jay Silver (inventor of the MaKeyMaKey) and Mark Greenlaw (vice president of First Robotics).  The also had some workshops for educators, and a teachers lounge where we could get away and recharge.


Dale Dougherty with the newest issue of Make

I got to hear Dale Doughtery back at ISTE.  His talk there was more focused on an introduction to the Maker Movement.  At this talk, he knew that we were all committed to the MakerMovement, so his focus was more on inspiring us and recognizing us for leading the way in introducing our students to making.   There were so many awesome bits of wisdom in his talk, but my favorite was this: Makerspaces are learning spaces, doing spaces, places to get access to materials, to get mentors.

meeting my heroes

I was super excited to meet Jay Silver, see Dale Dougherty again, and get their autographs

Jay Silver’s talk focused on his current projects, which involve finding art in unusual places.  Some of his examples were when his son discovered that gnats would move in interesting patterns when they talked.  He recorded their reactions to different types of music, and it was fascinating.  I love how his project brings art into making.

Mark Greenlaw brought in local students from First Robotics teams and let them share about how their experiences with robotics have changed them.

making at Makerfaire

I got to solder a Makey pin and screen print my own t-shirt

After the educator forum, it was time to explore.  I loved the hands-on workshops, where a teenager taught me how to solder a Makey pin, and where I got to screen-print my own t-shirt.  There were tons of amazing exhibits too.  Local Makerspaces and Hackerspaces, homemade arcade machines, R2D2 robots, and a giant K’nex rollercoaster were just some of the awesome sights.


Amazing K’nex roller coast on display

It was an awesome experience.   Another one of my colleagues went too, and we’ve talked about having a booth there next year, where we can share with how we’re making in our schools.  If there’s a MakerFaire or MiniMakerFaire near you, you should absolutely check it out.


Mandatory selfie with Makey

Have you been to a MakerFaire or a MiniMakerFaire?  What was your experience like?

Book Review: Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s


This is a beautiful book about an outsider who wants to have friends, but doesn’t know how to go about it.  When the worst possible tragedy occurs, she discovers friends who had been there already.

Here’s my review from GoodReads:

Willow Chance was an unusual girl. Brilliant, awkward and blunt, she didn’t make friends easily. Her guidance counselor, Dell, couldn’t figure out how to categorize her. The only other person she could relate to was Mai, a girl she met at her counselor’s office. When a sudden tragic accident leaves Willow with nowhere to go, it’s up to Mai and Dell to watch over her. But while they’re helping her to heal, they don’t realize that she’s helping all of them to find their true selves.

This is a beautiful story of friendship. The cast of characters is unique, diverse, and well-developed. You will be cheering for Willow the entire time

Weekly reads: September 21, 2014


*Welcome to Weekly Reads.  As I read blogs, peruse Twitter, and save things to Diigo throughout the week, 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 of the week and share them with you.  Enjoy!*

Note: I’m getting ready to purchase a proper domain for my blog, and I’m debating between using my name, the name of the blog, or something else entirely.  Please take a minute to go vote in my poll, or if you have a suggestion for a different name altogether, leave it as a comment.  Thank you!


Education/ Libraries

Technology/ Tools

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Reader Survey: URL ideas

I’m getting ready to make some improvements here on my blog, and I’d love to get the opinions of my readers.  I’m planning on purchasing a domain for my blog so that it looks more professional, but I’m debating whether I want the url to be Intarsia for Technicals or Diana L Rendina.  Intarsia for Technicals is the name of the blog and would seem the right fit, but a lot of people have trouble with the spelling, and professionally, my name is better known than my blog.  However, I’ve noticed that most other educators save their name for their professional site where they post presentations, their CV, etc.  I currently keep both on the same site, but I might consider separating them in the future.  Please take a minute to vote in my poll and help me decide which route to take.  Thank you!


Help us trick out our MaKeyMaKeys

Help us trick out our MaKeyMakeys! Donate to our DonorsChoose project and use the code INSPIRE to match your donation (good through Sept 21)

Our new MaKeyMaKeys

Our new MaKeyMaKeys

At the end of last year, we successfully raised funds through DonorsChoose for a set of 10 MaKeyMaKey kits for our library.   If you aren’t familar with MaKeyMaKey, be prepared to be amazed.  It’s an invention kit that you can plug into any computer.  When you connect it to conductive items with alligator clips, those items can become a computer key.  Combine that with a simple coding program like scratch, and bananas can become piano keys, playdoh can become a video game control, copper tape on a paper tube can become a flue.

My students are very excited about the new MaKeyMaKeys.  I let our afterschool group tinker with them the other day, and they immediately started coming up with all sorts of ideas.  At first, they made simple controllers with Play-doh and spoons.   Then they started coming up with more ideas – what if I wrap my arm in tin-foil to serve as the ground?  Then both of my hands are free.  What if one person is the ground and the other person is the space bar?  Then we can high five each other to activate the key.


Aluminum foil gauntlet as a ground

Already though, we’ve started hitting the limitations of our supplies.  There isn’t enough Playdoh for all ten MaKeyMaKey groups to have a variety to choose from.  And while paper clips, spoons, and bananas are fun, imagine what these kids could make with copper tape, conductive thread, conductive ink and aluminum wire?  So we decided to create another project to get more MaKeyMaKey supplies.  We’re hoping to take advantage of Hasbro’s offer to match projects where half the cost comes from Playdoh.  When this project is funded, it will help us to ensure that none of our students have to fight over who gets the green Playdoh again, and it will increase the variety and creativity in their projects.

High fiving to make the sprite jump

High fiving to make the sprite jump

Please visit this link and donate to and/or share our project to trick out our MaKeyMaKeys.  Use the code INSPIRE until Sept 21 to double your donation.  Thank you!

The Epic Library LEGO Wall: How to Build One

The Epic Library LEGO Wall


Yesterday I wrote about everything that led up to us creating our Epic Library LEGO Wall – check out the post here.  Today is going to be more of a how-to.  I’ve had many, many people ask me how to build a LEGO wall, and while there’s tons of great information out there, I’m going to put my own spin on things, so here goes.


Our plywood mounted and ready for the LEGO wall

The supplies will vary depending on what size of a LEGO wall you want to build.  I decided to go all out and make a giant 80″ x 80″ LEGO wall so that it could be the centerpiece of our library Makerspace.  Of course, any size LEGO wall that works in your space is awesome.

Here’s what I used:

  • 80″ x 80″ sheet of plywood (note: 80.5 would have been better.  Can use MDF also.  You’ll want 10 inches for every baseplates, with about 1/16 inch between each one)
  • Concrete screws
  • 3 10oz tubes of Liquid Nails or similar glue (I actually used a different brand, but can’t find the name now.  Ask the people who work at Home Depot or Lowes for advice.)
  • Caulking gun
  • 64 10″ x 10″ LEGO Baseplates/Building plates

Cost:  The plywood and screws were free for me as the district provided them, but plywood is pretty inexpensive anyhow.  The glue was $15, caulking gun was $6.  The baseplates currently sell at two for $12 at Kaplan, costing a total of $384, which we raised through DonorsChoose.  So a LEGO wall of this size runs about $400 total.



Caulking guns are fun

I highly recommend using a caulking gun as it makes it SO much easier to evenly distribute your glue.  Plus, it makes you look really cool.  Don’t get too close to the edges of the baseplate, or glue will bleed through, and it’s a pain to clean up.  Glue all four sides of the baseplate, then add an x in the middle and a few dots of glue in between.  That’ll hold it really well.


Use caulking gun to put glue on the baseplates around the edges and in the center. NOTE: Use more glue than I did. Some plates aren’t holding well.

The first plate you glue down will be the most important one, as it will affect the layout of all other plates.  Take your time and make sure that you align it perfectly.  You may even want to use a level.  As you glue the baseplate on, take into consideration the direction of the text on the studs – if you look closely, you will see the word LEGO written on every stud.  Most people will probably never notice or care, but if it bothers you (or you know if will bother your students) make sure that LEGO is always going in the right direction.  Or don’t.  It doesn’t affect functionality at all.

It’s recommended that you tape down your first baseplate with duct tape to secure it.  I didn’t, but my glue was holding pretty well.  If you find it slipping, tape it down.


First baseplate glued on.

After you get the first plate down, start working in rows to add more plates.  As you add each plate, attach it to surrounding plates with LEGO bricks.  This will keep every aligned well so that you’ll be able to build seamlessly, and it will help to anchor the baseplates as the glue dries.  This will leave a 1mm gap between each plate, which should be taken into account when you decide how large your plywood will be.  Since this gap shows, you might want to paint your plywood if wood showing through is a concern for you.  I didn’t see the need to, and I think it looks fine.


Gluing down more baseplates

Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that 1 mm gap between each plate when I got my plywood, so when I got to the last plate, I had about a 1/2 inch overhang.  To fix this, I cut off two rows of studs on my baseplates.  It’s surprisingly easy to do.  I placed LEGO bricks across what I wanted to cut to give me a perfect line that would still allow building.  Then I scored it several time with a box cutter.  After a few passes, the remaining portion broke right off.  I placed the raw edge to the inside so that the original edge is still on the outside.

This solution worked for me, but if you can avoid having to cut the baseplates, it’s better.  Try to not be like me and start off with the right size of plywood.


Stylish band-aid from cutting myself on a tape dispenser, not with the box cutter.

Once everything is up on the wall and secured comes the hardest part – waiting.  Put up some cute and clever signs, barricade it with caution tape, just do what you have to do to keep the kids from messing with it.  The glue needs 24 hours to completely cure, and it would be horrible for all your hard work to go to waste.


Putting on the last brick. Then comes the waiting.


After 24 hours, let the kids loose and watch the magic happen. I couldn’t resist adding some LEGO works on my own, adding pixel art versions of Mario and Link, as well as the Epic LEGO Wall words.

LEGO Wall art from the first day

LEGO Wall art from the first day

I would love to see every school build a LEGO wall – they’re so much fun.  My students love it, and it’s a great opportunity for them to exercise creativity, spatial thinking, fine motor skills, math, etc.  Plus, it’s just fun and stress relieving.

Are you building a LEGO wall in your school?  Please share and let me know!  I love seeing all the awesomeness :)