Friday, December 26, 2014

Using Minecraft as a Tool to Show Learning

For the past little while I have been looking at Minecraft as a tool for learning. I recognize that many children love to play with Minecraft.  They are creating environments and sharing them with others. Minecraft has opened up a wonderful avenue for exploration and creativity.

Last school year I was reading how some early years teachers were using Minecraft to spark learning.  One teacher was letting her students play on Minecraft as a way to ignite writing ideas as soon as their Minecraft time was over.  Another teacher was sharing about how her students were building important buildings they were studying about such as the parliament .  Most recently I read Kimberly Moran's post on integrating technology where she talks about having her students create a book setting in Minecraft.

One of my goals it to make school and home more alike then less alike.  I know many of my students go home and enjoy creating with Minecraft.  I want them to know that I value this creativity so I am thinking about ways to do just that.

This past fall my grade one students were expected to understand what school as a community is while my grade two students needed to understand what we have in the community.  What better way to show me this knowledge then by creating in Minecraft.  My reality however is that I  only one copy of Minecraft in my classroom but far more students interested in Minecraft.  This wasn't necessarily going to be as easy as I had hoped.  So what did I do instead?

I sent a letter home to families explaining my Minecraft vision. I explained that I'd love for my interested students to go home and either create our school (and the rooms in it) or our community (and the buildings in it) in Minecraft. It was not a required assignment but it was a way for me to link their passions at home with school.

Many of my students went home that night and started creating.  One parent was telling me how her child  was using Google Earth to look  at our school so that he could create it to scale.  Another was building through their TV console.  Those students interested in Minecraft were creating in Minecraft. I couldn't be happier.

Presenting their creations was a bit more complicated.  A couple students sent in images of their creations and shared them with our class. Images were uploaded to their blogs and shared with the world.

Overall though while many students created in Minecraft far fewer shared their creations with me or the rest of the class.  So was the idea a failure because so few shared with  their classmates? I'd say no.  Learning is learning whether it gets to the presentation stage or not. My students were engaged in creating their schools or communities, at home, in their own time.  They were learning. We had those same discussions in class it was clear that they understood what I needed them to understand.

Will I invite the use of Minecraft into my classroom again? Of course!  I really love Kimberley's idea of using Minecraft to share settings from stories shared.  How are you using Minecraft with your students?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lessons Learned from a Hanukkah Candle

Being Jewish I like to teach my students some of the costumes and traditions associated with Hanukkah. We read books about Hanukkah (Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel is a repeat favourite), look at a menorah and play with dreidels.  Last Wednesday morning we also lit my personal menorah.

As I struck the first candle, and used it to light the second candle something happened.  The second candle was not fully lighting.  We watched it for what felt like a long time and while it wasn't going out, it certainly wasn't shining bright.  Some students suggested that we light is again, while others suggested that we just give it a little more time.

This year,  I am fortunate to have a third of my class from last year for a second year in a row.  If you were in contact with me at all last year you'll know while I taught the most incredible children it was an extremely challenging year for me. Many struggled to shine in ways that I normally see in a grade one classroom.

As we watched the menorah candle try to burn more brightly I asked my students to be patient.  It was clear that the candle had not actually burnt out, but it was also obvious that is was not shining as brightly as the other candle.  We needed to be patient.

This patience reminded me so much of my year last year, and the changes I'm seeing in my students this year.  Last year it was tough for many to shine brightly amongst some of the needs and challenges in my room .  Many candles, while lit, were not as bright as would be expected.  Yet despite all the needs and challenges my students and I were struggling with, my students were in fact developing their own brightness.

As we watched the  slightly burning candle a little longer (and I'm sure we were all praying for it to stay lit), all of a sudden the tiny flame shot up into a full sized brightly burning flame.

As I reflect on the year I am having this year (which is so different than the year I had last year) many of the students I am teaching for a second year remind me so much of that little Hanukkah candle.  These students are  shining brightly.  They have stepped into leadership roles that would make anyone proud.  They are confident with themselves as learners and are willing to take risks.  They are finding their place in their learning journey. They are shining lights!

Last year I worried so much about so many of them yet I never gave up on any of them a lot like what happened with our little Hanukkah candle.  The little candle reminded me that I can't rush my students and I need to accept them as who they are.  It reminded me that I need to be patient and supportive and that I need to be the champion for my students.  It reminded me that despite challenging situations good things can and do happen.  It reminded me of how lucky I truly am to see these children blossoming as strongly as they are.

We have a lot to celebrate.

Wishing you a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or what every holiday you celebrate at this time of the year.  My 2015 bring you peace, joy, and happiness.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Skyping the Teacher?

In a regular classroom one thing that we can all count on is that things don't always go as planned.  This past week my students and I were excited to have a Mystery Number Skype video call planned with a class in New Zealand!  This was pretty exciting for us and entailed several visits to our class world map, discussions around weather and temperature, and we even wondered if they could actually have Christmas because their weather was warm in December. But alas, at the very last minute we found out that they were caught up in an assembly that went much longer than they had expected and our call had to be rescheduled.

Since we had already done the prep work for our call I quickly created a plan B (isn't that what teachers do best?).  If you've followed my class blog at all you'll know that we have been experimenting with Kathy Cassidy's grade one/two class in Moose Jaw and we have held two Mystery Number Skype calls at the exact same time.  One call has been focussing on numbers to 20 while the other numbers to 50.  This also means I have two Skype accounts to make this work.

My students were keen to have a Mystery Number Skype call but we had no one to call.  So what did I suggest?  That they Skype me!  Yes, you read that correctly.  I was thankful to have my personal computer at school in addition to my work computer. On one side of the classroom my class sat connected to one of my Skype accounts, while on the other side I sat with a couple students and my other Skype account.  

Me and my very small crew chose our number and quietly the rest of my class chose their number too. When I knew they had their number (and I did not know their number) we started the call.

They  answered the call on their computer and away we went.  It was pretty incredible to just let them do what they do best.  Classroom leaders took over and the call ran as if I was with them except... I wasn't! I was facing a totally different direction and I could only see them in the computer screen.  The few boys that were with me were giggling away as they took turns asking questions to their classmates, via computer, on the other side of the classroom.  The rest of the class took the job very seriously. They asked questions that made sense and they recorded the data that was necessary.  It was a really fantastic experience and in the end we were both able to guess the Mystery Numbers.

So what did I learn from this experience?

First off my students are very capable of running a class Mystery Number Skype call without my help.  It makes me think that I need to find a class that is free during my math time so that we can have this as an on going 1:1 Skype interaction for my students.

I also learned that classroom leaders step up but  sometimes the leaders are different then who you'd expect them to be. This year I teach in a combined grade one/two classroom and I assume my leaders will come from my grade twos. And while this is partly true I have some very strong grade one leaders too who are willing to step up, even with their older classmates able to help too.

We have been doing Mystery Number Skype calls on and off most of this first term and it's really making a difference in my students' number sense.  Their questions are far more focussed and far fewer "off task" questions are being asked.  It was reassuring to see this. 

And finally,  there are a small handful of students who really do need my support and when given extra freedom can't quite handle it yet. (It was great for me to be able to give them the guided support they required as well).

Have you ever thought about having your students Skype you and see how well they excel when given this opportunity?

Mystery Number Voxer!

When the power goes out the show must go on...

This past Friday at around 9:30 am all the power in my school went out. With a 9:50 am  Mystery Number Skype* call scheduled with Louise Morgan's class in Texas things had to change.  With no electricity, and the school wifi down as well, the only access we had to the outside world was through my Phone.  The thought had crossed my mind to use Skype on my phone to make our connection work but with a full class and no way to project the tiny phone sized image for the entire class to see it, that seemed like a silly idea.  So did we scrap the call completely? No way! With technology we were able to find another way to make it work.

Bring on Voxer.  Voxer is a Walkie Talkie type system that allows you to send, images, text and most importantly voice messages between people.  Louise and I are already connected on Voxer so it was easy for me to suggest using it as an alternative way to have our Mystery Number call.  It worked really well too.

Some of the benefits of using Voxer vs Skype is that between our interactions we were able to discuss the questions they asked so that everyone could understand the answers we were giving without the other class having to hear our discussions.  We could move around if we needed to too.  Plus the bonus of using Voxer is that you're left with a recording of the entire interaction on your phone.  I have uploaded our interaction and can now share it both here, and and on my class blog.   It's another great way to share what we are doing in class with my students families and the world.

So if you ever find yourself with a scheduled Mystery Number Skype and your power goes out, why not try a Mystery Number Voxer instead. :-)

If you're interested here is the recording of our Mystery Number call.

*What is a mystery Number Skype? The link attached takes you to a task activity card that you can use if you'd like your students to do 1:1 Mystery Number Skype calls.  The card itself explains the process which can very easily be adapted for a whole class situation like we used it on Friday.  We also used number to 50 instead of numbers to 20 as the card suggests.