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Quote via Marcus Aurelius
created using Adobe Spark
sized for iphone
Quote via Marcus Aurelius
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
This is a guest post from my friend and mentor, @KJBD
The word “gather” has its roots in Old English from two words: geador (together) and gaed (good and/or fellowship). In July, 20 teacher educators from across the U.S. gathered for a weekend to talk about the ways in which we could support each other in teaching, researching, and living out the core principles of connected learning. Much like the root meaning of the word, this weekend was both about being together, and engendering positivity and possibility in our work.
As a member of the planning team for the event, I found that there were several tensions that we had to work through in creating a “good togetherness.” and space for the work. In this post, I share those tensions, and how we attempted to address them through our collaborative process.
First, was the tension of making and reflecting. At the center of much Connected Learning work are three concepts: production (making), equity (social justice), and relationships. What this meant for us is that we had to work at the crossroads of making and reflection about identity and participation- constantly cycling back and forth: we are what we make, we make who we are. We had to create a space in which we truly lived in praxis (action/reflection).
We addressed this tension both structurally, through theagenda, and through roles played by members of the group. Structurally, we designed an agenda that cycled between making and reflecting. These cycles built upon each other, and were threaded by the key categories that the participants had said brought them to the space: Pedagogy, Research, Public Engagement, and Sustainability. We also designed a role that members could take on that fostered a meta-perspective on our work: Ethnographers of interactions and work. People at the gathering signed up to work as Ethnographers in time slots, and then reported back to the group throughout the weekend about how they observed the ways in which we interacted with each other, moved through the room, and engaged in work.
The second tension was related to the Connected Learning principle of openly networked learning, and more specifically, inclusion and diversity. We wanted others that were interested in this work to be invited to participate and contribute, even if they could not make it there in person. Also, we were a group of mainly White women, and we wanted to be intentional in building and inviting greater diversity in the group. Finally, there is the core issue of inclusion – if you are a ‘group’ that means you have a shared identity and value system – which some people don’t share, and are thus excluded. How can a group be both open, and yet also center on a core set of work and values?
We attempted to address this tension through connected technologies, intentional invitations, and additional roles played by participants at the gathering. With technologies, we stuck to simple – a bare-bones google sites website, shared google docs of notes on the sessions, and a google form sign-up for folks that wanted to be “virtual participants.” We also held a live-streamed panel of recent graduates of Arcadia’s Connected Learning program. This served two purposes: invited in new people and perspectives (and greater diversity), and provided a window in to our event for virtual participants.
Yet, we knew that these technologies alone would not foster a continuous, open conversation and room for feedback. Therefore, we created another kind of role: Virtual Facilitators. Like the Ethnographers, people signed up in session slots to be Virtual Facilitators. In this role, the not only shared out what was happening during the gathering to the virtual participants, but they also shared in – bringing in comments or conversation that virtual participants shared (full disclosure: there was not a whole lot – but at least we tried! And we knew there were a number of ‘lurkers’).
Finally, the other main tension was our leadership participation and structure – would the CLinTE gathering result in the development of a network, or an organization? This was something we had to work through during the gathering. We held a session to explicitly explore our assumptions and beliefs about the work we needed to do as a group and to draw inspiration from existing networks and organizations that had sustainable structures.
What has emerged is a kind of hybrid structure. At the core of the structure is a true organization in a sense – people with specific roles, dedicated to take on tasks that keep the network running. Yet, layered on this structure is an interest-based network of nodes, which invites membership from anyone and everyone who is interested in transforming teacher education to reflect the principles of connected learning.
There is much more to come, and to write about regarding this effort. However, I learned so much just in the process of developing gathering, that I felt that it deserved its very own post. It would be remiss of me to not recognize and thank the other members of our CLinTE planning team: Christina Cantrill, Anna Smith, Lindy Johnson, Sarah Lohnes-Watulak, and Dan Roy – amazing teachers, scholars, and planners!
If you are interested in following or participating in the work of this amazing network, sign up at the website: https://sites.google.com/view/cl-in-te/get-involved
It is the best feeling when you get to do new work with friends you’ve had for a while.
I’ve know Paul Oh since my days a teacher consultant for the Philadelphia and National Writing Project. He’s been a mentor, an encouraging voice, and a kind friend to me for a number of years. So when we at Minecraft Education Edition came upon an opportunity to collaborate with the amazing minds at the Teaching Channel, we dove into the opportunity.
Below you’ll a link to the podcast and post from our collaboration with them, and be sure to follow the series because our amazing mentors will take over the series and continue to share their practice in the classroom with Minecraft Education Edition.
Please let me know if you check this work out and have a comment or question for me.
Tch Talks caught up with Meenoo Rami, Manager at Minecraft Education Edition, to hear more about the ways teachers across the world are unleashing Minecraft for deeper student learning and engagement. Gain insights and discover resources to help you leverage one of the world’s most popular games in your classroom.
This is the first in our five-part podcast series, Teaching and Learning with Minecraft. Stay tuned for episodes that focus more specifically on Engagement, Collaboration, Creativity, and Tangible Learning Outcomes.
This week, I spent part of it with a sixth grade class at the International School in the Bellevue School District. Together with their amazing teacher Cheryl, we ran a focus week for a group of 15 students. Students were allowed to pick from a myriad of activities as part of their pre-spring break choice week. This particular group had chosen to work with me on Minecraft Education Edition because of their love and passion for the game.
In planning for the week, I wanted to provide them with an authentic opportunity to interact with not just me but other members of our team, learn a bit more about how features get developed into their beloved game, and design thinking process involved in making it all come to life.
Students formed small groups and took on the challenge of pitching features they’d like to see in the Minecraft Education Edition. If you’d like to see how this week together, check out our OneNote here. You can also see students’ proposed ideas here.
Needless to say, when students are given an opportunity to work together to solve a complex challenge, they will astound us with their creative prowess and empathy for users. I am so lucky to have met these students and some of them even helped me to work on my Minecart creations.
Let me know if you’d like to use some of these resources to create your own design challenge day(s) with your students. I’d love to connect with you and help you do a similar activity with your students.
I am returning from a week in Toronto with some of the most energetic, energizing, and thoughtful educators from around the world at the E2 conference. What struck me about the gathering was the sense global citizenship, the welcoming attitude of our Canadian hosts, and general sense of unity amongst all the attendees. I also noticed that all these educators who often didn’t speak a common language could immediately connect around wanting to improve their practice to serve their students better.
Educators no matter where they are, no matter what they’re doing, they never forget their students. We know that our growth and relevance depends on our continued exploration of new ideas, new tools, and meeting new people.
I loved meeting educators like Renato who is doing incredibly innovative things using Minecraft with his students. And Dean who is using Minecraft to teach his students about slope and rise/run, words I have not thought about in a long long time. It was also great to connect with the amazing Minecraft Mentors who were also present at the event.
I missed so many of my educator friends while I was making new ones, so many educators around the world would benefit from a chance to see practice beyond their own classroom and their own focal point. It helps all of us to step outside of our day-to-day work to be exposed to new ways of being educators in the world.
I can’t wait till next year, and I hope to see you there. If you’d like to check out my talk about Minecraft Education Edition during the livestream, you can find it here. Thank you to the organizers of this incredible event for all their hard work.
A few years ago, I taught a class called “Storytelling” and it was my students in that class who taught me a great deal about game-based learning. I’d see them engaged in their video games or magic cards, and as a self-proclaimed non-gamer, I had much to learn from them.
A great game combines the art of storytelling, fine arts, music, video production, and appropriate player engagement to create an immersive, memorable experience. Gamers are very much like readers: they like to explore, uncover, discover, and fully immerse themselves in the experience they’re willingly entering. As a book nerd and teacher of readers and writers, it took me a long time to realize my students were reading and writing in games in the same ways I wanted them to do with books. It took me a while to learn from them that games were another form of literacy they were unlocking for themselves.
Around the same time, I read Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. In it she writes, “When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.”
I began to reimagine my class and used the above principles to make learning more engaging and impactful for my students. Was I building in enough time for my students to practice? Were all of my students being appropriately challenged by the work in the course? How can I create learning activities that will make my students willing participants in them?
Turns out, educators have a lot to learn from game designers and I was barely scratching the surface of this topic.
Fast forward a couple of years and I find myself serving students and teachers via the Minecraft: Education Edition team at Microsoft. As an education manager on the team, I’m able to create content for our community, lead our research work, present at various education conferences, and help create a community for others who want to start their Minecraft journey. This year, we launched our Global Mentor program made up of 60 educators from 19 different countries who are eager to help others get started using Minecraft in their classrooms. When I asked them their reasons for joining and what they hope they’ll discover about Minecraft, here’s what they had to say:
Kyriakos, Portugal: “The great advantage of Minecraft is how it encourages everyone to fail, learn from their mistakes, fail again, then fail better, until you get it right.”
Katja, Denmark: “I don’t expect myself to be the expert of the game. I plan challenging and innovative activities for my students around the content and standards; that never goes away just because we’re using Minecraft.”
Ben, Canada: “Minecraft allows students to complete learning objectives and demonstrate understanding in a way that makes them feel empowered and safe!”
Steve, United States: “I’ve found engagement to be key, tapping into a student’s interests, and providing an incredible creative outlet.”
In many of our educators’ experiences, you’ll find four common themes emerge again and again:
Ultimately, using game-based learning tools like Minecraft in your classroom works because our students already inhabit this world and speak its language. It’s up to us to take their passion and leverage it toward powerful learning experiences.
If you’d like to take the plunge with us, over the next few weeks Minecraft Education — in conjunction with Teaching Channel — will lead a webinar and multiple Facebook Live sessions to help you get started with your Minecraft: Education Edition journey. For now, feel free to peruse the various Minecraft resources on Minecraft: Education Edition, including lessons, tutorials, and mentors, and to start your free trial.
Share your thoughts and leave us a comment about what you’d like to see included in our future webinars, Facebook Live sessions, and blog posts.
About the author:
Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching, is a National Board certified teacher who taught English in Philadelphia for ten years at the Science Leadership Academy and other public schools in the city. The founder of #engchat, an international Twitter chat for English teachers, Meenoo has also been a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project and an educational consultant with The Educator Collaborative. She is also an instructor at Arcadia University’s Connected Learning Certificate Program. Meenoo has also served as a teaching fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she led the portfolio to help teachers refine their practice through collaboration. Currently, Meenoo works as Manager for Minecraft Education at Microsoft, where she helps educators and districts reimagine game-based learning for classroom practice. Connect with Meenoo on Twitter: @MeenooRami.
I had the honor of getting to know Dr. Amy Stornaiuolo when she conducted some action research in my classroom. For many Fridays, she’d watch me strive, struggle, and at times reach my students at SLA and then afterwards we’d talk at length about her observations, her questions, and reflections on the collective work of my classroom. She honored students’ thoughts and opinions and interviewed them privately about their experience in my classroom. I learned so much from those Friday afternoon conversations and have continued to learn from her. Please take a moment to check out a new project she is launching for educators and share your thoughts on it if you check it out.
I am excited to share with educators the Write4Change community. After finishing some pilot work, we just moved to a new platform and are just about to launch into a new activity cycle, which will bring together teachers and their students in more than 7 countries (and counting). We are working with the National Writing Project and hope to have lots of NWP folks joining in the next year!
Write4Change is a global online community for adolescent writers (ages 13-19) to share their writing with others, collaborate with global peers interested in using writing to effect change, and learn from and with one another.
Teachers sponsor their group of students, who engage in writing projects that are oriented to taking some form of action. Some of our educators teach history, social studies, or civics classes and are interested in youth developing as civic actors on a global scale. Other educators teach writing, either informally in libraries or camps or formally in English classrooms, and are interested in connecting their writers to broader audiences and purposes for writing. And still others are media, art, or enrichment teachers interested in issues of social justice, equity, and artistic voice.
As you might imagine, with all of these different partners, we think about writing and change very broadly. Change can involve more individual and local change (as young people think about themselves, their schools, and their neighborhoods) or broader social change (e.g., advocating for girls’ education). Writing may include traditional textual forms (essays, narratives, poems) or more arts and media oriented textual forms (digital stories, movies, films, image, music, etc.). The tools in our community will help writers with these different forms.
Teachers are welcome to use the provided curriculum, design new curriculum to share with others, or use or adapt their existing curriculum on the W4C platform. We are very open to teachers customizing the space and community to suit their needs.