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Author: MeenooRami

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.

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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.

Guest Post by Lindy Johnson (@linlouj)

Guest Post by Lindy Johnson (@linlouj)

Image result for lindy johnson professor

Lindy Johnson is an Assistant Professor of English Education and Co-Director for the Center for Innovation in Learning Design at William and Mary.  She earned an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a Ph.D. in Language and Literacy Education from The University of Georgia. Prior to pursuing her doctorate, I taught high school English in Boston Public Schools. My research interests include new and digital literacies, teacher education, design based research, and critical discourse analysis.

 

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Minecraft Edu Hackjam was a pre-event at the 2017 Games 4 Change Conference. According to advance material, the goal of the hackjam was to “convene 50 educators, designers, and Minecraft mentors to make subject-area curriculum relevant, immersive, and impactful for all students. Based on each group’s strength and interest, participants will turn their expertise into Minecraft: Education Edition lesson plans to be used by educators around the world.”

minecraft-youth

One of the coolest things about participating in the Minecraft Edu Curriculum Hackjam was the opportunity to co-design learning experiences with young people. I’ve had the opportunity to lead a lot of workshops with and for teachers; many times I suggest bringing students into the mix, but this idea rarely gets traction. So, I was super happy that my friend, Meenoo Rami, not only invited me to this event, but encouraged me to bring young people I knew who were avid Minecraft players. Luckily, I just happen to live with two such young people: Anders (age 12) and Willem (age 9) have both played Minecraft for a number of years. And, keeping with the spirit of collaboration, Anders is joining me in co-authoring this blog post. You can read his thoughts below.

We began the hackjam with a brief overview of what Minecraft is and why teachers might want to use it. Meenoo emphasized that Minecraft was one tool in a teacher’s toolbox. We then had the chance to start playing around in the Minecraft Education Edition (which has some different features than vanilla Minecraft). As a clueless novice Minecraft player, I was grateful for the guided tutorial that taught me how to move forward, backward, and side-to-side. I also learned how to break blocks, stack blocks, swim, and craft. Even though it sounds simple, I needed help with a few skills (like how to pull down levers). If you think that young people are being dumbed down by video games, I encourage you to go and try to learn a new game. The struggle is real. Alternatively, read Gee’s book, What Video Games Can Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.  

James Gee-Video games

After we completed the tutorial, Meenoo asked us to divide into groups based on our content expertise and then presented us with an open-ended challenge: Create a lesson plan that utilizes the unique affordances of Minecraft: Education Edition to teach a common topic, standard, or lesson in your classroom.

My group quickly determined that we wanted to create a lesson that any teacher with limited Minecraft expertise could use. We also wanted to be sure that the lesson we created directly met a variety of English and History standards. We decided to choose a topic that is sometimes difficult to get students excited about: the U.S. Constitution. Our group had a great mix of Minecraft experts (including Anders, and a preservice teacher, Chris) and experienced teachers. We quickly began brainstorming ideas and came up with the idea to create a simulation in Minecraft where students could experience what it would be like to be in a society without rules. We called our lesson “Why Do We Need Rules?: Introducing the U.S. Constitution through Minecraft.”  The “hook” of our lesson included a mini game.  Students are divided into five teams. The goal of the game is to find as many diamonds as possible in Minecraft. Students have 10 minutes to get those diamonds by any means.  The idea is that students will quickly learn why rules can be helpful. Chris and Anders created a video walk through of the mini game here.

Group collab

I’d never created curriculum with young people before, so I wasn’t sure how the process would play out. In retrospect, I was surprised by how easy it was for us all to collaborate. The young people helped us make connections and think through how to connect academic content to Minecraft in ways that I never would have thought of. Having youth at the table also created opportunities to engage in rapid prototyping of our lesson plan activities. For example, we asked Anders “what would happen if we just let people roam around the world we created? Would chaos ensue?” His answer “oh yeah!” Anders was able to use his knowledge and expertise in Minecraft to help us anticipate what might work and what might not work in the lesson really quickly. Often as teachers, we plan what we think are beautiful lessons, but don’t often get feedback from students until after we have taught the lesson. The Hackjam used a completely different process. As Nikomo, a teacher in our group said, “There’s no way we could have created this lesson without Anders.”

Even though we spent about 3 hours designing the lesson plan, it didn’t feel like work; it felt like play. The joy of creating something together with young people was really fun, and it’s something I hope that I get to do more of in the future.

Here’s Anders take on the day’s events:

When I first learned about this program I thought it would be a fun way to associate Minecraft with education and I was very excited for the future with that. I wasn’t sure if I would stay [at the hackjam] the entire time because I didn’t know what to expect. Before we entered the workshop people were not shy to say hello and interact and we already had many developing friendships. We went into the classroom and first learned what Minecraft was in summary form and then Meenoo said that she sees Minecraft as one of the tools in a teacher’s toolbox and can’t be used to solve every problem. Next we did a tutorial on Minecraft Education Edition, which has some features taken out and some new features to help teachers to be able to control the students. The tutorial teaches players how to use the basic functions of Minecraft in a step-by-step process that gets more advanced as you move along. The tutorial would be helpful for a novice player but there are some parts where the road splits and it may be confusing which way to go, otherwise stupendous. I thought it was fun to work with teachers and get to know what’s happening in the teaching world. It was cool to work together and to create something new with teachers, and to get students excited about the U.S. Constitution. group shot.png

Join me at #CCIRA18 in Feb 2018

Join me at #CCIRA18 in Feb 2018

Thanks to organizers of CCIRA conference for this invite! I am looking forward to being there!
2018 CCIRA Conference
Literacy Renaissance: Invention, Intention, and Close Study
Morning Keynote Speakers
February 7-10, 2018
It’s that time again: the limitless possibilities of a brand new school year stretch before us. We re-enter our classrooms energized with new ideas and fueled by our own summer learning as well as our passion for the learning experiences we will design for our students. A whole new year!
It’s a similar feeling planning a conference. It’s an opportunity to assemble a menu of speakers that will bring our CCIRA Community together-inspired to learn from and beside one another, to connect, and to continuously refine our practice to support our students. We choose speakers so carefully; we place them strategically in the schedule; we can’t wait to reveal them, for everyone else to get as excited as we are.
Keynote speakers play a vital role at any conference. They are the common threads that link the experiences of 1,800 attendees choosing from hundreds of different sessions. We come together as a community for keynotes–teachers of students at all levels, librarians, instructional coaches, administrators, content specialists, professors–we bring our diverse lenses, strengths, and questions, and we gather to think and learn together.
Meet the morning keynote speakers for the 2018 CCIRA Conference, February 7-10, 2018. Each one personifies the theme of Literacy Renaissance: Invention, Intention, and Close Study.
Thursday Morning Keynote: Ralph Fletcher 

Ralph Fletcher epitomizes the DaVinci-minded educator. His side by side, writer to writer stance communicates to students and to teachers that writing work is meaningful, challenging, and fascinating. Like DaVinci, Ralph’s notebooks are legendary, examples of what it looks like to walk the walk while talking the talk. Ralph’s passion for writing and for creating the learning environments necessary to support student and adult writers is so clear. His books include What a Writer NeedsBoy Writers: Reclaiming Their VoicesPyrotechnics on the PagePlayful Craft That Sparks WritingMaking Nonfiction From Scratch, and many more. His newest books include Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing and The Writing Teacher’s Companion: Embracing Choice, Voice, Purpose, and Play. With his years dedicated to closely studying writers and writing instruction, Ralph Fletcher is the perfect speaker to open the 2018 Conference.
Friday Morning Keynote: Meenoo Rami

Meenoo Rami brings the invention to the keynote table. As someone on the cutting edge of what could be in education, she will challenge attendees to consider out of the box possibilities. The kind of work Meenoo engages in with students and teachers reflects her background as a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, with the National Writing Project, as a teaching fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and most recently, as Manager for Minecraft Education at Microsoft. Meenoo is also the author of Thrive, a work she describes as her “love letter to teachers.” Meenoo’s strategies challenge educators to connect and to generate the kind of energy that powers forward and feeds us in a time when we need it most. Expect the unexpected with Meenoo.
Saturday Morning Keynote: Peter Johnston 

Peter Johnston is Professor Emeritus at the University of Albany and member of the Reading Hall of Fame (!!!). His books Choice Words and Opening Minds have fundamentally shifted our understanding of the impact of teacher language on students’ academic and human development. Peter is so intentional about the words he uses when giving feedback because it matters-far beyond that one reading conference. As we are teaching students how to read and write we are also helping them to discover who they are and how they see themselves in the world. Peter’s current research-exploring connections between classroom talk, reading engagement, and children’s social, emotional, and literate development–is relevant and highly applicable for educators at all levels.
A slideshow of all our invited speakers and authors is available on our website, so please take a peek and start getting excited for February! (And, no, in case you’re wondering; it’s not too early to book your sub!)