Computer Science

Focus Week: Making of Minecraft – Part 2

Minecraft Part 2 – The How

At International School we have a Focus Week every spring, a one week, one class, CTE (Career Technical Education) focused week of study. The intent is to foster the opportunity for students to have quality work experiences, develop strong relationships with adults, and to cultivate relationships with students outside of their usual social group and outside of the regular curriculum and classroom. This year I offered a middle school “Making of Minecraft” focus week.

The pitch for my Minecraft focus week was: “What does it take to build, develop, test, and market new features in Minecraft? Come participate in a behind the scenes week with the Microsoft Minecraft Education Team. Try your skills at developing, marketing, and pitching your idea for a feature in Minecraft to the makers of Minecraft at Microsoft.”

Coordinating a focus week is as challenging as it is rewarding. The logistics basically mean you must create and schedule a massive, one week long field trip with all the backend planning, paperwork, permission forms, and prepping that encompasses, all while teaching a regular classroom schedule. Once planned and the focus week arrives, you only have one focus and that is what you prepped for previously.

To simplify things, I created a new focus week “class” in Microsoft Classroom and in Class Policy. Classroom allowed me to easily have a class OneNote, an associated Outlook calendar, and to promote group conversations all in one space. Class Policy, on the other hand, is a one-to-one technology management tool. Class Policy allowed me to monitor, and if necessary, lock student screens to help “focus” our Minecraft learning tasks during our daily schedule.

This week, we made creative use of the Minecraft Education Edition. As an Office 365 school district running Windows 10 laptops, we are able to take advantage of the classroom collaboration features within Minecraft.Edu. Specifically, my students found it helpful that they could see their (real) names within their Minecraft worlds and that it was easy to join and work within the worlds we created for Focus Week. Additionally, I also made use of the Minecraft “Classroom Mode tool, which allowed me to check-in on the progress of our challenge builds. Classroom Mode provided me a glimpse of who was where, what world, and what were they were working on, whether it was in the challenge build or in the survival game.

Our Minecraft Education Lead, Meenoo Rami, and I utilized our Minecraft class OneNote to post the daily schedule, warm up prompts, brainstorm pages, and links to FlipGrid questions. Since our focus week was tech-based, it only made sense to utilize technology for ease of communication and collaboration. Being smart with tech was especially important to me since half of my Focus Week students were not in my regular science classes. Since we are an Office 365 district using Classroom and Class Policy, it was pretty easy to do and absolutely essential in getting schedules and permission forms out to students and parents!

As the week progressed and my students were preparing to share their ideas for new features, we created a Docs.com page to foster online sharing with the Minecraft Education Team. My students had two in-person opportunities to present their new feature “Design Ideas” and then later to also do a “Marketing Pitch.” Each student team was responsible for posting their Design Ideas and Marketing Pitches into Docs.com. The Minecraft Education Team members were excellent with their feedback, it was honest, targeted to middle school understanding, and futuristic with helping my student strive to improve. The skills my students learned and practiced were the real deal; they had to figure out how to concisely explain their ideas and they had to be ready when technology didn’t cooperate quickly or when someone forgot to update their presentation. We all learn from mistakes and feedback, and so did my students this week. It was a good week of teacher collaboration between Meenoo and me as well as student to student. It was truly amazing to see the ease of communication, the skill, and the cooperation that happened during our focused week of Minecraft.

 Interested in learning more?

Meenoo’s Focus Week in Review

Minecraft Education

Focus Week: Making of Minecraft – Part 1

Minecraft Part 1 – The What & The Why

At International School we have a Focus Week every spring, a one week, one class, CTE (Career Technical Education) focused week of study. The intent is to foster the opportunity for students to have quality work experiences, develop strong relationships with adults, and to cultivate relationships with students outside of their usual social group and outside of the regular curriculum and classroom. This year I offered a middle school “Making of Minecraft” focus week.

The pitch for my Minecraft focus week was: “What does it take to build, develop, test, and market new features in Minecraft? Come participate in a behind the scenes week with the Microsoft Minecraft Education Team. Try your skills at developing, marketing, and pitching your idea for a feature in Minecraft to the makers of Minecraft at Microsoft.”

Now, truth be told, the fact is my school is close to the Microsoft Minecraft offices and this made it easy to ask if they would be willing to lead Minecraft focus week. To my happy surprise they exuberantly said, “Yes, we’d love to!” The thing is, the Minecraft Education Team is comprised of an awesome group of engineers, developers, marketers, and former teachers, this team understands how to connect to education. I am also fortunate to know two amazing Minecraft Team members, Neal Manegold and Meenoo Rami, both former teachers who ironically told me they were excited to create lesson plans for the week. Neal was instrumental in coordinating initial logistics and Meenoo was our amazing Minecraft lead in the classroom.

Over the course of a week my students brainstormed new features for Minecraft.Edu, shared and developed their ideas with developers, worked on their pitches to market their Minecraft features to a wide variety of audiences, discussed the business side of Minecraft, toured the Minecraft office, and participated in a community livestream.

During break times my students accepted the challenge of building a detailed Minecraft model of our school, complete with a working library and cars in the parking lot. The community aspect of working together for such a challenge is so apparent in Minecraft. My students had to figure out the who, the how, the measurements, the design, and the architectural structure of our school building. During the week they had multiple restarts, discussions, revisions, and a few accidental fires in their model library that caused some grief and rework. I look forward to seeing their final model – that is, if their creativity ever deems it finished, but then again that is the beauty of Minecraft, will it ever be finished?

Overall, it was a good week. Sure, my kids played a lot of Minecraft, but they also explored the work world of Minecraft too. One memorable comment made during a feedback session by one Minecraft Team Developer was, “You just did my job!” How awesome is it to provide an opportunity for students to preview their potential to the world! It was truly amazing to watch the wonder, the skill, and the learning that happened during their focused week of Minecraft.

Interested in learning more?

Meenoo’s Focus Week in Review

 Minecraft Education 

Challenge of Time

EdublogsClub – short #6 Challenge

This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

Time.

The challenge of time: Being full-time Tech and full-time Teacher.

I find the lack of time to be challenging. Specifically, the lack of time to do all the things I want and need to do as an educator such as;

  • synthesize science content into small bite size concepts
  • present engaging technology
  • concoct creative lessons
  • provide timely feedback
  • prep lab activities
  • write student growth goals
  • build routines to solidify learning targets
  • lead SEL (social and emotional learning) lessons
  • formulate efficiencies for grade data entry
  • articulate how awesome middle school students can be
  • encourage participation
  • teach digital citizenship
  • communicate how cool crafting minds can be
  • research and review content and concepts

Full-time Tech

I have always truly enjoyed sharing technology in the classroom. If used appropriately technology can enhance and supplement learning, but it takes time to teach how to use technology for both students and teachers. It takes time to learn the technology of an online curriculum. It takes time to teach teachers how to use digital technology devices. It takes time to walk students through accessing technology resources. It all takes time, but it can be well worth the time to do so.

Full-time Teach

I am a full-time middle school science teacher who happens to love technology. Throughout the school year my students gain proficiencies in using a digital notebook called OneNote, creating presentations in Sway, and sharing and posting on Docs.com. They also build their basic coding skills with lessons from Code.org and create programs from Project Guts in Star Logo Nova. They can successfully navigate within a digital environment whether it is in an online science curriculum with graphs and simulations or even just having fun in Minecraft. Teaching technology skills is important; it is critical for students’ future college and career endeavors. Today’s students need to be able to embrace and command their use of (academic) technology. As important as these skills are, they are not primary to my teaching science concepts that are essential to being a science literate life learner. The art of teaching science content lessons in conceptual chunks that are applicable to a student’s daily life takes time to create and foster. Again, the time is so worthwhile.

Question of Time

The challenge is to find enough quality time for both technology and teaching. The challenge is best solved by setting priorities, being organized, delegating when applicable, and occasionally saying “no” when you can’t do more. Of course, even as I write this, I am multi-tasking which means the above solution is easier said than done. I have wondered what if I cut back on the technology? If I did cut back on classroom technology would I simplify my schedule and create more time? Or if I cut back on technology would I narrow the scope of experiences in teaching science? The question of time is answered over time, for me it is striving to find balance between the “shiny new” technology and the status quo of science content.

To be an educator is to always be learning, particularly learning to master challenges. My challenge is to look for solutions to the challenge of time, learning how others master the time challenge. So, I’m curious, what do you do to master the challenge of time?

Free Favorites Web Resources

EdublogsClub – short #5 Web Tools. This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and educational technology enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week.

“Free” is a magic word for teachers. If there is a recommended free web resource then it is like gravity, we are drawn to explore. This week’s blog highlights a few of my favorite web tools I use in my science classes.

Web tools for teaching Coding – Code.org has a wealth of resources to learn and teach basic coding skills to students. The tutorials begin with visual block coding games to teaching computational thinking skills. If you are interested in introducing and sparking coding and computational thinking skills, I highly recommend these resources as a starting place.

Scratch is another kid-friendly coding resource site. Originally developed as a project from the MIT Media Lab, it provides a platform for kids to create, code, and share stories, games, and animations in an online community.

Science learning fun – Gravity Toy is a simple adobe flash player program that was created a few years ago. A player can place particle dot masses and explore the effects of gravity and velocity.

Classroom presentation tool – Docs.com is an awesome site where students can explore and upload class projects to share. Although it is available on the web, the caveat is that it is free as part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite supporting uploading Word documents, PowerPoint, Sways, and URLs.

If your school or organization is supported with Office 365, Docs.com is an amazingly easy way to share and collaborate student or teacher project work. In a previous blog I shared an example of sharing my students’ work: Office Blog – Cross-classroom Collaboration

Classroom review fun – Kahoot is simply a fun way to review. It is a boldly colorful and interactive online game. Players answer questions and points are tallied and projected. It is an easy way for staff and students alike to enjoy competitive questions in a round or two of Kahoots.

Content lesson resources – TedEd Lessons are wonderfully told and animated stories of history, science, and other tidbits of information. There is a plethora of lessons from which to choose, introduce, or expand content detail concepts.

Study Jams is a middle level science and math review web resource for students from Scholastic. Easily accessible as an introduction or review to content concepts in a short “cheesy” animated video, vocab, and key concepts.

Learning to Code

When I was kid my dad and I had fun with binary puzzles. My dad taught electronics at a vocational education school and it was part of his job and passion to understand the future of programming in relation to electronics. Back then we talked a lot about computer programing, I thought it was interesting and agreed it was important. However, after our conversations I’d just go back to playing in the backyard, my interest not equating to his passion.  As I grew up and began to focus on my career I diverged more and more from the path of computer science, tending more towards teaching middle school science, though I never lost that interest my dad instilled in me.

Fast forward to the present, technology as well as computer science is rapidly being integrated into learning science. As a parent I am talking to my teenager about learning how to code as an important skill set in today’s world. As an educator I now need to learn the basic principles of coding so I can better help guide my students’ learning as well provide an introduction to computer science so that they can keep up with evolving technology.

The world is driven by technology and everyone needs to have basic fundamental skills in both science and technology. If we expect our students to learn new concepts then it is imperative we expect the same of ourselves. If you’re not putting yourself outside your comfort zone then you aren’t learning.

So this summer, I’m taking baby steps in learning to code. I know my son will giggle at my pace but he will also grin at my successes.  You don’t need to be the expert who teaches every step of the process as long as you can facilitate your students’ drive to learn it for themselves. In that way, we can all be the students working together.