Exploring Motivation

As a parent, I care deeply about how my kids own their habits of learning. In grade school, I received the gift of violin lessons from age five through high school. Looking back, my capacity for music making has become one of my most cherished life skills. Music is just fun! Music brings people together. In my faith life, music helps our community to pray. In short, I have internalized my motivation to explore music making. Beyond violin, I now play guitar, piano, do music recording, sing and ukulele.

If I’m honest with myself, I can remember the times that practicing violin felt like a chore. I can recall those times that I got in trouble because I did not practice enough. As an adult, I now have an appreciation for the gift of habits and can see the value that music-making has created in my life. When you start learning a complex piece of music, you have to deal with the emotions of feeling “overloaded.” With great mentorship of my parents and teaching, I learned the gift of taking things slow. We explored ways to chop up a piece of music into small phrases and gain competency. To move fast in music-making, you have to start slow and correct.

Reflecting on my music journey, I can see the joy, benefits and value of musicianship clearly now. The eight-year-old Michael did not have that kind of motivation. Over the next few months, I’m hoping to study some stuff around motivation so that I have additional tools to serve my kids in their lifelong journey. In this blog, we commit to the mission of helping students love learning through making, engineering, and exploration. It’s hard to keep my kids motivated on their projects and activities at times. I have a little one taking violin lessons now. It’s a joy to see her grow. And it can feel like a challenge getting her to practice regularly. Every parent has their version of this. How do I get my kids to eat their vegetables?

My wife and I will often tell each other that “they don’t come out saints.” In this phrase, we acknowledge that mentorship and parenting are hard. I also acknowledge that good parenting requires healthy habits from myself. (prayer, reflection, planning, etc.)

In this post, I did some reflection over the following Edutopia post about student motivation. Will probably do more over the next month.

To Increase Student Engagement, Focus on Motivation by Nina Parrish.

The post reflects on the idea that students tend to have more motivation to explore if they have the gift of autonomy. In my favorite book, “Invent to learn”, they foster the idea that students should have the space to select meaningful “hands-on” creative projects. If my kids really want to engineer a skateboard, I should try to cheer them on. In theory, I should also support them as their walk through the related math/construction skills. Secondly, students feel motivated when they feel like they’re gaining ground on their skills. (i.e. growing in mastery) For some kids, it’s hard for them to chop big projects into smaller stories or tasks. I probably should use my Scrum master skills on them to help them decompose problems more. That might be a fun experiment I can do soon. 🙂 Of course, kids feel motivated when they know that you care. That’s a good reminder.

To celebrate my wife a bit, I feel she did a great job inspiring motivation for our oldest son Peter. Peter has shown great curiousity around marine biology for years now. They also have tons of quality time bird watching too. As I write this blog post, we’re picking up Peter from a cool marine science camp down in the Florida keys. ( Pigeion Key ) I appreciate my wife for finding this amazing camp that empowered Peter to explore his natural curiousity. Picking him up, he’s on fire and excited for all the science and creatures he’s explored this week. Go Dr. Rosario!! I’m thankful that he had this life changing experience.

  • As a honest student of becoming a better parent, I would ask for your ideas on inspiring motivation.
  • What did a teacher or mentor do to inspire you?
  • What has worked for your kids? Very open to your inspirations.

Have a great day!

Block Coding Activities for Your Young Maker


Hello! Hope that you and your family are having a great summer! Like many families, we’ve tried to find fun and constructive ways to engage the kids through the summer while they’re out of school. One of my friends asked me if I had any fun maker activities that involved coding. In this post, I wanted to give a shout out to a few things that have engaged my family.

Dance Pary 2019 from Code.org

One of my kids has become very motivated through the art of dance. With that in mind, I introduced her to this fun “hour of code” lesson from Code.org. In this lesson, makers become connected to block based programming while directing cartoon dancers. In the early lessons, students learn to trigger dance moves based on keyboard events. I find that students become very engaged with good music. These lessons enable students to design their own dance party to various popular songs. Check out Dance Party 2019 from Code.org. Please know that you can find many more engaging hour of code lessons from Code.org with your kid’s favorite characters. They’ve currated lessons that involve Minecraft, Frozen, Lego, and more.

CSFirst from Google – Digital Story Telling

In the maker education community, Scratch has become a cornerstone tool for teaching students to code. The gallery of Scratch.mit.edu enables you to review a broad range of stories and games built by the community. Scratch offers students a general purpose platform for creating games and interactive experiences. Google has put together a pretty cool set of lessons to guide students through their initial interactions with Scratch. Lessons involve experiences with art, digital story telling, and game design. My kids have enjoyed some of the game design lessons.

Check out Google CS First.

Makey Makey

Makey Makey

As artists and makers, we enjoy the process of creating something new from something old or familiar. The Makey Makey makes this possible. Makey makey is a USB device for your Mac or PC enabling makers of all ages to experiment with human computer interaction and inventing. The Makey makey interface enables you to design playful circuits and switches. The following videos describes the Makey makey in great detail with example experiments.

In our family, we’ve enjoyed playing with musical instrument building, controlling Minecraft with fruit, and constructing novel Nerf gun targets.

If you’re looking for project ideas with step by step instructions, you can check out the following link from Instructibles.


Related Posts

How Mom Sparked a Growth Mindset in Our Families

Hello, family. In my post today, I wanted to reflect upon how our mom has loved and inspired her family through her life. I hope these stories of my mother, Belen Rosario, might offer motivation to other families. At InspiredToEducate.NET, our mission is to help students love learning through creative projects and exploration. Writing this post helped me understand my root system and personal curiosity for the power of learning and how a learning mindset can grow communities.

In my own way, I hope this post helps me and my family meditate on the life of my mother Belen. On Nov 20th, 2020, my mother celebrated her birthday into heaven after a challenging battle with cancer. I’m so excited that she’s finally at peace. I praise God that she enjoys the light and comfort of our heavenly Father and the amazing jam session of praise with all the saints and angels.

For my brother and I, we have been so blessed to have a loving mom and dad. Let’s be real. In the Rosario home, we’re not unlike any other family. We have our imperfections and vices. I, however, feel that my mom, Belen, lived out some of the best qualities of a Catholic momma. I hope I can foster her legacy of being a good Catholic parent.

My mom encouraged a spirit of generosity: Belen was born on Christmas day in 1945 to a loving family of teachers in the Philippines. Belen actually means Bethlehem in Spanish. My grandfather Pedro taught her family about the enabling power of learning. Grandpa Pedro had the vision of enabling his daughters and son to live a thriving life, but lacked the financial means to provide university education to all of his children. According to the family stories, Momma worked very hard in her schooling to explore the sciences and eventually earned a B.S. degree at University of Santo Tomas in Manilla in the Philippines. As she grew as a professional, she would live a modest life and send money back to her family. As a young adult, she earned an opportunity to immigrate to the United States which strongly needed medical technologists skilled in chemistry. She knew that making a transition to the US would take her away from her family in the Philippines, but knew that it would create greater opportunities for her and her larger family. My mom and my wonderful father Moses met while they both worked in a medical lab in New York. As I recall my mom’s words, she says “I’m not sure why this young guy kept following me around.” They, however, fell in love and started their family together. My mom and dad have always encouraged a spirit of generosity. They sent money back to the Philippines to help fund the education of her siblings. We’re proud of our momma who helped her family members earn degrees in engineering, medicine and finance. Mom’s story captures the best of the American dream. She came to the US with a spunky drive and educational opportunities. She converted those assets into a beautiful life for herself and opportunities for her family. I have loved hearing stories of how mom and dad helped Tita Gloria and Tito Ernie jumpstart their marriage and life in the US. While we didn’t have a lot, my mom and dad have lived out the “go giver” attitude to help friends in need. #ProudOfMom #ProudOfDad

Keeping the faith: One of the most precious gifts that mom and dad gave to us was the gift of faith. My mom and dad made great financial sacrifices to make sure Francis and I had the best in Catholic education. I also had the opportunity to attend Jesuit High school in Tampa, one of the finest Catholic schools in town. Given that we grew up in Florida, we grew up with the legends and stories of watching the space program. (from Apollo and to the Shuttle program) I can recall fun stories of my dad leading us through fun slide shows of exploring space. From my mom’s side, she did a great job of encouraging our curiosity in science. If we wanted to learn about something, we had a cool encyclopedia and tons of other educational materials so that we could explore our curiosity. Many people put science and faith into different boxes. We were blessed with a family that encouraged the wonder of science and understood that God’s hand orchestrated every detail. While we weren’t a perfect family, we learned the value of our faith, the habits of prayer, and the beautiful rituals of our Catholic faith. These habits have helped us shape our hearts for the Lord. As the family faced the trials of cancer for my mother and brother, I kept seeing my mom turn to Jesus and calling upon the mercy of Momma Mary through the rosary.

Fostering creativity and music: Great art and technical work requires the discipline of incremental practice, trial, failing, and persistence. I feel like Francis and I learned these lessons through our family culture of tinkering, art and music. My dad created opportunities to get early exposure to computers and their creative power. My first experiences with a computer gave us exposure to creating art on a computer or simple code experiments. My brother and I had robust opportunities to learn and explore music. We enjoyed our opportunities to learn violin, piano, and sing. ( And mom loved to sing!) To be honest, when we started playing violin it sounded like we were killing cats. Not sure how we progressed beyond that. At some later point, we gained enough skills to join our music ministry at Christ the King. Some of my favorite memories involve me and my brother getting to serve at 5:30 pm contemporary choirs, sharing music at the carnival and serving in youth ministry. My mom and dad largely supported the strengths of my brother in performing and visual art. It’s been cool to see his passions lean toward creative digital fabrication and digital media. On a personal level, I didn’t realize it at the time, but these became pivot points for preparing me for future work in music ministry later in college. I know these experiences helped us gain a growth mindset for our respective careers.

Toward the end, I helped my mom reflect upon the influence of her life. I talked about Pam and Wilson who met while serving in my campus ministry choir at UCF. Like many beautiful stories, Pam and Wilson fell in love through their shared passion for Christ and music. They have a beautiful Catholic family that I cherish. Since those precious years of being a founding member of Ccmknights.com and OviedoCatholic.org, hundreds of students have changed their lives because of their deep encounter with Jesus in these ministries. Holy men and women have decided to give their lives to Jesus as priests and nuns. Generations of Catholic families will continue to be born. My mom has beautiful spiritual grand-children because she planted the love of God and music in my heart. To return to the simple teaching of Mother Teresa, can loving your family truly change the world? It’s a great hypothesis for families to consider. It’s a hypothesis that we consider testing with our loved ones. I know our family will always be proud of our dearest Belen.

While we’re sad to lose momma on Earth, we’re excited for momma for her birthday in heaven. Can’t wait to hear the stories of her meeting Jesus, her mom, dad, and other dear ones in heaven. We’re so glad that she now enjoys a glorified body, the love of Christ, and no more pain. Excited to seek Lola Belen’s intersession. Saint Belen Rosario … Pray for us!!

Our Experiments To Improve Our Home Schooling Culture

Hello, friends. As our family tries to adapt to the new normal and the COVID pandemic, I wanted to start reflecting on how our family plans to promote a learning culture. Over the years, InspiredToEducate.NET has taken on the mission of helping students love learning through making, tinkering, and engineering. As working professionals, Sarah and I want to make sure we’re still providing the best learning environment for our kids. Like many other families, we have decided to home school/virtual school our kids due to health risks. To serve other parents struggling with these transitions, I wanted to share some the ideas we’ve researched. Make sure to check out the blog posts at the end of this article.

PRO’s of virtual school + home school approach

  • Personalized learning: In general, Sarah and I find the concept of personalized learning attractive. Every student has different strengths and weaknesses. The asynchronous nature of online learning can provide the student to learn at their own pace. In many cases, lectures will be assigned in recorded in video format. If you don’t understand something, you can always hit the pause button and rewind. Does your student need more context on a topic? Students can jump on YouTube and find a Khan academy video that probably complements the class material.

  • Gaining key career skills: It’s interesting to consider the 21st century career skills our kids will explore with online virtual school. In the spring, I greatly enjoyed seeing my son prepare a pretty awesome history presentation that he shared with his class. He was very intentional about the visual look of the slides. I also admired how he practiced his presentation for clarity. I know he aspires to run his own YouTube channel some day. So, he’s getting some pretty cool practice through this online learning experience. It’s important to reflect upon the long term benefits of the “online” learning modality.

  • Exploring game based learning, simulations and project based learning: Some online teachers have started leaning into the benefits of a flipped classroom model. Under this model, students take in videos/lectures as homework assignments. When the student and teacher have “face to face” time, they can leverage their interactions to clarify knowledge and explore. Some teachers have exploited learning games or hands-on learning projects to deepen knowledge.

Our honest pain points with home schooling/virtual schooling

As our family has moved to online learning out of necessity, I have gained a great respect for families who have decided to home school their kids outside the scope of the pandemic. The self discipline and habits required to make a great learning environment at home do not come naturally. It takes a lot of work.

In our family in the Spring, if we didn’t create a good plan for the week, we could easily miss assignments or support time for our kids. Like many families, Sarah and I both work full time jobs with busy calendars. It’s not trivial to keep a mode of “focused” work in a professional context while supporting our kids. I do want to thank my niece Rosemary for helping us in the Spring. While living with us during the virus outbreak, she has been very helpful supporting our kids in school work and helping them stay focused and organized. Our appreciation for her can not be understated.

As we reflect on our Spring adventures with home schooling/online learning, Sarah and I know we have to up our game plan for the fall. Here’s our plan in progress.

Themes of our learning culture plan

  • Becoming a better Peacher(Parent/Teacher/Project manager): As we think through the fall, I know that Sarah and I will need to schedule regular time to answer questions and times for regular teacher communication. In some of our previous explorations of maker mindset in teaching, we found many good themes that will become helpful. Teaching isn’t always about being the fountain of knowledge and sharing it. Teaching sometimes looks a bit more like project management where we’re teaching students how to break big problems into small problems. We teach students how to ask better questions. We connect students with the key search tools they need to discover their own knowledge. We meet students where they’re at.

  • Family weekly planning: From looking at blogs on virtual schools, it’s common for these schools to provide assignment tracking and organization tools. I think it will be important to find these tools and organize them into a system. I hope that we can take this a step forward though. At my work, we chunk our work into two week cycles or plans. We start each cycle with a meeting called “sprint planning.” This enables us to find the most valuable and easy work we can be doing to help the project move forward and meet deadlines. I think Sarah and I will come up with a family version of this meeting us. We’ll probably use some tools like MindMeister, Google Documents, or Trello to help us stay organized and monitor work.

Here’s a cool video exploring the idea of family weekly planning using Agile ideas …

If you need an agenda for this kind of meeting, check out our post here.

  • Inspect and adapt: We know that we will not make a perfect plan. With that in mind, we plan to have a meeting weekly to see how we’re doing as a family. What’s working well? What are common road blocks? How can we get better? What resources can we leverage outside our family to promote a peaceful, prayerful, healthy and a happy family?

  • Creating zones of focus: Sarah and I have a good degree of schedule flexibility. We’re very fortunate to have this situation. We’re thinking through how we can rigorously leverage our calendars to weave school support into lives while meeting the requirements of our jobs. In brutal honesty, this will be crazy hard.

  • Elements of a good weekly schedule

    • Schedule prayer time
    • Schedule breaks and play time
    • Try to keep a normal work schedule
    • Schedule time for music practice
    • Keep a good backlog of projects/hobby projects
    • Schedule time for socially distance sports or outdoor time
    • Schedule time-box for reading
  • Seek out index of good support/course videos: We already love resources like Khan academy, Coursera, prodigygame.com, and Tynker.com. What other open courseware tools are available to families at low cost? Check out https://www.lifehack.org/articles/money/25-killer-sites-for-free-online-education.html

  • Experiment with time management patterns: Adding Pomodoro to my day: I’m thinking about trying out Pomodoro in my professional work. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique ) In this work pattern, you try to enter a zone of focused work for 25 minutes. After the 25 minutes, you take a break for 5 minutes. In those 5 minutes, it may be possible to do a check-in on kids. We’ll let you know if this works or not.

Interested in project based learning for families? Interested in sharing ideas for helping your kids love learning by making cool stuff? We want to welcome you to our new InspiredToEducate.NET facebook group. In this community, we hope learn and support each other as we promote learning cultures in our families.

Join our community on Creative Learning Projects on Facebook!

Related Posts


  • https://www.baystateparent.com/news/20200416/homeschooling-101-tips-for-parents-adjusting-virtual-learning-with-kids
  • https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/virtual-schools/
  • https://www.connectionsacademy.com/support/resources/article/virtual-school-and-working-parents-ways-to-make-it-work

Thank YOU to all teachers! #edtech #edchat

Hello. In this post, I wanted to share a word of thanks to all teachers and professors. Over the years of being married to a college professor and writing this blog, I continue to grow in respect and appreciation for all teachers. The world has become a hard place. The average student does not just battle with facts, figures, and learning. For many students, they battle with challenges in home life, challenging work situations, and divided attention. Before COVID19, my wife Sarah worked crazy hard to create the best situation possible for her students to thrive. I can see her agonizing over lecture details to make things correct and clear. At times, grading isn’t fun. Work flows into the nights and weekends.

As we enter this epic event of COVID19 and social distancing, I can only imagine the ways that teachers like you have needed to adapt and change to continue to help students become the best version of themselves. Again, I wanted to say thank you!! As a parent of three little ones, it has been a gift to see you adapting to the challenges of teaching online and authentically helping my kids to grow.

Given we’re all huddled up in the same house, Sarah and I have had the opportunity to observe lots of teaching and learning in action. I have enjoyed seeing my kids teachers create open conversation space to help the kids process and talk about their feelings of not attending school in person. We’re social creatures. And my kids miss playing and learning with their friends. The video conferencing helps our kids feel a sense of connection. I have enjoyed seeing the apps, games and “edtech” innovations used to make math, reading, and science fun and engaging. For my older son, I have enjoyed seeing him research his science project and practice new skills of presenting online for the first time. I think my sons have become excited with the idea of having their own YouTube channel some day.

My wife and I have appreciated the way our students have received their schedule and assignments. In some cases, it’s been really nice to have all work due on Sunday at the end of the week. We really like the way our teachers have broken up the scope of work for the week into daily achievable tasks. As Sarah and I try to accomplish our professional work concurrently with running a home classroom, this attention to detail is greatly helpful. We recognize that planning and executing these lessons online is not easy. And again we say thank you.

Sarah and I have often wondered what it would be like to “home school” our kids. Across the nation, many families and teachers have adapted to making our homes into places of learning. If there’s a “bright side” to COVID19, I appreciate the precious opportunity to see my kids learn and grow. I appreciate all your efforts to keep authentically human connections to our students. We recognize that teaching online is more time intensive. Speaking as a parent, please know that we recognize your efforts and thank you.

Blessings to you and your family!!

Recording Music and Audio with the Kids using Audacity

As a young person, my mom and dad invested a great deal in my growth as a musician. Looking back, I’m thankful that I’ve been able to use my gift of music to foster various ministries in our church. My wife and I love making music together by singing and playing the guitar. It’s honestly one of my favorite ways to re-charge and relax.

I wanted to give a shout out to a free tool that I have enjoyed using for basic music recording and talks. Audacity, a free and open source music recording software, has the ability to do a multi-track recording and has lots of basic effects. Audacity runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows. In contrast with other audio recording tools, I appreciate the simplicity of the user experience.

As a Dad, I’m excited to share the gift of music with my kids. My little girl has become very interested in singing lately. To help motivate her, I have started recording some of our jam sessions with Audacity. She loves showing off our work to mom. When my wife and I record music, I do use some professional mic equipment. For the recording sessions that I’m doing with my daughter, the laptop mic works just fine.

If you’re interested in starting a podcast, you might consider starting with Audacity. You can always advance to a more complex tool later. I found a comprehensive post on starting podcasts here. I do like their recommendation for purchasing a higher quality mic. In my experience, I’ve never had any issues with Audacity with advanced recording gear.

Here’s some of the key features that I appreciate from Audacity

  1. Multi-track recording: Let’s say that you want to record many singers or instrumentalists individually, Audacity enables you to layer individual tracks for each recording session. This enables you to edit, mute, solo and apply effects on an individual basis.
  2. Metronome: For some music recording situations, it’s helpful to have a metronome to help you align your tracks across sessions. You can add a metronome track by clicking “Generate > Rhythm track.” Audacity will enable you to set the tempo and generate a click track.
  3. Export to major audio formats: Out of the box, you can export your work to most popular audio formats like Wav, Ogg, and mp3. It’s pretty easy to share your work on services like SoundCloud.
  4. Effects: Audacity has many helpful effects for the entry-level sound engineer. You can amplify sound, apply compression, and apply reverb. When I’m playing with the kids in a silly manner, we sometimes enjoy becoming chipmunks by increasing the speed of tracks or adding lots of echoes.
  5. Editing audio: Audacity has a basic set of tools for editing audio. Once you’ve installed Audacity, you might check out David Taylor’s complete guide to Audacity. He provides a detailed introduction to the tool and many advanced features.

In researching this post, I found a pretty cool Edutopia article talking about the benefits of audio recording for writing. I like the idea of using an audio recording as a brainstorming tool. I also like the idea of reflecting on work by recording it and playing it back. I might try this idea as I’m teaching the kids piano.

Related Posts

The Importance of Reading To Foster Empathy

Girl with books

In my view, one of the best educational and community hacks of all times is the library.  Why?  They are organizations devoted to growing minds through books.   Books have the ability to send us to new worlds of adventure, help us consider diverse perspectives, and exercise our imagination.  Today, I wanted to introduce you to one of my best friends from church and expert homeschool teacher, Lisa Twardowski.  She has amazing, thoughtful and talented kids.   We enjoy getting our families together to do maker education projects.   I really appreciated her post on the empathy you learn from books.   Hope you enjoy it.


As I sit sipping my hot tea after I have tucked my children into bed, I ponder the questions they asked during our nightly read aloud.  While the youngest, our daughter, was still brushing her teeth, I began reading, “The Dangerous Book of Heroes” to our boys. They opted for an entry entitled, “The Abolition of Slavery in England”.  As soon as we started the story, the boys said we would need to stop before their sister joined us, but it was too late. She was already in tears in the other room, asking how one person could possibly feel like they had the right to own or sell another person – a human being!?  One of her brothers explained that that is just the way the world is, while the other brother tried to explain that it is not okay and no one should do it.

We all opted to move on to our family read aloud, “Little House on the Prairie”.  Safe, I mistakenly thought. The title of the chapter we were reading, “The Tall Indian”.  In this chapter, Laura describes her mother’s disgust at the Indians who are using the well-worn trail that is near their new home in Missouri.  Pa mentions that if he had known that trail was the Indian highroad, he never would have built his home so close to it. Laura asks question after question about the Indians: why will they have to move west (because the government will make them) and isn’t this their territory (yes, but white men are moving here now).

The topics, so unfamiliar to us today – at least to my young children – were upsetting, thought-provoking, and cause for pause and reflection.  They felt empathic; they have the ability to imagine or share the feelings of another.

Empathy is something that cannot be taught, it must be understood, lived, experienced.  One person cannot live in every situation, so how do we “learn” empathy? TV isn’t working; computer games aren’t working; apps – as great as they are, aren’t getting the job done.  What is a mom or dad to do – our future generation is at stake! Empathy is now one of the Top 10 Skills employers are looking for in their new hires. Why? Because so many of our young people today are not able to put themselves in a situation outside of the one they are living.

So, how do we solve this problem of learning to be empathic?  It’s as simple as words in print: Books. Do you remember those?  A stack of bound paper with words and sometimes pictures printed in ink, some with a funny smell.  It’s the words printed on those pages that are the important part of this story. Sure, now you can read the printed word on a screen, and even get the sounds effects of turning a page – which works just fine too, but it is those words.  It’s the words that tell the stories of lives and journeys and events that the reader can never live, but can experience through those written words. The reader can become familiar with characters, and practices, and locations that they may never get to visit – or that no longer exist except through that written word.

Reading is a big deal these days.  Sometimes we think reading is the magic key that will unlock any door.  And while I am certainly a believer that reading can fix many of our problems, I do think it is VERY important to choose what we, and our children, are reading carefully.  Captain Crazy Cape is not going elicit more than crass humor from our children. Diary of Anyone is probably not worth our time. What goes in will come out – it works in the stomach and the brain.

There are some great book recommendations online – and what you will find after reading enough of those lists is that as that they contain a lot of the same books.  Not all the books are old, but those tend to be the ones most often turned to. Some of the books I have read recently that really stirred me are middle-grade novels, many written in the 1950s.  The following is not a complete list, as I don’t believe such a thing can exist, but any of these books are a good place to begin.

  • Stuart Little
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Little House on the Prairie Series
  • Sarah, Plain, and Tall
  • The 100 Dresses
  • Number the Stars
  • Heidi
  • Amos Fortune, Free Man
  • The Secret Garden
  • Tuck Everlasting
  • Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
  • Where the Red Fern Grows
  • Island of the Blue Dolphin
  • Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extrodinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance
  • Johnny Tremain
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
  • Men of Iron
  • The Bronze Bow
  • The Giver (Upper Middle School, High School, and Adult)
  • Silas Marner (Upper Middle School, High School, and Adult)
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (High School and Adult)
  • The Hiding Place (a must read for ALL High School students and Adults)

There is no magic fix all in any of these books.  Some are true accounts of the authors’ lives, some are historical fiction, and still, others are fiction outright.  All tell the story of humankind: the hardship and failures, the successes and joys. Each will allow the reader to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.  These stories span historical times, locations, race, and socio-economic classes, but they all deal with characters who struggle with one issue or another, but find hope to continue on.  

Most of these situations are not things we can even offer our children, nor would we want to: to become an orphan, or a slave, or a science experiment.  But they can see life through another’s eyes and learn what it may have been like to have those struggles, and think those thoughts, and possibly make different choices – or at least ponder, “what would I have done?”  To be empathic to another’s struggles and life. To gain the ability to imagine or share in the feelings of another, all from the safety of the sofa.

As LeVar Burton of Reading Rainbow so often reminded us, “But you don’t have to take my word for it…”  

Lisa Twardowski


Other posts from InspiredToEducate.NET

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/yannickcarer

The Challenge of Being Present

SunriseIn our modern world of mobile devices and tech, it’s easy to become distracted. As knowledge workers, we have an attraction to achieve mastery in our craft and autonomy. My family will attest that I do a lot of “work related” or “blog related” reading to stay on top of the latest maker tools, trends or leadership coaching. Our mobile devices offer an escape. They offer infinite entertainment, infinite knowledge, and illusion of being connected. Without checks and balances, is it worth the cost?

As I draft this post, I know that I can own the challenge of being more present to my friends, family and peers. As a Dad and husband, I am challenging myself to be in the moment. Honestly, this is a struggle. I work as a software engineer. Many programmers(including myself) will confess that they have the ability to continue working problems in their head even after they’ve disconnected from their computers. Now that we’re armed with mobile phones and Google, we can continue to “research” solutions anytime and anywhere. I know I have to cherish my wife and kids. My kids will only be little once in a lifetime. Let’s make this time count.

On a professional level, our team leader purchased our team the gift of really nice notebooks during a sprint planning meeting. After handing out theses gifts to each team member, he invited us to close our laptops/devices to encourage us to engage more deeply in the meeting and with each other. The message was the same. Let’s be present to each other. Since that teaching moment has happened, I’ve noticed that our team members have become more prepared to meetings too. This has increased meeting effectiveness. In some ways, this teaching hints at the agile concept of “people over processes and tools.”

As mentioned before, I struggle with the distraction of mobile tech just like anyone else. I believe that making, tinkering, and engineering skills support a profound engagement in learning. As my friend Sylvia Martinez says, “making is a stance toward learning.” Technology is one tool of many to express creativity and grow. It’s not the only tool. I have to acknowledge the tech needs limits, balance, and bounds. The following video by Guy Raz from NPR motivated me to draft this post. My goal in sharing this post is simply to create awareness of the influence of mobile tech. How do we use this tool effectively? How do we keep this technology in balance? How do we become more present to the people around us?

Do you have any rules of thumb that you follow to be more present? We love to hear from our readers. Please share a comment below.


Giving Yourself Margin

Enjoying Nature

I’m in one of those seasons of life where my schedule feels three notches beyond packed.  We enjoy staying active in our church, our community, and family.  My wife and I believe in the concept of going above and beyond in our professional lives too.   We, however, recognize that packing our lives with more activities isn’t sustainable or healthy.  

As I’ve been reading about innovative teams and business culture, I’ve been smacked in the face by this very simple idea: margin.  It’s the idea of giving yourself or your team the gift of time.   Here are a few places where this idea shows up:

  • “Innovation time off”: The post-it note was invested at 3M when a leader gave his team 20% of their work time to develop new product concepts.  Innovators like Google have adopted this idea of “innovation time off” too.  Through this strategy, Googlers invented amazing products like Gmail, Google Cardboard, and many others.   
  • Create margin for your teams: In the world of engineering, there’s a temptation to plan monthly schedules down to the exact hour to make sure you’re getting 100% capacity from the team.   The best teams make time to plan regularly.   They, however, acknowledge that you can’t think and plan for everything.  In fact, that level of planning is wasteful.  It’s great to give your team margin to account for the unexpected stuff that ALWAYS happens and creates the opportunity for creative thought.  The extra time can be helpful to address process improvement or reduce technical debt.
  • Genius hour: It’s cool to see the idea of margin showing up in k-12 education too.   Many innovative educators have tried increasing student engagement in learning by empowering them to have time to learn a topic of interest to the student.   In most cases, the student present their work or new knowledge to the rest of the class.   To learn more about this practice, check out the following posts on Edutopia and Gallit Zvi’s blog.  

In the world of personal finance, it’s a common practice to make sure you have an emergency fund to cover the unexpected things of life.   I have to say that I’m guilty of not always creating margin for myself to have down time to recharge my mind, my heart, and soul.   This might be prayer, going fishing or having open time to relax.   This is a place of growth for me.   It’s an opportunity to learn to say “no” to some good things of life to make room for the best.

What are your favorite ways to create margin for your team?   How do you create margin for yourself?


Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/hiking-hiker-mountains-rocks-hills-691739/

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Celebrating Community Learning at SparkMacon MakerSpace

Christmas Ornament Making

On our blog InspiredToEducate.NET, we have reflected on the benefits of learning by making.   It has been fun putting project based learning ideas into action at our new makerspace.   Our team has been given the opportunity to implement project based learning experiences in community meetups.   Our team has completed some informal reflection upon community events so far with the hopes of improving our guest experience.  I wanted to share a few celebrations and ideas we’re considering to make things better.

What’s going well?

  • We are very excited that we’re attracting a variety of makers.    For background, our “open make” night is scheduled the first friday of every month and open to the public.   This event gives our makerspace the opportunity to serve the public at large.  During our first events, our makers have included arduino builders, coders, boot painters, cosplay crafters, artists, lego fans, musicians, and wood workers.   It was neat to see young makers working right beside the adults.

  • One of our key dreams for SparkMacon is that we inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and artists.  It has been cool to see families bring their kids to the events.   Inspired by the Maker Kids Makerspace and ClubHouse Augusta, our team has been working to make sure young makers feel at home.   The kids seem to enjoy the 3D modeling activities with TinkerCAD and building stuff with Lego Wedo.   During our last open make night, we experimented with building Minecraft worlds using TinkerCAD and MCEdit.
  • I’m really pleased that my wife enjoyed getting to meet other maker families in Macon.   I know that I appreciate getting to make new friends too.  It does give me a feeling of satisfaction knowing that we’re helping to grow positive relationships through these events.   Who knows what the impact of these relationships will be five years from now?
  • It has been cool to see students teaching students.   One of the older kids that attended the open make nights has been showing the younger students how he accomplished certain things in TinkerCAD.   I also caught him showing off his “hour of code” games to his young friends.   I hope we can grow this trend in our young makers programs.  I’m looking forward to seeing our students helping other students to learn and grow.
  • The people who have tried the “hour of code” materials from code.org have really enjoyed themselves.   I got to see one of our young makers enjoying the process of building flappy birds.   Since our first open make night, I have been told that this young man has been asking more questions about learning to code.   (Way cool!!)   We’ve had a few adults show interest in the material too.  I’m looking forward to seeing us do more “learn to code” events in January.
  • Our leadership team at SparkMacon could not pull off these events alone.   It takes a lot of effort to properly market, organize, plan execute, setup and teardown events.  In our early stages, I’m thankful for our SparkMacon members who have volunteered their precious time and effort to make the space functional and welcoming to our community.

In a future blog post, I will try to reflect upon how we plan to improve our community events.


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