Minecraft is becoming very popular among educators. Teachers have begun to see the many possibilities Minecraft Edu (a version with teacher controls) has to offer. I recently won a grant to install Minecraft Edu on 24 computers at my school. As I begin to experiment with the possibilities of teaching and learning with Minecraft Edu in the classroom, I thought I would make some notes for those that might be considering a venture into the square side.
Minecraft Edu lives on hard drive of your computer, but networks all the computers with a teacher computer.
Teachers have controls that allow them to control the environment the students are in. This includes being able to freeze them, mute them, teleport them, gift them with items and enable/disable them from building.
There are 3 types of worlds the teacher may choose from: Minecraft Edu, Creative, and Survival.
Minecraft Edu World Option
Students start with no inventory
Students have no way to gain inventory unless you give it to them
Students can craft in this option
I have only experimented with Minecraft Edu world option thus far, but I can see the benefits. My latest lesson involved third graders using Minecraft Edu world option to practice their area/perimeter skills. When students enter the world, they default to start with no inventory and there is nothing that can be found for students to add to their inventory. This would seem very limiting, so why is this option attractive?
For my third graders, this was a great way for them to be introduced to Minecraft Edu. They were given a task, create a structure with a perimeter of 12. I gave them 20 Oak blocks. Just enough for them to make a few mistakes as they learn. I also gave them a sign to label the area and perimeter of their structure when done. By being able to control inventory in mathematical learning situations, you can help students to think about the reasonableness of their answers. It also stops most of them from being off task. If they needed more blocks, I made them present me with a valid argument as to why.
Another great reason for students to not have an inventory- you can offer to give pieces of inventory as incentives for hard work. When students accomplished a task, or helped a neighbor, I gifted them with inventory pieces they desired, such as glass, gold ingot, doors, etc.
Even students who have played Minecraft at home, have probably not played it on a computer. There will be a learning curve for most students. Make sure your first assignment is something that gives the student enough space to learn and be creative, without them worrying too much about their grade for the day. More adventures from learning with Minecraft coming soon.
Are you starting a new technology platform in your class? Perhaps you would like to use computers more in your class, but you just don’t know where to start. Maybe you just got handed a set of iPads and were told to get on the bandwagon. Remember when you began your teaching career? One of the first things you had to learn was classroom management. Harry Wong was right when he said, “Effective teachers have to have a classroom management plan…” While you need to start the year teaching your classroom management plan that you will use for daily routines, there are some things that specifically need to be taught in a class that uses technology. Your teaching will be more effective and your classroom management will be more successful if you teach your students these ideals and skills early on:
Model how to get out and put away devices
Just like you have students practice how to line up in the hall and how to raise their hand, so too, should you have them practice the getting out and putting up of their assigned device. (Don’t forget to assign a device to each student to make tracking usage and maintenance easier. This also builds a sense of responsibility.) Do you want students to plug in the device after every use? Where do ear buds go? Stylus’? How will students know what supplies they need that day?
Students are expected to help other students with tech needs
Sounds simple right? Wrong. This takes training. It takes training to wean students away from depending on the adult in the room for everything. Students want help from the adult. The students who can help, want approval first. This has to all be explicitly taught. These are the right times to help. These are the wrong times to help. I teach my students to help without “making a show” of it. I also don’t reward them with anything other than thank you. Helping someone should be its own reward.
Teach a man to fish…
It is very easy to reach over and push a button for someone. It is far more powerful to teach the person how to do this for themselves so they never have to ask how to again. I try to instill this in my students so they see the value in themselves as teachers, not just helpers.
Students are taught that “wandering” the internet is grounds for immediate loss of all tech privileges
It doesn’t have to be an inappropriate site. If they were not instructed to be on that website, they have some serious explaining to do. The exception would be that there are times when students are given choice in research and presentation resources, then students are expected to be able to explain what they are doing if asked.
Students are encouraged to share what they learn about how a website or app works as they discover
My class tries new websites fairly often. As we experience new websites or new equipment, students naturally oooooh and aaaahhh over certain features and question others. “Why can’t I move the picture?” “Why won’t the button click?” “OH, look at what this does!” I encourage my students to share both verbally and come up to the interactive board to share, so we all learn. Give time for this discovery every time you introduce something new. At least 5-10mn. depending on the complexity of the site. If you are worried about this interrupting work flow, you can assign the new website as a “Tech Challenge” for early finishers or as extra credit. Having some students in the crowd who have already experienced the new website will help facilitate the learning process.
Students are taught and reminded constantly about basic internet safety
We always watch a video on basic internet safety put out by our district in the beginning of the year. Google has put together an assortment for teachers here: https://sites.google.com/site/ateachersbagoftricks/internet-safety-for-kids In addition, anytime a website asks my students for their name, I quickly discuss whether it is safe to put their real name or whether they should use a fake name. Students cannot differentiate the between websites that have safeguards like Google Classroom or Socrative with those that don’t. I quickly point out to the student that when they were given a code by me to enter, that means it is an environment that I set up to protect them. If the internet just asks them their name and I didn’t specifically give them a code to enter, they should NOT enter their real name. We also talk about email and what we do with our pictures when we take them.
Students are taught how to react if they do encounter something on the internet that is inappropriate
As hard as we try to protect students, something will eventually get through firewalls that have been set-up. I advise my students that if they see something that they feel is inappropriate, close the window immediately. They are not to announce it to the rest of the class, they are not to make a big show of it to draw attention to something that does not need extra attention. They are to quietly alert me so I can help them.
Students MUST self-advocate
There are always a few quiet ones. I would not allow a student to stand up and start yelling, because this impedes learning. Likewise, I do not allow others to sit quietly, not knowing what to do or not asking for help, as this impedes learning also. I tell my students that there are many people in the room that can help them. They are not allowed to sit idle and not ask for help. This is considered misbehavior in my room. I also constantly ask the class to “check on” their neighbors to see if they need help.
When technology does not go as planned: persevere, overcome, find another way to learn
When technology does not work, most students take this as an opportunity to become completely off task and often very loud. This fact alone is what kept me away from using technology for a long time. You can avoid this by engaging them in the problem solving process. I have constant conversations with my students when technology problems arise. I ask them to try different things to see what might fix the problem. I involve the students in my process of solving the problem (even when I don’t know what I’m doing). This makes students feel involved and empowered, instead of them checking out and becoming behavior problems. When all else fails, I go to my back up plan. Yes, there is always a back up plan. I usually have a back up plan for the learning objective of the day and then I have a generic back up plan that would be good for anytime in that unit.
The best thing that technology has done for my classroom has shown me how amazing my students are as people. My classroom uses technology most days of the week and experiences our ups and downs with it. Using the ideals listed above, my students, all 135 of them, have become such an amazing family. They overcome every technology obstacle we come up against, sometimes by discovering how to fix it for me. The constant amount of support and collaboration that they offer each other is not something a teacher can teach. I teach them new content and give them new ways to discover learning through technology. What they give to each other is so much more.
Ah, spinners. The newest toy designed to drive teachers mad. Pokemon, hackey sacks, digipets, it’s an age-old problem for teachers. The hot toy of the day makes it into the classroom. Schools quickly ban the toy and kids create a black market to sneak it in. Why fight it? Embrace it! Invite those spinners into class as a learning tool!
Here’s 10 easy ways to be the cool teacher:
Review friction– students find different surfaces around the classroom to spin their spinner. Use timers or cell phones to time how long the spinner spins on various surfaces. Students can then enter their data in Google sheets, and even use the “insert chart” feature to make a line graph of their data.
Write a persuasive letter– students hate being told, “You’re not allowed”. Have students write a persuasive letter to the powers that be, enumerating all the reasons they should be allowed to have spinners in class.
Practice vocabulary– (use this sheet) ask students to make small squares labeled 1,2 & 3. Have students tape each number to an arm of the spinner. Choose some vocabulary words. Students then spin their spinner and stick out their pointer finger towards their spinner. Whichever arm stops closest to their pointer finger, is the action from the sheet they will use with their first vocabulary word. Students repeat this process for each vocabulary word.
Practice spelling– students use the same labels from above. Students then spin the spinner, whichever number their pointer finger points to, their partner has to write spelling sentences with multiples of the number that was spun. If I spun a 3, my partner would have to write sentences for spelling words #3, 6, 9, 12, 15, & 18. If they spin a 1, the partner writes spelling sentences for #1-8. Then switch, and have the partner do the same.
Multiplication practice– Are your students studying 1×1 digit multiplication, 2×2, or maybe 3x? Ask students to create three labels for their spinner. They can choose their own numbers, but they should correlate to the number of digits they are practicing. If you are studying 1×2 or 2×3, ask one partner to choose 2 digit numbers and the other partner to choose 3 digit numbers. Tape the labels to each arm of the spinner. Partners point at each other’s spinner. They take each number that they spun and pair them together to practice multiplication. Repeat.
Division practice– students again choose their own labels for their spinner. Students can practice in small group, with one student making numbers for the divisor, and the rest making numbers for the divisor or quotient. Everyone spins at the same time. The group must use the divisor from the one student. That student may choose which dividend they want to use. Everyone uses the divisor to solve for the number they spun. Once they have gone through all their numbers, have them switch spinners clockwise.
Revise & redesign– Ask students, “Where will a spinner not spin?” Can students redesign a spinner to spin better? Ask students to design a better spinner. Have them draw up plans, diagram it, and even create an advertisement. Then, put their plans into action. Provide basic supplies: Popsicle sticks, jewel cases, old CD’s, aluminum foil, brads, paper clips, etc. Allow students to create their design and demonstrate at a “Spin-off”.
Fraction comparison– students label their spinner with three labels, this time fractions. Students tape their labels to their spinners. Students then go around the class, spinning their spinner and partnering up to compare their fractions. They choose a new partner for each spin. Students can even keep tally of the number of times their fraction was the largest.
Random name generator– use word art to make a page with everyone’s name. Attach a paper arrow to one of the spinner’s arms. Then place the spinner in the center of the circle and spin. The class will love this new take on an old favorite.
Reading with purpose– Find the history of the spinner here and its original purpose. Great article, but there are many ads. The article also mentions toys of the past.
I had the privilege of attending a session with Peggy Reimers at TCEA2016. She has done some fabulous things with QR codes. The most important point, as with all ed tech, that the activity is more about the question than the tech tool. Here are just a few of the ideas she shared:
Find your match– Generate QR Codes to play any matching game. This could also be used for facts that are one-liners. Ex: Which part of the story is where the problem started? Cut the QR codes in half, with the answer on one side and the question on the other. When students find their match, they can scan the QR Code to see if they were right. A prompt will appear if they are correct. The great part, the QR Code says simple statements like, “Awesome” or “Good job!” Making the QR Codes reusable for other activities. Even better, Reimers created a template for this. You could use this activity for almost anything.
Ideas for the little guys– Learning to read? Want those wiggly bodies to get up and move? Reimer has a number of ideas here to use QR Codes in the K-2 classroom. My favorite was a mix and match with a numeral on top and the word match on the bottom. When you scan the QR Code, you get a picture that shows that number in real life use (eight cookies, twelve eggs, 5 basketball players).
Mapping- Geography comes alive when you add QR Codes. My World Cultures classes studied Africa through QR Codes. Credit given to Carole Pattison for creating these. I took blue tape and made a huge shape of Africa on the floor. In each region the students needed to study, a QR Code was taped to the floor under clear packing tape. Students were encouraged to discover Africa through these codes. Some were videos, some were interactive websites, and some were news stories of current events. Students took notes and made a S’more on the political, economic, geographic, or social aspects they found.
The BEST part-There’s an add-on for QR Codes. If you are part of the Google world, Google Sheets has a great add-on, called Generating QR Codes. What once took eons to create a bulk of QR Codes, now takes minutes. Follow the directions listed here:
Steps to Create Multiple QR Codes
After installing the Add-On, QR Code Generator, to your Google Sheets. Follow steps 1-6.
1. Go to your Google Drive
2. Create a Spreadsheet and LABEL it
3. Type your words in one column
4. From the menu, Add-Ons, select QR Code Generator and click on start (remember you needed to have added (get add-ons)
5. Highlight your column
6. Choose your options
Save as Document
Include value (label each of your codes)
Draw border (lines to help you cut out the codes)
Save as a png (creates a folder with individual codes in case you want to make an
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! TCEA is here! Before you go, here are a few tips to help you be prepared.
Take a backpack, not a purse– No fashion bags or briefcases here. You are carrying lots of equipment while walking at least 10,000 steps. (Wear your fitbit!)
Bring comfort– water bottle, snacks, jacket, tennis shoes, and ibuprofen. You will be walking a lot, this is not a fashion show. Leave the dress clothes to the presenters.
Cash & extra cash– cash is faster. Extra cash for parking.
Charge, charge, baby– not only should you bring a fully charged device, but bring an extra portable charger for your cell phone. Don’t forget your power cord. It is hard to find an empty outlet at times, arrive to a session early and find the seat near the outlet- it’s a prized position.
Bring Google with you– Notes for Google Drive is a great extension to have loaded for this week. The notes stay on your browser bar, to be accessed whenever needed. Note Anywhere is another great extension that allows you to add sticky notes to the website, not the desktop.
Download the apps– the TCEA app and the Cap Metro app are handy to have.
Business cards for networking.
Hotspot– If your phone plan comes with this feature, figure it out before you come. The wifi is often overwhelmed. Join in the Twitter fun at #TCEA2016. Share your learning and find networking events.
Would you like to encourage your students to be adventurous with their use of technology? All while encouraging them to be explorers, risk- takers, and to nurture their creative talents? You can do all of this and still teach the standards you need. This is an “Appy Meal”.
Teachers can create this to be a stand alone technology center or a whole class activity. Here is the box design and resources. See below for instructions on how to use the Appy Meal with your class.
Explore: Use this page to find suggestions of “Apps” (this term is used throughout to include websites) students can use to explore topics. The teacher can cut these out and fill the Appy Meal with them when it is time to engage students in new learning or have them research for deeper understanding. These apps can also be substituted with your favorites.
Create:Use this page to find suggestions of “Apps” students can use to create products. The teacher can cut these out and fill the Appy Meal with them when it is time for students to synthesize their learning by creating something new.
Resources: The SAMR image is thanks to Sylvia Duckworth. I made the Hello name tag on Canva.com, but you could use a real name tag. I suggest you use one side of the box to paste directions or a QR code that has directions recorded on a voice file that will play when students scan it. The 4 C’s image can be found here. Credit to http://runteacherrunriley.blogspot.com/ I added an old spinner from a game of Life to this image. You could also use a paperclip and a brad.
*Author’s Note- For the use of this box, I would suggest the Critical Thinking piece be used for students to question something they’ve learned during exploring or edit their neighbor’s work while creating. The activity already calls for creativity, so on the Creativity piece, students can create a question to ask another student about what they learned.
The teacher can choose to put the box in a learning center. The teacher would decide if the apps inside the box are “Explore” apps to explore a topic they are learning about or “Create” apps to create a product about something they have already learned. There is a die in the box for students to decide who gets a turn to draw an app out of the box first. The student rolls the die and then draws an app out of the box. Students then spin the spinner on the “4 C’s” and make sure they incorporate one of the “C’s” into their center work. By each student having the additional challenge of trying to figure out a new app while still needing to achieve an objective, students are learning to become risk-takers in an environment that is supportive.
Variations on Center Work:
Have 2 boxes (explore and create) in the center. Students draw from each and “smash” their apps together.
When doing explore pieces, each group that comes to the center could add to the knowledge of the group before. This could be digitally or on paper.
If creations are posted, students could list the positives and negatives of the app they used to aid others.
The teacher decides to put either explore apps or create apps into the box. Then every student in the class chooses an app out of the box. Once everyone draws out of the box, all students will have different apps, but the same intent. For whole class, the teacher could choose one of the “4 C’s” for the whole class to do or each student could spin for a choice of one as they draw an app. Think of this like speed dating an app for one class period. Have students stick with the app they chose, even if they dislike it.* The knowledge they gain from this experience can help themselves and others in the future, not to mention it builds tenacity.
Variations on the whole class:
While exploring, students can add their gained knowledge to a class poster or shared document. Teachers can make the No Repeats rule if desired.
Students can spend half the class exploring. Then the teacher can reload the box with create apps and students draw from the box again. Students spend the other half the class creating with the knowledge they gained exploring.
SAMR Challenge: Once a student has created a product with their app, they pass their creation to the next student who is challenged to create a product on the same topic, but one level up on the SAMR model. If redefinition was originally reached, then the challenged student tries to reach redefinition with a different app.
*Teachers should keep in mind the objective of the lesson when choosing the apps to put in the box so that the apps are related to the content when necessary.
The Appy Meal was created to offer the classroom teacher an easy way to integrate technology without a lot of prior planning. There are many ways to adapt these ideas to fit your classroom. Feel free to email me your idea at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to present this make and take technology PD to your staff.
I often joke with my class that there must be technology goblins that exist in my classroom. All systems seem to be working fine and then out of nowhere, nothing will work the way it should. These sudden episodes in the middle of a lesson can completely destroy all learning and create a chaotic atmosphere. In order to be better prepared for when the technology goblins come for your computer or whatever technology mishap might come your way, here are some tips for any teacher:
Always have a plan B
B is for back-up plan, but this doesn’t mean a basic plan or a generic plan. When planning lessons, ask yourself, “What will I do if my technology lesson does not succeed?” Another website may be the answer you need, but I advise always having something that will work without technology. You need to have something that will teach the same standards you originally planned for, so a minimal amount of learning time is lost. An activity or worksheet over the same subject or teaching the same skill should be written into the lesson plan as a safety net.
I usually have a plan C too, this is a more generic lesson that focuses on a recurring standard. A cache of dry erase boards and strategic use of graphic organizers can always come in handy here.
Keep a list of a few websitesthat serve a general function instead of a specific purpose-
When your original website goes down, use a website that can serve a basic purpose so you can quickly adjust your lesson and the learning can continue. Here is a short list:
http://www.voki.com/– Inspire kids to write those reports by letting them design their own character to give the report when they are done.
Google Docs- Like Microsoft Word, but SO much better.
Google Slides- Like Microsoft Power Point, but SO much better.
Google Draw- Import pictures, label them, draw, and write.
Google Maps- Not just for geography, if it happens on Earth you can use this website.
Ask students how they would like to represent their learning
When the technology goblins visit you in the middle of a lesson, you may be left with few resources at your disposal. It is at times like this that you can try something truly original: ask your students to decide for themselves how they would like to represent their learning. They may surprise you with a skit, informational trading cards or a new creation all their own.
Ask students what they can learn from the technology problem that is happening
When you take the technology problem happening in your class and relate it to the outside world, students can easily see why it is important to learn how to correctly handle these situations. What if all the traffic lights went out at the same time? What if your plane was about to leave, but you were stuck behind all the traffic lights? Resourcefulness, patience, perseverance, and ingenuity can all be taught with hypothetical situations like these during this time.
Ask students if they know how to fix the technology problem
More students teach me how to fix my tech problems, than I have ever solved by myself. Do not discount their knowledge, instead, challenge them to be the first one to figure out the solution!
The main point is, technology integration is not a science. It is a daring art. You must dare to try new programs and new situations with students who may be new to technology or as a teacher who may be uncomfortable with technology. Random events will happen that you cannot explain, control, or fix. Students are amazingly adaptable to every situation. If they see that the teacher takes setbacks with a grain of salt, they too, will learn to breath easy when technology does not go right. One of the most valuable lessons you can teach is to be calm in a stressful situation. Teaching students perseverance in the face of adversity is worth a few visits by the technology goblins.
Using technology in the classroom is a little bit about skill, and a lot about being a daring tight rope walker on a high wire. It has incredible thrills and engagement for all, when it works. But when it doesn’t……. your fall from on high can resemble falling off the high wire and into elephant poo. Most of using technology in the classroom is planned out and prepared for during instructional preparation. For this reason, technology use should not be a risky proposition. However, we all know too well that computers are unpredictable. Screens freeze, the internet goes down, servers become overwhelmed, and let’s face it- something I can only call tiny computer goblins often take over. For all of these reasons, your regular type A plan-everything personality, may find many situations in a technology classroom unsettling. In order for technology integration to work, you must adopt a certain mindset. The thinking goes something like this:
Something will go wrong everyday and it will be ok
From each failure will come an instance of learning for you and your students
Each day will come with unexpected rewards in tiny ways
You didn’t become a teacher just to teach content
Good teaching can happen no matter what or where
You are NOT the most knowledgeable thing in the classroom, you are a talented education facilitator
Student collaboration is essential to the environment
If you must choose between believing if it was student error or computer error, give your student the benefit of the doubt
Your students may be able to fix your tech problem
Your mindset is always an integral part of your classroom. You are adding an unpredictable element, technology, to your classroom upon which your instruction and your students’ learning relies. The way you mentally approach technology integration in your classroom will make it or break it for you and for your students. Remember: the learning process should be enjoyable for all with or without technology. I truly hope your daring tight rope walk is an incredible success enjoyed by all.