Minecraft Education

ISTE ’17 Reflections – behind the scenes

I just attended, and presented, at my first International Society for Technology in Education conference, or ISTE for short, in San Antonio.  It was a Texas-sized conference with a ginormous amount of educational technology connections, learning opportunities, and inspiration. Because educators are passionate people, when we all gather in one place to celebrate learning we also inspire others to do more. It was an intensely energizing experience.

Now that it is done, it is time to decompress, unwind, and reflect on all the learning and all I have to share. My ponderings of ISTE begin with the following;

  • Presenting and what I learned about confidence, trial, and error
  • Conferences are a confluence of being hungry, having to pee, and google maps, while pressing through it all to learn
  • Being in tune with the mantra of “My Tribe” and “Teachers are wizards and ISTE is Hogwarts”
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Ready for ISTE!

Sunday Teach Meet

One of the cool things about being part of an educator network is learning about opportunities to both present and learn. One such opportunity was the “Teach Meet” on pre-conference Sunday. It was set up in a relaxed format of 2, 7, and 20-minute teacher-driven presentations on a variety of topics. All were informative, insightful, and relevant. It felt like a teacher learning oasis before the all-encompassing chaotic din of professional learning.

ISTE Teach Meet

I presented my science classes’ work with “Cubes in Space” in a 2-minute spot and it was amazing. I could share what the “Cubes” program is and how my students have a participated this past year. It was an awesome ISTE icebreaker for me.

Later, when I sat in the audience, I picked up some cool tech tips and tools, all low pressure and teacher-tested and applicable to me. I was encouraged to “tell our story” as a school with social media, because if we don’t, who will? I heard about the ed-tech classroom goodness of Flipgrid and Lifeliqe, both of which I have used in my classroom this year, confirming how awesome these tools are with students. In addition, I met some good “table neighbor” teachers from Ohio to California and in our short chats we all shared the same passion and excitement to learn more so as to help our students learn more. I will most definitely consider adding future Teach Meets to any future conference agendas.

Microsoft Partner App Facebook Live

Since my colleague and I were presenting Class Policy, a Microsoft partner application, we were invited to participate in a Facebook Live interview with Anthony Salcito, VP of Worldwide Education at Microsoft. It was fascinating to watch the preparation and planning necessary to highlight a variety of applications including Ohbot, Lego Robotics, Class Policy, and Lifeliqe, among others. Truthfully, it was a bit stressful to be on “live,” especially when the network feed dropped and we needed to record our interview a second time. Overall, it was an honor to be on the Expo floor discussing Class Policy, an absolutely indispensable 1 to 1 device classroom management technology tool.

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Chatting about Class Policy with Anthony Salcito

Microsoft Education Partner App Live

Connected Classroom poster session

In every conference, there are a variety of methods to disseminate information. At ISTE we were fortunate to have a poster session for our “Connected Classroom” presentation on the benefits of being connected with both Microsoft Teams and Class Policy. My colleague, Tamara Traux, and I divided and conquered the two tools, presenting and answering a myriad of questions from grateful teachers and administrators from all over the country. Some needed to know the basics of using OneNote and others needed to pick our brains about how best to maximize Teams to promote class collaboration and conversations. Meanwhile, others wanted to understand how best to manage students being on task with Class Policy and facilitating within a 1 to 1 device environment. It was an intense 2 hours of talking, but I absolutely loved the real-time interactions of sharing classroom technology.

ISTE Resources – Connected Classroom

Hack the Classroom

Microsoft Education hosted an online event to showcase a variety of the latest technology in the classroom where short “ignite” style presentations on topics such as Minecraft Education, Code Builder, and Paint 3D were streamed live. Participating as a live audience was pretty cool. Again, I find the behind the scenes fascinating, but realizing how truly authentic, caring, and empowering these educators are to their students was awe-inspiring. I loved Cathy Cheo-Isaacs’ authentic talk about using Minecraft Education and Code Builder with younger students to help build their understanding of computational thinking. I giggled with her obvious love of Hello Kitty and using the code builder agent to quickly build within a student Minecraft world. I was also inspired by Paul Kercal, the creator and artist behind Paint 3D. To build a tool that allows a student to visualize, think and create in 3 dimensions is mind boggling. He said it well, when he said, “I stepped back and let students be brilliant.” That is the essence of a master teacher, especially one teaching with technology.

Hack the Classroom Live

1 in 3 ISTE session

In this “listen and learn” session, teachers sharing their best technology integration moments in a quick 3 minutes, my colleague, Tamara Truax, was inspired to share her student’s journey project. She promoted the idea that they could and should amplify their family’s migration stories. Tamara shared how teachers can help students amplify their voices through technology. I was proud to be the support system to help amplify this teacher’s voice to encourage other teachers to do the same for their students’ voices.

Connections

 Finally, it was the connections at ISTE that made ISTE so valuable. Conferences are an excellent opportunity to foster a professional network as there so many passionate educators to share ideas and stories with and make those connections. I am fortunate to be part of an awesome educator network in the Microsoft Innovated Educator Experts or #MIEExperts. We use social media to stay connected regularly, but meeting in person and catching up is electrifying. We are extremely passionate about teaching, technology, and advancing student learning and voice and our conversations stem from wanting to hear about new teaching techniques, tools and tips. We are nerds, geeks, and wizards. The keynote by Jennie Magiera, chief innovation officer at Des Plaines Public Schools in Chicago, was spot-on when she said, “teachers are wizards and ISTE is Hogwarts.” A teacher’s PLC, or professional learning network, is their tribe, the people who get “it,” the passionate drive to promote what is best for student learning. They invigorate and energize us. We need them and ISTE is our gathering place. I am so glad I went and I look forward to returning in the future. ISTE was my Hogwarts and though I’m now on summer break, I am also so ready to return to school in the fall.

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Mind-crafting a Minecraft mindset in the classroom

Minecraft mindset

Feeling fortunate to attend the Minecraft Education Summit at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington this week. I walked away knowing a bit more about how to play the game and who to reach out to for Minecraft mentoring. There is an opportunity for Minecraft in the classroom, but there are some traditional mindsets that will need to be changed before Minecraft is seen as the rich educational tool it can be.

The three “R’s” of education are the building blocks of traditional learning and are considered the solid foundation of education theory, but our world is changing into a digital reality.  Our students play video games in their free time, they understand the digital world. As educators, administrators, and educational policy makers we need to understand this. The modern educational space requires a different mindset, a flexible mindset that embraces communication, problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking. Educators who are always learning, understand that it is okay to be risk-takers in the game of learning, and in so doing are better able to support the vulnerable student mindset. Administrators who are connected to this new realm will also be better equipped to support educators who want to engage their students in 21st century learning.

Minecraft as innovative collaboration, not just a game

According to Wikipedia (because we all look up things on Wikipedia) a sandbox game is a “game wherein the player has been freed from the traditional structure and direction typically found in video games, and is instead given the ability to choose what, when, and how they want to approach the available choices in content.” Yes, in essence, Minecraft the game is like the backyard sandbox where you make up your own game and create your own world and rules to play by.  In Minecraft the world is yours to create. Depending on the world you play in there are added elements of complexity, but then that’s life in general.  Minecraft embedded in curriculum can offer students the opportunity to create and work cooperatively and collaboratively within a community, learn to problem solve either elements of the game or to produce an end product or structure, or even to learn the basics of coding within Minecraft.

Learning to play the game

To begin with, you have to play to learn and learning to play isn’t that difficult. It is true kids are the experts and you’re probably still trying to learn the controls to walk and jump in a straight line, but that’s okay.  The paradigm has shifted in Minecraft to student learning centered instead of teacher centered, where the teacher becomes the guide. There are plenty of tutorials and mentors to help you learn how to play Minecraft.  The new reality is that learning to play Minecraft puts teachers squarely in the empathy seats of students – “oh, this is what it is like to be a student again.” Learning to play means you find tutorials and mentors either online, over Skype, or in the classroom. You find how to learn just as students do today.

Minecraft in the classroom

The opportunities for Minecraft curriculum connections are endless, just to name a few;

  • Building a world, strengthens the “soft skills” of problem solving, communication, and community collaboration in the classroom
  • Utilizing Minecraft as a curriculum based assessment; ask students to produce a world or structure as a capstone event, and then ask them to explain it. The wealth of knowledge behind the build will be astounding
  • Providing a space for student voice, student agency, and student choice which in turn enhances student buy-in for learning
  • Seeing students as gamers, as referenced in the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, we can meet them where they are as Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, or Griefers (originally stated as Killers). In any classroom situation, the more we know our students, the more we can guide them
  • Transferring learning; the more you do, the more ways you do something, the more you remember. Game-based learning is relevant to students. The multi-modal learning students do within a game requires processing and transferring their understanding which creates memories for learning and explaining to others.

For me, I specifically see Minecraft in science as a means for my students to walk around in a molecular world to see 3D models of proteins, to create roller coasters that could work in the real world, to work collaboratively to build a hydro-electric dam, and to explain the local biome and rock strata that they had to understand to build in accordance with nature. My list of possibilities are endless, as is the Minecraft world. My students are very excited to use Minecraft in the classroom, but as an educator I’m probably even more excited to create an educational sandbox to explore with them. This level of mutual engagement means we’re going to have an abundance of energy in the classroom for learning!