Tech Salad

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Month: November 2014

The Minecraft Revolution

Last year around this time, I worked with Ms. Kass on a project in which students used Google SketchUp to create a zoo enclosure for an endangered species. The enclosure had to incorporate elements involving basic needs, comfort, health, and visitor safety, all of it researched by the students. At the time, I blogged about how easy it was to help students to use SketchUp compared to several years earlier and attributed the change to the rising popularity of Minecraft.

Lots of people are writing about Minecraft and how much kids can learn from it. Here is a small sample from the New York Times.

Earlier this year, for example, a school in Stockholm made Minecraft compulsory for 13-year-old students. “They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future,” said Monica Ekman, a teacher at the Viktor Rydberg school.

Although there are no official Minecraft manuals, kids know where to go to learn and get the latest news. From a dedicated wiki to hundreds of YouTube channels with clever how-to videos, the Minecraft community is all about collaboration and keeping up with news about mods, skins, and all sorts of things that sound rather foreign to many teachers and parents.

Earlier this year, Minecraft was in the grown-up news when the entire country of Denmark was recreated in Minecraft accurately to scale and including all roads and buildings. The Danish government funded the project as an educational experience. Then it made news again when the server housing the project was hacked and the virtual replica was “invaded” by the United States. While hackers are no laughing matter, this incident calls attention to something else kids can learn from Minecraft: digital citizenship. Learning to communicate in an online environment like a Minecraft server helps young kids navigate later experiences.

Spatial and critical thinking, collaboration, perseverance, curiosity, creativity, self-directed learning, digital citizenship. Do any of these skills sound like they have appeared together on any other list recently?

The new item for my wish list is a school account on MinecraftEdu.

The Magic Moment

I watched a really amazing video over the weekend. Peter Dahmen is a paper engineer who makes incredibly complex pop-up cards. The first time I watched, I was not listening to what Mr. Dahmen was saying. I was too distracted by the paper sculptures he was holding throughout the video. Then I played the video again, and paid closer attention. A few things popped out (haha) at me.

The Magic Moment from Christopher Helkey on Vimeo.

First, Mr. Dahmen makes a living out of cutting and gluing paper. This in itself is amazing. Second, his work was born from not having someone with a car drop him off at school with is assignment neatly held in his lap, wrapped in a big trash bag. It made me feel slightly better about the times my own children have had to walk to the bus stop carrying unwieldy projects. Maybe my kids have learned from those experiences. Maybe.

Third, and most important, is that Mr. Dahmen has developed his skill by doing, by revising and iterating and being unafraid to fail. We have mentioned learning by doing so many times in our discussions of Deeper Learning. Let’s keep this example in mind, and let’s remember to create environments in our classrooms where it is okay to fail and try again.

Schoology – Student Completion Requirements

True or false: When I give my students work, they all finish at the same time.

Yes, keeping kids on task is one of the most difficult issues faced by teachers. Schoology has a tool that can help.

When you have multiple activities planned for a class period, you can create a folder with all your resources and require that students work in order, achieving a minimum score per item. Watch this tutorial to find out how to set up a classwork folder with Student Completion requirements.

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