Recently, I had a professional opportunity that I had to pinch myself to believe was actually happening. I was a guest on the Teaching Tolerance’s The Mind Online podcast with Monita Bell. I have been a fan and supporter of Teaching Tolerance since I started my teaching career more than a decade ago. I have personally used many of their resources to tackle issues of social justice in my own practice. It was an honor to be part of the conversation via this podcast. If you’re curious what we discussed on the episode, check out the description and link to the episode below:
Episode 10 Video games in the classroom can help young people learn a wide range of skills. But gaming can also expose them to radical ideologies. We talk about game-based learning with Meenoo Rami, manager for Microsoft’s Minecraft Education. We also explore how educators can counter hateful messages in games with Keegan Hankes from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
I am so excited to be at the Badge Summit on June 22nd, 2019 to kick off the event with a keynote. I’ll be creating a new keynote for this event but will keep some of the themes that are true to my practice and beliefs. My hope in this keynote is to bring up the following essential questions for our consideration:
What role, if any, do badges play in creating a culture of lifelong learning in schools?
In what ways is community necessary ingredient for any system of learning?
How do we give the power of learning back to our students using perhaps badges or other methods of organizing learning?
I hope to see you there, and I hope this event sparks a great conversation for variety of people to come together to set some intentions and make some connection before ISTE takes over our lives for few days.
To hear from the organizer of the summit, please continue to read below.
Conference organizers are obsessed with offering attendees powerful learning and amazing experiences. The choice of keynote speaker is an important decision because of the out-sized impact they will have on both.
The search can be arduous and the rejected invitations humbling. These did not come into play in the case of the 2019 Badge Summit keynote speaker however, as Meenoo Rami approached me with an unsolicited offer to bring her out-sized impact to our conference.
I pretty much died right then.
If you’ve been following Meenoo on Twitter, read her book Thrive, or had a conversation with her, you know why I’m so excited for her Badge Summit keynote. She has a special way of showing up and touching everyone around her.
I caught up with Meenoo to ask about her motivations and to learn more about what we can expect from her talk.
In my version of the movie, dark clouds parted, ominous background music gave way to a harmonious choir that sounded exactly like the light beam looked as it struck the ground in front of me and you suddenly appeared with an invitation for me to accept you as the keynote speaker of this year’s Badge Summit. What is your version of how we got here?
I was lucky enough to get a last minute invite to last year’s badge summit via Participate learning, I was so moved by the keynote and the entire day’s experience that I wanted to return and perhaps have an opportunity to share my own thoughts on how we define and measure learning would be an interesting challenge to take on.
You’re well-known for your advocacy of Growth Mindset and your promotion of Lifelong Learning. How do you see those important themes tying in with digital badges and credentials?
I think the way we think of learning is already changing, in my current role at Microsoft, I am constantly learning about new approaches, new business strategies, and new execution levers to reach our goals. We betray our students and educators if we don’t embrace the ethos of lifelong learning that is required in all of us. When you stop growing, you stop being.
What takeaways and impacts do you hope to see for Badge Summit attendees?
I hope that this summit becomes the place to start thoughtful conversations at ISTE, I hope it draws people from differing experiences and opinions together so that we can tackle ideas such as how do we define and recognize learning for all.
Your experience teaching in the classroom was in Philadelphia. Is it still special when you have the opportunity to come back to a place that was home in order to share your message?
Yes, absolutely, I actually got my teaching cert and Master’s from Temple University so it is a special honor for me to return to the same campus for this keynote. I love many cities but because I taught students of Philly, it will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you again for this invite and I am so excited to kick this summit off.
Registration for the 2019 Badge Summit is live at bit.ly.badgesummit, where you can also get more information about the conference and see content from previous years. If you’ve got awesome work to share, please do click on the Present tab and lets us know about it so we can give you space to amplify how you too are changing the world!
The fundamental question we should be asking children as they grow up is no longer what they want to “be” but rather what they would like to “do.” What problems are they passionate about solving, and what are the skills that will enable them to achieve their goals.
Traditional education models are at odds with this type of thinking, however, as they are still built largely around the mythology of finite goals. The concept that there are clear milestones and an eventual finishing line to learning was never ideal, but it is even more woefully inadequate in a technology-enabled world. To thrive in volatile environments, we must embrace life-long learning.
One solution that educators are deploying to bridge that gap between traditional learning delivery systems and newer workflows and expectations, is the use of gamified learning platforms. Gamified learning is very helpful in cultivating a mindset where problem-solving becomes a fun activity, and failure is seen as a stepping stone.
If, like myself, you’re old enough to have earned your gaming chops alongside Mario or Sonic, you’re unlikely to recall exactly how many times you “died” along the way, or exactly how you adapted your strategy incrementally after each setback. The moments when you beat that boss and rescue the princess, however, tend to stick with you.
Vice President of Education at Microsoft Anthony Salcito spoke with me during this week’s Education Exchange conference (E2 in Paris, which brought together a diverse group of educators from all over the world to discuss how best to leverage technology such as Minecraft to deliver better learning outcomes for students.
For those unfamiliar with Minecraft, it is a game that allows players to construct 3D worlds out of textured cubes, but players must explore and gather resources in order to do so. There are individual and collaborative multi-player modes. It was originally published in 2011 before being acquired by Microsoft in 2014. To date it has sold over 121 million copies making it second only to Tetris in terms of popularity. Microsoft has since developed Minecraft: Education Edition which is used in schools and has additional pedagogical tools and functionalities.
Learning by teaching
“When you find something joyful, you will discover that fully. I learn more from students than the people actually coding the game in Redmond, says Meenoo Rami ,Educator Advocate at Minecraft and Microsoft.[
Since many students are already familiar with the platform from playing the game at home, educators are able to draw upon the student’s own expertise and to focus on the learning aspects rather than covering the mechanics of the technology itself. It also prompts situations where “expert” users mentor younger learners and also help teachers who might not be as familiar with the platform as their students, further fostering a collaborative ethos in the classroom.
Building modular skillsets
Another advantage of Minecraft is that it helps to encourage a modular approach to building skillsets. When each new problem demands you to find and leverage different resources, materials and collaborations, you start to envisage those as pieces of a puzzle, for which there are multiple possible solutions. This is why LEGO and Minecraft have proven so popular and effective in those contexts, as their core design is in itself modular.
A recently published survey polled teachers across 11 countries and four continents. It revealed that students’ decision-making and communication ability were positively impacted by the time they spent playing Minecraft, and that it cultivated a creative problem-solving mindset.
In Minecraft, starting over represents a new opportunity rather than a regrettable ordeal. Remaining calm and focusing on solving a problem is a skill that is likely to serve students well throughout their academic and professional careers.
Surveyed teachers reported that students using the platform were confident interacting freely during lessons, exercising agency often without prompts from teachers and overcoming challenges as teams. They found that working through the game made it easier to bridge accessibility issues, in that students with different learning styles and abilities were more easily able to find common ground, and to share what they discover in multiple formats.
They also felt comfortable experimenting, and perceived failure as part of the creative learning process. This resilience and growth mindset is very much recognized as a key desirable trait by employers, especially in innovative industries such as technology.
Paradoxically, however, the more teachers and students utilized the Minecraft platform to deliver pedagogical content and improve learning outcomes, the less emphasis they placed on the game itself. As is often the case with successful technology solutions, the measure of their success hinges on how invisible they become, allowing the content to shine through.
Social emotional learning
Considering how videogaming is often perceived as being socially isolating, it is somewhat surprising that one of the areas that was most dramatically improved by engagement with the Minecraft for Education platform was social and emotional learning (SEL).
A study conducted by Microsoft has shown that an increasing number of schools across the SEL, an approach that builds skills and competencies that help students be successful in school, work, and life.
In the context of K–12 education, SEL is the process through which students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
SEL initiatives thrive when woven into subjects across the curriculum throughout the traditional school day, tackling real-world problems, or at the very least problems that “feel” real to students.
Research has shown that students exposed to SEL are better equipped to manage themselves and exhibit agency over their own academic experience, have a greater understanding of the perspectives of others and a better ability to relate effectively to them, and are able to make sound choices about personal and social decisions.
Social emotional learning comes to life when knowledge is applied to solving relevant problems, whether in the context of real-world scenarios or disguised as play. One of the best examples that Rami showed me was how students needed to leverage basic chemistry to obtain materials such as latex. This could in turn can be used to make balloons. And those balloons can be attached to the whimsical pigs that populate the game (once you manage to catch them, that is). I have a feeling that applying chemistry to make pigs fly is the sort of thing that might make a student remember what that chemical components of latex are far better than memorizing the periodic table ever could. I know the image of those floating square pigs stuck in my mind.
Comprehensive SEL goals include developmental benchmarks across five key social and emotional competency domains, encompassing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making skills.
More than just a videogame
Minecraft creates opportunities for transformational learning experiences, says Dr. Michelle Zimmerman, an educational researcher who works at Renton Prep Christian School, an institution which makes extensive use of the platform in delivering its curriculum.
Educators have the opportunity to help students develop empathy through gaming and imagine how they’d like to be treated, talk through scenarios in gaming and in their personal lives, and discuss how they would do something differently (or have wanted to be treated differently), then practice those skills. Technology doesn’t impede our ability to build relationships; conversely, with regard to gaming in the classroom, it can serve to further bolster them. We know that human connection can be powerful in many settings and environments. Gaming is no exception, Zimmerman concludes.
It’s somewhat ironic, Salcito says, that as the world becomes ever more digital, companies like Microsoft are more than ever in need of hiring people with interpersonal skills. As artificial intelligence transforms the labour market, the importance of human skills like creativity, interpersonal understanding, and empathy becomes exponentially more valuable.
Therefore, those who can make connections and foster collaboration in globally distributed teams, who are capable of relating to, empathise with, and inspire their peers. And that valuing of so-called “soft skills” in the workplace is far from a trend that’s unique to Microsoft. Because more companies are demanding this, universities are also pivoting towards offering “mission based” degrees. In other words, you enrol in order to explore how to solve a problem rather than to “become” something.
Stephane Cloatre, Minecraft Global Mentor who works in partnership with Microsoft, says that this flexibility also allows the platform to evolve and incorporate emerging technologies as they become more prevalent for students. Mixed Reality, which is a big focus for Microsoft’s own strategy, is a prime example of this.
Rami adds that students and teachers ask all the time about when immersive functionality will be rolled out on the platform, but for Cloatre, the pieces are in place for that to happen, since Minecraft is pretty much a 3D design platform already. It is easy to see how that could actually become quite an exciting avenue in future, as immersive tech becomes pervasive it will require lot of fresh talent and skilled professionals to develop the ecosystem to its full potential.
Yet none of this, Salcito stresses, can happen without proactive educators leveraging the platform to appropriately support learning outcomes for students. “Educators are champions, without them we can’t do this,” he concludes.
In 2019, I am looking forward to reading with more intentionality and also more freedom. That may seem like an oxymoron but I think both are possible. My 2019 reading challenge continues on Goodreads as it has for many other years.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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: