Friday, April 19, 2013

Minecraft in School? Too much Drama?

For several weeks, studens have been asking if we could host a Minecraft Club after school in our middle school. I am not a Minecraft expert, so before we agreed to host a club, my colleague and I decided to do some recognizance. We read articles, scoured the blogs, watched videos, talked to my 9 year old son who loves to play, and to other tech people in our district schools.

Minecraft is a hugely popular game that can offer students amazing collaborative, problem solving learning experiences. But, it can also expose students to bullying, hurt feelings and frustration too. We want our club to be successful and a real asset to our school. So, we plan on taking baby steps!
This week, a peer and I, hosted our first Minecraft Club meeting. We knew it was going to be a popular club, but, we had no idea how popular! The classroom was filled to the gills with Minecraft t-shirt wearing middle schoolers, most of whom were boys.
We didn't actually play any Minecraft that day. We simply gathered the students' ideas about what they would like happen during the club meetings and what kinds of activities they were interested in engaging in inside Minecraft. There were lots of games that they wanted to play that I had never heard of! I was so glad that the students were open with us about playing "Hunger Games" (playing to the death, just like the movie), "Capture the Flag" (just like outdoor game), "PVP" (player versus player until you are the last player still alive), "Mob Survival" (still working on figuring that one out), "Team Faction PVP" (play until your team has killed all the other teams), and some others.
Both my colleague and I were very concerned about keeping the students feelings safe and to make our club a fun, positive and great place for kids to come build and hang out.
I was surprised at how open the kids were with us about what they do in Minecraft at home. Four kids even raised their hand and admitted to 'griefing" (MC speak for destroying other players' creations).
We now have a game plan!
1.The students will play in Creative Mode (no killing, only building) in the LMC next week.
2. We are going to have groups of 3-4 students log into their already created Minecraft accounts and work together to collaboratively build a Wonder of the World, or a Chicago landmark.
3. We will not allow:
a) the chat function
b) no TNT (they can use it to blow each other's structures up)
c) any one caught "griefing" will be asked to log off

We are hoping eventually to get a server for our club that we can control, but we are going to take a chance with online servers until we can get the funds to create our own.
We are cautiously optimistic that our club will foster community, and then we can open up more options to the students as we learn how we are going to operate as a group.

We have also roped our building support technician, Paul, to help us with the kids. He has played a lot of Minecraft and knows who to set up a server, and all the games that the kids play we don't know about! He is going to be an amazing asset!

Stay tuned for next's week's episode of Minecraft Drama!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Creating Images to Capture Research

In the coming weeks, our school will be going on an outdoor Lorado Taft in Illinois. The students have all been assigned to a camp group with a name of a Native American tribe.
education trip to
Our Social Studies teacher wanted the students to do research on their tribe. That's where the librarian and I came in. Instead of just "fact finding", we encouraged the teacher to focus the students' research around an essential question. Then, look for evidence of character traits in the articles and then choose an image to represent the tribe based on the characteristics they found. Essentially, to do a short research project (a la Common Core) from one or two sources, and come up with an image to represent their tribe at Taft.
In this case, the essential question was "How did characteristics of Native American tribes vary depending on their geographical area? How does one tribe differ from another?"

The students used Google Drive to capture their research so that they could collaborate with their tribe members. Also, when we went to create the Tagxedo (Wordle like Web2.0 tool), they could paste their analysis and evidence of the characteristics of each tribe into the word box to generate for their image.

The students researched using World Book Online and Cengage Learning, both databases we have paid for a subscription.

Then, once the students read the articles, they came up with three characteristics that would best describe their tribe. Then they wrote an analysis of the evidence.

The evidence from their research and the analysis was copied and pasted into Tagxedo. (Silverlight 5 might need to be downloaded for the application to load.)

The image that the students wanted to represent their tribe was loaded into Tagxedo, they played with the colors and voila! a beautiful image to represent their tribe!

Each student in the tribe created an image that we saved to the shared student server. Then in their tribes, the students voted on the best image, and that image was printed and then will be taken to TAFT to represent the whole tribe during the outdoor education experience.

We were pleased with the outcome because:
1. The students used 1-2 well chosen sources to look answer their essential questions.
2. The usual "fact finding" was transformed into a valuable short research project.
3. The students needed to think about their tribe and chose an image carefully.
4. I loved that the images were not ALL printed, and the students could vote on the image that represented their tribe best. There were some heated discussions about the choice of images...indicating that the students chose their images with purpose.

If I was to change the project, I would allow the students more time for research and to discuss with the students how they were chosing their images. They went to Google Images and uploaded images. I would have liked to discuss in more depth where they could go to select images that were in the public domain.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Student Presentations: Oh my!

Every day in my school, students use Google Presentations to share their knowledge and to "tell facts" to their class. It is torturous for both students and teachers.

The teachers and I really wanted to challenge the students to give engaging presentations, where the audience is engaged and learning. Then, I remembered the keynote speeches I saw last summer.

I was fortunate enough to attend Building Learning Communities (#BLC13) Conference that Alan November puts on each year in Boston, last July. What struck me about the keynote speakers was that they taught us all kinds of things without the traditional presentation slides. In fact, they displayed amazingly engaging images and few words.

When I saw the educational visionairies present, I thought, this is exactly what I have been trying to describe to my students! So, it has been my mission this year to challenge the students at my school to transform their presentations. I won't lie, it has been an uphill battle!
When I explained the new process to the students, I showed them TED talks, Eli Pariser's on online filtering, partly because it was an engaging topic for 8th graders, but also because his talk was a great example of the style of presentation I was proposing.

The students discussed what they noticed about the slides, then the candance of Eli's talk, but also about the stage. Once I pointed it out, the students noticed the teleprompter in the floor.
From there, we came up with a plan to create two presentations in Google Drive.
One presentation was the "teleprompter" with all the words the students were going to share. The other one was the presentation that the audience would see, with engaging images and little to no text. Then, on presentation day, the students had the projector hooked up to one computer, then another laptop for their teleprompter.
The teachers and the students loved the process because it allowed to students to give their presentation confidently because they had their notes in front of them to refer to, and then the audience loved it because they were engaged in the visually stunning images.

We are working on moving from telling of facts to creating something new with their new found steps.