Friday, March 31, 2017

World Water Day and Skype

Our Skype passport is filling up quickly!  As of today, we have traveled over 30,000 miles throughout the year.  We've traveled to far away countries, connected with animal experts, and learned about global problems.  Throughout these connections, one common thread was weaved throughout- the idea that we are ALL connected and that we can work together to solve global problems.  Most recently, we celebrated World Water Day by connecting with Ken Surritte, the founder of Water is Life.

I contacted Water is Life on Twitter and asked if they would have someone who would be willing to connect with my students.  I received a quick reply that Ken would be happy to talk with us.  Little did I know that Ken was the founder!

Ken spoke with our students about the valuable work that his company does in an effort to bring clean water to people throughout the world.  Ken spent time explaining not only the water crisis, but also telling students how they are working to solve it.  He featured their newest product, a straw, that can filter water for an individual for up to a year!   

Ken was a dynamic and passionate speaker.  He truly wanted to connect with my class and was open to answering their many questions.  Skype made all of this possible and I can't imagine my classroom without the ability to connect with others throughout the world!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Minecraft Construction: Cultural Influences

Our third lesson focuses on the idea of culture and specifically aims to answer two questions:

  1. How are civilizations remembered?  
  2. How does culture impact and define a civilization?

This lesson accompanies a writing unit called Folk Literature.  During the writing unit, students examine folk literature pieces from all over the world and identify key elements within the stories.  For their performance task, students are asked to create a folk literature story about their civilization.  Students published this on Scholastic's Write With Writers website.
This assignment was very interactive and group-dependent because all group members must discuss the various stories that they are creating so that they all mesh together to create a picture of their civilization and their culture.

After completing the writing, students, within their groups, choose one student-written folk literature story to focus the remainder of their construction in Minecraft for this lesson.

During this lesson, students add cultural elements to their previously created city centers.  Many of these cultural elements correlate with the folk literature pieces.  Students are asked to create a cultural center that will host events for their civilization.  In preparation for building, students research ancient architectural design elements and incorporate at least one element into their structure.

Students create a sketch of their cultural center using OneNote and their Surface 3, and share it with their group members.

Their second task is to clear the area for their cultural center.  At this point, groups should identify the purpose of the cultural center (i.e. what events will be held) and should have a central focus for the space.  They are reminded to expand their wall to accommodate their new structure.

Third, students are asked to create a unique cultural feature for their city center.  This could be a statue, a piece of art, or a fountain that represents an element of their culture.

Many students erected statues in honor of their folk literature hero and had their cultural center depict an event that they described in their narratives.

Students had to present their unique feature, cultural center, and depicted a holiday that is celebrated by their people.  The holiday presentation included decor, practices, and descriptions.  We had students dance, carry "torches", and sing songs in honor of their folk literature heroes.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Minecraft Construction: City Center

During their second lesson in Minecraft, students are asked to construct a city center based off of the city centers that we study when we explore Gilgamesh the Hero and ancient Mesopotamia.  Students work together to identify key elements that are needed for a city-center.  Groups used the following questions to guide their discussion and design:

Turning Your Farming Community into a City-State
After clearing land in your biome, you were able to develop the beginnings of your city-state. These farming settlements provide the food needed for your community grow. Improvements in farming techniques and methods allow for a division of labor. These new jobs and laborers are the fabric builders of your great city state. Analyzing this step in history requires you to document the efforts of these times. The question below will direct you in this endeavor.
Farming Community
            Describe the set-up of your farming community.
  • What is the name of the river that it was built on?
  • How did you change the physical features of your biome to suit your needs?
  • What are the roles of people in your community? 
  • Provide a general description of the location and dwellings.

Transition to a City Center
1. How will your farming communities be incorporated into your city center?
2. How will your city center design support the safety and development of your civilization?

Following the discussion, the Digital Maker constructs their city-center using their discussion to guide his/her building.  They are asked to focus on security and growth as they build. 

City Center Elements:
  1. barrier
  2. living quarters
  3. water source
  4. docks
  5. palace
  6. unique feature
Throughout the process, students documented their progress by taking pictures of their creations.  They also provided a written rationale to support their decisions and construction.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Minecraft Construction: Settlement and City Center

After lesson one, students were so excited to dive deeper into our module and work with Minecraft again.  During week 2 of our module, our students focused on the transition from hunters/gatherers to settlement and developing farming settlements.  As a group, students worked through an article, discussed a background story for their group, and made decisions within Minecraft that would allow them to choose a settlement point.  During individual time, the writer, manager, presenter, and liaison all worked on varying tasks associated with settlement.

Digital Maker:
Our study of ancient river valley civilizations led each group to decide to settle near a body of water.  After students found a suitable location, they began the tasks for the week.  The Digital Makers were charged with the task of documenting the raw biome.  By adding a camera and portfolio, students were able to take photos of the raw settlement land before making any changes.  The photographs and documentation will hopefully help them visualize the progression of their civilizations as we move through time. They were instructed to take aerial photos, pictures of important land formations/features, pictures of possible settlement locations, and photos of waterways.   

Minecraft Tip:

Add a Camera
  1. Press 't'
  2. Type: /give @yourname camera
 Add a Portfolio
  1. Press 't'
  2. Type: /give @yourname portfolio
 Taking Pictures
  1. Put camera in right hand from the hot bar.
  2. Aim the +
  3. Right click to take a picture
  4. Pictures are automatically deposited into your portfolio.
Accessing Pictures in the Portfolio
  1. Put portfolio in right hand from the hot bar
  2. Right click to access the portfolio
  3. Add captions
 Exporting Pictures
  1. Press the 'export portfolio' option
  2. Choose a location to save your pictures and give your folder a name
  3. Select 'save'

Next, students began creating farming communities.  With Creative Mode 'on' and other group members able to assist, Digital Makers chose locations and began building their settlements.  Settlement requirements:
  1. Canals
  2. Crops
  3. Small living quarters
  4. More than one settlement (along a river)

Stay tuned for lesson 3!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Minecraft Education Edition: Up and Running!

Starting the year, my co-teacher and I had limited knowledge of how to play Minecraft, but we knew what we wanted our students to crate in the program based on the work of a few Minecraft masters that I've followed on Twitter for a number of months.  We figured what we didn't know, we would learn and if our lessons failed, they would fail spectacularly!  From day one in our class, we've been piloting and battling technology with many wins and a few losses and lessons along the way. I felt confident in our ability to troubleshoot to the best of our abilities and our acceptance that we will NOT know everything and that it is okay.  Modeling persistence through struggles has become one of the keystones of our class as we are always trying new things, shaking things up, and sometimes failing spectacularly despite our best efforts.

Despite not feeling entirely confident with our knowledge of HOW to create in Minecraft, we moved forward the sixth week of school with our Module 1 group project where we introduced the inclusion of Minecraft in our class.  To say our students were excited doesn't come remotely close to describing their reactions.  Of the students in our class (35 total students), roughly 10 had played before and 5 considered themselves to be "experts".  There were many students in our class who had heard of the game, but had never actually played.  All students were excited to not only pilot another program for our district, but to also dig into the game that they've heard and read about.

The Project:

Our first module focuses on two questions:
How do civilizations evolve from hunter/gatherers to settlement?
How can we create and establish a civilization?

Our lessons and Module revolve our 7th grade Social Studies standards (Eastern Hemisphere), so we use historical examples as our model for students to examine as we move through development.

Minecraft Lesson 1:

We selected 7 different biomes that were presented on the Minecraft Education Edition website and had our students draw a biome out of a fishbowl for each of their groups.  We had everything from a desert to a jungle as options for this portion.  After they drew their biome, the Minecraft work began.  Students needed to accomplish a few things as a group during this work time:

  1. Determine a name for their world
  2. Tour the biome and discuss any physical features that they saw
  3. Note any changes to physical features/land formations that were needed to sustain a civilization
  4. Take notes on the discussion

Students selected their "Digital Maker" (a group member who would host the Minecraft world and would be the primary builder) and quickly got to work.  Long discussions of safety and water sources were had among group members.  While nothing was built at this point, the close examination of physical features and benefits/disadvantages facing their people due to climate and region created an opportunity for students to apply the knowledge that they learned during their study of ancient Mesopotamia, China, and Egypt.

Check back for lesson 2!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mining though Minecraft Education Edition

I’ve always been interested in using play and games to engage my students in content.  I remember back in my early years as a student playing Oregon Trail and similar games to not only learn computer skills, but to also explore topics and themes presented in the games.

This summer, I was introduced to Minecraft Education Edition at the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert U.S. Forum in Denver, Colorado.  Along with many other exciting, inspiring, and engaging activities, I was able to attend a session on using Minecraft in the classroom.  Previous to this session, my knowledge of Minecraft was extremely limited.  I knew what it was, and that my students absolutely loved the game, but didn’t have a clear picture of how it could be relevant in my class.  Todd Beard, the MIEE in charge of running the session, along with some of the Minecraft Mentors, illustrated some exciting ways to integrate the program into a typical classroom.  I learned the basics during my session, and came away excited to integrate it into my class.

After returning from Denver, I consulted with my co-teacher and school administrator about potentially trying to implement Minecraft into my co-taught Humanities class.  Last year, our year-long project in Humanities (module work) explored the idea of the settlement, organization, and growth in various civilizations.  I knew that Minecraft could be the tool that we needed to step up our “game” in the classroom (like what I did there?) and provide an opportunity for students to apply their learning in a new way.

After garnering positive feedback and support from both my co-teacher and school administrator, the idea, which seemed so great at the time, became daunting.  I didn’t know how to play other than how to walk around and break things.  While I understand that this is really all that you NEED to know, I felt insecure about being able to help my stu
dents with the program.  This feeling of insecurity and fear of the unknown really came to a head as my co-teacher, Steve, and I began planning our modules.  He had absolutely no knowledge of Minecraft and my knowledge was extremely limited.

We looked closely at the model lessons posted on the Minecraft in Education website and started to get excited about the possibilities.  I spent a large amount of time looking at the ‘Support’ page and really trying to conceptualize how this would work in my classroom of 35 students.  In the next few posts, I will continue to explain our journey and will give you a glimpse of the program in action.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Staying Flexible

Always, at the beginning of a school year, there is time for reflection, rejuvenation, and excitement. I found myself taking on a new challenge this school year: piloting a device program for the district. With the addition of the device to my Humanities classroom, I, along with my co-teacher, had to again re-think how we manage the classroom, designed our learning activities, and push ourselves to work differently.

While we aren’t a true 1:1 because our students do not take the devices home, we are making drastic changes in our class in order to utilize technology efficiently, effectively, and with purpose.

The specs of our new learning space:

Class: 7th grade Humanities (blend of Social Studies and Language Arts)
Our device of choice: Surface 3
Quantity of devices in the classroom: 35
Number of students: 35
Projection: Large television mounted over the dry erase board
Teacher Devices: 1 Surface Pro 4 and 1 Surface 3

Flexible Seating

Starting from scratch with a new classroom allowed us to make some physical changes in the space. We added a white board to encourage student interaction with their learning. We also chose to introduce flexible seating to our students right away. In revamping our new classroom (which was once a lab of desktop computers), we found that we had all of these tall spaces that would work nicely for standing work spaces. The addition of three tall folding tables allows up to 15 students to use these standing spaces when students are given work time.

Our mantra for our students is to choose the space that helps them work the best. For some, they stay at their seats. Others move to lay or sit on the floor. Many choose to stand at the standing spaces. If an issue arises (an off-task student), we quietly approach the student and remind them that they need to position themselves in a space where they can do their best work. The Surfaces make this flexibility easy and allows our students to feel comfortable getting comfortable in the space. We are loving the combination of the flexible learning spaces and the flexibility of the Surface! We would love to incorporate more floor “furniture” in the future and rolling desks, but at this point, we are working with what we have.

Why I love flexible seating and the Surface 3:

1. Students are more productive.

Students really work more efficiently and effectively when they are physically comfortable. Allowing them to chose their physical comfy place allows them to put all of their focus and energy on the task at hand.

2. Easy collaboration.

Groups have a variety of spaces to use as their "home" during group work sessions. They can spread out and conquer an entire area, eliminating distractions from other students and groups.

3. Individual interaction.

When students are spread out in the room into different learning spaces, it is easier to chat with each student individually. Granted, this now requires that I sit on the floor, crawl under a table, or stand at a tall counter, but the interactions seem more personal. When I get on their level and talk about the assignment and the task they are accomplishing, students are extremely receptive.

Stay tuned for more updates from room 402 including how we are using OneNote, Skype, and Minecraft in our classroom!