The Road Not Taken – Making, Crafting and Constructing Meaning in Minecraft

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The Road Not Taken – Making, Crafting and Constructing Meaning in Minecraft

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 Designing lessons that foster creativity, collaboration and depth in thinking is multifaceted. We need to use tools that provide an opportunity for interaction and collaboration. This includes a method for students to help one another and provide feedback. The context needs to be relatable and flexible. The content, whatever it is, needs to have value and personal connections and it needs to matter -and if it does, it will have depth and purpose. I offer the following as an example.

Summary of Lesson:

Robert_Frost_RoadsAs a whole class, students would create (Yes, actually build )  the poem “A Road Not Taken” using Minecraft as a Medium (using a server). Students would have already discussed the meaning of this poem and there many perspectives. This can be done with any poem. In Minecraft, students would need to compromise, share skills, collaborate and of course problem solve. Importantly, the students would need guidance and support from the teacher, both inside and outside the realm of Minecraft. The chat tool is pretty handy. To add a dimension of “self” to this shared story, students would find an area within the class creation to share a poem or story that they created themselves.

Big Idea: (Current theme is ‘Journalism’)

Journalism and poetry are a perfect mix because together they bring WORDS, VOICE and EMOTION to life. In this activity students would read, write and bring to life a poem through visualization, collaboration and co-construction.

Grade Six Lesson Objectives/Goals ~Relating to Curriculum:

* to use synthesize and infer meaning in texts

* to use make personal connections to a variety of texts

* to participate in discussions by asking questions

* to think critically about a topic, offering a variety of points of view

* to work collaborative in small and large groups offering support and feedback as needed

* to use a variety of tools to enhance the final product and extend learning as needed

* to understand metaphor and analogy in poetry

* to use visualization in reading and writing

* to create, in written form, a poem

* to use creative and collaborative techniques to share, model, and visual literature

Inference, Storytelling, Reflection and Language:

tierna_quoteStudents would be introduced to a variety of quotes. Instead of a teacher led introduction or hook, students would initiate the task. In a collaborative document, they would share a quote that resonates with them and explain why through storytelling and reflection.  (In our case, the quotes were provided and theme based). Here is what they published: “Our Thoughts will Change the World” (Posted with permission). In our example, students used a shared Google Presentation, accessing the link on the classroom blog.

Personal Connections and Critical Thinking

kid_poemIn sticking with the Journalism theme (and now that they have a background), students would create their own poem based on their personal connections to learning. The poems would be shared using a collaborative document, where they would offer feedback and critical questioning and would participate in a discussion that fostered critical thinking and depth of ideas. Eventually, they would take their poem/story and share it on “The Road Not Taken”. Hidden Gifts along the path…

 

Visualization, Metaphor and Analogy

 Students would be introduced to ‘ A Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost. Here, they would engage in discussions around metaphor, analogy, descriptive language, vocabulary…. They would use connections to the real world to visual the poem and would find a variety of ways and perspectives that one might interpret the meaning. They would listen to each other, offer critical though, ask questions and draw conclusions.

Making, Crafting and Constructing Meaning:

Students would use MINECRAFTEDU to: 1) Co-create a visualization of the Frost Poem by adding individual elements of creativity, words and interpretations. Here, students would be each given a section of the poem to place in the collaborative construction; 2) Co-Create, discuss and construct (literally and figuratively) the meaning of their own poem.

In a nutshell, students would have a whole group task to build a visualization of the Robert Frost Poem while also adding in their own poems where they see fit. Layer upon layer upon layer.

When the students go home and tell their parents “We played Minecraft”… you’ll know what they actually did…they delved deep into literature, collaborated, created, problem solved and shared. And they had fun!

Design Thinking ~ Make Urban ReDevelopment a Reality in Minecraft

The purpose of this lesson is to inspire and engage students to use creative and critical thinking skills to make decisions and designs that impact an urban area. This cross-curricular approach to Design Thinking, allows students the freedom to use and connect  their inquires to real examples. The activity is intended for group or collaborative learning and uses a combination of whole class and small group facilitation with access to a variety of tools. The final product is a Design and proposal of a chosen Urban Landscape in their own community. Minecraft (and lego) are ideal platforms for students to use resources and tools collaborative to display their concepts.  The example lesson (below)  was facilitated with a group of 7th and 8th Graders in the Gifted Program at HWDSB.

Design Thinking – How are Urban Landscapes changing to meet the needs of people and communities of the present and future?

Throughout their schooling, our students learn why cities are built along waterways. Most Social Studies  (History, Geography) curriculums emphasize the impact of Early Settlements and Explorers at the turn of the 19th Century. Students learn about industrialization and as they move along in grades and age, they begin to make connections between the age of industrialization, globalization, communities, Social Justice and Environment.  Our learners have and will make strong connections about how the age of industrialization has impacted them and the world around them. Eventually, they will use this knowledge to move forward and apply 21st Century technologies to make change and adaptations to the world around them.

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The picture here is Hamilton, Ontario, situated on the Western part of Lake Ontario (across from Toronto, South of Niagara Falls). The area at the bottom of the picture display the industries and factories that gave Hamilton it’s nick name – Steel Town.  Over the last few years, many of these factories have downsized, been bought out, or have shut down.

This is a REAL  example that IMPACTS my students. It is their community, their city, their economy. They need to feel compelled and INSPIRED to care, to understand why this single example connects to people and events around the world.

Ask the Learners to think Big: How can  old technologies and industries be transformed to meet the needs of today..and the future? WHY does it matter?

In most big cities, there are areas just like Hamilton where the industries that occupy the space are changing in scale and nature. Many are approaching the end of their time. This is an excellent opportunity to have students explore, investigate and make real world connections. Who knows, maybe one of their ideas and concepts will become a reality.

Ask them  to think BIGGER.

What makes a good city? Why?

What is the difference between demolishing and restoring?

How are cities changing or how should they change to meet the needs of a growing population?

Invite students to make GLOBAL Connections – In this short and compelling talk Kent Larson gives many examples of how cities and industries are changing to meet the needs of the future.

Kent Larson: Brilliant designs to fit more people in every city gives some examples that apply to the now and the future….

Bring it back to a local example and invite students to share potential ideas, concerns and insights from those shared by Larson. Are the innovations realistic? Doable? Possible? How do the ideas and theories from other communities impact our community?

Return to Barton and Tiffany (Hamilton’s Industry Land)

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/2029/return_to_barton-tiffany “The Carr/Curran “vision” was presented to planning committee councillors in the late summer of 2012 and was greeted politely if not enthusiastically.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Invite students to explore examples from other local areas. Examples that are real and possible. Here is one from Hamilton’s Neighbour – Toronto.The Cherry Beach area, along the Toronto Waterfront that seems to only be used by locals. Paths, and parks boarder along industries and along the waterfront.

 

 

 

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Invite students to share the many examples of how land and space can be restored to attract people and improve communities. This picture is an example of bike and pedestrian paths that were added behind roads, beside roads, on the side of factories and even along old rail lines, eventually leading to the Beaches area of Toronto.

 

 

 

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The TASK:

1) In pairs or groups, continue to investigate the history and examples of urban redevelopment both locally and globally.

2)Draw, Sketch and Discuss alternatives to the land.

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3) Co-create and build the land in the Minecraft and/or LEGO Environment – Flat Land (collaborative server).

 

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4) Using a shared Document, presentation style, ADD a captured screen shot of the proposed concept/design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1bMz0s5L1sdf6CHRAVBraqnURGGw3jW03S4GSGCVZga4/edit#slide=id.g2a828f7ba_00

Community and Urban Planning – Project Based Learning and Minecraft

The following pictures/slides provide some information about how we are using PROJECT BASED LEARNING, INQUIRY and MINECRAFT in the classroom.

Recently, a reporter asked me, “So what have you learned through this project?”

 

I’ve learned that I need to step back and trust my students.

I need to provide time, support and facilitate the groups and activities and allow them to discover for themselves the different possibilities, avenues and perspective of an issue.

I learned how important it is to use tools that they themselves are familiar with and to explicitly provide situations where they can be leaders and facilitators themselves.

The Barton and Tiffany area in Hamilton remains vacant. These students, while their concept plans may never get to play out in the real world, have had their voices heard.

Minecraft in the Classroom

I think my lessons are fairly engaging. But the second that bell went – literally, the second – the students gathered to discuss their next plan of action. Their next build. Their next tutorial on how to use Red Bricks, how to rewire a city, how to build the underground plumbing system. It was then that I realized that the most authentic assessment I will ever get with regards to creativity, problem solving, divergent thinking, oral communication, thinking (etc.) was during the lunch hour, when they were “playing” Minecraft.

(Also posted at http://Giftedclassroom.edublogs.org)

As a mother of two boys that use the Minecraft platform to build and design, I feel fortunate to have come into this classroom with a familiar knowledge of the potential of what this game can offer as it relates to learning, specifically around the concepts of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).  The last few years, watching my children play and learn has led me to interest in the relevance of game-based learning platforms and to the awareness of both the benefits and pitfalls. Included HERE are a few current articles and links about Minecraft in education, along with examples and pictures.

In this video, a student demonstrates a world that he works on outside of school hours. The planning, thinking and co-authorship of this design and creation is at a level that I rarely see in the classroom. In fact, I can’t imagine anything that I could teach him to match the intricacy of thinking and design here. He incorporates math, science concepts, business, and art. He uses language skills to plan, think and communicate with his peers and spends hours reading and learning about servers, plugins and how to create his own Mods for game improvement. In the midst of all this, this same child reads about 2 – 3 novels per week.

I urge you to watch at least part of this video,

Minecraft in our classroom – next steps: 

-> Three students will moderate and control the server. All students and other members are ‘whitelisted’ which will ensure safety, privacy and protection.

-> Students will begin their first build – a school designed around the concepts of STEM and that will meet the needs of every single person (including teacher) in the class.

-> Students will begin designing the “Light Rail System” and will investigate the current discussions about the issue – http://hamiltonlightrail.com/  This initiative will support the Geography, Social Studies and Language curriculum (Ontario).

-> In teams, students will propose and design a space that is currently under much debate at the Tiffany and Barton street area in Hamilton in the Harbour West. They will have an opportunity to investigate current and past discussions and debates about the issue and then use their designs and ideas to propose solutions

We welcome collaboration and hope that parents, community and other students tap into our Twitter Stream @dwcatalysts or instagram pictures as we document and share these experiences.

 

MY TOP 10 LEARNING SPACES – A Universal Design, in a Gifted Classroom

The learning environment is what will help create community. Before anything, students need to feel safe. Not just physically safe, but safe to learn how they learn, safe to think “outside the box”, safe to ask questions, safe to make mistakes, safe to be who they are.  I recently read a post by Jackie Gerstein, a friend and mentor who talks passionately about the importance of community in the classroom (It’s About Connections Not Content). Below, I talk about the learning spaces to honour all learners.  It is my intention to help these students find their passions, their gifts, and their understanding of themselves.

The Circle

Each day, we start off in a large circle. We might play a game, talk about a current event or gather our ideas for upcoming lessons. The circle gives brings the class together as one team, a group of co-learners and a support structure that they will need.

Comfort and Escape

A few years ago, I taught in a brand new school with small classrooms. A quiet “comfy” space was not an option and was strictly forbidden by fire regulations. I yearned to provide my students with an area to go when they needed to unpack and reflect. As we know, this 7 hour day, surrounded by an assortment of individuals can be overwhelming and draining. This classroom (an older school) allows for this space.  Students can use it to work collaboratively using the bulletin board or small table or even the floor as a workspace.  Of course,  reading a book, plugged into a good song is also pretty fantastic for any learner.

It only took about one hour before a student crawled into this “getaway”.  A calming environment that is still in the same room is a true gift for any classroom.

 

Exercise – Meditative, focus~refocus, transition

I truly love to Hula-Hoop. Not only because it is great for the abdominal muscles, but the repetitive motion is soothing. After a long day, or a long think-session, there is nothing better then grabbing a hula-hoop,  with a little music (or quiet is good too) and finding a place to gather thoughts and re-fuel for the next “thing” to come. Another true gift that this classroom offers – enough space.

Game

There has been much debate about the use of Gaming in the classroom and its integration into core subjects like math, social studies and language. The Kinect offers an incredibly fun way for students to work together in solving problems, debating stories and characters, and thinking through puzzles and math games. Allowing students to move around, challenge one another and discuss the creation and process of the game itself is incredible insightful and meets them in their world. We will be integrating Minecraft in our classroom this year, as a way to plan, think, and discuss through creation and collaborative building.

Apple TV, Reflection, Interaction.

So often, we use the projector and whiteboard to deliver instruction and content. But with the Reflection App or Apple TV, students can broadcast their work and designs on a larger surface. To show the students a quick video, or demonstrate an iPad tool, I can stand anywhere in the room and broadcast quickly and safely. Even better, students can broadcast their work.  Only a few years ago, I found myself stumbling trying to improve my motor skills when using the Smart tablet.

Group Think-Tank and iPad Center

One of my students asked, “Too bad we can’t just write on this table!”. I wonder if “Idea Paint” would work here.  To move away from their desk workspace to a group workspace is valuable. It is also valuable to have an option to go back to ones own individual space. With the use of the HWDSB iPad program and the School iPad purchases, I have about 10 iPads in the classroom. We will start of with interview videos. A favourite app used today was WORLD OF SAND. I highly recommend it. Highly.

Weekly Schedule, Handouts and TEA.

Posting a daily overview is important, but to see it in context within the entire week is essential. Like adults learners, our younger students want to know what is next and why, and especially how it relates to their learning. There is a definite accountability attached to this practice, but it is so worth it. At the end of the week, I brew tea and together we work on the next weekly schedule. It empowers them and gives them voice.

Choices and Voices

This image keeps changing. As students become more comfortable with me – and more confident, they start adding more ideas and information here. It is fascinating to see how many students ask to get away from the brick and mortar. They want field trips, walks, and to learn outside.

 

Online

Blended learning is not only going to provide more solid communication and on-going information for students and parents, but also more access to content and learning. While it might be surprising to some (ha, ha!), I am not the bearer of all knowledge and information.  Neither is the Internet. A blended learning platform (where students can also learn online) such as EDMODO (something new I’m trying this year) will allow me to facilitate content that is rich and diverse to a group of students that vary greatly in learning needs.  As well, each student will be given a personal blog, and will have access to my daily plans through Google Docs and our classroom blog (another huge accountability risk that is worth the immense outcome).

 Community

My favourite learning space – The real world.  This year, I’ve established a partnership with the Hamilton Farmers Market where students will get a chance to learn stories of the lives of real Hamiltonians. Students will learn to shop, cook and share resources.  Most importantly, they will have an opportunity to socialize and interact with citizens and with each other in authentic ways. With some structure and guidance, they will have a chance to apply what they have learned at school to something real.

 

We have also arrange for several community walks. Our school location is surrounded by hundreds of acres of forests (Royal Botanical Gardens) and wooded trails. The colours, smells, sounds and wildlife are the inspiration I’ll need when teaching poetry and creative writing. Perfect for finding space and time to talk, share and develop a real sense of self.

 

 

Due Diligence and Social Media, Gaming and 21st Century Learning. Will education Institutions be held accountable?

Due Diligence and Social Media, Gaming and 21st Century Learning. Will education Institutions be held accountable?

“What?, you’ve been banned from 8 different servers?” I shrieked at my 11 year old son.  

“It’s part of the game – to build trust, act normal, get more responsibility from the server owner and then, destroy” he explained.

I gasped.

 

“In many servers, the point is to build and protect. If you are in a server shared by others, you always take the risk of having your things stolen and your creations destroyed…but for some players, hacking into a server and destroying is the main point”.

I gasped. “But it’s not nice…..”
So he explains, “most teachers and adults aren’t even aware of what is going on in the background of the server and chats”. He grins and asks me, “Do you know that most of us can get the brute force server hosting password?”  “Do you know how many servers don’t use ‘world guard or world bucket’ plugins to protect the word, protect the players?”
Minecraft is Boring.  The real fun and thrill comes from the design, the programming and the challenge. What we do in schools is just the “Basics”. Boring.

I gasped. “Where do you learn all this stuff then?”

“Online. Together.  Youtube”  Never school.

I gasped. “What about Ethics? Character? Kindness?”, I wonder. I continue to wonder (now with my TEACHER LENS),  “I’ve never heard of a school based PD about Minecraft servers, or world bucket”. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of a mandatory in-service, PD session about any social gaming , or media tool or strategy. 

Step Up Districts and Schools. Parents can’t do this alone.   Make Social Media and Blended Learning Strategies as much a priority as traditional literacies. Be accountable and insist that all teachers have a solid understanding of the tools, strategies, and pedagogies so that we can help kids navigate in these online social environments. I want my children and my students to be safe online to understand online risks, and to have a chance to practice good online citizenship under the direction, coaching and support of a knowledgeable teacher. Help our children understand the hard and soft skills associated with these environments – help their parents understand how to coach, monitor, guide.

When it comes to the use of social media, gaming, multimedia and multi-modal learning strategies, I wonder, how many educators are encouraged to teach with it, without fully understanding the tool itself, or grasping the research behind its use, or acknowledging the implications of its use (including safety). How many educators are encouraged to teach with it without being provided the tools (computer, systems)  and aren’t given in-school time to practice and learn?

It isn’t about updating our skills (like other literacies) it is about learning the skill.

The problem is that with other literacies (like reading and writing) we already knew them before entering the profession – we don’t have to learn them. We have a solid grasp about grammar rules, reading strategies, sentence structure, writing process. But with new literacies, especially the use of online tools, we are having to spend more time and resources to learn them. I’m not sure if our resources  (people, infrastructure, knowledge) fully support this reality.

With this, I ask – where does the responsibility lay on education organizations to guide kids in an environment (even facebook, youtube, twitter, gaming)where they are spending so much time? Why are we OK with them teaching each other?

Ask yourself, in your school, or organization – Do teachers , leaders and parents know how to properly moderate a student blog?  How about protect gaming server? or properly cite resources?  or manage content privately while also being transparent and open? or create effective comments on a blog?  or understand ‘public audience’? or how to have a conversation in an online chat?

In going back to my own children’s online behaviour, the story I started with – I as a parent can’t do it alone. I need support from the school system to guide and support my child’s learning in these online environments.

Gaming and learning – are they connected?

In 2010, I began experimenting with gaming in my classroom.

In my Grade Six classroom, ‘play’ wasn’t just about learning the facts and materials, but about creating an environment where they were most comfortable.  Using Wii Olympics to have students virtually play participate in Luge or skiing events and then write down, sort, compare and analyze their scores helped them see an authentic reason why we sort data. Watching the little JK students exercise for 15 minutes a day using Wii Fit or Wii Sports (on those freezing cold mornings) was fascinating.  Using NikeRemote on our shoes, we used game to track distances when we ran 3 times per week to reach our marathon goal. I was only beginning to discover the potential for gaming and learning. Connecting our games with classrooms across the world was the most fun. Skype spelling and math games was an awesome way to end our week. For me it really isn’t about the game itself, but about engaging my students. They identified with gaming. It was my way to capture them, when we couldn’t explore outside, or build ‘hands-on’.

Both Zack and Shawn, future TechEd leaders from Brock University (also students of mine) contemplate educational theories and structures by examining the idea of gamification of learning.  In his blog, Zach wonders,

“Imagine if we could give students a lesson they could take home and play? If they enjoyed the lesson they would be more apt to practice the material. They could share it with friends and interact with people in their class online”.

Shawn then makes a profound realization,

“It occurs to me now that my prejudice towards gaming was based on the belief that games were based solely on fun, and so in turn their educational usefulness must be minimal. How silly that was to assume that kids have to feel or even know that they’re being taught in order to learn something”.

Shawn and Zack ‘s posts compelled me to ask my two boys (ages 9 and 11)  if they saw any educational value in games (minecraft, wii, kinect) in the classroom or for their own learning. Their answer: No way. It is just for fun.

They have not made the connection between learning and play. I wonder if their definition of “learning” comes from their short experience with an established deep rooted system that still sees learning in a very traditional way. Sitting at a desk, direct instruction, preparing for tests, group activities, writing tests, memorizing facts, studying…

And yet, on this very Saturday morning, as I read through the blog posts, my eyes wonder. I watch my boys plant crops near water, discussing a location that optimisms sun. I listen to them talk about the best way to ‘make’ paper so they can create books to put on the shelves that they created for the school that they designed. I listen to them talk about the formula needed to make ‘ink’ for their pens…….and then I spy, as they use they internet to find out facts about ink, paper mills and sugar. Then my 9 year old says…lets make a cake. They were using Minecraft.
My eyes wonder to their unopened packpacks. I wonder, what homework they have.

But, as they see it…it is play, not learning. So how do we connect the two? I think that both Shawn and Zack clearly make the point that there may be link between learning and engagement. But, maybe its something more? Do these games also help us with our critical senses? Do they encourage us to talk and problem solve? Do they encourage more divergent ways of thinking?

I certainly do not fully understand the impact that gaming is having on my own children, but by reading about the projects and innovations that a few teachers are ‘action’ researching, my confidence in the use of the methods has definitely heightened.

Joel Levin, a high school teacher discusses his first days of school: – http://minecraftteacher.net/

So, instead, for the first class we’ll talk about:
What kind of world they will want to play in.
What kind of gaming experience they desire and what they’d like to accomplish.
And I’ll try to figure out what other auxiliary projects they want to try while playing the game. Such as writing projects, making Let’s Play videos, modding the game… or who knows! I’m sure they will surprise me!

It is very reassuring that in spite of tradition and set curriculum, teachers are still finding ways to incorporate new mediums into the classroom. Thank you Shawn and Zack for deepening my thinking on this issue.