Pete Holmes and Penn Jillette

A comedian and a magician discuss growth mindset

In a recent episode of the You Made it Weird podcast is an interview with magician Penn Jillette. For over two hours, Jillette and the host Pete Holmes jump around from topic to topic during the conversation but they spend a healthy amount of time sharing their thoughts and perspectives on learning. I recommend listening to the entire episode but you can hear the parts on learning at 36:14 to 58:56. (Note: the show is NSFW – they swear and talk about some adult situations.)

Without saying it, I think they touch on the subject of growth mindset several times. For example, Jillette recalls his early beliefs about The Beatles and how they changed after hearing some not-so-polished bootlegs of the band. Here is a link that takes you to the beginning of this clip.

Earlier in the show, Jillette explains to Holmes that being tall (both the guest and host are tall men) teaches you something.

I met Penn once at a conference. He doesn’t remember.

Jillette explains that, “tall teaches you not to buy into, completely, that you can do anything that you set your mind to. Because we know we’re not going to be jockeys.” The clip begins here.

I like the point that Jillette makes here. Growth mindset is a positive thing unless it is reduced to a poster, a meme, or bulletin board. I think growth mindset is far too nuanced for Pinterest. Hard work and perseverance (fine, call it ‘grit’ if you must) can get you a long way but we know there is more to the story of how we learn.

Our resilient efforts must be balanced with the reality of our limits. A great teacher or coach helps the learner find this balance. Without a balance, too many learners will live in a fixed state of delusion.

Back to the episode of You Made it Weird; it has a lot more to offer. Holmes explains what he means when he says “education is shoplifting” and Jillette talks about what he thinks the word ‘genius’ really means with examples that reference magic tricks and Bob Dylan. Give it a listen.

Note: Holmes does yell “that’s Dale. That’s Dale being Dale” at the end of the show. This had no bearing on my interpretation of the episode but it sure was freaky!

Add audio player to NEW Google Sites… Sort of

In 2014, I asked the question “Does Google hate audio?” Fast forward to over three years later and we still do not have ways to embed audio files into things that we created in GSuite. Not in Drive, not in Slides. And not even in Sites.

So frustrated that I could not embed audio into my web pages at Google Sites, I created my own workaround to solve the problem. I quickly learned that I was not the only one who was looking for this feature. Thousands of people watched my video tutorial and I collaborated with creators from all over the world to help them add audio to their Google Sites.

Now Google has a NEW Google Sites. it’s much easier to use but it is still missing one very important piece- the ability to embed audio files.

I was able to find an audio solution for the new Google sites but it is still just another workout. Nevertheless, it’s the only solution that we have at the moment.

Below is a quick video tutorial that explains how to embed audio files to pages in the NEW Google Sites.

There are a few things that I do not like about this process:

  1. You cannot add audio files by clicking the Google Drive button. (you can do this with videos that are saved in Drive – not fair!). [**see workaround]
  2. If you embed the URL that points directly to an audio file, it begins playing immediately and continues to play as you edit your page. (so annoying!) [**see workaround]
  3. There are no parameters to adjust how the audio player behaves and looks. (no control over autoplay, download link or background color adjustments) [no workaround 🙁 ]

Because of all of this, I do not recommend using Google Sites (old or new) if audio is an important part of your webpage. If Google is your only option, then your stuck with the workarounds above. However, if you can go beyond Google, give tools like WordPress or Microsoft’s Sway a look instead.

**However, this YouTuber shows how you can add audio files that are stored publicly in Google Drive.


Make something in real life!

Sometimes I worry that my creativity is stuck in the digital world. So many of my creations (videospodcasts, etc.) are digital. I think about the characters in dystopian novels and movies where society is thrusted backwards to a world without electricity. The lights go out, and all their creations are trapped forever inside a dead iPhone.

Revolution – Season 1, Episode 3

Inspired by some of my favorite woodworking Youtubers (here and here), I recently purchased a new tool that will hopefully diversify my creations beyond bits and bytes.

Dewalt table saw (DW745)

Of course, I’m not looking to leave digital creations behind for good. Instead, I’m seeking out ways that digital and physical creations can work together. For example, I needed a workbench for my new saw. Rather than just cutting away (which would probably result in wasted time and lumber), I designed a digital version of the workbench first.

My workbench in SketchUp (download the model)

After looking at other plans online and watching several SketchUp for Woodworkers tutorials, I was able to iterate until my design met my specific needs. Before a single cut was made, I knew every corner of my workbench because I got to know it in the digital space first. When it came time to build the real thing, I was able to move much more quickly and confidently.

I was filled with enormous amounts of pride after I finished making my workbench. It certainly isn’t one of the best workbenches out their but this one is definitely mine. The feeling of touching something physical is incredibly rewarding – especially when you made it yourself.

I’m starting to finally understand why more people are getting into vinyl and why my daughter has been begging us for an instant film camera (think Polaroid). Sites like Facebook want to make the world more connected but let’s not overlook our connections with the physical world.

So, go print out some family photos, buy a paper map for your next road trip, find those old cassette tapes from high school – take a break from the digital world and make something in real life. You’ll thank yourself for it.

The best part of 3D printing

I’ve had my 3D printer for almost two years now and I still love it. While it is fun to find things to print on Thingiverse, this is really more like slow-motion toy shopping.

Yes, you can learn more about 3D printing when you print downloaded models but I get the most enjoyment from creating and modifying my own designs.

Below is an example:


Convert CT scans to 3D print your bones

Last October I fell and broke my wrist. To put everything back together, I had to have surgery so some screws and plates could be used to fix the break. That was the bad news.


The good news is that I got a CT scan of my wrist and the clinic gave me a DVD of all the data.

During my surgery recovery time I decided to see if I could find a way to 3D print my broken bone. After trying several options, I was able to convert my CT scan data into an STL file for 3D printing.

print wrist

If you’d like to try this yourself, you will need to install some software to get started but all the instructions can be found here and in the video tutorial below.

First look at desktop carving machine

Recently I spent an afternoon getting to know Carvey (from Inventables) with help from Brian Bartel.

You can watch our adventure below:

It’s easy to see Carvey stealing the show but the other hidden gem from Inventables is Easel. This is the software that helps you get your designs ready for carving.

Easel is web-based and free to use. You can create designs from scratch or import your own images. The software is intuitive and is worth checking out even if you don’t have a Carvey.

The whole experience was a refreshing change from 3D printing. I look forward to seeing what students can create with tools like these.

3D design and printing at the elementary level

A few weeks ago I attend an EdCamp where the subject of 3D printing at the elementary level was discussed.

I’ve spent the last few years getting my feet wet in this area and here is what I had to share:

  1. First, students need to be introduced to the concept of 3D. I’ve written about this before and shared some slides and activities to get them thinking in 3D.
  2. Tinkercad is your go-to tool for 3D design. The Tinkercad tutorials are a great place for students to start. I’ve also had many classes of third graders build word blocks as their first project in Tinkercad. In addition, we’ve done the City X Project and created charms about fairy tales in Charmr.
  3. Third grade seems to be the best place to start with 3D design. I’m not saying it cannot be done earlier but I’ve had the most luck with 3rd grade and above.
  4. Don’t overlook the value of introducing the technology to students. Not every student needs to create a 3D model to learn about 3D printing. 3D printers make excellent writing prompts. This is something I’ve used with students starting as early as 2nd grade. Below is a video I made that explores this idea farther. (Also, here are the slides I use with students.)

Pokémon Goes to Science Class

Hidden in the details of each Pokémon is a lesson starter on the metric system, estimation, volume, and density.

Watch the video below to learn more:

Download the worksheet and slides to get started.


Here are some new things people sent me after the post that can help us teach with

If 550 Pokecoins cost $4.99, how much real money does incense cost?
If 550 Pokecoins cost $4.99, how much real money does incense cost?

Other Links: 


Listen to the data- Literally!

Recently, I have been completely absorbed by a new topic: data sonification.

My obsession began after listening to an episode of the O’Reilly Hardware Podcast. In the episode, guest Cameron Turner explained how researchers are turning on microphones to collect and analyze sounds coming from things like air conditioner units and commuter trains.

Another example explains how we can take data and convert it into sound. Turner shares the scenario of a data center where the silent internet traffic data is converted into sound to create a system for alerts and monitoring.

If you do a little digging online, you will find all sorts of beautiful examples of data sonification. From the movement of fish to the colors used in famous paintings, data sonification is helping us find new ways to observe the world. In a recent episode of NPR’s Science Friday, you can hear how scientists are developing new ways to use this data analysis technique.

As a science teacher, I often helped students use visual tools, such as graphs and drawings, to understand the data they collected. The chance to add an audio component to help solidify student understanding interests me. I see data sonification as a way for students who are visually impaired to make new observations.

Intrigued by the idea of turning data into sound, I decided to create my own sonifications. I found a free program called Sonification Sandbox that does exactly what I needed.

In the video below, I demonstrate it in action.


I printed a 3D model of my city

I’ve seen some great models of topography at Thingiverse. Below is a model of the U.S. that I use in schools regularly.

USA Terrain

I decided to make a model for my city- Appleton WI. I used Terrain2STL to get started. It is an easy to use website that lets you select an area on Google Maps and create an STL for download.

Terrain2STL at
Terrain2STL at

From here, I could have sent the file straight to the printer but there is a problem with my city- it’s SO flat.

To make my city’s model a bit more exciting, I needed to exaggerate the elevation so we could see more of the features around the river. To make the adjustments, I used Meshmixer from Autodesk. Meshmixer is an essential multitool for modifying 3D models.

First, I adjusted the scaling in the vertical so it was 20 times larger than the longitude and the latitude by using the Transform tool in Meshmixer.

Transforming the vertical
Transforming the vertical (click image to see full size)

This made the base of the model 20 times larger too. I used the Plane Cut tool in Meshmixer to trim down the base.

Trim the base with Plane Cut tool (click image to see full size)
Trim the base with the Plane Cut tool (click image to see full size)

That’s it! I exported the file and sent it off to the printer. You can download your own copy.

3D Model of Appleton WI
3D Model of Appleton WI