Later today I will hopefully get a chance to show this at my local #CAShub meeting as they are doing a teachmeet style presentation of ideas.
I’m not going to repeat most of what is in the presentation but what I have essentially covered is a couple of ideas I have had and also collated from other sources on how to use Minecraft as a tool in the Computing classroom. Any further suggestions or comments would be welcome.
I’ve been using minecraftedu in school now for roughly 9 months now and I thought now would be a good time to write a quick summary of how it has been used so far and what to do with it next.
Firstly my general impressions of Minecraft in a school situation is that it is absolutely fantastic with some flaws in places. It is brilliant in that it is engaging, relevant to pupils and quite simply popular as well. It is flawed in that it is so open ended and setting up controlled scenarios can take away from the enjoyment of the game. I think when giving Minecraftedu to the pupils to use you should be in a sense letting them head off on their own without any constrictions of a lesson.
So I therefore use Minecraftedu as an enrichment activity rather than a straightforward educational activity. I do frequent team building / individual build competitions. The pupils particularly enjoy free form survival play (most of this happens during lunch clubs) with monsters, hunger and night enabled. Without telling them to get into groups they naturally gravitate towards groups in order to survive.
Having said that there is a few things I am planning to do within Minecraft in the next year
- see if I can build an image representation activity based on http://csunplugged.org/image-representation for my GCSE computing group
- set up an area showing AND, OR, NOT NOR etc circuits and get pupils to build their own
- yes … definitely more redstone
There are a range of activities on the Minecraftedu wiki which cover a number of other subject areas. The reason I haven’t done this yet is that it would take a lot of time and effort to get buy-in from other teachers towards using Minecraft and frankly don’t have that time at the moment.
Yesterday an opinion piece appeared in the Guardian about youngsters taking a self-entrepreneurial approach to building loads of nice apps for intelligent devices. The writer was quite harsh in a sense, especially going after Apple and also casting a rather cynical eye on hordes of young men beavering away in small dingy offices to create the next big app.
Without going into an in-depth critique of the article I largely agree with the author. Coming from an educational perspective I think the article was a good reality check for former ICT teachers wanting to dip their toes into coding. The natural and cool thing to do when considering how to excite a room full of bored teenagers, who would rather be checking their facebook status updates, would be to get them to ‘build apps!’ because ‘everyone uses apps!’. I generalise muchly here but sometimes even in generalisations there is a core of truth which can be highlighted.
I saw someone who tweeted an article in the BBC looking at the phenomenon of teen app developers at private schools and slightly put out saying at the end of the tweet basically that it also happens at state schools. The implication was striking “Don’t forget about state schools, we also build apps!“
A common theme I see coming through from my reading and preparation for teaching Computing next year for the first time is problem-solving. I saw someone post about it in a Computing at School forum discussion the other night and have seen it pop up a couple of times again in the last few days. I looked again at the rather excellent http://appsforgood.org which although it does have ‘apps’ in its domain name mentions very clearly mentions the notion of ‘problem-solving’. I would also add critical-thinking, design skills, planning, implementing, evaluating and a whole host of rather important business skills (kind of hoping every time I mention skills I make a Tory cry) which kids do need. How apps fit into that is quite simple, if a problem can be solved with a database fine, or with an app or with a piece of hardware or a deftly written song (I digress) … equally fine.
I therefore implore any ICT teachers facing Computing for the first time (willingly or not) not to rush towards making apps as the cool ‘goal’ of the course but concentrate on the computational thinking which is at the heart of the subject. By doing that you may actually encourage more pupils to do Computing by seeing the broader value of the subject rather than just the coding. Don’t build up that kid who built that horridly anti-knowledge (there I made a Tory happy again) summation app but instead a better person or persons to build up might someone like the crew and ground support of Apollo 13 who in order to save the craft employed not coding skills but computational-thinking skills in order to get them back. Of course using that example might just make most pupils go “Apollo what sir? …” and that in itself is an argument for knowledge!
I woke up this morning to find out rather belatedly about the unfortunate and tragic death of Chris Allan. I had first come to know Chris through twitter as @infernaldepart a while ago now and had the pleasure of meeting him, regrettably only the once, at the #rethinkingict conference last year.
I largely got to know Chris in a professional capacity as a dedicated and passionate ICT teacher. Myself, Nic (@teachesict) and Chris were working on a project to rebuild the ICT curriculum and he threw himself into it wholeheartedly. Chris was especially interested in Open Badges as a form of assessment and he brought a keen and knowledgeable insight to absolutely everything which was discussed.
In our work together with Nic, especially through some late night google hangouts, we got to know each other a bit and beyond his passion for ICT education and his professionalism it was clear how much of a dedicated father he was to his boy James. It is quite poignant to note that his last tweet was about his boy on the football pitch and how proud he was of him.
My lasting memory of him will be of him on a Google hangout with myself and Nic, sipping on a beer, chatting about his boy and teasing me about my lack of interest in football, a poster of his beloved Liverpool behind him.
Go well Chris.
At the moment our school is investigating how to use our current Wi-Fi provision better across the school and that will include looking at how it would be possible to extend the use of the Wi-Fi to the pupils especially with a BYOD policy in place.
For obvious reasons simply allowing a BYOD policy without any educational structure is not a good thing. The technical side of supporting a BYOD is being worked on so my concern is how to ensure that pupils, staff and parents know that tablets and other similar devices are being used to their best ability in school.
I am therefore going to proceed with the following draft approach within our school and see what happens:
Use of Devices
- We operate a full BYOD where if a pupil has a usable device which connects to the WiFi and can support a good range of apps which can be used in class
- Pupils can therefore use iPad, Android, Kindle etc
Recommended approach for apps
- I am not a fan of the ‘magic apps’ approach to learning where some whizzywig edutainment creation is meant to instantly enhance learning. They have their place but as a sideshow.
- I am a fan of devices and apps being used constructively to support (not necessarily replace) current learning methods
- This will therefore be a case of pupils having exercise book, textbook and tablet next to each other
- Depending on the class, subject and teacher some may be used more often then others
- I therefore will be recommending that teachers support the use of tablets in class in the following areas
- supporting note taking
- revision / study
- For each area I will therefore be looking for apps which can be used across as many devices as possible
- So for ‘note taking’ I will be recommending Evernote. For ‘productivity’ I will be recommending Google Drive etc
- This will also give teachers who feel uncertain about the use of tablets a more structured approach to how they should be used in class
This will hopefully be updated as time goes on.
This morning I saw on Twitter an article about the Scottish ICT curriculum and how it has been praised by Hal Abelson, who I respect greatly and I’m also reading one of his books, which quite rightly praises the approach the Scots are taking (and many sassenachs are taking as well!) to craft real-life and relevant approaches to the ICT curriculum.
The article then also quite rightly takes a boring and repetitive approach to office skills to task but I think it is missing quite an important point about ‘Office skills’. The problem with this, as I wrote in the comment underneath the piece, is that they shouldn’t be seen as ‘Office skills’ but as ‘productivity skills’ as using the term ‘Office’ instantly equates it only with what Microsoft has to offer. Pupils should be taught good productivity skills both to support their learning in other subjects but also to prepare them for tertiary education and employment.
Whether they use Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Zoho, Openoffice etc or any other productivity suite is irrelevant they must still be learning how to …
- Write a good document which is suitable for a target audience
- Create a usable and engaging slidedeck (and present with it)
- Manage and manipulate data within a spreadsheet and draw results and conclusions from it
- Store and manage data within a database and extracts information from it
- Manage communication in a professional manner through channels such as email
- Research and synthesise relevant information
Like grammar, basic algebra etc pupils should be leaving school with these skills so that employees do not have to waste time teaching them just as much as they shouldn’t be having to give remedial english and maths skills.
So the question is – how to teach it? When I see examples of schools doing fancy mobile app development projects I think to myself: are the pupils being asked to write decent technical documentation? Are they creating slidedecks to demonstrate their products as if they were seeking investment? Are they using spreadsheets or databases to track inventories and test runs? Productivity skills can still be taught but instead of being the main focus ‘This term we learn Mail Merge!’ they become a support to what is being asked of them in collaborative group work projects.
This blog post is not an attack on computing and computational thinking in the classroom. I am full supporter of the increased role of computer science in class. I just do not see this approach of ‘computing’ first, everything else ‘boring’ or second as the right approach. Productivity skills have their approach and can still be used and taught extensively and effectively in class.
Image attribution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Microsoft_Office_2013.svg in public domain