Minecraft

Living Life on the Beta Edge

This school year has been a preponderance of pilots and beta testing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a tech geek and I’m very appreciative of my forward-thinking school district. I am also extremely appreciative to have the freedom and flexibility to beta test new technology that may positively affect my students’ engagement in learning. This year, by my own choice or district curriculum options, I have been introducing, testing, or using a multitude of new tech or curriculum.

Curriculum Pilots

As a middle science teacher, I piloted and incorporated the following curriculum:

  • Project Guts – Code.org computer science in science
  • Amplify – middle school science curriculum
  • IQWEST – middle school science curriculum
  • Minecraft Education Edition – fostering student creativity & anything actually
  • PASTL – fostering students to think and process science visually in conversations

Technology Pilots

As a geeky tech teacher, I piloted and incorporated the following new educational technology:

  • Microsoft Classroom (will be changing to Microsoft Teams for Education)
  • OneNote – OneNote app compared to the 2016 OneNote desktop app
  • Lifeliqe – 3D models and augmented reality
  • FlipGrid – amplifying student voice captured within video responses
  • Slack – team group communications
  • Microsoft Paint 3D – making and modeling objects and art in 3D
  • Synergy – student information and gradebook application
  • Whiteboard Preview – whiteboard writing meets digital sharing technology

What did I learn?

What I learned is when educational curriculum and technology is chosen wisely, it can foster student creativity, amplify student voice, and streamline student collaboration. This is important; as our classrooms have changed, the demands and distractions on learning have changed. I believe students want to learn, but just like adults, they want the learning to be authentic and they want to have a voice in their learning.

What’s next?

We will be choosing curriculum companies that have integrated technology that easily navigates concepts, assessments, and simulations. For the traditional textbook based curriculum companies who are just transferring the text to an online format, please don’t bother… it is not worth our time. Piloting new curriculum and/or technology requires “beta” teachers to quickly assess how big the learning curve will be for both teachers and students. The more input the curriculum companies and/or technology companies listen to from teachers, the better. The demands of the classroom require an easy to figure out format for both curriculum and technology applications. Since we’re piloting new curriculum and new technology, we appreciate when our feedback is listened to. We appreciate when we see updates that reflect our feedback. We’re all wanting the same thing, we want an authentic learning platform and we want our voices to be heard in our learning.

*Stay tuned for follow up posts for specific details for piloted curriculum and/or technology

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 

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!