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Kia Ora – learnings from Australia and New Zealand

Kia Ora – learnings from Australia and New Zealand

Photo Credit: ACMI

Kia Ora.

I recently returned from a two-week trip to Australia and New Zealand. It was an incredible learning experience for me to get a chance to meet educators, visit schools, and connect with Education Ministries in both countries. The work of Minecraft: Education Edition affords me these unique opportunities to see education in other countries from may vantage points. It is difficult to fully capture all that I learned in a single post but here are some of my reflections. These are views and observation of a one person during one visit but they may help you reader learn a bit about both of these places.

To start, Australia’s population is smaller than New Delhi’s, 23 Million people compared to 25 Million people. The edges of Australia are heavily populated, but middle of the country is mostly uninhabited. Because the population is smaller, there seem to be more of a value placed on the quality of services provided to citizens for example – education, infrastructure, and social services. Just walking around Melbourne, I saw how much investment there was from state and national government for arts, social services, and investment in infrastructure.  For example, I saw adult learning center filled with people who were gaining new skills or further developing existing ones. There were large and beautiful building devoted to arts activities, in fact, there is even a bigger push for fiscal investments being made to the creative industries in Melbourne. Coming back to Education, just like anywhere else, Australian educators are passionate, thoughtful, and committed to evolving their practice to meet the needs of their students. There seemed to more of a trust and respect for the teaching professional than what I am used to experiencing in the States. I was able to connect with educators in the #MinecraftEdu Community via a meetup and Keynote the Melbourne Games Week’s Education Summit. Overall, it was an amazing way to get to know a new city.

Then off I went to Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand. I fell in love with New Zealand’s welcoming people, their rich and ancient traditions from Maori heritage, and vast and beautiful natural vistas.

New Zealand has it’s own complicated history and I still need to learn more and read more but the Maori people’s struggle for recognition, for equality when it comes to health, education, and employment mirrors the struggle of African-American people here in the States. To see what I mean, take a look this and this as a resource. In recent years, the Maori language has been given equal importance and there is a push in school and with adults to learn the language and use it regularly in commerce and education. Meetings in New Zealand also begin with paying respects to elders and ancestors who lived on the lands on which we are now working and living – I tried to imagine what it would be like in the States for us to pay homage to ancestors who worked, bled, and toiled to make our country what it is today. To truly know and pay respect to the contributions people who came before us made.

I am so grateful to my whole team who gives me time and space to do this sort of work and supports me in learning about cultures, peoples, and education systems so that I can do my work in even more intentional and respectful ways.

Kia Ora. 

Education in Games Summit

Education in Games Summit

I have the honor of keynoting the 2018 Education in Games Summit conference in Melbourne Australia this year. I am looking forward to learning more about education system in both Australia and New Zealand when I visit with customers, visit schools, and meet with educators from both countries.

The day to day work of Minecraft and transforming teaching and learning with amazing colleagues never gets old but the opportunity to connect directly with educators, understand other countries’ education priorities is just as important to my unique input and voice on the team.

If you’re near Melbourne near the end of this month, I hope we are able to connect at the Education in Games Summit. See you soon mentors and educators in Australia and New Zealand!

Microsoft’s Bring Your Kid to Work Day

Microsoft’s Bring Your Kid to Work Day

I had the privilege and pure joy to keynote part of Microsoft’s Bring Your Kid to Work Day. The event was hosted by my friend and mentor Diego Rejtman and my keynote partner-in-crime was Dona Sarkar. Diego went from being a software engineer to leading our Global University Recruiting efforts at Microsoft. Dona is an engineer, author, and fashion designer. It was truly an honor to share the stage with these amazing folks and the best part of the day was to see the genuine curiosity, and joy of kiddos who were there.


Media Literacy VS. Fake News (for @CCIRA blog)

Media Literacy VS. Fake News (for @CCIRA blog)

For most of us, since the election of 2016, we start each day with fear, an almost out-of-body experience predicated on “What else can go wrong?” We stare our screens in horror as each day brings more bad news than the day before. Our body politic is unwell, we are unable to have a civil dialogue, to disagree. We are being further divided by trolls on the internet. As author Michiko Kakutani writes in her new book, The Death of Truth describes our contemporary civic life as “as people locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines’. As educators who have taught 1984  and Animal Farm to countless students, we are even more keenly aware of danger flags that make people susceptible to lies, misinformation, and further divide.

The Washington Post estimates that our president lies on average about 9 times a day.  In these times when truth depends on your filter bubble, it is more important than ever that we teach our students to be critical thinkers. As we look ahead to the new school year ahead of us, the imperative to furnish our students with media literacy skills is stronger than ever. Our students need us to help them gain the skills to analyze, evaluate, and critically examine endless amounts of information that can be easily accessed through the phone in their pocket. If we fail to seize this moment for critical thought, and guarding against anti-intellectualism sentiment that is strong in our country, then we fail our students. We fail them in becoming sharp, independent thinkers who are engaged in the work of caring for the world.

From flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, to armies of faithful ones committed to gospel according to InfoWars, or Breitbart, there are endless examples of lack of understanding of science or inability to adhere to logic creates waves of misinformation that pull others in its tides. Here are two examples to share with students if you want to begin a dialogue about “Fake News” and the peril of forgoing doing one’s own research and fact-checking.

The first example comes from NFL team Seattle Seahawks, when the defensive end for the team Michael Bennett was accused of burning the American flag, while the coach Pete Caroll looked on with glee. The image was photoshopped, yet some chose to believe the lies that a flag burning took place in their locker-room. The  two images are included below for you to share with your students. You can also ask students to identify other examples of “Fake News” that spread via a social network but were later debunked.

Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 11.02.06 PMScreen Shot 2018-07-23 at 11.02.23 PM

The next example comes from India. In India, nearly 13.7 Billion WhatsApps messages are sent everyday. With cost of smart phones falling and data becoming cheaper, it has become a hub where the second most populated country gathers and chats. During the election cycle it is normal for a typical person to receive 1000 WhatsApp messages encouraging them to cast a vote for a specific candidate or party. When the largest democracy relies on learning about candidates in this way, things can go wrong very quickly as they did in the recent election cycle. The New York Times recently reported that, “Right-wing Hindu groups employed WhatsApp to spread a grisly video that was described as an attack on a Hindu woman by a Muslim mob but was in fact a lynching in Guatemala.”

The work of teaching young people to be independent and critical thinkers is not small or easy, but it is the work of our present times.

How do we begin this work of Media Literacy? Here are some examples and places to begin:

Let me know your thoughts on this post and please share your resources for teaching media literacy in the comments below.


via Carl Sagan

via Carl Sagan

Posted by Meenoo Rami on Sunday, May 20, 2018


“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
Carl Sagan, Cosmos
#ThisIsAmerica on your syllabus

#ThisIsAmerica on your syllabus

This is for

the ones who believe a music video can be a text that can be read, examined, and interrogated

the ones who know and witness the immense brilliance of their students

the ones who seek ways to connect and empower students through dialogue and debate

the ones who have learned a thing or two about art of life and life of art from their students

@chrisemdin @ladyakery @triciaebarvia #engchat #hiphoped #educolor


This past weekend Donald Glover who also performs under the name Childish Gambino hosted and was the musical guest on the show Saturday Night Live. In case you missed it, he also dropped a music video titled This Is America. See the entire video below:

At the time of writing this post, it has been viewed 42,059,643 times on YouTube. It has also confirmed for his longtime fans that his talent is limitless and this video is finally giving him larger spotlight in matters of culture. Even if you view it once, the juxtaposition of content and tone alone in this video can last an entire hour’s worth of class discussion. But there is more, there is symbolism, satire, and symmetry in this work  of the highest caliber.  As a service to other English teachers, I wanted to capture some of the cultural discussion around this video that have circulated in the media, in case, you or a colleague of yours wanted to bring this video as a point of discussion in your classroom. This video is probably suitable for high school students (ages 13+) but you know your students better than anyone else. See an (in)complete list below of relevant resources below:

The Carnage and Chaos of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”

Doreen St. Félix, staff writer at the New Yorker writes, “There is an inescapable disdain sewn into the fabric of “This Is America.” The very fact that the dance scenes are already being chopped into fun little GIFs online, divorcing them from the video’s brutality, only serves to prove his point.”


An Expert’s Take on the Symbolism in Childish Gambino’s Viral ‘This Is America’ Video

In this piece by Mahita Gajanan, it is noted “the use of so many famous dance moves show how ultra-popular pieces of culture lose their specificity over time as they become more ubiquitous.”


‘This Is America’: 8 Things to Read About Childish Gambino’s New Music Video

Round up from The New York Times offers some of the most concise commentary on this work in the present moment.


Teachers aren’t waiting for resources, check out this tweet below, I would love to see the lesson used in it.

Thanks to @ladyakery for sharing her lesson plan with her readers.

I’d love to hear and learn from you if you plan on using #ThisIsAmerica in your classroom. Let me know if you end up using any of the readings included above. Thanks!

Junot Diaz and apology to my former students

Junot Diaz and apology to my former students

On Friday May 5th, I woke up to Junot Diaz trending on Twitter. My first thought was that he had been honored with a new award or finally, there was some news about his next book, or perhaps he had maybe given an interview following his heart-wrenching piece on in the New Yorker about being raped as a child.

Instead the first tweet I read that morning about Junot Diaz actually came from acclaimed author, Zinzi Clemmons:

Every sector of society has been rocked by the powerful and brave voices of women coming forth via the #metoo movement. It should not surprise me at all that world of writing is also full of problematic treatment of women and for so long these voices were not heard. But this time, Diaz felt different from some of the other prominent men whose true selves have been revealed to us, from Charlie Rose, Louis CK, and Kevin Spacey.

Diaz felt different because not only had I been touched by his work and writing but I had made a concerted effort to introduce my former students to his work.

For several years, I taught my 12th grade students his first published work, a collection of short stories called Drown. I was proud to introduce my students to a contemporary, male, Latino author who wrestled with ideas of identity, masculinity, vulnerability, and fragility of life and human relationships in his work. It was the first time many of my students saw their home languages on the pages of a book assigned for a school course. Junot Diaz’s rising fame and recognition by numerous awards from the Pulitzer to the MacArthur Genius grant further affirmed my belief that his work was belonged on my syllabus.

Moreover, I was even more proud of my students. Because even then, we as a class grappled with issues of representation and treatment of women in his work. We wrestled with the idea of being a tour guide for a culture via one’s writing and whether Diaz doing that or not.

Nonetheless, it was my choice and not one made by my students to spend time with his work. I can’t help but feel that I have subjected my students to an awful experience in the name of great writing and including voices of diverse authors in our classroom. Much like this professor who shared in this tweet, I too feel like I’ve made my students especially female students, “spend time in the head space of awful men — to listen to them confess/justify mistreatment that surely they’ve experienced.”

For this I am deeply sorry, my former students may not ever read this post but it was important for me to pause and reflect on what these revelations about Junot Diaz are forcing me to consider. If you’re looking for alternative to Junot Diaz on your own syllabus, consider these Latina authors:

Julia Alvarez

Sandra Cisneros

 Edwidge Danticat

 Jamaica Kincaid

And many others. Let me know in comments how you’re dealing with the Junot Diaz story.


Guest Post by @jenniferward

Guest Post by @jenniferward

teacher. learner. writer. technology enthusiast.

An interest in helping young people discover and define their writing voice and reading interests drives me to cultivate a student-centered learning environment, one that supports individual learning goals and incorporates purposeful use of technology. Not only do I strive to create an inquiry-driven curriculum with students at the center of their own learning, but I am also highly motivated to research and reflect on my own teaching practices, continually seeking opportunities to build my professional knowledge and skills through my connections as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator, Google Certified Innovator, National Writing Project Fellow, and as a 2014 PASCD Emerging Leader, as well as by being active in NCTE, Flipped Learning Network, and as an organizer with EdcampPhilly and EdcampDelco. I taught for thirteen years in a Philadelphia suburban district before returning to my home state to teach high school English at Ionia High School.

And when not in front of a class or a computer, I’m either in front of my sewing machine or got a glue gun in hand, ready to craft whatever my two little boys can imagine. A born DIYer, I jump into ideas, excited by possibilities.


Evolving Space

My classroom space is in a constant state of revision.  I make changes to my space, my layout and design, based on the learners sitting in my room.

When I first started teaching, my student desks were grouped as pods, my teacher’s desk angled to face the door at the front of the room.  And this worked. Until it didn’t.

A number of years ago, I had a tenth grade student suffering from debilitating migraines.  Her doctor and later her neurologist struggled to make sense of the severity of her migraines.  But what my student knew was that overhead florescent lights seemed to trigger the onset of her blinding headaches.  She struggled to make it to class. School is filled with blinding bright white lights.  I wanted to find a way for our classroom space to be a safe haven. And me, not that far out of college at the time, had a plethora of cheap floor lamps cluttering my one bedroom apartment. So rather than clicking on those big industrial lights, I lugged those lamps into my classroom and purchased inexpensive table lamps from my local thrift store. I hung white string lights around my bulletin boards and dangled them from the ceiling.  And not only did the change in lighting seem to help my student suffering from migraines, but other students seemed to appreciate the less institutional feeling of our classroom space.  Murmurs of adding a reading nook with a rug and couch – “you know, like the ones we had in elementary school” – started to come up in conversation.  And so my classroom evolution began.

Over the years, I have added new pieces to my classroom space – a bench here, some pillows, a stool, a couch there – to accommodate the needs of my learners. My classroom now features a variety of different spaces.  There is a reading nook with a couple of couches, pillows, a rug, and chair situated next to my bookshelves for a comfortable place to read.  There are two desks facing one another near my back window, a perfect spot for a one-on-one conference.  My teacher’s desk, a hacked Ikea bookcase on casters, is at the back of the room without a chair.  It is a counter to hold my computer and teaching materials and to host informal conversations, but I don’t spend much time there, so there is no need for a chair.  I have a combination of tables and chairs, traditional desks, comfortable benches, and pillows around the room which my students move between throughout our class period depending upon what task we are focused on.  My classroom set-up has evolved over the last few years.  In changing from traditional rows of desks which I started with,  I honor the needs and stories of the students in my learning community, but my classroom also reflects my evolution in thinking about teaching.  My teaching is less about me being at the front of the room and more focused on space for my students to collaborate. My room reflects that change.

The classroom environment is sometimes referred to as the “third teacher,” influencing the ways in which students engage in the learning that happens in our spaces. The environment reflects the priorities of that class.  I need my classroom to support active learners.  Chickering and Erhmann write about the need for students to get hands-on with their learning. A learning space should reflect that idea. “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers.  They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.”

A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to put this idea into practice when I redesigned my learning space to reflect some of the brain research coming out. Students need flexible learning spaces to encourage active learning.  Educators Erin Klein, AJ Juliani, Ben Gilpin, and Robert Dillion hosted a classroom redesign contest on their site Classroom Cribs, selecting my classroom as one of the grand finalists. “Redesigning spaces to maximize learning is primarily a shift in culture and mindset,” they write in their book Redesigning Learning Spaces. It was at this time that I moved my teacher’s desk and podium away from the front of the room, and spent more time creating spaces where students could collaborate and share.

These days, my room is loud.  And I need it to be.  I see my students for only 55 minutes each day.  I need my students to use this time to collaborate, to connect, and to create.  Teaching in a rural district means that many of my students don’t have the means or time to travel after school to meet with a classmate to work on a project. Some of my students drive as much as 30 minutes to get to school each morning. Many of my students work after school jobs. Some work more than one. The classroom is the place where my students have time to connect.  I view my classroom as a workshop. This is my students time and space to “make what they learn part of themselves.”

And that can look very different for each student.  George needs to move.  He’s one of the EI students in my classroom. He knows that he sometimes needs to remove himself from a conversation. Sometimes he needs to move into a conversation.  He needs a chair he can pick up and move.  Michael doesn’t.  Michael needs a corner, maybe a pillow to lean on, so that he can put on his noise-cancelling earbuds and write his blog post.  Hannah and Abby need chairs right next to each other, not across from one another, so that they can share a computer screen while they craft an email together to gather information for their research. I need a flexible space to reflect all the various ways in which my students learn.