Thursday, May 23, 2013


Page and I took advantage of an annual 4-5 tradition and turned Special Classes into a lab experiment.  Each year the students of 4-5 choose to spend the day engaged in a class that can range from bowling to paper airplane crafting, mozzarella cheese making to a food walk.  This year we floated the idea of Minecraft EDU.  Minecraft is a sandbox game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.  The creative and building aspects of Minecraft allow players to build freely and collaboratively.  The EDU version allows us to create a peaceful world contained in a server available only to the Waynflete community.  Needless to say, the nine and ten year olds were very excited.  Page and I wanted to see how the "craft your own" world would work in a classroom.  After 3.5 hours I was blown away by what I saw.

Of course, the skills varied.  We had students who have been crafting every night for the past few years to students who were experiencing it for the first time.  As is the case in all scholastic endeavors, we had a range of abilities.  This dynamic provided a need for students to engage in positive teamwork & collaboration.  I was very impressed with how the "gaming" situation allowed students to practice the skills we stress as part of our social curriculum.  The framework of the game enables students to access problem solving strategies.  Because of the creative nature of the game all students have something to contribute and every student needs help from their peers.  Students were so eager to help and share their expertise and ideas that the students who had never played before were crafting in no time.  Due to the collaboration, the learning curve was not as steep as I expected.  The most novice was building a two-story house with stairs and a working train in the living room.  By the end of our experiment, every student was begininning to walk away from their computers to have actual conversations based on the creations on the screen.  Without a doubt, every student felt a great sense of pride in their work.

However, there were some moments that gave me pause.  The experienced players, who play at home, were eager to "set traps" for their peers even though they knew our world was peaceful.  Is this indicative of the normal shenanigans of their age group or a connection with the wilder game available on line?  In the same vein, occasional references to blowing things up, even though the world was set to peaceful,  popped up and showed me that we would need to build common expectations and a shared vocabulary before integrating this into the curriculum.  Of course, that would be true with any new activity.  I was not surprised, but it is worth noting, that, at first, students were tied to their computer.  Even though peers were a few feet away they would shout or try to communicate through the chat option.  Thankfully, students began to understand they could walk to a classmate and talk directly to them.

After the initial tutorials and exploration we paused the class and asked the students to brainstorm how Minecraft could be used in an education setting.  They came up with some very interesting ideas:
-Create an Underground Railroad simulation
-Build safe houses
(We just wrapped up a slaver/civil rights unit in history)
-Build a new school
-Use it as math.  We could measure and work with perimeter and area.
-We could turn our Dream House Project into 3D

For some the question may be how can a game connect to our work in school?  I am excited by what I saw and do see Minecraft as an opportunity to make our curriculum come to life.  A student, with a passion, will learn more on their own in one hour than a disengaged student in a week's worth of classes.  Minecraft may be one of many tools students can utilize to share their understanding of topic or concept.

Minecraft resource scooped by @MaineSchoolTech

Ipads Support Dramatic Play in Early Childhood

IPads in Dramatic Play

"Mission Control! Come in Mission Control!"
"There's gingerbread on the moon!"
"We're not going to the moon any more. We're going to Mars where the robot lives."
"Yeah, the robot that's our friend."
"Look out we're heading to an asteroid!"

"I'll shoot the gun."
"No, an asteroid is a big chunk of rock. We have to steer around it!"

It has been a big year for block building in the Early Childhood classroom. Every day all of the blocks are used to make castles, forts, road systems and today, a rocket ship. IPads have also been used each day this year. Many pictures have been drawn, letters learned and QR codes scanned. On this morning the two things have come together for the first time. The astronauts asked if they could bring the iPads into the block area to support their play. After some discussion about safety and care for the iPads, the command center was outfitted with three useful screens.

The imaginative play was immediately enriched by access to this tool. While one astronaut scanned his screen for dangers ahead, others created images of weird planets and enemy spacecraft. The kids have surprised me again in finding a whole new use for the iPad. Unencumbered by preconceived notions about how and where it should be used, they are free to see possibilities that have escaped me.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

TLC in the News

Our TLC work has gotten a lot of good press this year.  First, with our use of iPads in the Early Childhood program; then with hosting EdCamp Maine; and now our TLC work specifically was highlighted in this recent news story from Channel 6:

Click here for the full story from WCSH. Both of our TLC groups have worked hard to advance the use of technology in our classrooms.  Even though we never seem to have enough time to accomplish what we want, everyone involved has contributed in some way - having thoughtful conversations, taking chances in changing curriculum, challenging their students to do more, taking time to learn something new, and so much more.  Thanks TLC for bringing the conversation to a new level and making the school more aware of the exciting opportunities available to us.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Georgia On My Mind

I was very fortunate to attend Ed Tech Teacher’s iPad Summit in Atlanta, Georgia.  The 700+ educators who gathered to investigate how they could improve their craft inspired me.  After attending three keynote addresses and seven workshops my mind was ready to pop.  Needless to say, I am still digesting the information but some of the bigger ideas that resonated with me are shared below with more detailed information linked to Google Docs. I hope to return to those docs as ideas gain clarity.  All presentation materials from Atlanta can be found here.

To set the mood even though the song may not have been written about the state.  You could also watch the WCSH news report.

Big Whopper Of An Idea #1
While attending the iPad Summit in Atlanta, GA., I was presented with a very intriguing and frightening idea;  Hacking Education.  Tom Daccord, in his keynote, posited that education is a commodity.  If a family cannot find what they need in school they will looks elsewhere.  Families are no longer limited to just physical space.  Students can now access information from a number of resources both virtually and in reality. (continue reading)

Big Whopper Of An Idea #2
Educators are used to being “the hub of learning” in their everyday interactions with students.  Teachers make thousands of decisions to improve student understanding and engage passion.  The hub is now moving away from the teachers.  Educators need to see themselves in a new way. 

Big Whopper Of An Idea #3
As educators we care a great deal for the students that work with us everyday.  Educators worth their salt spend a tremendous amount of time considering all their pedagogical options and have an array of tools up their sleeves to engage their learners.  The technological revolution in education is adding new tools at an amazing rate and educators cannot keep up.  There is little time to experiment with the new tools and even less time to evaluate their effectiveness with students.  For some teachers this creates a resistance to incorporating technology into the classroom. (continue reading)

Big Whopper Of An Idea #4
We do not have to change everything we do. We must continue to work hard to help our students be prepared for a world we cannot even conceive.  However, we know that for our students to be successful they will need to be able to collaborate, search for information, synthesize that information, and present that information to various audiences.  Technology will be present in the workforce so it must be present in our classrooms.  As educators we need to help students develop the skills that will allow them to successful utilize technology.  However, this does not have to be done at the expense of our professional expertise.  When considering the use of technology think as you always would.  What do you want your students to be able to do?  The answer may not always lead to technology. (continue reading)

Big Whopper Of An Idea #5
No amount of PD will replace actually working with the technology in the classroom WITH your students.

I have been contemplating this following idea in my head for some time now.  My trip to Atlanta and a recent workshop hosted by Bea McGarvey helped bring some ideas into focus. (continue reading)