Bedtime Conversations with a Minecraft Expert

Cross posted on Holtspeak’s COETAIL Advenure

This evening as I was putting my son to bed I had a question for him.  “Did you know there are horses in Minecraft and you can ride them?”  “Yes”, he says.  “But I need a saddle to ride one and I can’t craft one.”  He then proceeds to tell me that I need to find a zombie spawner.  Often beside zombie spawners you’ll find chests full of stuff.  This was my best option to find a saddle.  “Well”, I said. “I also need to make a lead to lead the horse anywhere.

Slimeball Screenshot by Holtspeak

Screenshot by Holtspeak

The crafting instructions say I need string and a slimeball to make one.  Where do I get a slimeball?”  “Dad!  You have to spawn slime, and then kill it to get a slimeball! If you want string just kill a spider.  You know how spiders have string inside them?! Right?” “Ok, but spiders are hard to kill, and I always end up dead when one finds me.”  ” No, Dad!  Kill one in the daytime, they are way easier to kill and don’t do as much damage.”

At this point my wife called from the other room that it was late and time to turn out the light.  My source had been cut off!

On the Way to Work…Thoughts on Students Needs

Carpooling to work this morning teacher talk ensued.

It came down to this.  No matter how much we talk about what we’d like to be doing, it always comes down to this:  The needs of teachers and administrators-vs-what teacher’s feel students really need.

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan via Compfight cc

We had been discussing that the most effective approach one colleague could pursue, to improve student learning, would be to slow everything down in her class and focus on building certain fundamental skills and passions.  “But what about the standards?”, she asked.  “I’m accountable for those at the end of the year.  If I slow down I won’t cover all the required standards.”  We’ve all heard this before.

Standards and accountability are generally teacher and administrator needs in my mind.

Every group of students is different and has different needs.  A teacher should be trusted to use professional  judgement and make decisions that benefits specific student learning needs.

Does the need to cover a host of standards over a certain period of time supersede  a specific group or individuals’ needs for a different pace or approach?

Unfortunately a lot of teachers, including myself, have learned the hard way what happens if one makes professional decisions about student learning that do not align with school learning structures.

You’ve gone rogue.  Admin has there eyes on you.  You ‘re no longer a team player.

And, to be fair if you are not adhering to your institutions approach, you’re not supporting the prescribed bigger picture, so essentially you aren’t a team player.

All this before 7AM this morning.


Blogger and Google Apps in the Classroom – Some examples

Why Blog? (the short version)

How can a blog enhance and redefine learning? Blogging and other online applications can be used to create learning opportunities for students in which they are able to build autonomy, mastery, and purpose within the context of school and their lives.  Research has shown that when people are given these three opportunities (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) for growth and independence they will produce a higher quality of work and be more motivated.

In my own experience as classroom teacher using various technologies,  I have seen this kind of independence begin to emerge.

Blogging Choices

Most blogs are public to enable the students to have the opportunity to collaborate with peers locally and globally. However, Blogger can be configured so that it is secure and available only to those who have been given access.  The second example below demonstrates this option.

There are various ways that a blog can be used in a classroom.  It depends on the grade level, students current skills, available technology, and what a teacher and/or students want to accomplish.  Regardless of age and ability,  blogging and other applications are currently being used from Kindergarden and up by teachers around the world.

The following are some examples of what I’ve done in the classroom with fifth and sixth grade students.

A blog as a parent teacher communication tool

The above blog, which can be viewed by clicking here, is simply a platform to share information for parents, assignments for students, and at times student work.  The blog is open to the public.

A blog as a platform for student work and peer feedback

This particular blog was designed to be limited to students and teacher interaction.  Access is restricted to invitation only.  Click here to see what happens if an uninvited person tries to view it.

If you are interested in having a closer look, send me an email and I will grant you access via your Gmail account.

The original vision of this blog was to have two fifth grade classes, one on each side of the Pacific Ocean (Hsinchu City, Taiwan and Vancouver, Canada) share and comment on each other’s poetry.  It would have been a great opportunity for students to enter into global collaboration.  However, because of school policy that restricted student internet use on the Canadian side of the Pacific, the project never got off the ground (As I write this and reflect upon the challenges at the time, I realize I now know the Google Hack that would have solved the problem).

The purpose of the blog ended up being a little less global.  It became a place for the final step in the writing process; students publishing their work.  It also provided a chance for students too get peer/teacher feedback about their writing, as well as learn to provide positive constructive feedback too others.

A blog as a platform for students to become global communicators

The following is a student blog.  The post is an extension project from a science unit on resource use.

Click here to visit the original blog  (please add a comment!)

In the case of this project, students’ used their own blogs to host and share their work.  After studying a unit on resource use in Science, these Grade Five students explored the idea of the fourth “R” – Rethink.  They posted their work on their blogs.  My role as a teacher was to try and create as wide an audience as possible for them using my professional networks.  Using Twitter we managed to get as far as Canada and Thailand.

You can see some of the comments below:

The excitement that the class felt each time a new comment came up was thrilling! The students were empowered by the realization that they could have an impact not only on their school, but on the larger global community.  It turned out to be a very powerful motivator.

Google Maps in the Classroom

This assignment was designed for students to demonstrate their understanding of location.  You can see a complete description the whole assignment here.

Student example:  (Click on the screenshot to visit the original blog post)

Google Docs in the Classroom

There are a lot of ways that teachers can utilize Google Docs in the classroom.  One very effective approach is that Google Docs provides the teacher with the ability to directly comment on student writing as it happens.  Research tells us that the faster students receive feedback the more effective it is.  As students begin the drafting step in the writing process they can open a Google Doc, and before they begin to write they share it with their teacher and peers if they choose too.  As students begin to write the teacher can open student documents and comment directly on the content.  Students can see the suggestions in real time and correct and adjust as necessary.

Have a look at the screenshot below:

As well as providing instant feedback in the drafting phase of the writing process, it also allows for clear effective feedback from the instructor in between each draft.  Gone are illegible pencil written drafts that have no room for comments.  The revision history is always available to go over with students and parents if necessary.  This creates a record of assessment for each piece of writing.  Furthermore the document can be shared with parents so they can monitor the process as well.  Often I would share a student’s work via Google Docs at parent teacher conferences.  It makes assessment much more transparent for parents.

Google Resources

Google Drive: How to

Add voice comments to Google Docs

Some big picture things to think about:

  • Information literacy should be a part of classroom curriculum.
  • Students and teachers should be aware of and understand how to use Creative Commons licenses for online content.

A couple of blogging resources

First Day

Photo Credit: puthoOr photOgraphy via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: puthoOr photOgraphy via Compfight cc

It’s amazing how leadership and vision can shape a school culture.

This year my wife have moved our family from Asia to the Middle East.  We’re are in a new school and a new environment. The outside world is hot and dusty, and in a perpetual state of construction.  In a sense so is the new school we are at.  However,  any school with some vision and understanding of students and lifelong learning, should be like this.  It’s only my first day, but I have had the opportunity to teach and watch other teachers, both in the hallways and in their classrooms, and I love the sense of community that has been created here through school wide expectations and explicit approaches to student management.  The hallways and classrooms have a general aura of success.  The success is not based on test scores or HW completed, but rather it feels like the school is trying to build an environment which kids can be successful being learners rather than temporary repositories of information.  Hey,  I know, its only my first day, but those are my thoughts.

Shift: A Final Reflection

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

As I sit and reflect after reading the final chapter of Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm, one thing comes to mind:  paradigm shift.  November gives a lot examples of teachers using forms of technology to reshape their classrooms, but really what is happening is that teachers are shifting from a traditional approach to a new hands off experiential model in which students begin to own their own learning.  November’s final example of Garth Holman and Michael Pennington sums this all up perfectly.  These two teachers through the medium of online tools have completely shifted their teaching methodology from teacher centered to students centered in which students created and took responsibility for their content and learning.  Holman and Pennington’s students creation of, and the motivation to create, their own online textbook, again,  dovetails perfectly into Daniel Pink’s motivators of mastery, autonomy and purpose.  It is important to be aware that it is good design and pedagogy that has created the awesome learning environment.  This vision combined with the embedding of technology into the design is the key.  As Kathy Schrock says in her video Connecting Your Classroom to the Future, “Technology does not drive curriculum…curriculum drives technology”.

So what are my predictions for the future? Well I think that the following video, that a fellow learner in this course Stacey Johnsen, reflected upon in her last post Digital Communication and Collaboration, speaks very strongly towards what I would like to see education become.

For me, what Pat Bassett talks about in the above Tedx talk manages to capture a lot of ideas that are constantly swirling around in my brain that I can never get a hold of all at once.  Ideas from my own reflections, ideas that I’ve read, seen or heard about. Ideas from my experience that I never have had a chance to articulate because they are fleeting.  I love hearing that education is no longer owned by the teacher.  Bassett says, “subjects will be in the service of creation”.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Knowledge to imagine and create.                     Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I love that he says students should do something with their imaginations and knowledge.   No longer will students just “know stuff”, but they will need to create – to engage in real world problems – and have real world solutions.  I want to be a part of a movement that can get beyond high stakes testing and move into “High Value Demonstrations”.  It’s exciting.

That is the education future that I want to be part of.

Harnessing the Power of the “Share Button”

Students were thrilled to have someone see and comment on their work! Photo Credit: andrewrennie via Compfight cc

Students were thrilled to have someone see and comment on their work!
Photo Credit: andrewrennie via Compfight cc

I believe the power and significance of the student as a Global Communicator and Collaborator is summed up in the following quote;

“Everyday I have to decide if I will write for my teachers or publish to the world” Eighth grader talking about whether she will do her homework, or continue her work as a writer on – from pg 71, Alan November “Who Owns the Learning”

This week I discovered such a student in my own class, though he is not at all at the scale that above eighth grader has achieved.  My fifth grader created a 20 page Google presentation about the properties of Minecraft blocks. I discovered his work purely by accident when I noticed a friend of his looking at the presentation during our time in the computer lab.  I asked the friend about the work and discovered that this student had created the presentation on his own initiative out of the love of the game.  I asked his friend how useful such information was since I am not really familiar with Minecraft.  His friend replied that a new user of Minecraft would find the information invaluable.  I asked who it had been shared with.  The reply was just this friend.

The Minecraft block presentation is definitely an example of a student creating their own tutorial, and it also connects into the Daniel Pink’s motivators of quality work, autonomy, mastery and purpose. (This student, much like the eighth grader quoted above, didn’t always hand in the most high quality work for me).  When I praised him about his initiative, and the quality of his work I could see he was thrilled.

As I was having making this discovery, my fifth graders and I were in the computer lab working on our Photo Stories (the project I initiated for this course).  Coincidentally I had a group at that moment who were finished.  We uploaded their presentation to YouTube, and then embedded it in their blog.  A few minutes later I heard an excited exclamation, “We had six views!”.  They found it incredible that someone had looked at their work.  At that moment I realized the potential of global communication/collaboration, and most importantly feedback through the internet, and the possible pool of motivation available if students tapped into it .  So I sat down at a work station and tweeted their work and asked for comments.

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 5.29.30 PM




A few minutes later a friend of mine in Canada, Jean-Paul, commented and re-tweeted.  Right away their was an email that said they had a comment. They were over the moon!

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 5.33.02 PM

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 5.31.09 PM





I have done a lot of experimenting using technology in my class, but I’ve never actively tried to create an audience for my students work.  I find the idea of trying to get my students noticed overwhelming.  However, I have now seen first hand how motivated students become when they receive one comment and a fist full of views.  The potential is unfathomable.

So, going back to the student who created the Minecraft Block presentation, the next step for him is to get his presentation out into the cyber world and reap the potential benefits.  I have already casually suggested a few things, and plan to follow up with him.  His initiative to create the resource could potentially be rewarded exponentially.

For me the challenge now is too design global collaboration into my regular instruction, and to actively promote, and teach my students to promote, their work online.

So please click on one of the links below and leave a comment.  Make a fifth graders day!

Rethink Plastic

Say Hello to the 4th “R”, RETHINK

Our Fourth “R”: RETHINNK

Save our Earth, Buddy! Rethink!

Presentation Zen

I created the above Presentation Zen for my fifth grade class as a reminder and re-introduction to the idea of RETHINK.  A concept that we are using to create digital stories about changing our consumption habits.
What I like most about Presentation Zen is that it is simple in concept, but when done correctly it can be a powerful accompaniment to your ideas that you are presenting.  I liked that it was less tedious to create.  Meaning I was required to enter and arrange little to no text, and I could focus on sending the message with an image(s) and a word or two.  I liked the idea that the presentation does not stand alone, but rather in order to fully experience it, you must both see the visual representation along with the speakers thoughts, comments and ideas.  I think Garr Reynolds says it best, “…if they are good slides, they may be of little use without you.”