Some might have wondered at the conversations overheard in my room this week…
Me: “I just destroyed one of those big green guys.”
Student: “Oh, that’s a zombie!”
Me: “Eeeew! There’s this weird.. something… I don’t know what it is… that the zombie left behind!”
Student: “Oh. That’s just a piece of zombie flesh. Go pick it up! You can store it in your inventory and eat it later!”
Me (thinking): WHAT have I got myself into?!
I’ll assure you this was the only conversation involving zombie flesh, but it was just one of many, many conversations where it was obvious: my students were clearly the experts. In many ways, the “launch week” was really quite remarkable. It seems that so much transpired in a short time, but here’s an attempt at summarizing some of the highlights…
ENERGY AND ENGAGEMENT
For starters, there was such great energy in our learning space. It all started with our “official launch”, when at last, we opened the mysterious green box! You can watch the moment unfold in the video; it was a fun one.
After discovering our specially expedited welcome gifts from Minecraft Steve, we were surprised by a visit from a guest creeper with some really impressive dance moves. From these Monday moments to the Friday moments, when students were begging to have time to work on their projects on MinecraftEdu, there was so much excitement, fun and positive energy alive in the room throughout the week!
MINDBLOWN BY MINECRAFT
Secondly, Minecraft has officially blown my mind. I knew I was close to clueless before I started, but now I am beginning to see and experience the incredible upsides for creative thinking, collaboration and problem-solving. Minecraft is loaded with possibilities for rich learning experiences. The NMC Horizon Report challenges educators to consider how we might bolster student engagement, drive innovation and shift towards deeper learning approaches. I can attest to the potential for Minecraft as one tool that can help educators towards these aims. I loved listening to my students collaborate and help each other solve problems on MinecraftEdu. There was a constant buzz in the room: students posing questions, offering suggestions, peer coaching, and many times over- students coaching teachers. One student was quick to show me the possibilities for coding. He was already ready to take his learning beyond what I envisioned- an example of the need to be flexible in assessing students as their proficiency soars beyond a teacher’s capabilities. Even after four days of working with MinecraftEdu, I can see how game-based learning has the potential to address each of the ISTE standards for students.
A NEW DYNAMIC
I was really surprised how interacting with my students online opened up a new dynamic in our relationships. MinecraftEdu allows educators to make decisions about different settings in the world and permissions for players. The first task I gave my students was to complete the Tutorial World created by Joel Levin, creator of MinecraftEdu (one of the best parts about MinecraftEdu is the extensive contributions by educators all over the world, curated in the MinecraftEdu World Library). This world gives students an introduction to basic navigation, building and crafting skills. I had lots of fun exploring the different settings I could alter, often getting an enjoyable rise out of students! “Hey! She FROZE us!” Or, teleporting an advanced student back to myself to even the playing field! Simply spending time with students in a space they really enjoyed and thrived in was such a positive for building relationships.
I could also sense the “real world social benefits of virtual worlds” mentioned in Future Work Skills 2020. When my students started building their own houses (to explore perimeter and area), I could sense the camaraderie and presence used to describe the virtual world. While each one was working individually, there was an element of community because of the shared space and experience.
REFLECTION LEADS TO ACTION
On Wednesday, we had our first run-through of “Minecraft Math Studio”, where students move through five stations in teams. It was a positive start, but I definitely saw room for growth and I knew small changes could help my students experience greater success. After reflecting, I worked on a few revisions to the studio set-up:
- Instead of having students travel with computers, I assigned specific students to leave their computers open and ready on their desks. The computers were an added distraction and sometimes students lost time due to log-in issues or wireless connectivity problems.
- I created a classroom map with specific locations for desks. We practiced setting up for Minecraft Math Studio so that we could be ready in under a minute (I called this “The Minecraft Machine”). Ensuring tight transitions and routines is definitely key to the overall success of Minecraft Math!
- I rearranged the stations. Originally, teams would be in back-to-back teacher stations. Instead, I broke up the roation so that there stretches of independence between my station and Terri’s station.
- I bought 5 wireless mice for students to use when playing Minecraft Math as they were finding it difficult to navigate the game only using the trackpad. We included the set-up of the mice as part of our “Minecraft Machine”.
- I created a tracking table for students to record their “green-light status” in Reflex Math (one of the stations). I want to maintain high motivation, interest and expectations around the use of this program designed to build fluency in Math facts.
- We reviewed what it would “look like and sound like” to continually grow in our Math independence and stamina. Because we have already established common language around independent work habits, students were quick to reflect on how they could improve.
After implementing these changes, the next two days were notably more smooth and more productive.
THE GROUND RULES
Before the week started, I struggled to know how I might guide my students within the game. How could I really help them implement “ground rules” if I wasn’t sure what such guidelines could possibly entail? This was such an interesting experience for me! After our first day of building, I noticed that one student’s house had been “vandalized” (the iron gates and fence had been removed), and a block of TNT was resting on a corner of the house. I can see a lot of what happens during the game, and I usually fly up so that I can see what students are building. The next day, I initiated a conversation about “ground rules” for our online community with the students. They ran with it! They introduced me to the term of “griefing” (leaving TNT, destroying people’s buildings, etc.) and “trolling” (playing tricks or setting traps for people). They agreed, with complete consensus, that there should be “no grieving and no trolling”, and instead, we should “help people build and coach people if they are stuck”. This was a great teaching moment that only called for me to guide and facilitate the conversation. There was also opportunity to draw connections between how to live with integrity and kindness in both our online and offline experiences. From their responses, I am not sure if they see their actions online being similar to those offline, and I’m interested to continue these conversations in the days to come! Again, such great connections to the ISTE Standards, this time related to the development of digital citizenship skills.
I FINALLY LET GO
This deserves its own post, but the best part of my week began as the hardest part. On Sunday, I really wasn’t sure how things would unfold. I didn’t feel comfortable on MinecraftEdu. I felt like there were a lot of unknowns, and I’m not a huge fan of unknowns in my classroom. I was anxious and out of my dimension, especially when trying to navigate in the game. Creating papernets and brewing up a sweet thematic approach to Math is one thing, but using game-based learning is definitely the next level. And, I’m used to being the one who can guide, direct and share the expert knowledge. Letting go of these controls was the hardest, the best and the most important part of my experience in Minecraft Math this week. Teaching outside the parameters of my comfort zone has already proven to be worth it. I loved hearing the surprised delight in my students’ voices: “Miss McMillan! WE’RE teaching YOU!” I played Minecraft with students during after-school programming on a couple of occasions. I peppered them with constant questions, and forced myself to actually play and not just observe. I recall one moment when a student was explaining a Minecraft-ism to me. I stared at him blankly and honestly wondered if were speaking the same language. I think that by taking on the role of expert in the classroom and helping me learn, my students felt their knowledge, interests and experiences were valued and even admired. I can’t help but think these experiences will contribute to their empowerment as learners and leaders.
It was a fantastic start to our Minecraft Math adventure, and I’m looking forward to the learning to come in the weeks ahead!
What have your students taught you most recently?