IB Certified!

I just got my certificate for IB Design Technology (Diploma Program, Category 1). The course was excellent, but and really dug into the nitty-gritty of the new (first assessment 2016) curriculum. They worked us hard - the "15 hours" is no joke!


I'm registered (and paid!) to do my MYP Design Technology in February. Can't wait!



Hello from Cambodia!

Here I am in Cambodia. Actually, I wasn't exactly in Cambodia. But I was presenting in Cambodia over the weekend, through the power of the interweb. It was a great session where I shared my approach to Affordable, Authentic Design Technology. Check out the presentation, if you want!



The Digital Design Lab is off the ground!

I'm super excited to get started teaching the Digital Design Lab elective I spent the last year designing. Based around the 3D printer, Arduino micro-controller, and basic electronics, it is designed to get kids making stuff in a realistic setting. 

I've tried to incorporate all of the best practices I know - for example, we're using portfolio-based assessments and students are planning and guiding their own learning - with lots of choice. I can't wait to show the first batch of projects in the coming weeks.

For now - check out the class home page. All the good stuff is there.


ISP Blogweek 2014: Blogging and Business: The Adafruit Example


The International School of Prague is gearing up for Blogweek 2014. One of the ideas behind our annual blogging festival is allow students to explore ways that digital literacy is reshaping our world - and how we can leverage the power of social media in our own lives.

In that spirit, I thought I would write a short piece exploring - full disclosure - one of my favourite companies, and how they have woven social media into their DIY approach to business.  It is a story which illustrates how relevant digital literacy is for entrepeneurs.

Adafruit Industries is a company that specializes in designing and manufacturing electronics for a broad range of makers: simple to use for students or hobbyists, but high quality for rapid prototyping in professional design environments. I became acquainted with them through my interest in robotics and in promoting digital design technology in education.

Limor Fried and Adafruit Industries

Limor “Lady Ada” Fried, Adafruit’s founder, is a prominent spokesperson for the open-source and maker movements. She was the first female engineer to make the cover of Wired Magazine. 

I won’t bother to retell the full Adafruit story, but check out this piece on Lady Ada for her 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year profile, if you’d like some more information. It’s a good story.

Where Blogging & Social Media Fit In

Adafruit puts a big emphasis on social media to speak directly to their customers. It is basically the only marketing they do. They have new content every day on their blogs. They produce several weekly live video shows on Youtube. The have developed their customized “Adafruit Learning System” which includes project tutorials, product datasheets, code examples and anything people might need in order to use their products. They also regularly publish other sorts of content, from project ideas, tear-downs of commercial products, and other news relevant to makers.

Check out the new and their Youtube channel to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

In keeping with their DIY philosophy, all of Adafruit’s social media content is either produced totally in-house, or through collaboration with the larger maker community - including their customers, who regularly share project ideas, help out in the forums, and contribute tutorials to the Learning System. Regardless, there is no external marketing team building their website or crafting “viral” advertising campaigns.

On a recent “Ask An Engineer”, one of their weekly live Youtube shows, they discussed their Youtube and website traffic and a little about their social media approach (this link will take you directly to the relevant clip).

Unlike almost all other sites, Adafruit doesn’t sell advertising space on their site, or accept paid editorial content. With the significant traffic it generates, it has the advertising potential be a stand-alone revenue-generating product. Adafruit has bucked the advertising trend in favor of clean design and functionality for their community.

So, if the editorial content itself doesn’t generate revenue, what is the angle, from a business perspective?  

On one level, the strategy is pretty straight-forward. Providing project ideas and high quality tutorials clearly encourages enables a larger community of people to buy the products. The more they learn, the more new projects they attempt, the more they buy.

It should come as no surprise that much of the content Adafruit produces discusses products they sell. Not exclusively, however - the surprise is how much time they spend discussing the industry at large and promoting other like-minded folks.

In addition to their products, they’ve positioned themselves as a go-to source of information. This includes information for the maker community, but also about the maker community.

We try to teach students about grooming their own positive digital footprint - this is an excellent example of a company leveraging blogging and social media to establish a position of corporate leadership.

Let’s be clear, I'm not talking about creating some kind of illusion. Both Lady Ada and Adafruit have earned their authoritative positions through real and substantial individual and corporate success. But, in the modern world, speaking with 2 million unique page visitors and hundreds of thousands of social media connections definitely helps to establish another type of authority and relevance.

But there's more to it than building traffic: Adafruit uses social media very effectively to help define and communicate their brand. Their corporate philosophy is definitely part of their overall sales pitch.

First and foremost, it is a story of a well-run operation - they are well-known for product quality and almost-instant order fulfillment. They leverage blogs, forums, and other social media to provide an amazing level of customer support. They manufacture their products in New York instead of overseas. They support the open-source movement, and are open with their own designs and code.

Transparency is central to their philosophy. This is particularly relevant to the community they serve; makers: people who are interested in how things operate behind the scenes, like how the components are made, and other aspects of running a hardware business. Much of this transparency is achieved communicating via social media.

Also, by being very hands-on with their various blogs and videos, the community is given the opportunity to “know” the Adafruit people in a much more informal and intimate way than is typical in a customer-business relationship. To me, they seem like the kind of people I would like to hang out with. 

Basically, they make it really easy to support them - no mean feat among the DIY set, who (if I may generalize for a moment) are probably more suspicious of corporate interests than your average person. But everything about Adafruit seems to be run as a reaction to how business is normally done. For some reason, despite millions of dollars in annual sales, supporting Adafruit still feels pretty “punk” to me.

But where did this narrative come from? Where did I get it?  Simple - they told me.

Primarily, they were able to tell me directly, using social media. It wasn’t one particular blog, or one video, but it was a story - a corporate identity - that was crafted across the whole digital sphere. It was “what” was said, and also “how” it was said. It was reinforced on social media by testimonials from customers and supporters.Then it was picked up by mainstream media. I don’t intend to make this all sound contrived. And it doesn’t mean their story isn’t true - their success speaks for itself.

But it speaks to the power of social media, and the importance of learning how to leverage these new forms of digital literacy. Adafruit has been able to tell their story directly to the world, uncompromising and unfiltered by the usual marketing machine, disrupting a number of traditional ways of working.

It is not much different from what we all should be doing, albeit on a much smaller scale: taking ownership of our digital footprint: leveraging social media to present the best, most authentic, most marketable parts of ourselves to world.



Building An Audience for Student Blogs. Tips for teachers.

If you build it, they will come. Or not.

Kevin Costner might know a few things about ghostly baseball fields in the corn, but not so much about blogging. 

 is one of the most important elements of blogging. It creates an authentic, intrinsic motivation that is difficult to produce in back-and-forth interactions between teacher and student alone. 
However, teachers and students are sometimes disappointed when the audience and comments don't automatically come flooding in. As any dedicated blogger knows, building an audience is a little more elusive than that - it requires no small amount of self promotion and social media savvy.
This is an absolutely authentic skill - to survive and make a living as a professional writer these days requires persistance. Even engaging the digital world in other sorts of professional or academic talk doesn't happen automatically. Building a community takes time and effort. 


Create a central meeting spot. In our school, mostly, kids have their own eduBlogs (although I've seen some excellent group blogs too!). But it can be tricky to promote and share 25 individual blogs, all with their own addresses.  If you create a "directory", linking all your students blogs onto a single page (perhaps your blog, or a class website), you can share a single link instead. Must easier for Tweeting. 
Find a partner. Build a relationship. It is a lot to ask for random strangers to spend time reading your blog, or your students' blogs, even if you were to put in a lot of time promoting them. A great way to get started is to partner with another colleague, and their students. You dedicate some time with your class reading and commenting on their writing, and you return the favor. The great part about blogging is that is could equally be a colleague across the hall, or around the world. 
School Bulletins / Announcement / Letters To Parents. For schools, these are classic forms of social media. Don't forget to share your blogging with the school community. We all want a global audience, but pushing your blogs locally makes sense - your own community are the most likely to be interested. Besides, especially in the international school world, global clicks come from our extended families around the world.
Facebook & Twitter, etc.: Using social media to promote your social media should be part of the plan. First and foremost on official school channels, but also on personal networks. 
For you, I assume many of your friends (in both the real, and Facebook sense) are educators.These are great folks to engage. If can't get your friends interested, engaging strangers is a tough ask. Similarly, students should promote their own writing to their own peers and social networks. 
Some schools get squeamish about this idea, but this is really the key to teaching digital citizenship and creating a positive digital footprint -  giving students the opportunity to publish and put positive stuff out there.
If you want to engage the world at large on Twitter, try the #comments4kids hashtag. Teachers who are looking for folks to visit and comment on student work often use this hashtag. It is courteous to return the favor. 
Also, for my staff, there is this Blogweek thing. Designed to be a good place to start. Just sayin'.