The latest app that we have pushed out to the kids is Minecraft. If you have kids, or work with children then you will be familiar with this game. It is a sandbox style game that has both survival and creative modes and has become a prominent tool in education (see here, here, and here for examples.) We will be implementing this app as part of a Design unit in Term 3 but we have given it to the students early so we can establish their skill set with the app before they require it for their learning.
This action by us is what this post is all about. Training the students in particular skill sets has been common practice for us as we have used the iPads this year. Obviously, we can’t expect the students to do stuff if we haven’t explicitly provided them with the skills to do so. With Minecraft though, we will not be explicitly teaching the students how to use the app. (This has nothing to do with the fact that most of them know far more about it than we do…) For this app/game, we are tasking the students themselves with devleoping their own skills. They will do this through playing.
The beauty of Minecraft in our eyes is that it has so many uses. As it is a game, we figure that it should be played. As the students become skilled in playing, they will certainly be better equipped to apply the world of the game to the specific learning tasks that we give them. (Andy in fact created a preliminary task for the students that you can read about here. It was an extension on some Engineering work we were doing earlier in the day and it was a natural extension of that task to have the students replicate their work within Minecraft.)
We are very interested in hearing from others who have used Minecraft in schools, especially in Upper Primary and with iPads.
As part of our 1:1 iPad program, our Year 6 team are constantly reviewing the best practices for running our learning environments. Today I have come up with the term DAFA (Digital Anecdotal Formative Assessments). I got the idea from Andy Peartree (@anderspearz) who was using the app Explain Everything in his Maths group. I saw the students using the app to demonstrate their learning. They were engaged with the process and the Maths itself was not being compromised.
I decided to adopt the practice myself, but thought that I could formalise it to provide me with legitimate formative assessment. My maths class has just finished looking at converting fractions, to varying levels of success. I created a task on Edmodo asking my students to create an Explain Everything showing their understanding. I was able to quickly see who really understood the process without the need to troll through all their workbooks to establish their competence.
This is not a new process by any means, and I must stress the role my colleagues Andy and Jade in beginning this process. However, by formalising DAFA as a formal part of our teaching strategy, we have actively used technology to enhance our teaching.
I have seen two different items on the Internet recently, and I have formed a link between the two. I’ll pop them here and let you see if you can find the link…
First, this image that turned up on my Facebook feed
very clever stuff, and certainly the type of thing I like seeing on my feed when I am desperately seeking distraction from reality. Second, this video that came up in my Twitter feed (via @SunnySouth12)
It’s amazing what kids can do if we give them the chance, isn’t it?
Can you think of the link? What connected these two things in my mind was the old maxim, less is more. Now, the Navy officer is hardly someone to idolise, but his laziness showed there is always more than one way to solve a problem. I would argue that the gross effort required to reroute a ship, as opposed to shifting oneself down the bench a little negates the creative effort, but it cannot be denied that creativity is present.
The clip involves children engaging in Art activities, and clearly demonstrates the nature of children to engage their creativity more freely when they feel there is no consequence for ‘getting it wrong’.
This got me thinking about my students – how much amazing material are they not producing, because they are afraid that it will be ‘wrong’? Hopefully very little, as I try to make my kids feel comfortable in that regard, but a lot can be said for task design. How can I design my instructions to students so that it maximises their inclination to be creative? Do I get too caught up in multiple curriculum considerations, that I lose sight of the forest through the trees? This is going to be a goal of mine, moving forward.
I’d love to hear from anyone who has given this extensive thought.
I’ve never been taught explicitly how to program or code. Over the years I have developed my skills as necessary to maintain and share teaching and learning materials. I’ve managed to learn what I need to know as I need it, and then I inevitably forget it. I have also (sheepishly) used a similar approach in teaching these topics to my students. I have shown then what they need for a task and they have no doubt also forgotten the skills.
With the new Digital Technologies curriculum I now have scope to explicitly teach computational thinking to my students. I will be using the Scratch program in the first instance, as I recall finding it useful myself. This is the realisation that inspired this post – I only know a little bit more than my students. Now, the gap is still very wide, but it is closer than I am familiar with. What it will allow me to do though, is to be more immersed in the learning process that I am offering my students, as it will be much more relevant to me. I will have a greater appreciation of what they a re going through. This is something that I have not experienced for a while as a teacher, and to be truthful, is something that I find quite invigorating.
I saw a Kangaroo this morning. Running along Long Ridge, I was scanning the sides of the trail with my head torch. It was pitch black you see, but I did see two pinpricks of light about 3m off the trail just ahead. As I approached I realised it was a Kangaroo. And it was actually five or six Kangaroos. Good times.
So I am, amongst all my other commitments, going to run an Ultra Marathon later this year. I find that running, especially on trails in the hills near where I live is meditative and relaxing. Now running 56km up and down mountains is not a logical progression from that, but I have a good friend training me and… what the hey. Not sure how closely I will follow my training on this site, but from time to time I may throw something on here if I feel inspired. This morning was the first day of my new regime.
I was fortunate enough to be honoured by EdTechSA when they awarded me with a Leading Light award at their recent AGM. I usually wouldn’t make a big deal of this sort of honour as its not the kind of thing that is a motivator. For me, the focus os always on the learning of my students. The fact that other think that what we achieve is worth a mention is a real bonus.
The other thing that is a little bit cool is that my school mentioned my achievement on their Facebook page. What resonates with me about that is that for years I have been wanting to be at a school that embraces new technology rather than shies away from it. My school’s willingness to support this approach is a large part of why I am personally able to do so much with technology in my own classroom. So I guess that fact that there is a Facebook page to share it on is what I find exciting. Anyway…
1. Student Engagement
The beginning of the chat explored what it meant for students to be engaged. The responses revolved mainly around the principles of inclusion and student enjoyment. The big idea I got from this part of the chat is that engaged students are able to articulate their learning. Other common responses were “Kids feel like they can be themselves – no pretence, no cover-up, just truly be themselves” (@Innov8rEduc8r); “they feel safe enough to praise achievements & share shortcomings.” (@WesHeberlein) and “The Ss look happy and often don’t want to finish tasks they are enjoying. They want to come back at lunch” (@VivienTuckerman)
In my eye, these types of replies spoke to more than the interest level of the students with whatever task they were undertaking. They represented the learning behavious of students who were involved and an integral part of their own learning. For me, this ownership goes beyond academics but also to the social and emotional domains. At the moment, it is particularly relevant to my Learning Space…
2. Learning Spaces
I have been a big advocate of dynamic learning spaces over the lasr couple of years. I have gradually been making my classroom less traditional by providing options for students with regards to where and how they work. This year, being lucky to have a 1:1 iPad program, we have taken away quite a lot of the desks and replaced them with couches, bean bags, cushions, stools and low desks that the students have embraced. There is still the ability for every student to have a chair and desk space (we make good use of bench space here) when needed, but on the whole they are left empty. While this is not for everyone, it suits the type of learning that we are doing with the mobile devices. It is important though to match the learning environment with the type of learning that is occurring. Learning Spaces are just part of the jigsaw – many elements contribute to a supportive and safe learning environment.
3. Safe and Ethical use of ICT
This is represented by Standard 4.5 and is something that I feel is delivered very well in my classroom. I teach students to respect one another and I model responsible use of ICT. We actually study a Unit of Inquiry in Year 6 called Digital Citizenship. Especially with the iPads this year, it is so vital that children understand the full ramifications of what using the Internet represents. It is more than an interface on a screen – it is connecting with others. This is a powerful concept that can often go over the heads of children. I see it as a responsibility of mine to enforce this idea and allow my students to understand that their real life is intertwined with their online life – they meld together to create a greater identity that will define them as people as they grow older.
Tonight’s #ozprimschchat stayed on the theme of @AITSL Standards and discussed Standard 6: Engage in Professional Learnin. As usual, this is topical for me because our school has reinvigorated its Professional Learning Program this year with all staff undergoing PLPs that are directly aligned with AITSL.
While I’ll share my personal progress with this at another time, I find this standard ‘easy’ to achieve because of my passion for Standard 7: Engage Professionally with Colleagues, Parents/Carers and the Community. I find it easy to engage with professional networks, something which has reshaped my career since I discovered Twitter in 2008. This ability of mine to easily share and relate to others has been a massive benefit to me in my teaching, but especially since the introduction of the AITSL standards. Without ranting, I will quickly discuss the highlights of this evening’s chat.
What makes good Professional Learning?
My instant reply to this question was that it needs to be transformative. If we are not a different person when we leave, then nothing lasting has been gained. Discussion on this topic included notions of appropriateness to ability level, class size and length of the course. It looked at the benefit of professional discussions (Standard 7) as well as the despair of attending a PL event that was just not helpful. What rang true most of all is how discussion about this seamlessly led to the second topical highlight;
How is Professional Learning structured in a school?
Our school is (as mentioned above) taking its Professional Learning very seriously this year. All PL is aligned with Professional Learning Plans and staff are being challenged to look within their professional selves and map exactly where they choose to professionally grow. Alongside this is a new initiative to establish Staff Run Professional Learning Days that will replace whole staff sessions at the start of terms. The intention is twofold; Firstly, to take advantage of the expertise and passion that staff have by allowing them to teach their peers; Secondly, to allow staff through this process to exhibit leadership without defined roles; and thirdly, to build a greater culture of sharing professionally amongst staff. OK that’s three, but I could probably keep reeling them off…
The overwhelming concensus from the chat is that Professional Learning works best in a school when there are professional relationships involved. Since learning is a function of social interactions, this makes not only good psychological sense, but it makes things nicer in the workplace. I can categorically state without reservation that a teacher with confidence in the trusting relationships they have with both heir peers and leaders is going to be better than one without.
This paper was also shared and discusses the connection between professional learning and effective teaching practice.
Musings for tonight are over so feel free to peruse tonight’s chat here as well as below.
Tonight’s #ozprimschchat was the first for 2014 and focussed on AITSL Standard 1 ‘Know Students and How They Learn’. The great appeal in tonight’s experience is not in my return to organised chats for 2014, but the subject matter involved. Most topics covered related directly to my teaching but tonight was extremely topical as we as a staff are undergoing professional reflections that align conveniently with the AITSL Standards that we need to meet for accreditation. I have spent the last few week pondering my place on the seven rubrics and have come to the conclusion that the language can be ambiguous and vague and really serves to make me doubt my abilities. Not to say that I am not confident as a teacher – far from it. I am talking about whether that means I am proficient, highly accomplished, lead or just at a graduate level.
Tonight’s chat put a lot of things in perspective. As always, it served to validate my thoughts about a topic. My interpretation of Standard 1 is shared by many around Australia, and this gives me a boost. I feel affirmed in my approach to not only mapping myself against Standard 1, but all of them. It also got me thinking (again) about classroom practices. One of the beautiful thing about topic chats are the tangent discussions that one finds themselves in from time to time. One of these was on the ability of the learning environment to transform and invigorate learning. Again, my views are mirrored by others and this helps. (At the end of the day though, I am influenced primarily by my students in these areas). Thirdly, I have championed the Genius Hour concept at my school and along with Jade and Andy (my Year 6 buddies) we have made it a highlight of our weekly timetable. Again, the benefits we see from our students are the primary motivator but its also nice to hear other on tonight’s chat advocating its awesomeness as well.
Click the Play button in the lower left of the object to play through the tweets or click here to peruse as a list.