Robot Camp

Recently my husband and I hosted a Robot Camp – 5 nights and 8 young men entering 6-9 grade, each with an mBot robot building kit and a computer for programming the mBot. The kids who attended learned about the inner workings of robots – things like electromagnetism in motors and echolocation in distance sensors. They built their robots then spent the remainder of the week learning coding so their robots could do tricks. The concepts taught and methods used could be duplicated in school, after-school or camp settings throughout our synod.

The students arrived with varying degrees of programming knowledge and experience, so to get started, we used the free printable Coding a LEGO maze resource (without LEGOs) from the Research Parent site. It’s a great “unplugged” way to introduce coding concepts including if statements and loops.

After that warm-up, we moved on to coding in mBlock. mBlock is based on the popular graphical coding language Scratch. What differentiates mBlock from Scratch is the addition of Robot commands to control LED lights, sound, movement, distance sensing and line following. mBlock commands are transmitted to the robot via a USB cable included with the robot.

Visit the mBlock download page to install the free software. Besides using mBlock on PC, Mac and Linux computers, there is also a mobile app and a Chrome browser version of the software which is in beta. If you need help, check out the Getting Started with mBlock guide.

Coding concepts we covered during the week included ….

  • If-then-else statements
  • Loops
  • Variables
  • Random numbers
  • Custom blocks, a.k.a. subroutines

With those tools in their arsenal, the students were able to create all types of programs for their robots, including …

  • Sounds – police siren and ice cream truck
  • Songs – including Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and the Star Wars Imperial March
  • Lights
  • Speed
  • Turns
  • Line sensor
  • Multiple programs with press of a button
  • Obstacle avoidance
  • Mazes – required precise speed, distance and turns
  • BattleBot arena – avoid collisions and stay in the arena the longest

We shopped around a bit and found the mBots at for $69.99. At that price point, they proved to be a great option for teaching robotics basics as well as introducing coding concepts.

mBot Robot Kit – One Robot Per Child

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Cloud Storage

Knowledge workers like our pastors, teachers, and staff ministers deal with “documents” pretty much everyday. They write sermons and Bible studies. They prepare reports and craft lesson plans. They write, collaborate and share. It’s just part of what they do. What they also do is try to keep all those documents organized, available and findable. Many would suggest that is no easy task.

Thankfully document management has come a long way these past few years due in no small part to cloud storage tools like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Dropbox and If you haven’t considered bringing one of these tools into your workflow, you may want to reconsider. They offer many benefits, but also a few gotchas you should be aware of.


  1. When using most cloud storage solutions you will have the ability to synchronize your files from device to device as well as online. Often we have workflows that include more than one device, perhaps a computer or tablet as well as a smartphone. There may even be occasions when you are away from your own devices and have to use a public one or someone else’s. No problem. Just log in to your cloud services and there are all your files.
  2. Most cloud services offer file “versioning.” With this feature collaboration on documents is safer because you can always revive a former version if something goes wrong. Even if you don’t collaborate with others, it is helpful to be able to go back through your own historical versions.
  3. Cloud services mean you may not have to spend the extra money on larger hard drives. Chances are you have many files you don’t need day to day, but may need “some day.” There is no reason to have those stored on a local hard drive. Just leave them on the cloud service, but don’t sync them. Cloud services have much better back up technologies than you do. Then when you need the file, simply sync or download it.
  4. As mentioned in number three backups are done for you. Companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple have server farms that are redundant and are designed to make sure you aren’t going to lose your files. That doesn’t mean you should have only the online copy of your files. It’s a good idea to occasionally make local copies of all the files you really can’t afford to lose. Invest in a cheap external hard drive and put a reminder on your calendar each month to update your copies.
  5. Finally, the cost of cloud storage is getting cheaper and cheaper. Competition is good and as the major cloud storage providers duke it out, the consumer enjoys very reasonable rates. Last year CNET wrote up a nice run down of the major providers and their prices.


Of course there are a few things you should be aware of when considering a cloud storage digital lifestyle.

  1. Be aware that someone else is holding your files so you need to trust your provider. While it’s unlikely that the major providers listed earlier will go under, there are other providers that have. Make sure you can fall back to your own copies of the files you know you will really need. Choose your service wisely.
  2. You need a stable and fairly fast internet connection. Clearly cloud based storage solutions assume you have pretty consistent access to the cloud. If you sync your files, you do have an advantage that allows offline access (another benefit not mentioned in the previous section), but if you have a need for a file that exists only in the cloud and you don’t have access to the cloud when you need it…well, that’s a problem.
  3. One thing that is often misunderstood about cloud storage solutions is that they are not replacements for backups. Most cloud syncing features only “synchronize” files. That means that if you change a file in a way you didn’t intend or accidently delete it, that will be synced too. There are cloud “backup” solutions out there like Backblaze and Carbonite. Keep in mind that they serve different purposes.

There are other benefits and gotchas, but those are more related to the actual service you choose. For instance, if you choose Apple iCloud, you can’t sync those files to a Windows machine or device. There are file size limits, and compatibility issues, etc. Just take time in picking a solution. Live with it for a few months to truly understand the goods and the bads. Then make a longer term commitment. Personally I use Google Drive and pay $2/month for 100 gigabytes for my personal files. That seems to be plenty for my usage, and Google seems to play pretty well on all systems and devices I use. Check out my brief screencast below for some of the features I find most valuable. Your mileage may vary.

In general I would recommend that knowledge workers and their organizations have more to gain than lose by using cloud services. They are mature and can greatly increase everybody’s productivity.

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Communicating with QR Codes

QR Codes are a communication/call to action method which has existed for over two decades but has failed to garner major adoption. Until now! Recently it was revealed that the upcoming version of iPhone software, iOS 11, will include a camera enhancement that will automatically scan QR Codes. This will eliminate the need for separate QR Code scanning app (I currently use Scan). The need for a special app added to the QR Code “geek factor” and kept many away from using the shortcut tool. With that requirement eliminated, nothing should stand between getting your great communication out to many people.


Consider these ideas for integrating QR Codes into your ministry communication plans:

  1. Presentation resources – For Bible Class or classroom presentations, keep handouts simple and use a QR Code to point people to online resources.
  2. Event advertising – Include a QR code on fliers and pamphlets advertising events so those interested can quickly access online information and registration.
  3. WiFi access information – Does your church or school have a guest WiFi network? Store the credentials in a QR code and post or handout the code to grant access.
  4. Scavenger hunt – Scavenger hunts are always a fun fellowship activity for all ages. Hide QR codes (with text clues which lead to the next code) around your church, school or event location.
  5. Parent resources – Add a page or pages to your website which are dedicated to parent resources, and include the QR Code for the page on a handout and in your newsletter.

Related resources

Create your own free QR Codes on these sites:

See a demo of QR Code creation on several sites in this video, How to Create a QR Code.

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iPads for Ministry

 There are many computing tools at our disposal these days. There are many types of desktop and laptop computers that most of us use. They come in all shapes, sizes and price points. Some are large and powerful. Some are lightweight and minimal. Chromebooks, MacBooks, Surfaces, and the list goes on. Then there are, of course, smartphones, that more and more people are using as their primary computing devices. This is especially true in parts of the world outside of the United States. But it is the last category of computing devices, and one brand in particular this ministry resource focuses on, iPads!

Why dedicate an entire blog post to such a narrow topic? Because I believe this particular product is both transformative, and a valuable resource in the hands of pastors, teachers and other ministry workers. I haven’t always held that belief. In fact, I had pretty much limited my iPad usage in the recent past to watching YouTube videos, brief web surfing, and checking email. Beyond that I felt that a regular laptop was much more efficient. That’s not the case today. I’m writing this blog post on what I feel could be a laptop replacement for many–an 10.5 inch iPad Pro. That is the latest in Apple’s iPad lineup, but perhaps the best device they have ever released! Here are a few of the reasons why:

  1. Form factor – At a 10.5 inch diagonal the iPad provides enough real estate for comfortable single application usage. With the upcoming iOS 11 release split screen and drag and drop will also support some light multitasking. I think that is suitable for the work of most ministry workers. While a larger screen could be helpful at times, that would infringe on one of it’s best selling points, portability. With the appropriate cover and battery life, this little device can go wherever you go. That takes productivity to an even higher level.
  2. Screen quality – This latest iPad has what Apple calls “ProMotion.” That is just Apple’s marketing term for a higher screen refresh rate. Previous iPads refreshed the screen at 60 MHz, while the new Pro doubles that. What that means is that the screen animations and movement are much more fluid and responsive. That along with a processor that in many cases is just as capable as most laptops,  you have something that most would call a laptop replacement. In fact the on screen experience is probably even better.
  3. File Management – Another thing coming with iOS 11 is a Files app…finally. Since the original iPad was launched I had been frustrated by the fact that you couldn’t get at the native file system, like you could on a regular computer. Soon you will be able to, which is a must for most knowledge workers. You’ll be able to easily access files from iCloud, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, Google Drive, and others through a single place. This helps you to organize the files the way you want, and find them quickly. Very helpful.
  4. Accessories – Really there is one key accesssory that makes an iPad more usable as a laptop replacement — a keyboard. While Apple’s is fairly expensive (no surprise there), it is excellent. It acts as a cover and a keyboard. The typing is accurate and smooth, and only slightly smaller than most ultra book size keyboards. It makes text entry and editing a pleasant experience. You do have to get used to no trackpad, as the screen itself is your touch interface. It was an easy transition for me, as I was used to that with my phone already. If you plan on getting an iPad Pro be sure to budget for it.
  5. Apps – Since the iPad Pro was launched a few years ago, one obvious absence has been “pro” apps. Yes, you had all the usual iPad apps, but not much for full on productivity or even media creation/editing. That is beginning to change. Microsoft has recently launched very capable Office apps like Outlook, Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, etc. In my experience they do almost everything I need from them. They are stable and work well with the touch interface of the iPad. With an Office 365 subscription you are all set for any document creation, editing or sharing you want to do.

At about $650 for the base model, plus the keyboard, you are approaching decent laptops, but essentially that is what you are buying, but in a smaller, more flexible package. Battery life is excellent. Portability is unbeatable. And the app ecosystem should meet your needs for some time to come.


So having sung the praises of the hardware and software of Apple’s tablet, why would this be a fit for a ministry worker. Beyond the simple laptop replace arguement, here are a few use cases where I think it makes sense for you:

  1. For pastors I think sermon prep and delivery are naturals. Depending on how you prep, word processing and mind mapping have excellent options on the iPad. For delivery having an iPad in front of you has numerous advantages, especially if you use visuals, which can be routed right from the iPad to your projectors or screens. I watched my pastor a few weeks ago work from a laptop with the screen up in front of him. There were times that most of his face was hidden from the congregation. If nothing else it creates a distracting visual barrier. Having an iPad laying flat on the Ambo/Lecturn would virtual remove that issue.
  2. Another benefit for pastors would be usage in Bible class. Yes, you can project content on a screen with it…even wirelessly with the right hardware. But it becomes even more valuable as you have the Bible available to you, which can be searched for that one verse you know applies to the congregation, but can’t remember the exact reference or phrasing. Recently I led a Bible class using a Keynote presentation, but worked with maps and virtual fly throughs in the GloBible of Solomon’s Temple, plus other online resources that I could easily explore during the class.
  3. Teachers would I think find many use cases for a portable tablet like the iPad. Again, hooked up to an appropriate wireless setup (perhaps a topic for another blog post), the ability to walk around the classroom bring up appropriate/relevant resources would enhance most education environments.
  4. There are so many educational iOS apps, the ecosystem is rich for almost every teaching discipline. It’s not just a great tool for those teaching art, or other “visual” type subjects. Just do a bit of a search in app stores for relevant tools for your area. Better yet, reach out to the WELSTech Google Group and ask what iPad apps others have been using.
  5. Notetaking is a great application for a tablet this size, whether you use the Apple Pencil, or just use a keyboard (virtual or real). I personally use OneNote, but Apple Notes app is getting better, Evernote is still good, or even Google Keep. They all work pretty well with most forms of media at this point. To have them searchable and portable I find to be invaluable. You have notes on previous meetings, visits (member or parent visits), resources, pictures, etc. To have one place for all your inputted materials is a big win. To have it with you most of the time, even better.

There are many more scenarios where an ever present data tablet that gives as much as it gets will pay for itself. I’ve said this before, don’t scrimp on your knowledge worker/management tools. They can’t stand in the way of your ministry. They need to help you be more productive and also be a delight to use. Both those boxes are checked for the iPad Pro in my opinion.

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Teaching Digital Citizenship

Google recently announced a free online resource geared toward middle- to upper-elementary aged children called Be Internet Awesome. The online game, Interland, as well as supporting curriculum resources, are intended to teach kids to be smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave online.

To make the most of the Internet, kids need to be prepared to make smart decisions. Be Internet Awesome teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence.


The resources available on the Be Internet Awesome are suitable for use in both the elementary classroom as well as at home. Teachers may want to spend some of their summer prep time reviewing the Be Internet Awesome Curriculum which has been given the ISTE Seal of Alignment. The materials center around five fundamental topics:

  • Share with Care (Be Internet Smart)
  • Don’t Fall for Fake (Be Internet Alert)
  • Secure Your Secrets (Be Internet Strong)
  • It’s Cool to Be Kind (Be Internet Kind)
  • When in Doubt, Talk It Out (Be Internet Brave)

Additional resources for schools allow easy integration of Interland on school Chromebooks as well as in Google Classroom. There are posters and certificates and badges available as well.

Parents may want to download the Be Internet Awesome Pledge and make a family commitment to practicing safe digital citizenship.

Related resources

Check out these short video introductions to Be Internet Awesome and Interlands.


Interland Tour

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Project Management with Trello

This past week I was honored to lead a workshop at the Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School Support Staff Conference. I spoke on the topic of Volunteers, basing my talk on chapter 6 of the WELSTech book called “With All Your Heart: Project Management for Churches, Christian Schools and Faith-Based Organizations.” In preparing for the talk I reviewed and revised all the chapters in the book to keep them current…and of course fix a few typos along the way. You can find out more about the book at

As part of the book there is a segment or two in each chapter called “Tool Time.” Some of the tools were replaced since they are no longer available. That is the way technology goes sometimes. But thanks to digital publishing and print-on-demand, it’s easy to update the content. One tool not replaced, and the subject of this ministry resource, was Trello. The Technology team in the synod has been using Trello for a few years now, and it seems like an old friend. Church and school offices, called workers and anybody who needs to manage any kind of project, would do well to give Trello a look.

Trello, in both it’s free and paid versions, provides an easy to understand but very flexible project management paradigm that will help it’s users stay organized. This digital tool allows the user to create “cards” and group them into “lists” — very much like sticky notes. The cards have a front with basic information like the card name, who can see it, and other high level information. Click the card to “flip” it and you will be able to add all kinds of task related elements — checklists, images, document attachments, custom fields, etc. The cards also support comments, which is a powerful feature used to capture ongoing dialog about the task. You can even be notified via email of card changes. Well, that’s the nickel tour on it’s functionality. Be sure to watch the video below for a visual tour.


In “With All Your Heart” we try to give some examples of possible projects so the principles are a bit easier to apply to real life ministry. The prototypic project is a Vacation Bible School, but many other project possibilities are discussed. What we’ve found however is that Trello can be an asset for a complex building project, a modestly complex event like VBS or a wedding, or even singular “projects” like preparing a sermon or lesson plan. This sample VBS Trello board will give you an idea of how a project might be set up. Click on a few cards to explore sample resources. With the functionality available on a Trello board, it can serve as the only project repository and documentation you need.

Related resources

There are any number of helpful resources if you want to dive a little deeper into Trello. Here are a few:

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My uncle was an upholsterer by trade. With his experience and the proper tools, he could transform furniture from shabby to sheik. In many respects, building or supporting a ministry in the digital age is no different. You must first start with the best tools and gain experience around their optimal and varied usage so you know which tool to use and when, to use it to get the job done. One foundational tool which I make use of daily is Notepad++.


At its core, Notepad++ is a basic text editor, void of the multitude of formatting options in typical word processing software. It is popular with programmers because it has features which detect and highlight coding syntax, making it more obvious to debug. But it has many layers of usefulness for non-programmers as well. One thing that I find most helpful is the ability to have multiple tabs open at the same time. Coupled with auto-save, I can open Notepad++ any time and easily resume work on one or more of the tabs I have open.

A few ideas for use in church and school settings include …

  • Use it as a “quiet” place to draft sermons or newsletter articles.
  • Create templates of text used often, such as a response to inquiries about church or school, and copy it whenever needed.
  • Copy and paste formatted content into Notepad++ and from Notepad++ into a web editor to avoid difficult text format issues.

Related resources

Microsoft Notepad comes baked into Windows. It can serve the same purposes but lacks the auto save and multi-tab functionality. For those in the Mac OS ecosystem, Notepad++ isn’t an option, but TextEdit is available in the Accessories folder.

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Visitor Follow Up With Mailchimp Email Automation

Technology has provided many opportunities to improve visitor follow up in churches everywhere. From prospect/visitor databases to easy-to-download new resident lists to wonderful tools like Mailchimp, the Evangelism team at your church has a lot of options and tools available to them. Today I wanted to highlight one pastor’s approach to using one of the most useful features of Mailchimp — Automation.

Please be sure to watch the video below for all the details, but here are some of the reasons I think this “Rookie Preacher” has put together a great approach to visitor follow up through email.

  1. This method uses Mailchimp to send out five strategic emails to visitors over a one month period. The timing is important. Getting an email out the next day, then a few more during the week, and finally some a couple of weeks from the first visit seems like enough to keep your church in front of them, but not overwhelm them or make you appear too “pushy.”
  2. I like the use of a pastor’s welcome message as the main subject of the first email. It makes the contact a little more personal. If they view the video they hear a real person with a real message specifically for the visitor.
  3. The second email makes use of another technology from Survey Monkey. I think a great next contact after a warm welcome is a chance for them to react or respond to a short, non-threatening survey. You get good feedback and leave a positive message that you value what they have to say. You are making a rather sterile encounter more interactive.
  4. In later emails you have a chance to introduce some more personal opportunities for the visitor to connect with your members through invitations to Bible studies, small group studies, etc. Chances are the visitor didn’t make any strong personal connections after a worship service. But if your church has places where this is possible, that might be exactly what some are looking for. In this communication you can list some of those, perhaps with some personal testimonials that again make it more “friendly.”
  5. The fact that this is all automated will make this more feasible for some churches, especially if you have a lot of visitors. This of course may not take the place of personal follow up. But I can see this strategy as something to augment that. People are hard to reach these days. This may be the only contact you have with them.
  6. Mailchimp is such a great tool to consider. It is fairly inexpensive. It has great analytics, so you can tell if your efforts are paying off. And using a subscription service allows anyone to easily “unsubscribe” from any future communication, thus respecting their privacy if they wish to not hear from you again.

Again, be sure to watch the video. It is rather short, but informative and perhaps inspirational if you are looking to improve your visitor follow up.

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Worship Helps

During weekly worship, Christians join with other believers in prayer and praise to God. More importantly, they join with other believers to hear the Word of God. One way the Word is proclaimed during worship is through the assigned readings from the Bible for the particular day in the church year.

Using WELS Worship Helps, Christians can prepare their hearts for worship by studying the assigned readings in advance. Worship Helps are released weekly, on the Monday prior to worship. They are available on the web site as well as via e-mail subscription.

Each week, the Worship Helps introduction identifies a theme that runs through the various Bible readings for the week. Each reading is followed by questions and answers related to the reading, and both traditional and supplemental readings are included in Worship Helps.


Personal and group Bible study can be designed around Worship Helps. Time spent studying the worship passages is later reinforced and magnified in the Christian’s worship experience. Share links to the resource in e-newsletters and via social media channels to encourage others to use it to prepare for worship. Consider using Worship Helps for church and school faculty/staff devotion or family devotion.

We actually use Worship Helps in the WELS Technology office for team devotion to start our weekly staff meetings. Different team members volunteer to read the passages ,and we discuss the questions (before looking at the answers) as a group. When the reading comes up in church the next Sunday, I’m always excited to hear it and learn more about it through the songs and sermon for the week.

Related resources

Additional Bible study and devotional resources from WELS include ..

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New WELS Locator joins Yearbook

Recently the WELS Locator application was rewritten and enveloped into the existing WELS Online Yearbook. The yearbook has slowly been updated with functions and data to make it a viable replacement for it’s paper sibling. You can search for a called workers name or city and receive a listing of those that match. Clicking on a called worker will reveal a profile that shows contact information, year graduated and what organization they work for.

Where things get even more interesting is on the organization tab. For some time you could search for a church or school by name and/or city. With the inclusion of locator functionality, you can now find a church or school by proximity to criteria you enter. You can enter an address, city, state or zip code and find all organizations within a radius of miles you determine. You may also select the option to find your current location as the search criteria…great if you are traveling and want to find nearby churches.

Also available within the locator functionality is to filter your search results by special criteria including Church, Pre-School, Elementary School, High School, Counseling Center and Care Facility. You can get even more filters related specifically to worship with filters like Signed Services, Hearing Loop, Personal Sound Equipment, Livestreaming, and Languages Offered.

There are a number of ways to find the Yearbook/Locator. You can simply visit the synod’s website at and click on the “Find a Church/School” at the top of the screen. This will take the visitor directly to the Organization tab of the yearbook app. You may also visit the Yearbook site directly at, or the Locator portion at Finally, if you use the WELS Mobile app you can find a link to the Locator in the side menu or the Yearbook itself under the Synod Reports area.


The Yearbook with locator functionality is a useful tool to get in touch with any called worker. Perhaps you have a friend or neighbor moving out of town and you want to contact the local pastor to perhaps get in touch. Simply search for a city in either the People or Organization tab and then reach out to that church or pastor directly to let them know that their might be a family to be in touch with. Studies have shown that if a new resident doesn’t get “connected” with a church in the first 90 days, it is far less likely they will find a church home at all. With the locator functionality you could also pinpoint the nearest church or school to a specific address if you know it. Obviously if you are moving, this would be a great way to determine the proximity of the closest church or school.

If you or someone you know needs to take advantage of special services offered like signed services, or hearing equipment, those filters are available. You can even find the closest services offered in Spanish or whatever other language is needed. And of course with vacation season just around the corner the Yearbook’s locator function will be a great way to find a service close to wherever you are, plus directions with the click of a single button.

It is important to stay connected with a church family. The WELS Yearbook with Locator helps you, or those you know, do that.

Related resources

One related resource that was mentioned above is the WELS Mobile app. It has links to the Yearbook, but also great devotional content you can access wherever your phone or tablet is like Daily Devotions, Bible Readings, Worship Helps, WELSTech and much more. Just search for WELS Mobile in your favorite app store.

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