Minecraft – we’re back

Minecraft ECA 2011-2012

Minecraft ECA 2011-2012

Following the excitement of last year’s Minecraft Activity, I knew I wanted to offer it again this year. That said, I battled to keep up with the latest happenings in the Minecraft world, the responsibilities of my day job, occasional stints presenting, and of course seeing my family! Something had to give, and for the first term, unfortunately it was Minecraft.

Last year I had some wonderful Techxperts helping me out to moderate the school server, while I maintained administrative control. Perhaps it was because it was new to me that I wanted to keep a hold of the reins. Well, there are no excuses now.

This year, I want the activity to be student-managed and student moderated. To clarify, the Middle School/High School Techxperts will run the server for the Grade 2-5 Minecraft activity which will begin in the new year. This will give me the opportunity to interact with the students and just play. It’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.

The Techxperts on the Minecraft team decided that running Tekkit would have the most learning potential. They are a very knowledgeable bunch, and informed me that Tekkit meant they could have access to anything that exists in the world – and more. Pascal (G10) took a leading role and helped me set up our RedstoneHost server, update McMyAdmin, install Tekkit (all the behind the scenes jobs that I find such a chore), and generally made my life a lot easier. He is a complete superstar.

We had a few glitches, but there is nothing more satisfying than working through and eventually solving a frustrating tech problem. Our server is now up and running.

I went on last night, to see how things were going. Seriously, I love my job. Three keen students were on, helping to set up the initial spawn points in readiness for the Grade 2-5s. It’s just the beginning, but it’s pretty neat to see what’s happening already.

Photo credit: Pascal Brunner

Photo credit: Pascal Brunner

Multiplayer games like these are tremendous levelers. I am very much a beginner with Minecraft and after a 6 month hiatus, it was all I could do to remember how to fly and move around. The Techxperts were so supportive. When I expressed my need for a refresher course, Pascal suggested I try building myself a spawn point, to (and I quote) “get myself back in the game.” In the world of tech coaching, Pascal modeled perfectly the notion of Positive Presuppositions – assuming the very best of a person, to encourage and support. It blows my mind. I can’t wait for the Grade 2-5s to join in and show the Techxperts how great they are. Because they are. Simply amazing.

I’m working on a presentation for parents about the benefits of gaming (together with Sean McHugh & Louise Phinney). I have so much to tell them. I hope they are ready to listen with an open mind.

Spicing up Parts of Speech

Nicole_WordleIn Grade 1, students have been completing a unit on poetry, and learning about parts of speech. Let’s face it: parts of speech are not the most engaging and exciting topic of study for kids, so finding a way to make it enjoyable was high on our list of priorities.

We found the perfect vehicle for spicing it up – Wordle!

The Grade 1 teachers talked about -ing words in class (verbs), so students came to the lab with a sound understanding of the topic. We decided to make -ing poems so the students could demonstrate their understanding of -ing verbs, and present their understanding in a visually appealing way.

Rachel_wordleWe initially used Microsoft Word to type the poems up, because it meant we had a back-up plan in case we needed to change the spelling or formatting of our Wordles. I asked the students to type the title -ing poem three times (to make it larger on the final wordle), and their name three times as well (so we could easily identify the finished Wordles). Following that, the students typed in as many different -ing words as they could.

We thought a minimum of 15 words would make a reasonably good-looking Wordle, but challenged the students to come up with as many as possible. This provided teachers a lot of useful information, including:

  • Who understood the task;
  • Identifying any misconceptions students held
  • The level of vocabulary students were typing;
  • Students’ spelling abilities;
  • Which students have sound keyboard knowledge, and which students don’t;

Nikhil_wordleWe then moved on to introduce/reinforce some important technological operations and concepts in the process of making our Wordles, including:

  • Ctrl + A = highlight all
  • Ctrl + C = copy
  • Ctrl + V = paste
  • Capitalisation methods – Shift + letter, or Caps Lock on and Caps Lock Off
  • Awareness of the spell check function in Microsoft Word

We used Jing to capture the finished Wordles, and they are now being displayed in the class.

Games – What exactly are kids learning?

[Cross-posted at U Tech Tips]

Games and the value of game-based learning has been a hot topic for me lately, so I was thrilled to come across Tom Chatfield’s article, Why playing in the virtual world has an awful lot to teach children in the Guardian on the 10th January 2010 (hat tip to @paulmaglione for the link). Tom argues that there is more to games than meets the eye.

For perhaps the most remarkable thing about modern video games is the degree to which they offer not a sullen and silent unreality, but a realm that’s thick with difficulties, obligations, judgments and allegiances. If we are to understand the 21st century and the generation who will inherit it, it’s crucial that we learn to describe the dynamics of this gaming life: a place that’s not so much about escaping the commitments and interactions that make friendships “real” as about a sophisticated set of satisfactions with their own increasingly urgent reality and challenges.

Super Mario BrosKatie Salen, professor of design and technology at Parsons The New School for Design argues that traditionally, games have not been seen as challenging realities, but rather as time-wasting activities:

There is a long history of understanding games as sort of leisure activities, as a kind of waste of time. And that when we see kids playing games that maybe our first reaction is to say, “Oh well they’re just playing, they’re just kind of wasting time.” There isn’t a sense of even sitting down with the child and asking them… “What’s going on in your head right now?” Because if you sit down and talk to a game player about what they’re doing, an incredible narrative will come out of their mouth about the complex problem they’re working on. A set of specialist vocabulary will spew out of their mouth…
[see the full video here]

From my reading on the subject, there are a number of key learning areas that games help players develop. Here are a few of the main ones.

Games Develop Literacy SkillsMoshi_passable

Many people underestimate the amount of literacy involved in game-playing. Instructions and other comments on the website require reasonably sophisticated levels of reading. James Paul Gee, an Arizona State University professor and leading figure in the field of games in education, argues, “Some people even say that games are killing reading and writing – far from it! They’re actually engaging kids with reading and writing more than ever.” [See the full video here]

By way of example, in Moshi Monsters – a game students at my school have been playing with gusto – your monster tells you how he/she is feeling, with quite a wide vocabulary. My monster has been elated, effervescent, marginal, and sunny lately, but the other day he was just passable. One of our K2 classes created their own monster, and play it as a class first thing in the morning. What a great way to discuss and develop new vocabulary!

In the context of Moshi Monsters, the “specialist vocabulary” that Katie Salen speaks of, includes Moshlings and Rox – both of which I am extremely confident all players would be able to explain clearly.

mystMessage boards are also popular with students as a way of communicating with others. On my message board, students have asked me how to get a particular Moshling, commented on my room and so on. It is great to see the dialogue that it generates, and the buzz in the ICT lab is electric, to say the least!

Tim Rylands, often credited as one of the forerunners of  gaming in education,  brought the computer game Myst into his classroom to develop literacy skills, with great success – he won a Becta ICT in Practice Award for his work in 2005. Since then, projects have been developed by schools and learning institutions around the world, including Learning & Teaching Scotland, who use games such as Guitar Hero and Myst to  stimulate creative and descriptive writing. They have been receiving positive feedback from teachers and students alike.

Games Develop Creativity

Scratch_001Gee states in his video for Edutopia, “Kids want to produce, they don’t just want to consume.” This is certainly true of the Playstation 3 hit, Little Big Planet, which has user generate content as a major part of the game.

At my school, the Grade 2-5’s are devouring Scratch, the MIT-developed computer programming software for kids. Scratch provides an extremely user-friendly platform where users can upload their own games, or download and make changes/improvements to other people’s games and upload them again for the community to try. One of our Grade 5 students contributed a game which he has translated into 3 languages – Chinese, Dutch and English! The code behind this game (and others that the students in my class produce) is extremely sophisticated, and more often than not, beyond my comprehension!

Games Develop Critical Thinking Skills

Samorost_1Players need to use critical thinking skills when playing games. Problem solving and decision making skills, together with logical thinking, sequencing and strategy-making are all reinforced. James Paul Gee argues that playing a game is like a continuous stream of assessment. If you fail to work out what steps need to be taken, and in which order, you will not progress further in the game. Games such as Samorost (and other games created by Amanita Design, including Samorost 2 and Machinarium) are fabulous for all the skills mentioned above. Kids love to play them together, and thrive on the challenge of coming up with possible solutions to rather daunting problems.

Zoombinis is a very popular computer game (and has been since its release in the mid ’90s), requiring complicated mathematical thinking skills. According to Amazon,

Zoombinis Logical Journey challenges children to employ such basic fundamentals of mathematical thinking as organizing information, reasoning of evidence, finding and making patterns, and systematic testing of hypotheses.

zoombinisWe loaded it on some computers in the lab, and had a games focus for our most recent Wired Wednesday professional development with staff, and it was funny how many teachers remembered it from 10 years ago when their kids played it. One teacher even asked to take it home, because it was that engaging! 

Gee, in an interview with Gamezone, argues:

…people are too hung up about learning “content” in the sense of facts. What we need people to learn is how to think deeply about complex systems (e.g., modern workplaces, the environment, international relations, social interactions, cultures, etc.) where everything interacts in complicated ways with everything else and bad decisions can make for disasters.

The thinking skills developed in gaming are transferable across a range of contexts, which will be of great benefit to our students in the workplaces of the future.

Gee explains in the same interview,

Good games stay inside, but at the outer edge of the player’s growing competence, feeling challenging, but “doable.” This creates a sense of pleasurable frustration.

It has also been described as ‘hard fun’. I’m sure many of us have been in the situation where a game has  been too easy or too hard. Those just-right games really hook us in to the point where our concept of time melts away – or as Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, Hungarian professor of Psychology famously refers to it – the state of flow. According to Wikipedia, flow is:

the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

Games are SocialMachinarium in the Lab 002 (Medium)

The old-fashioned notion of gamers in seclusion, having no human contact is a thing of the past. The majority of games today have a huge social component, including sophisticated discussion forums. Tom Chatfield again suggests:

Visit any website devoted to hosting player discussions of games like World of Warcraft, for instance, and you’ll find not hundreds but tens of thousands of comments flying between players who debate every aspect of the game, from weapon-hit percentages to mathematical analyses of the most efficient sequence in which to use a character’s abilities. It will range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and will be riddled with private codes, slang, trolls, flames, and everything else the internet so excels at delivering.

What you’ll find above all, though, is a love of discussion almost for its own sake; and an immensely broad and well-informed range of critical analyses. It’s not unknown for doctors of economics or maths to wade into the fray – and find themselves bested by other still more meticulous chains of gamer reasoning.

Participation in the social communities surrounding games, interacting with friends in multiplayer games, and contributing to discussion forums all help develop communication and collaboration skills. The ability to communication and collaborate with others is increasing in importance – take the ISTE Nets for example. Being able to establish a rapport with others, in a range of situations will help today’s students in future contexts.

Game-playing provides leadership and peer-learning opportunities for students. Games can level the playing field. Tom Chatfield notes that, “A virtual world is a tremendous leveller in terms of wealth, age, appearance, ethnicity and such like…” It means a child can be an expert, a student can be the most knowledgeable source of information.What a powerful concept for a student in a classroom – I have something of value to offer my peers and my teachers.

playstation_FlottenheimerAs Joseph Joubert, the French essayist famously said, “To teach is to learn twice.” In the context of the lab, the students I see playing games are a very supportive community, keen to help newcomers develop their understanding of the game. This fits in beautifully with  Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s Communities of Practice theory of learning, where,

“It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.”

Face-to-face friendships develop through similar online  interests, and this is certainly evident in my ICT Lab.

James Paul Gee speaks of these communities of practice as “passion communities” constructed via social networking, where members are usually held to quite rigorous standards in their area of passion. To the novice, feedback is given, support is provided, but standards are not be lowered.

Rachel Williams for the Guardian, notes that according to a government-appointed expert,

Children spend so much time in front of the television and computer games, and so little time with adults that one child in six has difficulty learning to talk…

parent with kids & playstationIt is easy to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the television and computer game industry, instead of focusing on the role parents and other adults have to play in a child’s language development. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, this is a powerful opportunity for parents to involve themselves in the lives of their children, and play games together. The discussion arising from shared game-playing would surely help children develop those crucially important communication skills, and create a nice shared activity for parents and children.

In Summary

I truly believe gaming and game-based learning has a lot to offer our students. I hope this has provided an alternative perspective on gaming, and an insight into what our kids are learning through game-playing.

I would be interested in hearing how other educators have used gaming in their classrooms, and to what effect. Please share your expertise!

People to Watch

Tom Barrett‘s blog features a lot of great game-based learning information

James Paul Gee

Tim Rylandswebsite has writing samples and videos of work produced by students using Myst and other games.

Katie Salen

Further Reading

Background to Games Based Learning – Learning & Teaching Scotland

Using the Technology of Today, in the Classroom Today – the Education Arcade

Unlimited Learning – Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association

Photo Credits:

Mario – Nahuel31, Playstation – Flottenheimer, Parent & children with playstation – sean dreilinger, Myst image – ldrose,  Zoombinis image – matt.agnello, Images from games captured using Jing


50 Educational Apps for the iPod Touch

I have been getting a lot of questions about the Apps we have on our iPod Touches at school, so here you are:

English

miss_spell
Miss Spell

Free
Check to see whether the word lists are spelled correctly or not.

Super_Hangman
Super Hangman LE & Global High Scores

Free
Fairly standard Hangman app, with good graphics

Storykit
Story Kit

Free
Create an electronic story book by writing text, and either drawing on the screen or using your own photos. Record sound effects too!

Spell_it_lite
Spell It Lite

Free
Basic spelling app where you can select different levels. You can hear audio, get hints etc

Stanza
Stanza

Free

This app gives you the ability to read e-books, including over 50,000 free titles.

iSign
iSign Lite

Free
A Sign Language app that teaches basic signs using animations. We will be using this when our Grade 1 students investigate communication.

Language

English_Chinese_Dictionary
KT-Dict CE

Free
Chinese-English dictionary. See here for more details on how we use it at school.

Finger_Lite
Finger Lite
Free
Turn your iPod Touch into a wireless Chinese writing tablet.

Spanish_Tutor
Spanish Tutor
Free
Puzzles, writing, flashcards – this free Spanish app has it all.


Maths

Number_Line
Number Line
Free
Excellent little app for ordering decimals, percentages and fractions. Would suit middle to upper primary.

Basic_Math
Basic Math
Free
Choose from the 4 operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication & division) and complete multiple choice questions on them.

iChoose
iChoose
Free
App which allows you to select from coin toss, yes/no, dice roll, card choice, rock/paper/scissors and many other options. Great for probability and statistics.

Math_Match_Lite
Match Lite
Free
Match the tiles on the screen, e.g. 9 and 7 + 2. Great for reinforcing basic skills. It also times you completing each board.

Math_Quizzer
Math Quizzer
Free
Choose from addition, subtraction, multiplication & division (or a combination of these) and then complete the questions. Multi-choice answers are provided below.

Brain_Blaze_Divide
Brain Blaze Divide
Free
This is ok… You go through the sets of division problems, unlocking a new set each time you correctly answer each set. Only thing is, it allows you to work with one set at a time (e.g. division by 1, division by 2 etc), rather than mix them up. Still, it’s a good starting place.

TanZen_Lite
Tanzen Lite
Free
A neat little app that allows you to complete tangram puzzles (set to very zen-like music). A well thought through application.

Tape_Measure
Tape Measure
Free
Basic ruler in inches or centimetres.

Units
Units
Free
Excellent little app which will quickly show you any unit (area, temperature, length and weight, to name a few) in most other units, e.g. for Length it shows you Miles, Nautical Miles, Yard, Foot, Inch, Kilometre & Metre. The perfect app to illustrate why we should think about whether we need to spend time teaching our kids this stuff when it does it for us so quickly…

Sci_Soc_Stud

Geared
Geared
$0.99
App which our Grade 5’s will be using to reinforce understanding of simple machines. This game gets progressively harder as you solve more challenging problems.

world_wiki
World Wiki
Free
As it implies, gives you access to demographic info on most countries in the world.

Google_Earth_001
Google Earth
Free
Excellent iPod Touch version of the desktop programme created by Google. Absolutely awesome.

History_Maps_of_the_World
History: Maps of the world
Free
View historical maps of the world.

iEphemeris_Lite
iEphemeris Lite
Free
Astronomical app showing moon phases, the surface of the moon, the distance between the earth and the moon… You get the idea!

Weather_Bug
Weather Bug
Free
Live local weather forecasts, 7 day forecasts, maps and (in certain areas) video footage of weather conditions.

Flower_Garden_Lite
Flower Garden Lite
Free
Neat little app where you plant, water and grow flowers and send bouquets via email.

Health_&_PE

Epicurious
Epicurious
Free
Great app for recipes, complete with photos, clear instructions and the ability to create shopping lists.

iFirstAid_Lite
iFirst Aid
Free
Great basic first aid information for all. Once you have registered, you can access info on CPR, bleeding, burns, choking & poisons. I was pleased to see for the CPR section, you can choose between Adult, Child 1-8 years and Baby. There are visuals which aid instructions.

StepTrak_lite
Step Trak Lite
Free
Neat app which acts as a pedometer. Simple to use, really effective. You can upload your results to MapMyWalk.

Music

Mini_Piano
Mini Piano
Free
A one octave piano keyboard. Works beautifully.

Shaker
Pocket Shaker
Free
Select a percussion instrument from an extensive list, then play it!

Kalimba_Free
Kalimba Free
Free
A realistic looking kalimba, in the key of C or G.

Drum_Kit_Lite
Drum Kit Lite
Free
Decent drum kit with some good audio output! Our music teacher plans to use it with the class to play rhythms en masse!

Touch_Chords
Touch Chords
Free
Takes you through some easy, medium and advanced chords, and also ‘Little Hands’ chords (where you don’t play all the strings). Nice introduction.

Art

Art
Art
$0.99
Great list of historical artists, their lives, their art, and so much more. If $0.99 seems a little much, why not try the lite version, which is free.

Doodle_Kids
Doodle Kids
Free
Neat little app created by a 9 year old Singaporean boy. We’ve used it for fine motor skills, creativity etc. You can take screen shots of your creations and email them later.

Make_a_Face_Free
Make a Face
Free
This app lets you make crazy faces using various noses, mouths, face shapes etc.

Comic_Touch_Lite
Comic Touch Lite
Free
Add captions and speech bubbles to photos. A bit like Comic Life on a Mac.

Whiteboard_Collaborative_Drawing
Whiteboard Collaborative Drawing
Free
Neat little app that allows you to connect more two iPod Touches together. Great for communication!

Early_Years

abc_Pocket_Phonics
abc Pocket Phonics
$0.99
I think this is a great little app for the early years. You learn to form letters, hear the sounds of each letter, then blend sounds to make words at the end. The Lite version has the first sounds only, but the full version has sound blends as well. Give it a go! See here for more details on how we used with with K2.

Early_Reader
Early Reader
$0.99
Another great little app for beginning readers. It covers the basic sight words, phonics, etc and is easy to use. You can turn the voice on or off.

Word_Magic
Word Magic
$0.99
This app has missing letters which the kids need to select from a list to complete the word. There are a range of settings you can customize, including lowercase or uppercase letters, the missing letters at the beginning, middle or end of the word, and the length of the word (to name but a few).

ladybug_tree
Ladybug Tree
$0.99
This is a good app for developing touch-pad skills. You catch ladybugs (the Kiwi in me wants to say ‘Ladybirds’, but I’ll let it go!) and put them in a jar, and see how many you can catch in the time given.

iWriteWords
iWrite Words
Free
Trace the letters on screen. It’s ok, but not the writing format we usually teach. Good for fun though.

Tozzle_LIte
Tozzle Lite
Free
Great little puzzle for developing touch-pad skills. Tap and drag the pictures into the correct places. My 2 year old loves this one.

Humpty_Dumpty
Classic Nursery Rhymes Lite
Free
This version only has Humpty Dumpty on it, however it is nice the way you can listen to the nursery rhyme and then put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Misc

Skype
Skype
Free
Fabulous communication tool you will all know and love, I’m sure.

TED
TED
Free
Link straight to the amazing TED website where you can access all of the fabulous videos for Technology, Entertainment & Design.

Myst
Myst
$4.99
This computer game has been reconfigured for the iPod Touch. I hope to use it later in the year as a stimulus for creative writing. The visuals are really great, and it is a critical thinking sort of game (which I like).  There is also Myst Free for you to check out first, if you’re put off by the price tag.

Chess_free
Chess Free
Free
App that allows you to play chess. Simple and to the point.

Learn_chess
Learn Chess
Free
Nice and simple way to learn to play chess. Good mix of visuals and instructional text.

Phew! That’s it for now! I am always on the look out for new apps, so if you have some great ones to share, why not leave a comment?

Photo Credit: Peteris B

Cross posted at uTech Tips