Microsoft Classroom

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 

The Beta of EdTech – OneNote and Beyond

Technology Early Adopter

I joke that I gravitate to the new “shiny” opportunities in technology. I want to play with the new program or device to see what it can do in the classroom. Will it help me instruct my students? Or is it just something for fun? Does it have future potential to promote communication and collaboration? Can it help to expand our classroom world? When there is something techy to pilot, preview, or beta-test, then early adopters have a hard time saying “no,” instead we gleefully say “when can I have access?”

OneNote Edu

About 7 years ago, in a previous district, I stepped into the first year of becoming a 1:1 laptop school. We had laptops, students, and OneNote. The OneNote digital notebook of was building steam in the business world for project team communications. It was a cool tool, but realistically teachers wondered how they could make it work for education. In my classroom I started small. I created a OneNote section for each student to provide 1:1 communication for daily warm up questions and classwork. Students were amazed I could see their writing syncing in real time. Since then many educators and students have been singing the educational praises of OneNote. The ease of a digital notebook provides “no papers lost” organization for students. Faculty and staff are sharing school meetings and information in seamless fashion. As OneNote grows in popularity in the classroom, so to do the functions and capabilities advance in this ed-tech tool.

As more educators use OneNote we ask for more functionality, and the OneNote team at Microsoft is listening. We want easier ways to review student work, we want to quickly create small collaboration groups, and we want one-stop marking and grading of assignments. Since we’re asking, then we must also beta-test and pilot the pipeline of new development. The tricky part is being able to authentically use the beta-pilot functionality with our students. If it works, then other teachers hear about the “new app” and want access to use it. The “new” creates excitement, hype, and conversation. Early adopters are always willing to share what they have learned and when it will be available for everyone. But if the new pilot doesn’t work or goes a bit sideways, then teacher-student access or work may be affected and this can be tough. It is a positive when your administration understands the early adopter role and supports piloting ed-tech tools. As a pilot teacher you need to give timely feedback, which within the busy school day can be difficult, but ultimately this is why you offered to pilot in the first place. The rewarding part is when you realize your feedback has been incorporated into an improved teaching tool.

Working out the details one add-in at a time.

Initially working with new add-ins you have to think like a science teacher (which I am). You have to teach colleagues and students the specific variables that are being tested, what the new add-in can or cannot do. Once the testing is complete and the new add-in or tool is officially launched, then you do a happy dance and look for the next new “shiny” beta app to test. As we prepare for next fall I will be confirming for our district IT department that we want two new OneNote add-ins included in the updated school image. We want Learning Tools for all students and staff. The beauty of this tool is the ease of immersive reader and dictation capabilities. I am impressed with the speed of the dictation and considered dictating this blog into OneNote. For teachers we want Class Notebook so we can fully utilize reviewing student work and distribute class assignments. It is a powerful tool that is becoming more responsive to the needs of teachers and students in the classroom.

As we wind down the school year, a few of us are piloting Microsoft Classroom in hopes of being ready to go with a digital classroom space next fall. The purpose of this platform is to provide a “homepage for managing all of your classes. Organize multiple class sections, create and grade assignments, collaborate with other teachers in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and provide feedback to students.” The potential to have one landing page for all of my classes to promote easy student communication and collaboration would be wonderful. My students are adept at navigating OneNote and Outlook, but what we miss is a free-flowing digital conversation.  Is Microsoft Classroom there yet? Maybe, but it will take a few early adopters to help guide authentic use in the classroom.