Friday, September 26, 2014

Time for Some Professional Development

My kids don't have school today.  They get to sleep in and enjoy a long weekend.  That's because while they get to enjoy a day off, the teachers will be spending the day learning some new tricks and tools to use in the classroom.  Yep, it's Professional Development Day.

The focus for today's professional development is technology. Gadgets, tools, and websites that teachers can use to enhance the learning of their students, and stuff to make their lives a little easier.  Being that I'm a techie girl, that type of stuff excites me.  I'm always on the look out for new technology and tools I can use in my classroom... I just wish there was a bonus of time that came with all the wonderful things out there for me to use.  But, what teacher doesn't think there's not enough time in the day?  Am I right?

I actually get to teach two sessions of professional development today. They will both be on Minecraft.  While I'm excited to share the possibilities that Minecraft has to offer, I'm also a little upset that I get to teach other teachers how to use it, yet I can't actually use it myself right now.

Time is the number one reason behind that.  We only have one computer lab available for me to use, yet when I could squeeze in the time to do some Minecraft, the computer lab is being used by another class and vice versa when it's not being used, I'm in the middle of interventions that I can't get away from and go play Minecraft for a while.  

I have always managed to wangle my way around the time excuse before.  There's always some time that I can move things around, rearrange my schedule, and make things work...except for this.  First, our building got struck by lightning a few weeks back, and it completely destroyed our internet abilities and that hit us hard on technology use.  While working on fixing the problems, IT deleted Minecraft off of the computers it was installed on.  That means I now have to find the time to go and reinstall it back, when the problems are completely fixed.  That's still a work in progress.  Then, once I do get the program back on the computers, I just can't wangle my schedule around at all to accommodate the times the lab is open.  The only time it's open each day is from 2-3PM.  That's when I'm doing school wide interventions, and that time is strictly for focusing on skills and remediation.  While I think the Minecraft would be a great skill building activity to use, I only have kids for 20-25 minutes before we rotate to a different group, and that's not enough time to do anything on the computer.  

I get 30 minutes of lab time a week for my class, but that's not enough time to really do much.  By the time I get the server up and running, and the kids all logged in, they might get 10 minutes to do something before we're shutting down and going off to lunch.  

I do have three student computers in my classroom, but even that doesn't really help much in this certain situation.  I mean, I can use the computers for other great resources that we have, but Minecraft is so much better when the kids get to work together and collaborate.  I can sit three kids down at a time and have them do stuff, but they miss out on the collaborative experience...and then I hear a lot of disgruntlement from the kids that the thing they created the last time they played has been taken apart by someone else or stuff is missing.  

It's just kinda frustrating.  And I didn't mean to vent about it this morning.  It's just something that's been playing on my mind.  

But, even with my disgruntled feelings, they won't stop me from promoting how amazing Minecraft can be for students, nor will it stop me from encouraging other teachers to try and use it with their own classrooms.  My hope is that today's sessions will be filled with Jr. high and high school teachers that have more flexibility in their schedules, and have more ability to make it work.  Because, even though I can't use it right now, it doesn't mean I'm going to give up on finding some way to make it work.  It's just probably going to require a lot of whining and complaining on my part to get it done.  HA!

I actually think it's quite an honor to be teaching professional development.  I mean, I'm a 3rd year teacher and I've been asked to teach teachers how to use something.  How awesome is that?  I'm no expert on using Minecraft, and I have a ways to go before I would even consider myself any form of expert on the matter, but the fact that I've tried it, I've learned quite a bit about it, and I've seen how it impacts my students and their excitement level is something I can share with other teachers.  My kids know more about Minecraft than I do, and they end up teaching me much more than I teach them when I've used it in the past.  But, that's one of the best things about it, and the part I really want to focus on today.  That teachers don't have to be tech gurus or Minecraft experts.  Heck, I had never played the game before I started using it with my students.  

What I plan on sharing today, is the fact that it's OK for the students to take the lead on stuff now and then.  Giving them structured free reign on creating, and then having them explain and show how they have used the skills they've learned in class and applied those skills to the game is amazing.  Last year, I had several kids that struggled with area and perimeter.  On paper, they just didn't get it.  But, let them play some Minecraft, and they were explaining how they figured out that if they laid down six blocks and wanted a square house, they needed to find eighteen more blocks in order to finish the perimeter of their house.  They were then able to tell me that they needed 36 blocks of carpet to cover the floor inside.  There's some real world application for ya.  

I also had kids that could explain electric circuits based on the circuits they were building for rail cars.  They could tell me that they needed a power source, and then had to connect the track together in order to keep the power flowing through the entire track.  They were able to explain switches and how they had to engage the switch in order for the power to start up.  That was before we ever got to electricity in our science books.  

I've spent my time researching Minecraft enough to know that the possibilities with this game is endless.  Some teachers have had students recreate cells, time periods, science experiments, etc.  And, the best part about the Minecraftedu package that's available for teachers, is the fact that it allows them to even add in some writing and documenting assignments.  

But, you know, at the end of the day, my most favorite part about using Minecraft is the fact that it's something I can do WITH my kids.  When we used it last year, I sat down right along with them and played.  I oversaw what they were doing in the game, I dropped items that they were needing, I wrote assignments, and then I would get in there and help out some of the students with their creations..and they would help me do the same.  We were all equals in that little virtual world.  They were teachers and I was a student just as much as the roles were reversed.  I can tell you from that experience alone that students LOVE teaching their teacher something they know more about.  It doesn't happen often, so they bask in the fact that they are the experts and I can't teach them about it, because they already know more than me.  My job was simply allowing them to apply the stuff I'd been teaching them to the game, and explaining to them how those skills had help play apart in their creations and thinking.  

Ugh, just writing about how much I love it makes me even more sad that I don't get to use it with my kids right now.  But, like I said before, it's going to fuel my motivation in teaching today...and hoping I do a great job at convincing those that take my class to use it with their classes.  If I can convince even a couple of teachers to try it, and the popularity grows, then maybe, just maybe, more will be done to help me get time to do it.  Or I can figure out a way to get the money to get a new set of laptops for my class so that I can do it in my classroom.  That would be awesome.  Anyone out there got any connections to a business that might want to supply my class with a set of laptops?  Anyone know how to send this blog to Oprah or Ellen, and see if they want to help a class out?  

If you do, please be sure to pass this on.  I could really use the help.  And when I say I could use the help, I really mean a class of precious, amazing kids that would be forever grateful if they could get this opportunity.  

Oh well, I better go get myself ready.  I'm excited and pumped to share today, and I hope it goes well.  With some of the stress and frustrations I've been dealing with lately, this will be a great way to do some good and spread some cheer.  And, I'm ready for that.  

Have an awesome Friday, everyone!!


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