Sunday, 21 September 2014

EducampMinecraft - It's just a game

When #educampminecraft arose, I instantly knew I would be attending, the format, attendees and topic would all make it an excellent day. I consider myself pretty literate with digital tools but my experience this weekend has left me feeling a little like the pixelated animals walking around Minecraft, I was an easy target for any gamer who needed fed. Having had 24 hours to reflect on my learning, I am very thankful for my colleagues and the students that were at Mokoia Intermediate, its possible that my Minecraft health rating may have increased which can only benefit my students. The best explanation lies in comparing my Minecraft status before and after this PD.

Pre #EducampMinecraft
I discovered that my 2014 class liked Minecraft at our first meet the teacher, so this year I made sure that we had the Pocket Edition installed on the iPads. I had the motivation to try to integrate but I lacked the skills, experiences and to put it bluntly, I didn't know what I didn't know!  I investigated MinecraftEdu but didn't want to invest the money blindly.

Early in the year, I had an opportunity to integrate Minecraft in a lesson, we had asked children to design their ideal garden for the school. Nearly all were engaged in either writing or drawing their ideas, but 1 particular boy didn't appear interested, until offered the opportunity to design his garden using Minecraft. His 'health rating' shot up and he was engaged for the duration of the task. My first integration successful, I was looking for genuine opportunities from then on but have stumbled around a little.

Since then learning opportunities have looked like this:

    1st attempts
  • Some writing about Minecraft - narratives, information reports and even some persuasive writing where several students outlined the benefits of Minecraft in the classroom. All good pieces of writing that demonstrated the value of an engaging topic for a student.
  • Attempts to design explorations from the First Crossing TV series, I think the students were motivated but battled with some direction. In trying to give them direction, I was ruining the task enjoyment.
  • More recently, 6-8 students have been recreating the NZ parliament buildings. The first attempts didn't impress me at all and spoke more of their willingness to play rather than engage in a genuine learning experience. I suggested that they weren't achieving the high standards of which they were capable (I'd seen what they'd created in their own time). I directed them to a virtual tour of the parliament buildings, and at the same time purchased 2 of the Minecraft books. All of a sudden the buildings really developed, they had valuable research and assistance with how to create the things they were seeing. A true learning experience had been created, but we still struggled with some digital citizenship problems, both within our own class and with others.
  • I host several boys for half of Friday lunchtime, my job is to give them something to do so they don't find their way to trouble. We started out coding, but recently have just been playing Minecraft, their ability to relate to others, contribute and participate within this context is quite interesting. I need to explore how this can be translated to the real world. 
  • Post research & reading
  • More writing has taken place, several children are working on M is for Minecraft - an A to Z format book. This shows real potential and we've attacked it as more of a project.
I hadn't really engaged in any PD surrounding Minecraft, I had several of my PLN who I knew could assist in several areas but that was the sum of it. I was still struggling with how to display the work going on, we've got some photos on the wall that came from screen shots but I really wanted to see some video work and wasn't completely positive on how to achieve this. I sat down with my class pre-educampminecraft to discuss issues I might be able to investigate, I was pleased with the types of isuses they wanted to explore and experiences they imagined

My prediction for EducampMinecraft proved very astute, the day has been blogged by Sonya van Schaijik and the EducampMinecraft wiki, is of course a great resource.

Witnessing the potential of minecraft being realised, having this potential explained by both educator & student and listening to all of these experts I have a long way to travel before I can consider myself more of an expert.

Post #EducampMinecraft
1. I need to implement a treaty/code of conduct/class rules.
Why? It was naive to not have one of these for our minecraft work. Even though my class talk about digital citizenship regularly, we never expressly outlined how this might look within Minecraft. Our school uses PB4L and I believe my kids could easily transfer this model into our 5B's (Be Safe, Friendly, Respectful, Responsible and a Learner). We've had some digital citizenship issues, but this would set up expectations rather than being reactive.

2. Forget trying to learn to play Minecraft.
Why? The students have this aspect covered and can teach me far more than I could ever hope to teach them. Student voice at Mokoia proved this beyond doubt. I would be far better exploring having our students at HNS teach the teachers what Minecraft is all about as @MrRuddtheTeachr and I had believed.

3. I need to look to extend literacy within and about Minecraft.
Why? I was aware that Minecraft could be used to further the children's literacy. Having them read & write about Minecraft was pretty awesome, researching what they're creating isn't too bad either but this can be so much more. @MrWoodnz and @Steve_katene were discussing reading and writing books within Minecraft. If that's not engaging!

4. Understanding/Implementing the correct platform - Minecraft Servers, MinecraftEdu or Minecraft PE
Why? Steve and others shared so much knowledge about what can be done, while I would love to have a class server I don't have the technical know-how to do this. I currently don't have the ability to get MinecraftEdu either, but I don't believe this is now an issue. @Teachernz and Steve were accomplishing so much through just the pocket edition. Given my level of integration, this is certainly enough for now. I've plenty of potential to explore without worrying about servers.

5. Class displays & presentation need to be more innovative.
Why? As outlined earlier I wasn't feeling satisfied by how my class was displaying its Minecraft work. Steve was using Aurasma, an Augmented Reality tool, to display both static and video images. I've wanted to extend what I was doing in terms of displaying the children's work and video was a large part of this plan, I just hadn't settled on a workflow that worked. My indecision was partly due to lack of of inspiration - well now that's solved...

I was seriously blown away by the potential that Minecraft offers and still have plenty of questions, one I'm particularly keen on investigating is the use of Minecraft within science. Someone over the weekend was talking about removing the laws of physics within the game, but I wonder where else you could go in this game.

Reflecting on my own practice in such a way is refreshing, I've plenty to learn but its vital that this I recognise this. Most importantly, I know who to ask to help me learn!

Thanks Michael for creating and sharing this.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Key Competencies for the Future

A colleague recently joked that they wanted a synopsis as they handed me another book. We decided that a tweet was probably enough, but in reality trying to reflect on any professional reading certainly requires more than a tweet of contemplation.

KC4F is no different in this regard, there was plenty to consider, challenge and talk about with colleagues. Some of the staff at HNS will tell you that I have been discussing my thoughts and I'm hopeful that some may even snatch my copy to read it themselves. I was really pleased that @edubookchatnz was started by Terry (@beechedesignz) as this text wasn't even on my radar, he even followed this up with an interesting blog of his views.

I felt that my understanding of the KC's has been advanced considerably by the authors. I was guilty of treating each KC as an individual entity when it came to planning even though I recognised that they weren't mutually exclusive. But the real epiphany has come about in one particular KC, I have treated Language, Text & Symbols at absolute face value. I've sat through multiple PD sessions and my pre-service training but the concept of the multiple languages that we speak in never was mentioned. I'm not necessarily talking about about Te Reo, English or Samoan, rather the language of science, music or maths. Everyday my conversations take me through multiple languages, at a variety of levels. Conversations with my wife involve a lot of legal jargon, I'm the learner trying to comprehend what she is saying, discussions with colleagues take me through ICT/eLearning, and with my golfing buddies a different set of language, texts and symbols is used again. Do children need the skills to adapt, learn and be flexible through multiple languages? Ultimately, if they're to make meaning of the subjects they learn about, then absolutely, unless they'd like to lock themselves away and not participate in the world.

So what's a wicked problem then? I understand that poverty and food security are wicked problems by virtue of the fact there are multiple solutions, and that each solution raises many more questions. But the concept of a wicked problem has altered my approach to planning, in a future-focussed way I've tried to reimagine past or present units at my school. I believe it will shift the emphasis of the teaching/learning experiences to the benefit of those in my class.

Consider the following as an example:
Last year, we looked at Energy and there was much exploration and inquiry, but it was very content-driven. The future-focussed problem is clear - How is NZ going to meet its growing energy demands in the future? Multiple environmental groups advocate strongly against any new hydro, wind, wave or geothermal generation project. Fracking has been widely ridiculed in the general media and protested against by many. But our demand for energy isn't waning? Clearly, a wicked problem exists. I wonder what my class might have suggested if they'd been given the chance.

We are investigating culture next term, I see an opportunity for the class to investigate what NZ culture may look like in 10-15 years given current trends, demographic shifts. What was important 10-15 years ago may not be what is valued in future generations - so what will it mean to 'be a New Zealander'? There is ample opportunity to turn this topic into a future-focussed topic, I just need to find the right way to hook my class to this problem.

In a more lighthearted approach, I do believe that a wicked problem could be framed in sport. Many sports are facing challenges of time, decreasing numbers, competing priorities, changing demographics, parental concern over injuries, to score/not score and this is just at school age. How about concussion (and other serious injuries), role modelling, mega-events, social media and match-fixing at the elite or professional level. If there isn't a wicked problem in that lot I'd be staggered, most likely a problem that students of many levels would be motivated to explore.

So what's the tweet going to look like then?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Leadership, Kidsedchatnz & Sharing Knowledge

Three qualities that describe me perfectly are passionate, hard working and reflective but I must admit that there is a healthy dose of red-blooded kiwi male ego that is mixed in amongst these qualities and the many others that make me who I am. As one of the coordinators of @kidsedchatnz it's success has been a great source of excitement and reflection but it has had many hours of my life poured into it. It's similar to the time the time that goes into my Miss 2 really and as such, is a source of much pride. 

It's with these qualities that I have viewed the introduction of other chat sessions for children and when these people have turned to @Palmyteacher, myself and the other coordinators, all three qualities have been boosted. But @kidsedchatnz success hasn't come without great effort. Bouncing ideas the other day, Stephen reflected on one of the factors in this success - it's the team.
I've recently enjoyed the intrinsic rewards of spreading the knowledge I've gained from Kidsedchatnz. I've presented at the Edchatnz conference, helped Amanda Rogers set up USAKidschat and shared Kidsedchatnz with #EducampAkl and WAPA. We've been getting lots out of these sessions to help us improve Kidsedchatnz for the benefit of the students, this ultimately helps the teachers who use it as a tool in their class.

One of the most valuable lessons was that chat sessions with children on twitter need to be very carefully managed. A chat session that was attacked by the spammers would cause all sorts of trouble and if you're running hashtags, this is always going to be a risk. Hence, we use a subscribed list with Kidsedchatnz. Amanda Rogers, responsible for #USAkidschat blogged about her hiccups, including spam and it prompted my first foray into producing infographics as I attempted to share our knowledge. This feeds both my passion and reflective nature (and the ego).

Stephen and I have been sending emails, tweets and DMs back and forth over the last few days as we discussed other ideas and how to translate these ideas into what we hoped could be a go to resource for creating successful kids chats using twitter (How to Run a Twitter Chat for Children, attached). The result, we shared with the world earlier today (September 14th ) and we were stoked as it quickly found popularity amongst educators. It is a fantastic example of the leadership that is to be found in teams and what can be done when people are wanting to share their knowledge. My experience in life (not just teaching) has shown me that this isn't always the case.

The Kidsedchatnz leadership model has been highly beneficial to my development as a teacher, not just within the confines of the chat sessions and its planning, but throughout my professional and classroom practice. Keeping this thought uppermost in my mind will be an easy mechanism for ensuring that my students, peers and wider school community can all be kept empowered, involved and engaged.

It's too easy to hold knowledge close and not share, but there are so many others that have shared their knowledge with me that it is only fair that this favour is returned tenfold. Hopefully, I'll inspire a few others to share too and that would be a fantastic form of leadership.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Kidsedchatnz & USAkidschat

Kidsedchatnz is a great learning tool and as coordinators we’re always trying to spread the word to attract more classrooms to take part. Recently we were visited online by a US teacher who was interested in what we were up to. Amanda Rogers (@mitchellrogers) was so convinced by Kidsedchatnz that she has recently initiated USAkidschat (when referring to both they can be called Kidschat).

I’ve been asked lots of questions about how to introduce Twitter to classrooms and have blogged about it. But when Amanda begun the process of setting up a chat program for elementary children in the US I instantly recognised that I would have questions too as there would be a new set of answers due to the different environment she was operating in. While Amanda is responsible for creating the US version, I can’t take credit for that in NZ and instead owe my own involvement to @Pascaldress. My own role is as a coordinator & promoter though with 6 others, including Pascal.

This blog post is written by both Amanda and I, with her answers italicised before my own non-italicised answers. We hope that this post will help to inspire more teachers to integrate twitter into the classroom and provide you with some assistance for starting that journey. If you have any other questions about twitter chat sessions please feel free to comment, tweet or email.

Why did you first get involved with the Kidschat sessions?
Some of my system’s tech specialists shared an article with me highlighting Kidsedchatnz.  I had recently starting participating in professional Twitter chats myself, and thought it was a brilliant idea for connecting students.   I asked for access to the chat so that I could “lurk” and see how it all worked.  I was so impressed with all the authentic learning I saw there that I decided to try to organize a chat for US classes.  Our district celebrates “Cyber Safety September,” so I decided to experiment with a weekly chat for the month of September just to see where it would take us.

I was doing PD as part of the beginning teacher program at the Learning Network in West Auckland. They ran a session on integrating technology, Twitter and #Edchatnz were mentioned, so I quickly came to learn about Kidsedchatnz which must have been just after Pascal had started it. My role as a coordinator came about soon after Pascal needed to pass the responsibility to others.

How do you promote the twitter chat to other classes around the country?
I started promoting with Twitter and a Google form.  I wrote a brief description of what I was trying to do and tweeted the link to the form.    After a few people had signed up, I developed a website ( to house a blog and all the needed information for participating. The Edutopia article that Stephen (@palmyteacher) wrote has also had excellent reach.

Kidsedchatnz uses Twitter predominantly for promotion, but we also use our blogsite to post the weekly topics & questions. The blog gets an incredible amount of traffic every week. We have also promoted Kidsedchatnz at PD sessions across NZ such as Educamps, conferences and there will be a taster session at uLearn 14 also. Our blog includes lots of information on how to set up twitter and subscribe to the lists as well.

What was the topic for the first chat and why was this chosen?
Our entire purpose for planning this chat was to incorporate it into our digital citizenship curriculum.  Therefore, our first chat topic was digital citizenship.  This was also a good opportunity for the classes to get to know one another.  It went very well and we had a lot of great discussion.

I’m not sure about the very first chat ever, but this year we chose to talk about our holidays and what each child brought to the classroom. It was a great chance for each child to voice what they bring to the classroom and think about what they wanted their class to be like this year.

Have you targeted a particular year/grade level and why?
We target grades 3-5, however we invite everyone.  There were some 2nd grade classes involved in the first chat.  This is the age many students begin to express an interest in social media.  This offers a purposeful opportunity to guide and teach them how to use it responsibly. I also wanted to keep the age group focused enough that the students would share similar interests and be able to communicate effortlessly with one another.

We concentrate on years 0 - 8, the primary school years. There are other chats starting to evolve for high school ages in NZ. We have thought about running sessions that are more targeted but we’re not sure if there is the demand.

Why do you think the Kidschat model is such a great learning tool for children?
The major draw for me is that it gives students an audience and a voice.  Writing is not effective unless you have someone to read it.  Students are empowered when they realize there are people out there who value their opinions.   It also encourages fluency, as the chats move quickly and students are forced to read and comprehend quickly.  It gives them a purpose for being a fluent reader, rather than just because they are being tested on it.  Another wonderful facet is that the students have a sense of control.  They choose the topics and their answers guide the discussion.  This chat is preparing them for the global workplace and teaching them how to collaborate beyond the walls of their communities.

Real world literacy, children are reading and writing with a real audience. Blogging is fantastic but a chat session allows for instant feedback as their work gets retweeted, favourited and replied to. The topics change every week, which allows for children to engage in the topics that fit their personality or learning interests. We also use flipped sessions so that children are getting plenty of learning from each chat.

How popular are the chats and how many tweets can be sent in a session?
We are only a couple weeks in.  Our first chat had 10 participants, but quickly drew interest from other educators.  We currently have about 20 members, so hopefully it will continue to grow.

Kidsedchat regularly has between 15 - 25 classes taking part and can attract between 500 to 1100 tweets per session. It can be really fast-paced, but that’s what makes it so engaging.

How does the size of your country impact on a chat session?
Obviously, the US is large and connecting over 4 time zones is tricky.  We set our time for late in the day on the East coast to ensure that West coast schools would be in session at the same time.  There are conflicts with lunch times, recess, etc.  One of our classes ate lunch in their classroom so they could participate last week.  Some join in late or leave early.  We just have to be flexible and understanding.   At this point, most of our participants are in the Eastern and Central time zones, and localized to a couple of different areas.  Hopefully as we continue to chat and share about what we are doing, our reach will spread out to the West coast.  

NZ is quite small, with only 1 time zone. Even so, we’ve found it really difficult to find a timeslot that fits everyone’s needs.

How does your chat session fit within the curriculum?
With the adoption of Common Core standards in the US, students are expected to publish writing in a meaningful way and collaborate to solve problems.   Kidschat offers a perfect setting to practice these skills, while preparing students for a global workspace.

NZ’s curriculum really supports the Kidsedchatnz model, it wants collaborative, future focussed learning and is a rather broad document that allows for teachers to interpret the curriculum in the way that best fits the needs of their community. The topics change weekly and have covered all aspects of the NZ curriculum, naturally, every topic integrates literacy using a 21st century social networking tool.

Where next for your chat session?
As we are still in an experimental phase, our next step will be to determine if this is something that will become a fixture within our classrooms.  This will ultimately be up to the participants.  At the very least, the classes will have developed a network they can rely on for collaborating on future projects.

The coordinators would love to have more classes involved in Kidsedchatnz. We’re talking about some videos to showcase what a chat looks like and demonstrate the student voice behind Kidsedchatnz.

One day we may even be able to coordinate a combined Kidsedchatnz USAkidschat session.