ICYMI: The Nerdy Teacher At ISTE
Rod Berger: Alright. So, The Nerdy Teacher. (laugh) Let's start with that.
Nicholas Provenzano: (laugh) Okay.
RB: Where did that come from?
NP: January 2010 is when I started my blog, and it's the only New Year's resolution I've ever kept. The idea behind it was I wanted a space to share what I'm doing for me as a reflection piece. I'm just going to get out there so I can take a look at it and assess what I was doing. Then I started a Twitter account, and I thought, "I need a catchy title because apparently, that's what people do on blogs." I wanted to call it Nerdy Teacher, but that was taken, so I added: "The" in front it and The Nerdy Teacher came to life. It was thenerdyteacher.blogspot.com, I thought, "I'm not buying a domain that's all I can say now." Then a few years later, I was like, "Oh man, I should buy a domain!"
RB: This is taking off.
NP: I know. It's become legit; people are actually reading it.
RB: Being nerdy is in fashion.
NP: Yeah, this is becoming a real thing. Then I would share things that I've liked and used, and companies would reach out and say, "Hey, we heard you like this." I would say, "I DO." And they would respond with, "Would you mind taking a look at this?" And I would say, "Yes, I would love to take a look at that!"
I am still in the classroom. I'm a high school English teacher I provide that authentic audience response of, "I did this in my classroom yesterday. And this is what the kids thought of it." There are a lot of Edtech people out there, a lot of them are close friends, but they've been out of the classroom for a while. And it's tough to make those connections; it's easy to say, "Oh, I know someone does this or this person does that." But, I can say and tweet immediately what happened live in my classroom like a periscope, and I can do those things instantaneously. I can connect companies or groups to student feedback right away, which is the best form of feedback they could want.
If You Are Someone Who Would Rather Listen...click play. Otherwise, enjoy the rest of the interview below!
RB: Let's talk a little bit about early childhood learning. We are catching up with the Tiggly booth at ISTE this year in Denver. How do you look at technology with that age group and then fast forward to the implications a high school student that's maybe had those experiences in a thoughtful, meaningful way that's been integrated into the curriculum?
NP: I have a son who's five. I'm about to focus on all the early childhood stuff. He's starting kindergarten next year. When I brought Tiggly home, it was so easy and intuitive for him to jump on and start playing. He's looking at the shapes, the letters, and the words that are spelled and counting the numbers while playing all those games. What you want to see in any technology is something intuitive; whether it's for a kindergartener or an 8-year-old who picks it up and uses it. Things are more touchscreen than ever before, and my son will go to a TV and touch it assuming it's a touchscreen.
RB: Daddy, why is it not working?
NP: Exactly. There're fingerprints all over the screen. My son's grown up in a world where you can touch, maneuver and manipulate. To have something like Tiggly where they have the manipulative where you can actually take it and put them on the iPad, that's insane to think about it.
He has experiences where he learns and is taught in a variety of ways; you've taken a two-dimensional iPad app and made it three-dimensional. It's functional; they can grab, they can touch. Those early learning experiences give a more solid foundation that eventually impacts the high school kid. A stronger early foundation can create a scaffold to build other learning experiences more readily, more easily in the future.
Tiggly is another tool to let kids and teachers access learning in a different engaging way. For instance, the old way of "A capital A, write the capital A, write the capital A and A is for apple." It works, but it wasn't fun. Not everything has to be fun, but this can be fun. The graphics are beautiful; the interface is great, so it attracted him immediately, and now he's like "S", can I play the shape game? That's what he calls it.
RB: The shape game.
NP: He knows when he gets older, he'll have access to more things because as they keep creating new apps, the experience can grow and grow and move forward. That's why I'm such a big fan.
RB: Let's close with this. I think it's interesting when you tell your story that your intention was not to become "The Nerdy Teacher LLC, right?" (laugh)
NP: (laugh) Yeah. Yeah. That's not where I started.
RB: Corporate "Nick" in that way. But do you find you have a sense of responsibility to share information because everybody's starving for quality information?
RB: They turn to you and how does that impact you as a person?
NP: It's cool, and it's humbling that people respect my opinion. I didn't set out to do that. People started reading what I was writing and saying, "that's cool, thanks for that." I was merely playing with it and expressing my opinion. There have been plenty of times where I played with a not so good thing, but I didn't write a negative review. I would send it back and say, "Hey, it's not working here and here and here. But if you go back to the drawing board and let me know and I'll take another look at it."
I always try to approach it from the positive. Some things could be better, and I'll say, "Hey, it could be better here or there." There's so much need for that information because everyone wants to sell you something. And of course, everything is the next best thing.
If I can help save a district thousands of dollars, which would be insane because of how tight, the budgets are, I'm happy to do that. I played with a lot of junk, but a lot of great things and just to show that out. I feel like I have this responsibility now that I have a Twitter following and a website following, plus I present. When I present on these tools, I'm saying, "Hey, these are ones that worked for me, definitely take a look at them." I think that's what's so powerful; you're giving them an inside look at how things work because teachers want to know from a teacher how they work. They don't want to know only from a vendor why it's going to change a life. They don't want to read a study that was done. (laugh)
RB: They have a lot of time to do that, right? (laugh)
NP: They want to hear from a teacher, "I used it yesterday, and it was great. Here is why, here's what to look out for because this one is messed up. But that's okay; you're supposed to mess up, and then you move forward." There is a responsibility, but I like shouldering it. It's neat to be able to connect with companies and offer input to help them make something better. I tell my students, "Hey, we're trying something out. Let me know what you think. And, you know, they can actually make this product better with your feedback." And the kids like going, "Wow, like if they make a change to this it's because I said so."
RB: There's a benefit I would imagine over time, and you couldn't plan for this, but there's a talent issue. We don't have enough talent feeding the education world. Your students feel like they're a part of it –
RB: – it might plant a seed. Maybe there's one student every five years that says, "I'm going to innovate. I'm going to become a teacher because I played a part and it got my creative juice flowing."
RB: I think that's a great narrative.
NP: That's my big push for maker’s spaces, and get kids coding and creating. Not every kid is going to be a computer designer and coder, but some kids who might never have had an opportunity to experience code will now do it, and it can change the way that they look at things. And that's what so powerful. You want kids to have experiences that change where they're going to go. As a teacher our job is not just to teach them, it's to provide those types of learning experiences. I think with that approach and sharing that out, it helps many teachers and students.
RB: Those of you who are listening to this interview, and unable to see The Nerdy Teacher here in person, I can tell you there's a humbleness that comes across that's such an amazing quality. It's refreshing, and I'm sure maintaining your place in the classroom has kept you grounded. You've got a following, so go check out The Nerdy Teacher. If you could see his bowtie; you'd love it. How would you describe that? It's half toy, half –
NP: It's 3D designed and printed. And so I designed it.
RB: You did.
NP: I designed it, and I printed it out myself and to use the two colors I had to design in such a way that I had one level, then I changed the filament and put the other color on top of it. It was a thought experiment for me to see if I could do it. I figured out I had to do it layering, not left to right. Once I understood that, I thought in three-dimension. I designed in three-dimension.
RB: Novel idea, right? (laugh)
NP: (laugh) Right. I solved the problem, went to school, and I gave that challenge to the kids to see if they could figure it out. I learned through an experience, and I wanted my kids to do the same. It's 3D plastic, and I printed it out at home. I have a bunch of other ones with different colors and different designs. I've learned more about geometry doing my 3D design than I did in high school. And it's all because it was hands on for me and that's what I'm looking to do in my classroom.
RB: No fear of failure. Just try it out.
NP: Yes, it's me screwing up and telling the kids, "I don't know if this is going to work, but let's try it and let's fail together." It makes them more comfortable to fail themselves.
RB: Well, continued success.
NP: Thank you.