Minecraft in the Classroom: A Real-world Example

You may have seen the above video floating around from the PBS Idea Channel, posing the question of whether the video game Minecraft is the “Ultimate Education tool“. With over 200,000 views and over 6500 likes, it got me wondering how many of these viewers have actually seen Minecraft being used in the classroom? Before last week, I hadn’t — which made a recent opportunity even more exciting.  Part of our e-Learning for Educators team was invited to visit a local elementary school to see how they’ve been using Minecraft — and what I saw was pretty inspiring.

To give you an idea of what it is like to play Minecraft, it has been described as “first person legos” mixed with “The Sims” (and maybe with a few other games thrown in). The game is considered a “sandbox” game with an open world, giving players a large amount of freedom when it comes to playing the game.  In the standard version of Minecraft, there are four different modes to the game: survival, creative, adventure, and hardcore. While not all of the modes of the standard version are ideal for educational use, there is an educational version of the game called MinecraftEdu that was created for teachers by teachers.

During our visit, we observed a second grade class using the standard Minecraft‘s “creative mode” to collaboratively build an interactive world. The students were divided into four groups, with each group being assigned a time period to create within Minecraft together — but each at their own computer. When creating their worlds, they had to think about what to include and what to build, making sure to justify why they included what they did.

Students can leave signs for other players.

Players have the ability to leave signs throughout their worlds. In this project, students used signs to ask questions or to clarify what they were building.

Here’s a little rundown of the time periods and what I saw:

  • 1850: I learned from a couple students that they were currently reading the Little House on the Prairie books, which I believe was the inspiration for this time period. This world was complete with a dry goods store, pigs (and other farm animals) and other period appropriate creations. One student in this group was building a “dugout” house and confidently explained to me what it was and why it was there! :)
  • 1950: The school we visited was built around1950, so students had to think about how their city was different in 1950. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of this time period.
  • 2013: Students had to recreate Columbia in the present. I was given a “tour” of the school as it is today (in Minecraft, of course) and the local grocery store (I think it was a Gerbes). I believe I even spotted the local mall!
  • Future: I didn’t get an exact date for this time period, but I think it may have been  around 50 years in the future. According to their teacher, this was the time period the students had the hardest time with. I did see buildings equipped with “solar panels” (while Minecraft doesn’t have solar panels yet within the game, they designated materials to stand in for solar panels) and other evidence of a future of renewable energy, giving you an idea of how this project is getting their mental wheels turning.
future

Future: The glass ceiling of this building was meant to represent solar panels.

Watching the engagement in this classroom was amazing — the students enjoyed what they were doing and, based on my conversations with them, they were definitely practicing some higher-level thinking. This doesn’t mean there were no hitches. At times, it seemed difficult to get them to stop building in their worlds. Despite these minor issues, I could really see the future of this software having a place in education. While I’m not sure about it being the “ultimate tool”, Minecraft is proving to be a unique and rewarding addition to the classroom.

This is just one way of how Minecraft is being used with students. Check out MinecraftEdu‘s Real-world Example page to see more great ways this software is already being used in the classroom.

What are your thoughts on Minecraft as the “Ultimate Education Tool”? In what ways do you see yourself using Minecraft with your students?

[This post was provided by Zoë Hyatt, an instructional developer for the eMINTS National Center and eLearning for Educators.]

Forgotten Algebra

The above xkcd comic expresses a common sentiment. Adults sometimes look back at things they learned (and forgot) in school that they have never had to use since graduation. There’s almost a pride that goes along with forgetting everything one learned in school. I don’t know whether this is tied into anti-elitism or a sense of self-sufficiency, but we are proud that we forget how to do math (among other things) as adults.

Is it true that the knowledge taught in school has never been utilized since moving into the work force? Maybe. However, the difference might lie in how we use these skills or knowledge in school and how we may use them in the “real world.”

A comic like the one above should remind us just how important it is to make the work and learning students do in our classrooms as authentic as possible. We have to find ways in which to relate curricula so that students either won’t want to forget what is learned in class. Making content authentic does not guarantee better retention, but it will at least make the learning more meaningful and even more memorable than algebra was for the women in the xkcd comic.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

4ALL: Taking Lessons to Task

Student project

Click for source.

When planning a unit or lesson, maybe the most important decision we make is writing the task. Sure standards and learning outcomes must be met, but a well-conceived task is how students will achieve academic goals. Additionally, a task that is meaningful and interesting is what motivates students to do their best work.

Tasks should be authentic. Students want to learn, but they also want to learn skills and content that have real-world applications. We are long past the days of learning just for the sake of learning. A motivating factor for students is the authenticity of the task. A tasks “realness” encourages students to attend to the content even more than abstract exercises. Particularly in web-based learning activities, such as WebQuests, authenticity can be crucial to motivating students. Not only can an authentic task motivate students to learn, it also helps in showing them the relevance of academic work.

Creativity is another aspect of effective tasks. When we talk about creativity, we are not only talking about the aesthetics of a project or display. No, what we are talking about is the kind of creativity in the form of innovation. When students are given tasks that require them to creatively solve a problem or devise new meanings of their worlds, they are both motivated and highly engaged with the content. Creativity has a place in education despite traditional education’s tendency to squelch innovation among students.

So, where do we find tasks that are authentic and promote creativity? Well, there are actually several approaches that fit this bill.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is an approach that requires students to creatively solve real-world problems. Students might be charged with solving a pollution issue in their community’s streams or in designing a new library that fills a school’s needs. These tasks require collaboration, communication, computation, analysis, and an understanding of their world in order to come up with solutions that may work.

Inquiry is another pedagogical approach that requires authenticity and some creativity. Inquiry-based lessons allow the students’ questions about natural phenomena that lead to further investigations.  Students experiencing inquiry develop experimental and analytic skills while conducting investigations. Inquiries can begin with topics such as the current socio-economic environment in the US or around the world, the power of lessons to be learned from well-crafted literature, or the best computations in figuring out mapping the quickest route to the top of Mt. Everest.

A third tool that features authentic tasks that encourage creativity is the aforementioned WebQuest. The WebQuest prominently features a task as its core element. This is how all WebQuests are judged. In fact, Bernie Dodge’s “Taskonomy” lays out the various kinds of tasks that elicit the best results from a WebQuest. In short, a good WebQuest task pushes students to dig into content beyond rote comprehension in collaboratively creating something that demonstrates a deep understanding of the topic. For the best list of high-quality WebQuests, visit Quest Garden.

If you are looking for standards to justify authenticity and creativity in your task, there are plenty of standards and learning models that support these approaches. Look no further than ISTE’s standards for student learning. Also, if one were to look at a DOK chart, the kinds of tasks littered in levels three and four can easily be correlated with real-world and creative tasks. If your school subscribes to Bloom’s (revised) taxonomy, you’ll find that creativity is at the top and the real-world skills of evaluating, analyzing, and applying are just below.

What other ideas should we keep in-mind when designing student tasks? Which is more difficult to plan in a task: authenticity or creativity? What is the most challenging part of facilitating learning through authentic and creative tasks?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Authentic Projects/Products

A goal of eMINTS classrooms is to actively engage students in learning experiences with real world connections and/or authentic contexts. This means that students often times create products that are authentic or something that someone in a real job somewhere would create. Below are a couple of product ideas that meet this goal and could be authentic assessments of learning. These products could be used in many projects across all subject areas and grade levels.

The Student Author: Students create eBooks (electronic books). There are a lot of debates about traditional books versus digital books and the benefits of each. Why not teach  students how to create both? After following the writing process, students can publish books traditionally or electronically. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano shares step-by-step instructions to create eBooks that can be loaded onto iPhones or iPads alike.  It is as simple as creating a document in Word, Pages, or even a PDF then using  ePub Converter to convert the files that can then be easily dropped into iTunes and synced with the iBooks app on a device.

InfoGraphics: Kathy Schrock put together a presentation/webpage called Infographics as Creative Assessments to help teachers plan lessons where students make Infographics as end products. She provides links, ideas, and tips for planning authentic learning activities. Watch the Vimeo video (below) to learn what Infographics are, why you might use them in lessons, see examples, and learn a process to have students follow to create their own Infographics. She has tons of links to help you plan lessons and to support students in creating their original graphics. Schrock also shares the importance of teaching about copyright, design, font use, layout, and citing sources other media literacy skills.

Please share your authentic product ideas with us. Leave a comment telling about your projects and include links to your examples.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.

We’re Preparing Students for What Year?

I recently watched a video from the TEDxNYED that really hit home. A Challenge from Heidi Hayes Jacobs is a short (around 15 minutes) presentation not about educational reform, but educational “upgrades”.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs believes our educational system is not preparing kids for today but for years past. She believes we should be paying attention to things like global, digital, and media literacy (as well as others). She points out that we are using dated content, skills, and assessments that are not relevant to today’s learner.

She suggests that schools need to have students solving real life “stuff” and get evaluated on how well they accomplish that. She makes a case for students having a part in developing rubrics and determining what makes quality products such as digital portfolios and more. She has lots of ideas for projects that students could be invovled in. An example, “Every student should design an app and solve a real problem for people….” and then be evaluated on that real life task. She has endless ideas for how we might make school relevant and engaging to students today.

She doesn’t believe in school reform but new forms for schools where we look at making changes in how we schedule students lives and learning, how we group learners, where we meet, including the space around learners and she believes that it can start with each teacher making one change for the better.

To me, I hear a lot of what she is saying (and writing) and see some very strong connections to what we focus on in eMINTS. I am following her blog in the Curriculum 21 Ning now and am going to pay attention to what she is doing and pass that on. And I will continue to believe that I can make a change one day, one training session, one class visit, one lesson, one student, one teacher at a time.


Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.

Eagle Watching With the World

The other night, I was reading through Facebook updates and ran across a link that two of my “friends” posted about the Bald Eagle UStream Cam in Iowa. Of course, I clicked on it and there was the 1 1/2 ton nest with an eagle roosting right in the middle of it.

Eagle Web CamAs I was telling my husband about how cool it was that I was, at that second, watching the female eagle re-adjust the 2 eaglets and 1 egg under her, he informed me that I was a bit behind; he had heard about it on public radio that morning. He told me that it was like the viral videos on YouTube but real time. I looked back down at the screen only to realize I was 1 in more than 177,000 people viewing the webcam at that moment and that the site has had more than 11 million views since beginning.

In a matter of minutes I learned that the pair of eagles have been together for almost 4 years in this area and have had hatched and fledged (got them to flight stage) 8 eaglets  total. This is their second nest in the area and was built in 2007; the first they built blew down in a storm. The nest is 5-6 feet across and deep and figured out that it weighs around 1 1/2 tons (3000 pounds). I took a couple of minutes and looked up details like how much a ton is, what you call a baby eagle, and what fledged means to answer some lingering questions I had…. Just think of where you could take this in your classroom.

The next morning, I opened my email to see a message from the people at The Futures Channel telling me about science videos and lessons they offer on their site for teachers to use to teach concepts such as Algebra and one of the links was to their Saving the Bald Eagle video. I started putting two and two together and figured what an opportunity for teachers to engage and excite their students with the wonders of science and math all through something that is happening right now.

The challenge now…how can you weave this cool, exciting, interesting, neat, real-time event in nature and resources into your day? How can you incorporate this topic and these tools into lessons that will help your students understand how science and math affects them every day for all their days to come but will also prepare them for the state assessment tests that are coming just around the corner? I know it’s hard to find the time with all the test prep booklets, worksheets, tests, ect. that you are given to use during this time but as eMINTS teachers I know you are always up for the challenge.


Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.

HD Links: Math & Constructivism

Finding the natural overlap between Constructivist teaching and mathematics can often times be a challenge for teachers that are departmentalized and are responsible for teaching just one subject. The nature of math encourages educators to often times focus on the skills and can make it hard to blend the skills together to show how they overlap in real life. The following links might help in creating more authentic learning opportunities where students can use the skills of math in real life applications.

Yummy Math – Focus to supply math teachers with relevant, motivating, and timely mathematics to bring to their classrooms.

Real World Math - Lessons that use Google Earth and collaboration to present math topics, such as rates or scientific notation in unique ways.

Project-based Learning Math Projects – information about PBL and Math including links to PBL resources and lesson ideas.

Scholastic Authentic Math Unit Plans – Ideas to bring the real world into the classroom and create opportunities for students to interact with each other and integrate math into authentic learning situations.

Authentic Activities for Connecting Mathematics to the Real World
– presented at NCTM Regional Conference, Richmond, VA, October 12, 2007 by Leah P. McCoy

These are just a few websites teachers might find helpful when planning inquiry, project or problem-based lessons. If you have additional sites please share them by leaving a comment.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center and writes for her own blog, Higgins Help.

Thursday’s Tip: Authentic Problems with INTERoBANG

I am always encouraging teachers to find real world applications for their content and to encourage students to solve problems.  The Partnership for 21st Century Learning lists problem solving and creative thinking as skills our students will need for their  future.

How do we engage in our students in wanting to solve authentic problems?

The website INTERRoBANG has just made these skills easier to teach and intriguing to students.  The website has masked the problem solving as a game, containing many missions for students from grade 6-12 to complete.  Students choose a mission, create a plan, solve the mission and post their findings using multimedia.  With a successful post, the team earns points and eventually can earn prizes.  INTERoBang also encourages teams to create missions, taking the thinking process to another level.

I haven’t used INTERoBANG with students, but the idea is exciting and intriguing!  Even if you don’t want to register and play the game there are some great authentic learning  ideas you could incorporate into many content areas!  Watch this video to learn more!

Carmen Marty is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

My Backyard Links to Authentic Learning Ideas and Resources

Sometimes when I began thinking about making those real world connections in a lesson my mind would go blank.  It’s easy when my kids came bouncing in all fired up about something but often I looked at the standards and had to figure out: How am I going to make this relevant to the students?  How on earth am I going to find the resources for them to investigate what they need?    I felt like I spent my time doing a lot of hunting.  The hunting thought sparked an idea.   Sometimes ideas and resources were as simple as looking or hunting in my own backyard.

So, here are my backyard links that I used to help me with this process.
  • National Wildlife Federation site provides information about eco-schools, school yard habitats, climate change, and volunteer opportunities.   There is also information on the Gulf oil spill as well as going green. (Also)
  • National Wild Turkey Federation site has connections to careers; particularly biologists, information about programs by state,  habitats, and conservation.
  • Audubon Society site has information and tips for classrooms as well as detailed information about their initiative with Toyota called Together Green; Act Today to Shape Tomorrow program.
  • The National Park Service  has an entire section about Teaching with Historical Places targeting grades 5-12.  Wow, think about the connection you could make to Google Earth.  The site can be searched by state as well and the Teaching with Historical Places site can be searched by curriculum standards.
  • The US Government even has a page full of government resources for K-8 educators at Kids.gov.  This provides links to government resources from a variety of areas.  Places you never even thought about.  It is definitely well worth the time to look.
Many of these resources first sound like science oriented sites, but don’t let their name fool you.  They often contain information and ideas for interdisciplinary connections as well.
Even though the following resources are targeted at Missouri, they might help educators in other states or countries, to get ideas of where to find local resources.
  • Missouri Department of Conservation – MDC has information for inside and outside the classroom. The Discover Nature Schools is a big part of this site.  Targeting grades 3-12, its purpose is to provide information about Missouri nature.
  • Missouri Department of Natural Resources – This site provides information on a variety of topics including Earth Day; with a list of contests even, to information on creating and maintaining worm farms.
  • Missouri Secretary of State provides a site for kids with information about Missouri history and government.  The Missouri Senate also has a kid’s page with additional information.
I hope that these links might help you as well to make connections for your students and spark ideas for real world learning experiences.   Happy hunting!

Terri Brines is a program coordinator with the eMINTS National Center.

We Use Math in Science?

My son came home from school today and asked me if I had a ruler. He said in a very irritated tone, “We are learning metric in science which is stupid!” I asked him, “Why is that stupid?” He responded with a “like duh” look on his face, “Because it’s math, not science!” We did have a short conversation, to his dismay, about all the ways we use math in our daily lives and connected them to the different “subject” areas.

Afterwards, I began thinking about what he said. Somewhere along the way, my sixth grader has learned how to identify and categorize subjects, topics, etc. However, he has not learned to see things globally and how they interconnect. I know I’ve had these conversations before with both of my children. But, his experiences have been very “packaged” into the core subject areas of math, science, social studies, and communication arts.

My kids have both had very dedicated, knowledgeable, and conscientious teachers throughout their entire school career. Both were fortunate enough to be in an eMINTS classroom for one year. However, the majority of their education has been textbook and worksheet driven.

My challenge to all teachers this year is to keep going back to those essential questions and the five E’s from the inquiry-based lesson plan. I know it is challenging. I found it difficult to take the time to create authentic learning activities for my students while making sure I met the GLE’s and the Standards. However, the learning and improved process and social skills that authentic learning fostered made it worth my extra time and effort.

Think of ways you can intertwine concepts from all the core subjects. Here are few ideas:

  • During math lessons, infuse historical information about when those concepts were developed and how they changed cultures, economies, and life in general.
  • During social studies lessons, have students communicate in ways in which they communicated during that time period and have them reflect on how information was transferred, perceived, and sometimes lost.
  • During science lessons, allow students to explore how science shaped history. Give them an opportunity to find relationships between science and math.
  • During communication arts lessons, use forms of writing to help students connect to their world.
  • Art and music lessons can provide an opportunity for developing a deeper understanding of customs, cultures, and history.

The list is short, but hopefully it will spark some ideas on how you can create authentic experiences for your students. Maybe one day I will have a conversation with my grandchildren about learning metric in science and their response will be something like, “Why wouldn’t learn math in science? We use it all the time!”

Cara Wylie is an  area instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.