Sunday, December 13, 2015

4 resources to support #Minecraft instructional design

Laurel, a teacher I work with, has been engaging 7th and 8th grade students in the game Minecraft in her computer lab. Over this past summer she explored the instructional resources on Minecraftedu and downloaded the Swiss Family Robinson map that simulates the fictional world of Johann David Wyss's classic novel. Her students, familiarized with the story through text and film excerpts, are working in teams to explore and survive the blocky deserted island. The project is focused on developing collaboration skills and students are asked to plan strategy as a team and then journal regularly to reflect on their efforts. After observing the class recently, I was struck by the dynamics at work in the lab during this project that represent a shift from traditional teaching and learning.

The sunken ship in the Swiss Family Robinson world
Instead of acting as a content expert, Laurel acts as a digital "dungeon master" of sorts who sets the conditions for daily game play, then coaches students to work together and learn from the struggles they encounter. It struck me as a productive departure from the norm. Rather than learn skills through direct instruction, students learn to collaborate- a vital 21st Century skill- by facing challenges that demand collaboration.

As I watched, the students played purposefully and noisily, failing and succeeding at all kinds of things, getting separated and regrouping. One boy showed two girls in his group how to see their location by pulling up their coordinates in the game. Their team would designate a meet up point using the game's x, y and z axes. In another group, a boy had discovered a map of the island and his team huddled around his machine making plans. The engagement was obvious and made the class feel ripe with potential. After all, middle school energy is a powerful thing when it is channelled in a positive direction.

I'm anxious to talk to Laurel about what she sees in the student journals. I want to know what the groups' collaborative plans sound like and how she envisions them improving over time. For Laurel's part, she's asked me how we might devote her professional learning time - always scarce for teachers- to untapping the potential she sees in using Minecraft in her technology class. She wants to push herself and plan for future instruction.

To help her think through more possibilities, I'll share the following resources that might extend her learning and connect her to other teachers who are thinking about the same issues and uncovering Minecraft's potential in the classroom. I think her professional learning should be co-designed, and by asking her to consider and evaluate resources, I hope to help her connect with ideas that suggest a next step in this innovative path she's on, learning with her students. 

Minecraft Instructional Resource #1- Teachercraft by Seann Dikkers

Dikkers' book is a free download
First, and the most conventional professional learning resource, is a book recommendation. Seann Dikkers' Teachercraft: How Teachers Learn to Use Minecraft in Their Classrooms investigates teachers like Laurel, and gives examples of how they use the game for everything from leading creative clubs outside of school, to building coordinate planes and graphing in math class. Chapter 7 provides a range of content-area ideas and Chapter 8 is devoted to the way teachers evaluate learning in the game. It will be important for teachers to envision the types of student work they hope to see emerge as a result of game play At a combined 30 pages, these two chapters seem to me essential reading and the book is priced just right- it is a free download

Minecraft Instructional Resource #2- #Minechat YouTube playlist

Aside from Dikkers' book, most of the resources I think will support Laurel will come in the form of new media.  It is probably fitting that a teacher interested in uncovering possibilities for instruction with Minecraft will have to bypass the school's professional learning library and tune into YouTube for learning resources. Colin Gallagher, a teacher in Singapore and TEDx speaker, hosts a YouTube series called #minechat where he talks with teachers about their Minecraft integration ideas while they walk through the virtual worlds and lessons the teachers have created. With episodes ranging from 30 minutes to an hour long and topics touching on all grade levels and contents, this channel deserves a skim. 

Minecraft Instructional Resource #3- Webinar Series "Supporting Connected Learning in Minecraft"

The website has a treasuretrove of reading resources that can inspire innovative teachers. Amidst those resources is a video archive of weekly webinars with researchers and practitioners that date back to 2012. Looking back, the second video in the series is titled, "Mimi Ito- Translation, Triggers and Transitions: What does it take to connect interest to achievement?" Having observed tangible student interest in Laurel's approach, this strikes me that connecting interest with achievement is the exciting challenge in front of her and her students. If Laurel were writing a paper about, or seeking theory to support this work, I'd direct her to that video because of its high-level consideration of a complex idea. 
Minecraft Design Challenge from

However, since she's expressed the very tangible desire to think through planning for her class going forward, I recommend the recent series, "Supporting Connected Learning in Minecraft." The four videos themselves might be worth a watch. If Dikkers' book is something that seems important, then his recent discussion with teachers, "Educators Innovating with Minecraft," would likely resonate. In addition to the four videos themselves in this series are the links below each webinar which lead to resources that participants mention in discussion. Among these link are some gems, like a Minecraft design challenge on (pictured above). That challenge might be something a teacher could replicate on a classroom scale or challenge students to try at home in Minecraft. Also, teacher Steve Isaacs shared video tutorials his students created in Minecraft, showing some creative, production-centered possibilities for students to demonstrate what they are learning in Minecraft for a real-world audience. Between the four webinars in the series, there are probably 30 or more links to investigate. In the time it takes to watch a single webinar, a deep dive into these resources might surface 10 project ideas.

Minecraft Instructional Resource #4- Minecraft in Education Google + Community

The final resource is the Minecraft in Education community in Google's social media platform, Google +. With over 4,000 members, the community has everything from articles about the future of Minecraft in Education to chats about troubleshooting software. The digital footprint that so many teachers have created in the community is a rich, if messy, collection of ideas that holds possibilities for learning interactions. The articles might be useful in class, and the authentic discussions between teachers online might provide opportunities for students-as-experts to share ideas with Laurel which she could in turn share with the community. She might even ask students what they think of this post announcing that Sweden's National Land Survey will release a scale Minecraft model of Sweden where learners can explore and design. 

Probably better than the posts themselves are the educators willing to connect and share their practice. Any of the resources listed above could be useful and supportive for planning instruction but I would venture to guess that a potential partnership with another teacher, always a possibility on any social site where educators share, would fuel continued innovation and surpass static resources. 

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