Students and Me Minecrafting

 
I have long wondered what the big deal was about Minecraft even though I think the power of games are something schools and teachers need to utilize. Over the years I have purchased games for our students to learn with like Gamestar Mechanic, Scratch, and Evolver from Dimensionu. In fact we have run Minecraft EDU at the Lower School for about 2 years now so most of the students now in the middle school have been exposed before they get to me. I no longer prevented students from downloading the Minecraft app so they could play at recess. Both labs are often full or near full because of this change. I had mentioned to some students that perhaps we should setup our own Minecraft EDU server even though I had never played. The students were listening (like they always do) so one day, I got a message that a Google Doc had been shared with me called
BugguCraft Server Proposal. Below is a portion of what was outlined in the now 34 pages outline of why we should setup a BugguCraft Server. Yes, that is 34 pages written with a plan on setting up, administering, creating, rules, contests, and other assorted information.
 

We (David, Tanner, Davi) have been considering making a server to house our mini-games called BugguCraft. We decided to create a server so we could ban, make rules, and make classes and games that are easily accessible and fair. Tanner’s contributions will include adding Bukkit to be able to make this game fun, which will make cheating almost impossible, and it will be more fair. Tanner knows Java so he can program the plugins that go in it. We will be the admins, and we can “Kick” people off of the server if they are being naughty (this means if they are griefing, spamming or cursing in the chat, or not obeying the rules), or “Ban” them, if the rule breach is more serious.

Rules:

No griefing

No swears

No hacking

No cheating

No trolling

Be fair

Be nice

Have fun

The 3 boys have really taken off with this and over winter break they purchased a Minecraft gift code to thank me. They wrote me a nice note about how they appreciate the help of Mr. Beck who setup the server hardware (an old iMac) and myself and how grateful they are. They even gave me a suggested username: Kartuffle. Today, at lunch recess I joined in for my first Minecraft lesson in the labs with the rest of the students. David was very patient with teaching me the basics and kept telling me I was a fast learner. Always nice to hear since I was trying to use the keyboard shortcuts and get a handle on what I was doing. The first thing I learned was that instead of destroying the objects I was harvesting. This is pretty big as most people, myself included, do not see the chopping as a mirror of what our civilization has done for years.

It was a great day and by the way, we are going to offer a student run Minecraft club using some of those 34 pages of ideas and rules. Later, I have to chop some wood!

Change Starts Small or Is It Getting Hot in Here?

Frog on Handle

Image Credit No Harm Done

Most of us are familiar with the story of the frog being boiled not when dropped in boiling water, but when placed in cool water that is slowly heated to boiling. I see a corollary to this with schools today especially with Independent Schools. While there are many aspects of independent schools that will remain long into the future; rigor, small classes, community, history, and more that make an independent education worth the price of admission. There are areas where the changes taking place in society are already impacting independent schools but like the frog, not all schools are aware yet. Our students come to us having more experience learning on their own then ever before. There are a wealth of high quality learning opportunities outside of the confines of the brick and mortar we call school. While some of these changes can be ignored in the short term, they cannot be ignored in the long term. If being a college-prep school is at the heart of what a school does, what happens when the need for a college degree is in less demand? The change is starting and in my opinion will only increase due to costs, return on investment, and the growth of for profit companies entering the education market. Of course, there is also the free resources available for schools to use like Khan Academy, Gooru Learning, CK-12, and a host of others. See my presentation I did for VISnet OER for more sources. Some schools are embracing this change by adapting their curriculum to be more problem based or challenge based learning methods. Others are focused on adapting in whole school review as Grant Lichtman points out in his blog; The Learning Pond. His TEDx talk about his EdJourney is well worth the 15:29 effort.

 

 



These are wonderful times in education with respect to the vast amount of resources available for teachers and learners. As the Digital Learning Coordinator at Durham Academy Middle School, I am lucky to be a part of  a transition that is underway since we adopted our iPad Learning Program. The change happens slowly and is happening here with a sixth grade student taking an “online” French course because she is capable of more then what we offer even though we offer French. While, I applaud this willingness to allow a student to take the online course I am concerned that we are not playing an active role in making sure the course meets the needs of the student and parents. We are members of the VISNetwork which would allow us to offer a curated French course from Middlebury. I believe this would be a better approach to addressing the issues of the boiling water. 

 

Full Disclosure: I am on the advisory board of VISnet and have been paid to conduct various workshops and webinars in the past and hopefully in the future.

Hour of Code

I am doing an hour of code with my after school coding class this Thursday. In addition, I have worked with Mrs. Williams’ class to do an hour of coding today in the labs. Ms. Donnelly has also done an hour of code herself and is planning on having her students spend time coding as well.

We have been using this tutorial http://learn.code.org/hoc/1 as most people are familiar with Angry Birds. Using Blocky, students learn how to write Javascript through a object oriented interface. After watching the introduction video, I asked the class of sixth graders what they saw in the video. The responses were about how to use the program and all of the men they saw in the video. They listed off Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Drew Houston with no trouble. No one in the class mentioned Elena of Clothia, Janete, the Zynga Engineer, Paola, the Microsoft Engineer, or Tanya, the Computer Science student who introduced the lesson. This identifies why we not only need to teach programming but also why we need to teach girls how to program. In addition to teaching programming to more students, we need to support girls to take on the challenges of computer science when their efforts can be invisible in a world so often considered a male dominated profession.

Our motto should be: Consume less, Code more!

What if it was Stranger Friend and Not Stranger Danger

Image fromッ Zach Hoeken ッ 

I enjoy reading George Couros’ blog The Principal of Change and liked this post as it resonates with the message I tell my students. There is so much we can learn, share, and help each other with that to cast anyone me meet online as a danger waiting to happen diminishes all that we are and all that the Internet can offer. Should you be careful? Of course! Should you not be careful when traveling to a city or a wilderness area? Absolutely! I have a newspaper article hanging on the bulletin board outside my office that has this 2009 headline: “Unfriendly peers pose greatest Net threat”which features research from Kaiser Foundation in 2007. It is now 6 years later and we still discuss using the Internet as something to be careful

Mark Moran left a comment with a link to Yoursphere which looks like a neat idea on how to help our students and adults in our lives. Check out the Parents section. It is similar to Common Sense Media which is full of great resources.

Granted, not all of us are born without an arm, but all of us can find friends that could add to our lives. 

Join the Hour of Code

 

I have been teaching an after-school class using Codeacademy which has been really successful for my students and myself. I want to help more students and faculty learn about coding and with the plethora of resources available, the science of Computer Science is at the finger tips of anyone who wants to learn. As part of this desire, I want our students to participate in the hour of code and have asked faculty if perhaps that week, we could drop everything and code or I guess DEAC instead of DEAR (Drop Everything and Read).

How about you join us? If you are a teacher and register you will get 10 GB of space on Dropbox which is pretty darn cool and nice tip of the hat to Dropbox. 

This movie reminds us of the power that was Steve Jobs to change the world. 

What I Learned at GAFE about Portfolios

Learn

Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59217476@N00/7211160284

I learned a lot at the Google Apps for Education Summit at Ravenscroft. Of particular interest was the discussions I had with teachers at Ravenscroft and others related to using Google Sites for student portfolios. We have done portfolios for two years now at the Middle School. I worked pretty hard to develop a template and roll it out with teachers and students. While we have begun the process, I felt we also  needed to iterate how we were creating them and utilizing them as part of our learning culture. With my new found knowledge, I have revamped the portfolio template to be more efficient and student driven. My hope is that this will allow it to become more a part of instead of separate from the learning process as a whole.

Because our Google Apps for Education are private, I created a new template that you can use to get started.

This link will take you to the template: 

I included a Google Presentation Tutorial as well focused on how to create the site on an iPad. You can adjust to the device you are using.  

For those of you who came to my presentation on building portfolios, this represents my new thinking while the presentation is very similar to what you saw before.

Writing – #More or #Less

This year our 6th grade students have their own blog as part of their Language Arts class. We use Edublogs for this as the My Class feature allows teachers to manage some aspects that are important to them. Check out Ms. Williams’ and Ms. Donnelly’s for links to student blogs. I know students are writing more since the access to iPads is 24/7. We have seen some scores go up in our ERB tests which while not directly attributed to the iPad or any other technology, there is no doubt the more you write, the better you become at writing. In fact, in our school’s application to become an Apple Distinguished School, we wrote this statement. 

Any worthwhile examination of the effects one-to-one iPads have on student learning must include a look at testing data. After only one year of our program, it is far too early for that data to be conclusive. However, we did discover some thought-provoking data points.

In the classrooms where the teachers had the most experience with integrating digital devices in class (6th grade Language Arts), median student testing gains on three of the five ERB CTP4 subtests were not significantly different from the prior three years of testing. But in two areas, median scores jumped significantly. The running average for the three years prior to the iPad program shows the median student scaled score increasing 9.5 points in Writing Concepts and Skills. Last year that median gain was 13 points. In Reading Comprehension the median gain was even larger – an increase from 3.3 point average gains to last year’s 12 point gain.

We plan to use data points like these as jumping-off points for conversations about the roles technology integration may or may not impact student testing outcomes. And we’ll certainly keep an eye on testing to see whether these gains recur this year, or were anomalies.

Today, I read the story How Digital Writing is Making Kids Smarter on Graphite.org and thought it was great information about how writing more, without cursive, is helping our students. The article also mentioned the video above which I thought relevant as only a few years ago, the term hashtag was not part of the vocabulary of most people. Now we see it everywhere with the rise of Twitter. #iamgettingsmarter.

 

NCAIS Innovate 2013

North Carolina Association of Independent Schools 2

On Friday, I will be presenting at the NCAIS Innovate Conference at Noble Academy in Greensboro, NC. My session will be a repeat of sorts from the Mini-MOOC I did at the Google Apps for Education Summit. I think the idea of using a Google Site as a launching and training platform for any type of device program is incredibly worthwhile. I spoke about this fact at the Apple Event we hosted at our school yesterday on Information Technology aspects to consider for an iPad or other device program. Infrastructure is important, but so is building a community or digitally connected learners that are versed in both skills and citizenship in order to leverage the device. I think the iPad Passport that we have used the past two years is one of the reasons why our students and teachers have been able to extend the learning and not chasing issues like we have seen develop where schools rushed in. For instance, we asked our students to not update to iOS 7 which we could not prevent them from doing (I know) and except for two situations, no one did. In fact, one of the updates was done by a parent who was “helping” her son out by updating all of their families devices. Besides applauding our students restraint, I think we need to acknowledge they have learned about having honor and character as demonstrated with this test of delaying upgrading.

Here is a link to my presentation.

When Learning Is Connected

membean

Our school is using Membean this year in grades 6 – 11 as a way to move beyond the painful vocabulary lessons of the past. The company is awesome to work with and this email from a sixth grade student to her teacher is why we know this is the correct path to take.

Dear Mrs. Williams,
Ok, sorry, I think this will be the last email in a while! Sorry I send a lot! 
I just wanted to say one last cool thing about my things. I really appreciate Membean now, because I see a lot of those words in my books! One example: I also have found many more than just ascertain! If I didn’t do Membean, I wouldn’t know the meaning of the word!

Thank you!

Autumn W. 

Thanks Autumn for making the connection and letting us know. To learn more about Autumn and other thoughts about Membean, visit her blog. http://20autumnw.edublogs.org/ To learn more about Ms. Williams’ class, visit her blog. http://jwroom211.edublogs.org/