Tech Salad

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Tag: 21st Century Skills

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.

Scratch Habits

This morning I received an email from a teacher asking for help with a Scratch project. A student needed help getting a sprite to appear at a random corner of the screen whenever the game was started. There was a Scratch project attached to the email, but as I read, I realized I did not have to look at the existing code. I could see, in my head, the blocks I would use and how I would assemble them.

It felt really good to be able to solve a problem on the fly, and I realized it would have taken much longer if I had not been spending so much time in Scratch over the past couple of days (conference session at VSTE, workshop at Dinwiddie Middle School, and my own child’s project at home).

When John Hendron and I attended the Scratch Conference at MIT this summer, we heard many speakers discuss the benefits of using Scratch. This habit of thinking logically through problems seemed to be at the top of everyone’s list. I understand that this spontaneous visualization of Scratch blocks in my head is a result of immersion over the past few days. Still, it makes me even more eager to get teachers using Scratch in their classrooms. I don’t mean getting teachers to do a single Scratch project during the school year, but using Scratch consistently over time to reinforce and apply valuable concepts. That’s how it will have an impact on kids’ lives.

Skype in the Classroom

Are you interested in collaborating with teachers around the world? Sign up for Skype in the Classroom and start making contacts.

After years of advocating for Skype, I am very happy to see this development come about.

Alice at VSTE

This morning I led a workshop where teachers learned the basics of Alice. We created animations. You can watch the animation below, and if you want to get started with Alice, you may download my handout (PDF).


I’ll be at NECC next week, and I’ll be showing how our teachers and students have worked this past year on project-based learning units.

I have trying to anticipate the questions I’ll get, and think of every possible answer. I bet someone asks how we manage to fit in these long-term projects and still cover all the required standards.

We don’t have to give students a list of standards for memorization. We can guide them to ask and answer questions and find the standards. It’s more fun that way, and more memorable, like watching (or playing) the soccer game rather than being told the score.

Granted, it requires a bit more planning and preparation. It also teaches kids skills other than memorization…

Note: Thanks to Joel Achenbach and his post on big questions.

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The Cloak of Discovery

For the past two days, I was supposed to refrain from work and commerce to meditate on my thoughts and actions for the past year. Succumbing to the allure of the idle laptop on the kitchen counter, I did check my email several times during the day. Not a good start to the new year, already breaking the rules.

But then, I came across a message from Pete Gretz linking to his blog post about 21st Century Learning. About two thirds down the post he says,

I can’t think of a better way to connect with our students than to wrap the same cloak of discovery around ourselves & chart the unsettling waters of learning a new concept, a new way to think.

I like that. It sounds as if it comes right out of Harry Potter: Wearing the Cloak of Discovery and wielding her wand, Bea Cantor opens the door to the Digital Dungeon ready to fight Lord Boredom-ort.

Yes, project-based learning engages kids, shows them WHY they need to learn, and connects classroom activities to the outside world. It makes coming to school more relevant and valuable, not just a race to reportcard time.

Not such a bad start to my year, after all. Helping teachers with their G21 plans will take up a large portion of my time at school this year. If my aim should be to improve the world around me, improving learning opportunities is a good resolution.

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