Friday, March 07, 2014

The Ultimate Virtual Learning Experience


I'm so excited right now about a new endeavor I'm going to take on with my class.  One that will knock their socks off, and have them not only thinking I'm the coolest teacher on the entire planet, but that will trick them in to thinking I'm going to allow them to play games when really they are going to be learning.

Which, I know, you're probably thinking "Big Whoop!".  Lots of teachers use games to teach.  Lots of teachers incorporate games in to the learning process in order to help build understanding.

But, I'm not talking about card games or pocket chart games or even online math games.  I'm talking The World of Minecraft.

The game my kids never stop talking about.  The game that my kids would MUCH rather spend time playing than listening to a single word come out of my mouth about math, reading, science, or social studies.  If I were to say to them "So, who wants to spend an hour playing Minecraft instead of doing any learning this afternoon?", I'm pretty sure there would be tears of joy and total and utter shock cast around the room.

And, the best part?  I get to do EXACTLY THAT!

A few weeks ago, Mrs. P sent out an email to the entire staff asking for any interest for collaborating on a Minecraft Project.  And, luckily for me, I was the ONLY one to respond to the email.  Which doesn't surprise me.  Hello.  We've missed 20 days of school because of snow.  I'm sure the teachers that declined were probably thinking that the last thing they needed was another project to add to their plate.  Yet, I have some serious issue with declining the offer of a project.  Regardless of how much I already have on my plate and worry about how I'm going to get everything in, that didn't stop me from hitting the reply button to the email with the words "I'm game".  

Little did I know that the response would be so fitted for the actual project she had in mind.

So, there's this website called Minecraft EDU.  It's not just a website, but an entire online platform that was made by teachers for teachers who would like to use the game of Minecraft in their classrooms.  It's an entire overhaul of the original game the kids are all ga-ga over, and has given teachers the ability to mold and shape guide the students to play the game the way the teacher asks them to.

Meaning, it's completely and utterly devoted to education.  Without the kids even realizing it.

Now, I'm not a Minecraft expert.  In fact, I've NEVER played the game.  At all.  My information about the game comes strictly from every student in my class that spends ALL of their free time playing it.  And, from what I hear, it's a combination of The Sims with Lego.  Building virtual worlds out of block shapes, and then supporting and protecting and increasing those worlds with various challenges and scenarios.  

While kids are playing the game, they have no idea how much math and reading they are using.  They have no idea that they are incorporating science and a little social studies in to the mix.  And, with the help of Minecraft EDU, the teacher controls the learning that's taking place and challenges students to use the skills they've learned in the classroom and apply them in to the virtual world.

With Minecraft EDU, a teacher can create accounts for the class.  Then, go in to those accounts and create lists of "challenges" a/k/a assignments that the students have to complete.  It also provides online learning videos, training, and forums so that teachers (like me) who have never played the game, can still create and control the learning process without needing to be experts on the game beforehand.

For example, the students may be challenged to create a building with certain dimensions.  The teacher may give the dimensions and have the students figure out the area with those dimensions, or give the area and have the students figure out what dimensions need to be used to complete that area.   The teacher may then assign students the challenge of buying certain supplies with a given amount of money.  They have to figure out what supplies they can buy straight away, and what supplies they could use to enable them to earn money.  Teachers can also assign students to write passages or scripts to use, or experiments to try out in order to create something.

A whole world of education.  Literally.

And, again, the best part?  The kids have NO idea how much they are applying their skills to the scenarios given in the game.

Not exactly real world application, but I'll take virtual world application.  I know how meaningful it will be to my kiddos because they live and breath Minecraft.  If they want to continue playing the game, they'll complete the assignments and crave more challenge.  

I have been craving for a way to incorporate more technology in to my classroom.

Recently, I've introduced my kids to blogging.  Each student has their own blog, and they've made a couple of entries.  They are excited about blogging, and I can get them to answer questions a lot easier with a blog than I can getting them to write it on paper.  I've also been letting students do minor research on sites such as BrainPop and Discovery Education.  They get on the computer, look up their research topic, and then watch videos and take notes about what they learned.  And, the kids LOVE it.

Now, with Minecraft, I will be able to incorporate ALL subject areas and challenge students to use their learned skills to develop, sustain, and increase their virtual worlds and even collaborate with other students in order to more effectively complete the tasks given.  

Application + Collaboration = Deeper Meaning and Understanding

Yes, Please!!

I just received my Minecraft EDU packet last night, so I haven't even had the chance to login and see what goodies await me in my own virtual classroom.  But, I am just as excited as the kids are.  I gave them the news a couple of weeks ago that we'd be doing SOMETHING that involved using Minecraft, and they went all CRAZY with excitement.  Now, every day since, they've asked when they will get to use it.  

It's going to be so great for me to break the news that it starts next week.

And, another bonus is I can totally use Minecraft as an incentive.  

"You want to spend an hour playing Minecraft a couple times a week?  Well, then I guess you better make sure you have completed all of your assignments.  It would be so sad if you have to take work down to the computer lab to finish while your classmates are all playing."

I'm not talking bribery.  I'm talking encouraging the one or two students that are still struggling with following directions or doing anything I ask them to do.  What a better reward than getting to play Minecraft?  Especially when those one or two students talk NON-STOP about the game.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I shared that I had a few students that just didn't EVER seem to do what I asked them to do.  They hardly ever finished assignments in class, and then when asked to take it home?  Didn't.  Or took it home and then didn't bring it back.

Since making the announcement about Minecraft, two of those students have made a complete 180.  There hasn't been a single assignment they haven't finished, and they've even asked to take work home that's not finished in class... AND THEY BRING IT BACK COMPLETED!

I am now down to only having two students that are still struggling.  But, even they have improved somewhat.  I'm convinced that when we start playing, that will nip the final few issues in the butt.. and the rest of my school year will be lived out in total harmony.

So, I'm up for the challenge of including Minecraft in to my classroom.  I think it's going to have a major impact to the type of learning my students do, and will also increase their ability to apply their learning to various "real-world" situations.

And, from the little amount of time I've spent looking in to other teachers that have used the platform, it will wholeheartedly increase student productivity and retention.  Which is SOOOOO important.

I am NOT a teacher that teaches to a test.  I am a teacher that wants my students to gain knowledge that will stay with them, be applied to the real world, and will help them reach their goals and dreams.  

I also believe that if I do my job correctly, I don't really have to worry about the state tests, because they will know what they need to know.  And, this is a great way for me to test out that way of thinking.  I plan on gathering and using data to back up my initial hypothesis and see how it pans out.

Fingers crossed!

Right now, though, I need to get ready for work.  I have an exciting announcement to make to my class this morning.  AND I can't WAIT!!


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