A Minecraft Inquiry – Course 5 Final Project

MinecraftEdu is a phenomenal tool for educators. The possibilities are endless and I am already planning how to integrate MinecraftEdu into language, mathematics and social studies units.

I found that a one hour setup before each session really helped me to stay focused on exactly what the students had to achieve. It also helped me to become more familiar with MinecraftEdu as a tool. The social computing skills that the students were able to develop far exceeded my expectations. It was a safe, easy to use digital environment for young students to be able to interact, collaborate and create together.

A Minecraft Inquiry Unit Plan:

This really is just the beginning. I am going to continue my ‘Minecraft Inquiry Blog‘ as I continue to research the possibilities of Minecraft in an inquiry classroom.

Community Starts at Home

Global Community

One of the significant advantages of being a COETAIL student is the level of community engagement required and encouraged. Any educators at any time can reach out globally yet this wasn’t something I really benefited from until this COETAIL course. I now consider it my responsibility to develop my PLN. The articles shared, conversations, connections and learning experiences I have encountered due to my expanding PLN are incredible. I strongly urge all educators to take the time each week to reach out globally.

Gplus

By sharing my own experiences I am able to process my own ideas and consolidate my own understanding, known at the Protege Effect.

Twitter

I have been astounded by the power of twitter. After a reluctant and slow start to twitter I now can’t imagine a significant teaching event without it. COETAIL has encouraged me to extend my reach and use twitter in different ways. At a recent IB regional workshop teachers were asked to volunteer to run a short presentation on something they are passionate about and I jumped at the chance to sing the praises of twitter.

I quickly put together this presentation using the PYP key concepts to describe how I use twitter as a primary class teacher.

As a result of actively engaging with my PLN as part of my COETAIL course I have become significantly more engaged online.

Twitter has also enabled me to further my own understanding by discussing relevant topics with others. Hashtags have been a really effective way of connecting including #coetailchat, #pypchat and our own school hashtag #sislearns.

TweetDeck has been really useful to help me efficiently manage my account and not to miss anything.

tweetdeck

I also enjoy using storify to record and share special events such as #siscodes for the Hour of Code. I now create hashtags for significant events such as our PYP Exhibition #sispypx.

#Edu-Hangouts

Following on from connections made during our coetail blogs @tracyblair invited @leahbortolin and myself to trial #Edu-Hangouts. The proposal is that like-minded educators meet on Google Hangouts to discuss topical educational issues. I created this infographic to help advertise the event.

Edu-Hangouts Infographic

We have now met and discussed social media in the primary classroom and are planning many more #Edu-Hangouts.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 19.37.00

Local Community Connections

An area where I have had unexpected success in connecting with educators is at my current school. Surprisingly by connecting online we are able to share, discuss and connect. The quick and easy instant sharing that twitter enables means that we can all be a part of each others learning environments even when we are unable to be there in person.

Yes it is wonderful to be able to connect globally- but don’t forget the fantastic educators that you share a staff room with!

 

Creative Mode

My Minecraft Inquiry is now well underway. I still have a lot to learn but we are definitely making progress with MinecraftEdu. I’ve discovered that we achieve more in Creative Mode and that border blocks help students to build in the same location. Our unit of inquiry is almost complete and then I will begin the process of compiling a video for my Coetail Course 5 Project.

Our school
Our new school so far.

I realised I have had to learn a lot of new vocabulary quickly. Students are already familiar with Minecraft which left us teachers new to Minecraft constantly researching definitions. I decided a MinecraftEdu glossary aimed at beginner educators would be a useful addition to my Minecraft Inquiry blog.

Throughout the Minecraft lessons the students helped to create an assessment rubric. Student suggestions are listed below which we then constructed into a rubric.

Assessment tips

The students identified a range of skills required to be successful in our Minecraft Inquiry including face-to-face social skills as well as ‘in game’ social skills. They also felt it was important to follow the plan and recognised that this was related to staying on task.

2 students
Students identified cooperation and kindness as key Minecraft skills.

As in all aspects of education, the more time and effort I put into the Minecraft lessons the more the students get out of them. I have now scheduled an hour’s set up for each lesson where I just explore the world, check on student buildings, and prepare any assignments or additions for the lesson. This has really helped me to understand the expectations for each student for every lesson, which in turn helps students to be successful with clear guidelines.

My Initial Observations

Student engagement in MinecraftEdu is staggering. Every student is completely focused on their task for every minute of the lesson. Every single lesson ends with disappointment when the students realize they have to stop working. This level of student interest is remarkable and motivates me to consider how else I can integrate MinecraftEdu into our curriculum.

 

The social and thinking skills that the students are developing are incredibly beneficial.  Elena Malykhina discusses in ‘The Scientific American’ the impact that digital games can have in education. The challenge for teachers is trying to find the time to assess how to best utilize these resources. Hopefully my ‘Minecraft Inquiry‘ will support other teachers hoping to incorporate MinecraftEdu in an inquiry classroom.

Course 5 Beginnings…

I am now ready to begin my Course 5 Coetail Project.

MinecraftEdu Controls
A Crash Course in MinecraftEdu

My aim is for students to plan and design a new school. They will have to consider the relevance of the learning areas they design and hopefully add some creativity. The focus will be on working collaboratively, developing cooperation skills and listening to other perspectives.

I have decided to introduce MinecraftEdu in our school and to use this as the tool for students to design their learning environments. My first task is therefore to familirize myself with MinecraftEdu. I decided to create a blog to document my progress.

As a group the students decided the best strategy would be to design new classrooms in small groups. I then decided to enforce the presentation zen principles of designing offline. I created a planning sheet for students to complete before they logged in to MinecraftEdu.

I aim for the collaboration process of designing and building to be beneficial for all students as they all have an equal voice. All students will design in groups and then build using their own computers build together online. This will give all students to collaborate and be creative when building.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 20.41.32
Architects at work.

As an educator my aim is to become more knowledgeable about MinecraftEdu by broadening my PLN.Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 20.49.11There are 5,500 teachers using MinecraftEdu so I am now part of this online community using twitter lists, google+ MinecraftEdu communities and following channels by experienced MinecraftEdu educators especially Joel Levine and Colin Gallagher. This is helping me to understand the terminology involved and potential usage.

MinecraftEdu server is running!

Ready to Launch!
Ready to Launch!

 

A Minecraft Inquiry

If you work in a primary school chances are you have heard your students discussing Minecraft. Currently over 21 million people have purchased Minecraft. There are a staggering 7 billion views of Minecraft related activities on YouTube. Clearly it is very popular. My question is ‘Can Minecraft enhance student learning in my classroom?’.

Addicted to Minecraft by Thomas Wagner
Image from Flickr by Thomas Wagner

I have researched how many teachers have integrated Minecraftedu successfully into the learning engagements. I have read and learnt from previous coetailers’ blogs about integrating Minecraft into a primary classroom, in particular @wayfaringpath @mikehoffman and @biggles. I am hoping to learn from their experiences and to build a valuable resource for teachers like myself. My aim is to create a blog that is aimed at primary teachers interested in integrating Minecraft into their classrooms.

A Minecraft Inquiry
The first draft of my Minecraft blog.

I am particularly keen to see how Minecraft can integrate into an inquiry classroom. I will be focusing on how the PYP transdisciplinary themes can be used in Minecraft, as well as looking into possible conceptual links with the PYP key concepts. I am also hoping to see any potential ways to teach language, mathematics, social studies or science learning outcomes.

Image used with the author's permission.
Image used with the author’s permission.

 

My research will also include reading Colin Gallagher‘s new book ‘An Educator’s Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom’.

It is my aim to provide a simple guide for primary inquiry teachers to integrate Minecraft into their units.

 

 

 

 

A Unit of Inquiry: Design a School

I have designed a unit of work that will help to introduce MinecraftEdu to students. The project is deliberately open to enable students to follow their own ideas. Students will be working collaboratively on designing and building a new school. They will have to justify features of our new school design and then follow a plan to all build it together. We will also be focusing on cooperation skills so that it is a collaborative learning experience. The detailed plans are below:

My Concerns

My main concern is that, although using Minecraft will be fun, it may not be academically rigorous. I am also worried that it will be a distraction for students. In regards to my blog my concern is that I am repeating what other teachers have already tried to do. I am also unsure of how using Minecraft can be linked to our curriculum as I will be learning as I inquire. I am also concerned about the technical side of using Minecraftedu as this is the first time it has been used in my school.

New Pedagogy

This will be a new experience for me. I have not yet used Minecraft or seen it in action in the classroom. As a homeroom teacher I will be rethinking how I can teach all areas of my curriculum to find authentic links through Minecraft.

Breakfast Nook in Minecraft by Steven Saus
Image from Flickr by Steven Saus

Let the inquiry begin!

iPad Time!

As a class we have decided it is time to update our system of iPad access in class. Up until now the teacher has had control over when the students have access to their iPad’s. Increasingly students request their iPad’s for a range of tools (spelling, translation, research etc.) and I realised it is time for me to let go of the control. I asked myself ‘Am I hindering my students’ learning?’

Previously, I have been concerned about device distraction, lack of social interaction and an overload of screen time. Common sense media recommends one hour per day for primary aged children. We have six hours of class time per day. Does this same amount apply to supervised educational use? There appears to be limited research that applies to our specific situation: a small class of motivated Grade 5 students who are encouraged to independently make the right choices about their learning.

iPad teacher line
Are we hindering student learning by restricting tech use?

I proposed to the class my idea for allowing them to use their iPads at any time in the classroom. Surprisingly a quick vote showed me that students wanted a list of rules that they could follow. They explained that having some guidance made it clearer to understand what was acceptable.

When deciding on these rules the following points came out in a class discussion:

IMG_0498
Encouraging self-management skills.

We conducted a ‘think, pair, share’ thinking routine to analyse these results. We narrowed these ideas into four workable class rules that addressed our concerns. A student also suggested we review these rules every month. Another student suggested that they monitor their own daily screen time – if we use the iPad’s a lot at school – play outside at home.

iPad Rules
Class designed rules.

I look forward to the monthly review!

My Classroom in 2030

After reading Michael Barber’s article on ‘How Could-and Should-Schooling Look in 2030’ I began to reflect on what the future might hold in my PYP classroom. My dream learning environment of the future is an open learning space with comfortable furniture filled with the latest technology. I will be able to enlighten my well-motivated, internationally minded students. However, from what I can remember these have been my dreams for some time.

I decided to compare my PYP classroom from 15 years ago with my vision for my future PYP classroom in 15 years time. When using Mary Beth Hertz’s levels of technology integration I can see that 15 years ago my technology integration was sparse. I would currently rank my classroom as between ‘comfortable and seamless’ but I wonder what the next 15 years will hold. What is beyond seamless?

I also reflected on how teacher use of technology may change in the future. Will the email epidemic continue to take up value time? Will university entrance exams become 100% digital thus releasing the pressure on handwriting expectations?  I researched potential future technology use for the classroom including from ‘Co creation and the web of new things‘. I also attempted to keep my financial expectations realistic whilst considering how technology advancements can impact student learning in my classroom. Below is my infographic to demonstrate my ideas.

Future Tech Use
How technology may change in the future.

A Mid-Year Tech Review

As I am approaching the half-way point of our school year I want to assess my ‘Tech Targets’ to review my plans for the remainder of the school year.

Flipped Learning

The Flipped Learning Model is a practical way for teachers to maximize class time. The excellent Flipped Classroom Infographic by knewton.com provides an easy way to see the benefits. This is a useful tool for front loading information and allowing students to prepare questions in advance.

In an inquiry-based PYP classroom I rarely prepare lectures for my class. I want to be part of their learning journey to assess prior knowledge, address misconceptions and plan the next day of learning depending on student understanding and ideas. However, using video reminders after a lesson has been very useful. I decided to design my own infographic, based on Knewton’s, to target the specific needs of my flipped classroom.

Flipped Classroom Ideas

Below is an example of how I have begun to put these ideas into practice.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC7ACLOrNL8[/youtube]

 

Kahoot 

Every now and then in education you stumble across something that has a big impact in the classroom. Kahoot.it is a simple idea and very easy to use. It is attractive, fun, engaging and has seeped into all curriculum areas of our classroom.

My class are constantly requesting more Kahoot quizzes. We even have our own style of chair dancing emerging thanks to the catchy tunes. If you haven’t tried Kahoot yet I recommend it!

Minecraft Mania

It is clear that Minecraft is currently a major influence on primary-aged children. The excitement of even mentioning a mine, and the many conversations in class that can be related to Minecraft is impressive. I first saw it used in the classroom by @donovanhallnz in 2013 and began to realise the potential of Minecraft. I now feel ready to launch an ECA and have just received approval for site licenses and a server. My research has now begun and I have found some excellent information on some coetail blogs including @davidc, @wayfaringpath @chezvivian, @holtspeak. My new project awaits!

mike cooke minecraft castle
Image from Flickr by Mike Cooke

Student-Centred Learning

A Brief History of Student-Centred Learning

Student-centred learning is not a new phenomenon. John Dewey outlined many educational theories including the importance of how ‘students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning’, in 1897. Project-based learning, Problem-based learning and more recently the apple launched Challenge-based learning all discuss the importance of student-centred learning, and inquiry being central to the learning process. What all of these learning styles have in common in today’s classrooms are that they naturally lend themselves to integrating technology. If the technology is available, and students know how to use it, it should be a part of the learning process.

My current conundrum is ‘If I want a student-centred, inquiry classroom, should my students should have access to technology all of the time?’

My Concerns

How much screen access is okay? Should ten year old students have access to iPads all day? I decided to find out what students and teachers thought. I used a great idea from @traintheteacher. A binary question for all students to answer as they arrive at school.

    I also tweeted a poll for teachers’ viewpoints:

An Experimental Inquiry

Central Idea Tech Unit (1)
Our central idea

After discussing these issues in class we decided to try an experiment. A full day with unlimited technology, and a full day unplugged completely.

Below are some student reflections from our ‘Tech Saturation Day’.

Students were also asked to write a Headline (maximum of ten words) to sum up the unplugged day. Below are some examples:

 

Teacher Reflections

  • Beginner EAL students were able to work independently. They produced more work than they ever have before.
  • Some students were easily distracted with the iPad. They did however still complete all of their assignments.
  • Working on paper is time consuming. Ten minute tasks took at least four times that.
  • Students enjoyed drawing and paper-craft.
  • Our replicate social media account is the students favourite past-time.
  • Marking and photocopying work is very time consuming. This took up approximately two hours of my day (compared to minutes using google apps).

Conclusion

I will still have some parts of our school day tech free but will monitor for which learning engagements this is an advantage. I’m interested in hearing how other teachers manage the availability of technology in a student-centred inquiry classroom. Is it time to let the student’s decide?

Technology Immersion

Image authors own
Image from Flickr

I am currently reading ‘Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job‘ by Yong Zhao. The book discusses the difficulties associated with technology integration and examines what we should be trying to achieve in education. It asks the compelling question:

“How can teachers and technology work together to create a sustainable learning environment?”

Yong Zhao, Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job

The book explains how schools and teachers should allow technology to do what it is effective at doing (Zhao states these niches as ‘Mechanical repetitive tasks, creative ways of presentation and interaction, and opportunities to promote learning’).  This can then free up the human teacher to focus on what they are most effective at (Zhao highlights ‘critical thinking, social and emotional interaction’). The central strand running through the text is described below:

“The ultimate goal is to tap the advantage of both human beings and technology and therefore provide an optimal learning environment for learners.”

Yong Zhao, Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job

This book has helped me to broaden my view as an educator and to consider how I can be more effective in the classroom, whilst utilizing technology to its full effect. This, to me, should be the aim for all educators.

My Definition of Technology Integration

Technology integration is interpreted in many different ways. The word integration implies that technology is combined or melded onto education. However, I feel that technology is intrinsically a part of everything I do. Even if I am not using technology in a particular lesson, I have planned and researched the lesson online, and probably tweeted or blogged about it. Technology doesn’t feel like something that is ‘combined’ with our learning- it is intrinsically a part of our learning environment. It is ubiquitous and we are immersed in it.

Technology in my Classroom

After viewing the TPACK model I tried to relate this to my classroom. The authors of the TPACK model, Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler, explain why this may not be easy:

We understand that, in some ways, the separation of teaching into content, pedagogy, and technology is not necessarily straightforward, or even something that good teachers do consciously.

Punya Mishra and Mathew KoehlerUsing the TPACK Framework, Copyright © 2009, ISTE

Watching this Common Sense Media video helped to clarify my thoughts.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjQNUhTJsTw[/youtube]

There are wonderful moments when I feel that I am in the magical spot of TPACK, but this is certainly not always the case, and isn’t always the aim. My technological, pedagogical and content knowledge are always improving, and always should be. In a Grade 5 PYP classroom independent inquiry is actively encouraged. Students are always excited to point out new technological features to me and each other, and we may be finding out new content knowledge together.

Today’s Lessons Plotted on the TPACK Model

I have attempted to plot my teaching day on the TPACK model to give a snapshot analysis of technology use in my classroom. Today I taught four one hour lessons so have placed a star on the TPACK model to indicate where I think each lesson could be positioned.

On reflection I think this is a fairly typical day. However it doesn’t really demonstrate how much I feel that I am not doing. Just because I am using technology, does not mean that there is a not room for improvement.

I am fortunate to work in a forward thinking PYP school, where all primary students have their own iPad. This has enabled me to experiment with technology and use it when it is relevant. Students are also now increasingly selecting a range of technology tools for their needs when it is required. Mary Beth Hertz identifies this level of integration as ‘seamless’.

Seamless: Students employ technology daily in the classroom using a variety of tools to complete assignments and create projects that show a deep understanding of content.

Mary Beth Hertz, ‘What Does “Technology Integration” Mean?‘, Edutopia

At school we have a whole school technology integrator to coach and advise teachers, and a primary technology integrator to co-teach and support teachers. This model, along with small class sizes and a good internet connection, means that we are in a strong position to use technology in a beneficial way.

My Reflections

I am pleased with the progress of technology immersion in my classroom but there are still many new initiatives I wish to pursue in my teaching. I am also actively creating my own content now as an educator, this includes shared content on YouTube and Flickr. I am also increasingly a teacher that enjoys discussing technology with colleagues. After reading Kim Cofino’s blog on ‘Creating a Culture of Collaboration Through Technology Integration‘ I now recognize the informal mentor role that can exist within the working environment.

This is an exciting time to be in education. Technology is enabling us to extend the possibilities in our classrooms and help our students to create and collaborate like never before. As educators if we share, collaborate, learn, initiate and create, together we can continue to utilize technology for the optimal learning environment that Yong Zhao suggests. We need to remember that to be truly effective, technology and pedagogical practices need to be intertwined and the focus should be on the learning first, rather than the technology.