Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Come out to the coast"

I"m a huge fan of action thrillers that have some humor to them - the action keeps me awake and the humor reminds how improbable the adventure is. "Die Hard" is one of those movies. At one point, our hero, John McClane, reminisces about the invitation that put him in his current precarious position: "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..." The invitation made it sound so simple and yet life became incredibly complicated once he arrived in California.

After I saw the movie, I began using that quote for anything that sounded simple and ended up becoming complicated or involved. I found this to be the case with the "job guides" I'm creating. I created a couple for Instructional Design and plan on using these with my Capstone project. I created them in January and March and since that was a while ago, I've forgotten how long it took me to create them. I also underestimated the complexity of trying to explain Minecraft in a guide. What I do know is that I've absorbed a lot of knowledge about the game from watching students, playing the game myself, and researching different aspects on the Minecraft wiki and YouTube. I thought I could save other learners a little time by sharing these tips. The guides will certainly save folks time but they have become time consuming and more complicated as I go along. Why I suddenly decided to do these guides, considering I didn't include them in the "Deliverables," remains a mystery. Must I always tweak everything?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Starting the Conversation

Part of the deliverables was to give two presentations - one for each school that has MinecraftEdu installed in their lab.The purpose of the presentations was two fold. The first was to increase awareness of Minecraft as an educational tool, either in or out of school, and as talking point with students. I wanted to demonstrate some of the extraordinary connections Minecraft has to curriculum. I wanted to point out that students are playing this game, developing interesting knowledge and skills and that even if the game isn't used in an academic context, it's something students enjoy discussing. Under these circumstances, the game could then be used to form a connection with that student the teacher might not have previously had.

The second reason was to promote the professional development workshops I have planned as part of my deliverables. I could have only advertised via email through the Curriculum Office but I did not think that an emailed notice of PD would be as effective as a presentation of Minecraft would be.

My expectation of the presentations was that a few folks would sign up for the workshops. I didn't expect people to start talking to students about Minecraft (why was that?) during their classes, prior to the workshops. An elementary art teacher took me up on the suggestion of talking to students. She teaches 3D drawing to her 4th grade class. There are the usual complement of students who enjoy this kind of drawing and those who do the work begrudgingly. This time, the art teacher suggested drawing something from Minecraft. She later reported that students jumped at this opportunity and couldn't wait to share their drawings with her. Since then, she's encouraged students to draw Minecraft images of any kind and they've responded enthusiastically.

As an aside, I wonder if drawing Minecraft is easier for those students who feel challenged in the area of art. If they generally feel they are not artistic and don't enjoy art, does it make sense that because Minecraft is made up of blocks and blocks are not hard to draw, that they now have success?

Other observations - students draw these willingly and label them accordingly. Is it possible to encourage them to now write more about them or perhaps create graphic novels? Have we now included writing as a possibility?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Making a Difference

I worked out a plan of deliverables for my Capstone that seemed comprehensive and doable. I planned two Google presentations for two faculty meetings and did them. I completed one of two workshops and have "semi sort of" resigned myself to lack of participants prohibiting the second from running. Everything's working almost according to the plan. What I did not plan nor consider was that others might pay attention to what I was promoting. Say that again? Isn't that the intention? Yes, but this the Capstone and I'm too busy thinking process rather than effect and, dare I say it, some form of success. Beth asked how I would know success and I'm reasonably certain I didn't give her a good answer - because I didn't know.

Since the presentations, I've had some unexpected conversations. The day after I was informed of a middle school science teacher mocking the idea of using Minecraft in school, I met with a 4th grade teacher. She had attended the presentation I did at Shaftsbury Elementary. She told me she had hoped to attend the workshops but already had committee meetings she had to attend. I offered to introduce her to the game.

What I thought would be a brief intro after school turned into a two hour session. I was amazed at her willingness to stay so long and learn the game. We played in the Tutorial World of MinecraftEdu where she learned to navigate and build. Along the way, she made the connections you always hope a teacher will make with a game. At some point in the Tutorial World, players have to get out of a space that's too high to jump. It requires digging up blocks and then placing them in stair fashion. Once she realized what was happening, she knew instantly there wasn't one way to complete the task and that this was problem solving. She saw this again later on in the world and discussed the idea of problem solving and logic with me several times.

At the end of our session, she said one of the reasons she wanted to know more was because of her experiences with her students over the past year. Their conversation has revolved around geology (although they didn't identify it as such) and durability of difference substances. Their reference to different science concepts made her realize she now needed to respond to their prior knowledge, which students hadn't had in preceding years. She said "I realized I have to teach science differently than I'm used to teaching it."

Ah... 180 degree turn from the opinion of the other day and I'm feeling like I'm making a difference

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Journey as "Faux Esme" Begins...

I should have started this so much earlier but I always seem to think my memory for events will linger long past what they actually do. Because of my confidence in my over rated memory, I'll probably go back and forth between events as thoughts occur to me, rather than chronologically, which would have been ideal.

At this time, I've given Google presentations at two faculty meetings and I've finished one set of workshops. I had hoped to give another, and that was the plan, but lack of interest at this time means I'll have to hold off. I had listed one of the "risks" for success as the timing of the workshop, and that may be the case. I think teachers are in "wrap-up" mode so that automatically leaves some out. Others do not have the game installed at their school so they're reluctant to try. Still others have no interest in using gaming to stimulate student engagement. Regardless of the reason, it's disappointing.

Even more interesting is to realize how few "Mike Beardsleys" and "Jane Wildes" there are out in the education world. People who firmly believe in the power of gaming as a tool and intend to learn more for the greater good, not to mention the fun of it. Yes - it's yet another thing to do, as so many teachers wail, but isn't interest piqued - even a little? We're not suggesting it's the only tool but we are saying it's a powerful one.

My first presentation was at Shaftsbury Elementary, one of my targeted schools. The principal, Jeff Johnson, is in his first year and is enthusiastic and open to ideas. He's also remarkably tech savvy, which is wonderful to see. The teachers seemed very open to the idea of Minecraft in school and had a few questions. Still, only one signed up. Another was interested but unable to attend due to prior commitments. I did meet with her later - but that's for another post since it's a story in itself.

Jeff was very supportive during the meeting and later asked me if I would be willing to work with the teachers during the fall. Absolutely!

My second presentation was at the middle school, my second targeted school. The presentation went well and the after school club director who is also a 6th grade teacher had some very supportive (and unsolicited!) comments. He's dropped in on our Minecraft Club a number of times over the past year and has seen the activity and engagement of the students for himself. He talked about there being a number of kids who generally have no other place to be, yet who come faithfully to Minecraft Club. I know, too, that these are the "untribed" kids - just as we were hoping to get.

However, I was disappointed in the lack of, how shall I say it, professionalism on the part of some teachers. While I had a short Joel Levin video on, I had a chance to watch the staff. I saw some people turn their faces away, put their heads down and exhibit general disengagement. After that, I found myself watching them while I was speaking. Their behavior of boredom continued throughout the presentation. Certainly not everyone exhibited this behavior but it was disappointing, nonetheless. Perhaps it's just who I am but I couldn't help thinking that even if I was bored at a presentation (and who hasn't been?), I would never be so unprofessional as to exhibit that behavior - especially to a guest and colleague.

I found out later that a teacher with two years teaching experience was mocking the idea of using Minecraft to teach science. She was talking about it in that bastion of honest and kind remarks - the teachers' room. Apparently, she had played Minecraft over the past couple of years and announced that you can't use Minecraft to teach science. I find it interesting that (a) she didn't challenge me directly in the faculty meeting (too bad - I would have loved the honest exchange) and (b) she played all this time and didn't see any (not any?!) connection to science. How sad that a young teacher with presumably a long career ahead of her does not appear to have an imagination.