When NOT to use Minecraft in the Classroom

I do not share this post with the intent to judge others in their attempts to educate students by using specific tools.  Instead, I want to encourage critical thinking, reflection and discussion. I share it as a way to ask for support and guidance as to when we should be using Game-Based tools to engage and teach certain content.

I struggle with incorporating the popular “Craft Reconciliation” project into my current Inquiry Lesson about Truth and Reconciliation between the Canadian Government and First Nations Peoples. I struggle at the thought of using a tool that for many students is considered a “game” to address such a deep, personal and difficult topic. I do not want to put light on an issue that has had such dark implications and caused so much harm for so many.

It is important to me as an Educator to have my students truly understand why Canada is involved in the process of Truth and Reconciliation as it pertains to our First Nations, Metis and Inuit. This isn’t just part of our history – our past and present – but it is part of our own individual need to understand why reconciliation, truth and forgiveness, is necessary for individual growth so that we can authentically make and act upon changes – not just say reconciliation, but also demonstrate it. These are the values that we uphold as Canadians.

In my role as a Teacher for Gifted (ages 9-14), I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity for students to dive into some of the deeper issues that involve First Nations, Inuit and Metis (FNMI) not just as Peoples of the Past, but of the Present. I was also thrilled at the potential of using creative approaches, like Minecraft, for students to engage in this initiative – Craft Reconciliation is an initiatve  –https://www.facebook.com/WabKinew/posts/10153017657506618:0 where students would engage in a inquiry process and design thinking.

I was excited to participate in this process – at first.

But then, as my colleague (Kristy Luker) and I began designing the inquiry lesson, I became more and more uncomfortable with having students sharing and demonstrating their thoughts in Minecraft. The task yes, but why was I so uncomfortable with my Minecraft when I have done so many lessons using Minecraft in the past?

Let me be clear here. I am a HUGE advocate of Minecraft in the classroom. I have used Minecraft for almost six years and have presented locally and Internationally over the past several years on why Minecraft is a choice learning tool for design (and for thinking, engineering, collaboration, math, science, literacy …you get the point). I write blog posts about Minecraft and have even won awards based on my use of Minecraft within an Inquiry driven classroom (The Enrichment and Innovation Centre).  My point is that  I am in FULL agreement that Minecraft is a fantastic tool.

BUT….I am uncomfortable with students using Minecraft for this particular topic. Am I afraid of minimizing the content? Am I afraid that students will be distracted from the seriousness of the issue? Am I worried that they will not give attention and justice to an issue that has had such dark and destructive impacts on an entire culture? Are we over using Game-Based tools…to the point that we have lost perspective?

I can attest that I know how student work in Minecraft. I have worked on Minecraft related projects with over 600 students over the last few years.  Keep in mind, I am talking about students at the Junior or Middle school ages (9 – 14). I’m not sure how this would be different for Secondary level students or adults. I wonder if it is different for those students who have only used Minecraft in an Educational sense? 

Watching them work, play and create is what made me love it so much as a learning tool. But I have learned that they work differently in this platform. Even in a most focused and rich design task, they are in “play mode”. This isn’t bad, it is just a fact. Most of them have been ‘playing’ Minecraft before any teacher or school ever introduced it to them. They know well and and used the tool well before most teachers. They go into “Minecraft Mode”.  It is almost impossible for us to tell them to stop “playing” and get to the task/design. FULL ENGAGEMENT. I am certain that any teacher who has used this tool in the classroom can attest to this.  They can’t help but get giddy and excited – like anyone would that is allowed to use a creative, open-ended and collaborative tool. Plus, it’s Minecraft!!  And, too often, they need some reminding to stay on task (they love to build Minecarts or anything involving redstone for just about anything).  They also need a lot of time and thinking as part of the process. A lot.

It is exactly these reasons that I am uncomfortable with students using Minecraft to explore and recognize Truth and Reconciliation between Canada and the FNMI people. Why? Honestly-   I don’t want them to get “giddy and excited” in this topic. I don’t want them to Play when talking about the Residential schools. As I read and read (and read) the information and documents released, I realized that the issues go so deep and personal. We are not just talking about the physical symbols and cultural values that our First Nations have brought to Canada. We are talking about the the fact that over the years, Canada has policies that were geared at eliminating Aboriginal rights. The report released in 2015 explains, “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation and cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, 2015)

The more that I learned from the report about the Residential Schools in detail the more angry and upset I felt. “For the students, education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, 2015) .

If you have ever read my blog or tweets, you know I am an advocate for the use of engaging and current learning tools. I believe that we need to do better at engaging our students. But as an advocate, I am also cautious and I tend to think critically about how we do this in a balanced and respectful way.

I hope this doesn’t get read with offense but more as a discussion starter about when we should be employing Game Based tools in our curriculum. Does the content matter? Are students able to recognize the seriousness of a topic when using a tool that they are used to using for fun? Maybe I’m way off. Maybe fun and engagement can help us understand hard topics better? But in this case, I am going with my gut.

Consider joining in the conversation.

EndNote:

We did our first of 5 lessons about Truth and Reconciliation. We talked about why we were not participating in the Craft Reconciliation Project. They said, “It doesn’t feel right”.

Here is the overview (just an overview) of our lesson. Keep in mind, it is changing as we go along.

-Zoe

 

The Makerspace Classroom is WAY more than Circuits & Programming

_20151213_203359The Enrichment and Innovation Centre  is considered a ‘Maker Space Community’ with a strong focus on STEM principles, problem based learning, design thinking and arts education, each with an overriding theme of Social Justice and Environmental Education. The Inquiry driven model was designed with specific attention to enriched programming, current pedagogies, computer science, environmental considerations (physical space), online and blended learning, and community partnerships.


 

The Learning Environment is something that I’ve discussed many times in this blog. More and more, the term ‘Makerspace’ is becoming synonymous with the “Learning-space”.  A space where we teach, learn and create.  However, the conditions for engaging students and teachers in a space where creativity and design is at the core needs to be implemented first. Making requires a strong sense of community, of team work, of shared learning experiences and requires tough challenges and risks and it also requires constant evolving innovations. There is so much more to the space then providing a set of robotics, circuits or robotics –  we need to provide the opportunity to develop strong relationships and a place where learning can happen regardless of age, or skill, or interest.  Here, I share our story in creating the Innovation and Enrichment Centre – a Makerspace Learning community that is far more than circuits.

In 2008, when Skype, along with the internet first became available in my district (at my school), my classroom walls literally opened up. Even in that small classroom,  students became empowered to learn outside the classroom, from people and sources beyond the teacher and the curriculum. It was fascinating. 2009, we Skyped (yes, its a verb now)  over 80,000 kms on the first and second day of school.

If you’ve read my blog you will know why I have tea circles in the classroom or have a crock-pot of soup on throughout the day. You will know why I so strongly value game based learning and feel strongly against the ‘gamified’ approach which I believe contradicts the factors that are so necessary for learning to be fully realized. Learners, regardless of age, need to feel respected and valued and honoured. We need to create instances where we talk naturally (games are a great way to make this happen) and to find real world connections to what they are learning about.  Learners (all of us) need to have a say in what we are learning as well as provided with up to date, current and challenging tools and projects.

Makerspace, Inquiry and Minecraft – Enrichment and Innovation Centre

I am excited, thrilled and honoured to be given the opportunity to present some of  my experiences as a Teacher and Researcher, in particular how and why I am using Minecraft in my Maker/Learning Space. I look forward to meeting, sharing and collaborating with the many innovative and curious educators that will be attending ISTE and hopefully attending my session on:

Monday, June 29, 12:45–1:45 pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
Building/Room: PCC 108

What will I be presenting? Sharing?

This year, I co-created and facilitated programming at the Enrichment and Innovation Centre, at the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board. I’ve tried to write and share my experiences and personal reflections throughout the past school year. In one post, I write about the Classroom Design and I call it, “A little Starbucks and a little Kindergarten” . In another post called, “Problems that Matter…Where our Inquiry Started…and never ended.”. Here, I share what it is like to teach in an “ideal” learning environment where all students are given an Individual Education Plan, where there are no bells and no interruptions and where the class is infused with a variety of technologies. In another post, I share how I infused the Inquiry Process with Minecraft and literacy and provide a sample lesson plan called, “The Road Not Taken”. Here, student deconstruct and then reconstruct the Famous poem, by Robert Frost.

Please join me on Monday where I will discuss further, some strategies on how to implement Minecraft and other creative tools into the classroom space.  Here is a sample of what I will be sharing:

Be PROUD of that “Minecraft Teacher” label (or whatever the label)….

A couple of days ago, I read a couple tweets from a teacher that was voicing thoughts about being labelled as a “Minecraft” teacher, rather than an Innovative teacher that uses many engaging and creative tools including Minecraft. I looked back through the Twitterverse, but couldn’t find the tweets again.

FDSC_0271irst, I think that any teacher, leader or principal  that is labelled a Minecraft teacher should be EXTREMELY proud.  Bring it ON!  Think about it. You are being labelled as a teacher that is creative, open-minded, collaborative and willing to use tools and methods that are engaging and encourage students to venture into ARTS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING and MATH! Not to mention, using a tool that lends itself well to having students THINK, REACT and ADAPT to certain situations.  And to further the point, you are using a tool that is Universally Designed and doesn’t restrict students that have literacy barriers or language barriers.

 

So, if people see you as a MINECRAFT TEACHER, then I suggest you thank them. Maybe they just don’t understand what a compliment they gave you!

I find myself thinking  more and more about the assumptions that are made about teachers that research, share, blog and reflect on specific technology tools they use as part of the learning and teaching process. In fact, sharing specific examples about the tool or program on Social Media can have an interesting result since the context isn’t always obvious and assumptions get made about the teacher. For example, The Minecraft Teacher, The Smartboard Teacher, The Livescribe Teacher, The Google Teacher, The iPad Teacher…… You get the point.

But who cares? I am certain that I’ve been labelled a certain “kind” of teacher. I suppose it depends on who and from when. Today, I might be considered the “Minecraft Teacher”.  I delivered several Smartboard workshops for my District about 10 years ago, so back then, I was the “Smartboard Teacher”.  About 8 years ago, I started using blogging platforms with my students, so those who know me then, might consider me the Blogging teacher, or the Skyping teacher since we used Skype so often. A couple of years later, I began incorporating tools that were Universally Designed, such as audio amplification systems. I used the Front Row system and had a microphone around my neck most of the day. Yes, for a while, I was the Front Row teacher. And then, there was the iPad. My iPad ‘ONE” was the only iPad in the school (of 700) for 2 years. This single iPad labelled me as the iPad expert.  In 2006, my students were using Scratch and Robotics and even for a short while, I was seen as the Programming Teacher. Then, there was the Livescribe. Another action research project that had me integrate the tool in ways that I still find myself attached to, especially around assessment.  Recently, I’ve been investigating and integrating a variety of Microsoft tools into the classroom. Maybe that makes me a “Microsoft” teacher too.

Doesn’t it seem like the technology tools and innovations that we blog and tweet about seemed to override everything else we do as teachers? as leaders? as learners?

Do we take the time to sift through our assumptions, to get to know the person and understand why they use the tools or methods they do? Why the “act” the way they do on Social Media? Who are they really?

I now use all of these tools or program as part of the teaching and learning process, depending on the situation, the student and the context. Those of have taken the time to know me, know that I am NOT an expert, but am willing to try out as many tools as possible in hopes that I can reach my students in a way that supports higher order thinking, inquiry, and depth.

My classroom focuses on collaboration and inquiry, not technology, not Minecraft, not Livescirbe, not Smartboard, not Coding, not Google, not robotics… (you get the point).  I am good with the many labels that are attached to my name and I’m even good with the fact that I have probably used these tools for “Subtitution”  (SAMR) on occasion. But…I used them and I continue to learn.

DSC_0272Back to the “Minecraft teacher “ and for all the “Minecraft teachers” out there, be proud of your label, because you ROCK. You are taking risks, trying new things, engaging your students and putting yourself out there to be scrutinized and judged…and still, you do it. Remember, it is most often due to the ignorance or lack of understanding of you and your practice that results in the LABEL, not you!

 

I wonder, what ASSUMPTIONS, based on interactions in Social Media,  about educators, leaders or others in your network, do you have?  

What assumptions do you think are made about you? 

 

Minecraft and Fractals – a wonderful pair!

Minecraft and Fractals
By: Zoe Branigan-Pipe and Beth Carey

screenshotWe are all familiar with Math Manipulatives and the power of hands-on learning. Minecraft allows students to explore, create, design and problem solve in many dynamic ways. Here is one example of using Big Ideas and Concepts in Math. These concepts, once understood, force learners to use practical math skills in an authentic way.

“Today I learned about fractals the mathematics of nature introduced by Benoct Mandelbrot. Fractals are a repeating pattern in all directions with any shape. Inspired by Ancient Egyptian architecture this fractal is made entirely of gold blocks and glass. Although it is impractical it just shows what minecraft can really do”. -Gwen, Gr. 5 Student

Big Ideas: How does the concepts of fractal geometry link to the elements of design, engineering, and invention of the past and present and guide future decisions?

Overview: Grade Five Gifted students explore the connections and implications that nature has had on Math, Science, Art and Engineering. Using Minecraft as a creative and collaborative tool, students extend their learning of daVinci to explore and create fractals.

Source: Quillan and Makenna

Source: Quillan and Makenna

 

Who has heard of Fractals? Can someone give an easy definition? What are other things that we know of in nature that are fractals? How have fratals impacted our world? How does understanding the science of Fractals help scientist learn about Co2 levels on the planet as a whole? Where else could this idea be used to help the world? What surprised you about Fractals?

 

 

Activity Summary:

1) Background Information: Introduce and discuss the concepts relating to Fractals focusing on the principles of S.T.E.M.
2) Knowledge/Understanding: Show and discuss parts of video: Fractals The Hidden Dimension HD 1080p / Nova Youtube:http://youtu.be/lmxJ1KDR_s0
3) Communication/Thinking: Discuss, identify and list the many math concepts discussed in the video (Geometry, Symmetry, Patterning/Algebra, Problem Solving, Number Sense).
3) Communication/Thinking:Provide examples of assortment of Images that relate to Fractals.
4) Practise: Allow students, individually and/or in partners to draw and design their Fractals on paper
5) Application/Practise: Use FLAT world on Minecraft or Minecraftedu. Have students create their Fractal design in 3D dimension
6) Thinking/Communication: Allow students time to discuss, write and describe their Fractal on Collaborative document.
7) Consolidation/Sharing: Have students take SCREENSHOTS (F2) and copy/paste their screenshots into collaborative document/virtual bulletin board for sharing.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 5.20.37 PM

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

Design Thinking, Teaching and Learning with Minecraft and Lego

Our Class Picture

This lesson was facilitated with Grade Five Gifted Students. This is an example of how to combine a variety of collaborative tools (Collaborative thinking/planning, Blog, Web2.0 Doc, Minecraft) with a hands-on approach to building and designing prototypes that focus on world problems. Minecraftedu, large amount of assorted lego, a class full of engaged students and a teacher/facilitator provided the necessary resources. 

It was incredible to witness the dialogue, creativity and critical thinking as the students explored and designed their ideas into something concrete. 

Inventions

Big Idea: How do past and present inventions impact our world of today?

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This is a sample lesson that can be used at a variety of ages and grades. Because this lesson is based on the concepts around Design Thinking, it is easily adapted to a variety of curriculum and standards (Writing, Oral, Research, Presentation, Media, Social Studies, Digital Citizenship).Students will engage in a workshop involving a problem solving and design process. They will connect their knowledge of inventions as well as the literature/history they are studying (in this case, DaVinci) and will plan, design and co-create inventions that focus around a real-world problems.

 

Students will use a variety of collaborative (face-to-face and online) tools and will be challenged to think creatively. Is this a new invention? What was the inspiration? How will this invention impact the world? Why is it needed? What are the important details that need consideration?

What is the role of collaboration and sharing when designing and creating a concept? How does creativity change when we change the mediums (talking to writing, to drawing, to designing, to building….etc.)

 1) Introduction and Group Discussion (Breaking the ice)

In Circle, have students share and discuss a favourite invention and why. Ask them to think of the problem that the invention solved. Encourage strong open ended questions and descriptive vocabulary. Introduce the “Big Idea” …and discuss.

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Connect the topic “Inventions” to the overall theme of “DaVinci” (relevant in our situation). How did DaVinci get inspired? What triggered his ideas? Were they realistic? Which inventions were meant to solve a problem and why?

2) Mini-Lesson and Task Overview

IMG_0570*Discuss the terms “Concept”; “Concrete”; “Idea” and “Abstract”

*Connecting back to the DaVinci theme, show students TedX video – Robot that flies like a bird http://www.ted.com/talks/a_robot_that_flies_like_a_bird.html

  • How does this invention impact the world?
  • How does this invention impact a single human being?
  • What problem can be solved by this invention and why?

 Share and discuss (whole group, pairs…) the following information: Canadian Inventions http://www.mediatrainingtoronto.com/blog/2013/6/29/50-great-inventions-canada-gave-the-world

IMG_0450Ask students, in partners, to once again think of the above questions as it relates to each invention and then  create “Criteria” that makes a good invention (and post)

  • impact on environment
  • safety
  • medicine and healing
  • social justice
  • realistic, creative
  • positive impact on world

 3) Task, Process, and Sharing →


IMG_0565Students will collaboratively design and build their own invention using inspiration from real-world problems.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 6.47.37 PMThey will (depending on age, post these steps for reference during work time)

 

  1.  in teams, first think of a concept/idea that relates to criteria
  2. draw, discuss and describe their invention
  3. use Minecraftedu – flat world to co-create a model of their invention/idea
  4. return to their drawing and description and edit, change and add as needed
  5. using their plans and model, students will build their invention using lego
  6. Access the collaborative document (in our case this was posted on blog) and add description, picture and screen
  7. Whole class sharing -* In pairs/groups students can give ‘virtual’ tours of their inventions using a shared Minecraft Server

(At some point, demonstrate how to take and retrieve screen shots from Minecraft and insert into Shared Google Presentation)

Congrats to the students who shared in the excitement of writing this collaborative book: 

Extension:

* Persuasive Writing Activity

* Dragon’s Den Type presentation

* Advertisement/Media Literacy

* Science Fiction Story

* Trade Inventions…write and describe about each

* Add on to each other’s inventions

* Descriptive Writing

* Poetry

 

Teaching “how to” Self-Direct Learning

 
Student:  I am easily distracted from the work I have to do.
 
Teacher: What are you distracted by?
 
 
Student: Stuff like the latest article about the Redstone update in Minecraft <that allows you to use the concept of electricity, pistons, electrical flow, breakers) or by the book that is screaming my name, or distracted by the story that I’m co-writing with my friend <the one I want to publish>, or by the new world I’m creating in Minecraft that allows collaborators to co-build and discuss in real time or by the new mode that I’m creating and why the Java Script isn’t working…….
 
Teacher thinking: How can the distractions become the learning focus? Would this then eliminate the distraction?

 

One student writes,

“I was shocked when I found out how much I was self directing my learning, about a voxel platform called Minecraft. I learned almost everything there is to know about Minecraft, and I was shocked to find out that I found it all out through <a concept called> self directed learning. I learned it all through tutorials, Wikis, and finding stuff out just by fooling around in game.” http://dwtim24.edublogs.org/

As a teacher of a special education classroom (Gifted Education), my prime directive is not to teach content, but to teach my students to recognize their own learning needs, to advocate and then to reflect on what works or doesn’t. It is to have them ask, ‘What do I need?” instead of “How can I meet your expectations”? It is my hope that these students can begin to see the difference between education and schooling and between teaching and learning.  Ultimately, it is so that my students can drive their own learning and understand the structures that they need in place in order to be successful.

With the concepts and examples of Flipped Classrooms, Khan Academies’ (and the like), Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC), and variety of online courses such as Harvard Open Online Courses or MIT Open Courseware, the structures and tools are available for learners to access whatever content they need in order to solve the problem or complete the project they have in front of them. Therefor, my role as teacher is clearly redefined.

I showed my students the video, “If Students Designed their own Classrooms” and asked them to think about how this could relate to their own learning. I wondered how they conceptualized the concept of self-directed learning.  Initially, they didn’t see a connection to themselves. Why would they?

Students at this age still need structure, guidance and ongoing support and feedback. These students have been faced with teacher directed lessons, schedules, and goals. The concept of Inquiry (in the classroom) is somewhat foreign and like any skill or knowledge based lesson the students need scaffolding and monitoring each step of the way.

A student of mine wrote the following piece.  Alexander is a student that hasn’t had success (as he explains) with traditional teaching methods and has felt disengaged for much of his schooling.  After watching the video he felt inspired (even optimistic) that, in some instances, our system can create learning environments that are based on choice, interest and passion and can be driven by the student. Alexander asked me to post his thoughts where others can hear his voice.

Kids go to school to learn, right? To expand what they know? Then why do teachers decide what the students learn? What if they already know it? What if they are ahead, or behind? The student will know that better than the teacher. They know what they know. They know how to most easily do it. The student knows how they learn. So let them learn that way. Let the student choose how to learn, and what to learn, because THEY KNOW. Each needs to learn their own thing, their own way. Each needs different work, and, sometimes, special attention. So let them learn. School is a learning environment, not a teaching one. How would an adult answer a tough question? Look it up. So let kids do that too if they want. Let them do projects, or paragraphs, or a diorama, or even a model in Minecraft! If they want to do it,  then they probably do it better that way. If they say that they know that already, then teach them something new! A teacher’s role should be to help learning, not to tell kids to do something. I skipped science today because we had to do stuff on circuits that I knew in grade two!!! I came to school to learn, and I wasn’t learning anything except how to be bored, which I learned enough of in grades two to five (in grade one it was still mostly games). As I said, people come to school to learn. SO LET THEM.

What works for me?

  1. RELATIONSHIP – In order to implement this approach of teaching there has to be a significant understanding of who the student is as a learner. We take a significant amount of time reflecting on how to communicate what we know, how to reflect on how we know it, and how to synthesize what is next.
  2. BLENDED LEARNING – Each day, I provide individual tasks via Edmodo or Google Docs. Students will either choose a goal or be assigned one to work on. The Blended Learning structure allows students to access his/her individual plans and to communicate with teacher. It also allows for parents to be involved. Uploading plans and activities ahead of time has also been effective!
  3. TOOLS – I try to provide time for students to explore and learn how to navigate the tools (ie: Khan Academy, Math apps) and let them pick out the activity or app that interests them to share with the class. The “Resources” section in the classroom is important.
  4. TIME – Provide enough time to allow students to work on a given task. It often takes them 10 minutes to get going on a task. This time for “small chat” is important – like it is for adult learners.
  5. FEEDBACK – Ensure students aren’t just ‘doing the work’ but that there is a purpose. Give feedback to each group, or individual. I find myself walking around the room, prompting, checking, and reassuring.
  6. DIFFERENTIATION – Allow students to use the tools or apps they want rather than assigning. Some may use Educreations, while others are using the Livescribe.  The marker and chart method works too, although the students always upload what they’ve done to Edmodo or Evernote.
  7. INDIVIDUAL EDUCATION PLANS – I print out their IEP’s and allow them do fill it in or comment/edit what I have already done.  This is significant in helping them recognize that they have a VOICE.  We do this several times a year and then hang them up on clipboards.

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.

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.