Take away the campus but put back the computer

The specter of contracting COVID-19 in schools caused us to close campuses. The computer became the most important tool in the toolshed. Discussions and plans are full steam ahead to open for Fall 2020. What about school should we keep or leave out? What are the best uses of our time and creativity to promote intellectual development and educational engagement for students?

I wrote a piece about this in March 2020 but now in June 2020, things have grown more puzzling. We also now have some months of experience teaching online.

It’s time to step on the gas for creating experiences and experiments where students develop projects in collaborative manners. As we approach top speed, we will no doubt see an expansion of the highway.

Classes could find their way to the curriculum. Perhaps consider engaging questions and engaging problems, either from students’ or teachers’ minds. Both the traditional and alternative are possible when the entrance into the work happens via another opening. If a family wants traditional outcomes, not a problem. If a family wants something else, it’s also possible.

What I would advocate is that schools help teachers to have their own engaging experiences as students — beyond ‘professional development’. I’m talking about restructuring how we think about ourselves and how we approach ‘doing work’ as teachers. We need chances to work on long term projects. Teachers need opportunities to naturally collaborate with other people. We need that excitement of creation as well.

This restructure alone will shift the work we do and how we see ourselves as creative intellectuals. Without this chance, teachers will likely do as they have done in the past. They may perhaps add on a new strategy or activity, but not really shift how they ‘do work’ in school.

In an ongoing reflective process, I reinvent myself and my work. Starting as a teacher in 1997, that’s a lot of constant change. Additionally, I can recall landmark experiences as a student that also shape my thinking. But what was it that allowed some of my teachers to make space for me and my interests? Under their tutelage, I cut a path to achieve beyond the traditional outcomes. How my teachers grew to have that comfort level, I’m not sure, but boy am I ever grateful.

In the Land of Corona, I have found the online format of class working well. It allowed me to easily focus more deeply on the process of students’ work. It also gave me a chance to easily help students become an integral part of a formative feedback cycle. Inside of a Zoom meeting, I can spotlight a student’s camera for everyone to see. The student can then discuss what’s happening and why it’s happening. Software helps facilitate these interactions. It’s far more difficult to do that in person and without a computer. So here is a good case for using a computer also in person!

We will need to increase Internet bandwidth and computer usage at all levels throughout the day. This is the moment to make the personal computer truly personal for all of our students. Give every child a high-powered laptop. We will need the kids connected. Doing so allows us to engage in the formative feedback cycle, build collaboration, and encourage project-based learning.

School can become a place of creation for teachers and students alike. If you show me a kindergartener, I will show you a student who can learn trigonometry. The traditional sequence does not confer a foolproof method. Teachers can reactivate their sense of wonder. Students can take more ownership of their learning. Perhaps campus life has gone missing, but school itself can change into something better than before.

Minefaire Is For You

Minefaire is a celebration and an opportunity. If you don’t know what it is, Minefaire is a roaming Minecraft convention that brings together creators and educators and players of all ages. It is a remarkable event that should be on your list of things to do. 

The beauty, the wonder of Minecraft is the flexibility baked into its philosophy and game mechanics. It is the single worldwide software building tool in millions of homes that has openness at its core – there is room for endless development and expansion. 

At Minefaire, you can see diversity of thought and creation – and even better you can meet the people who make maps, games, lessons, and artwork in Minecraft. The community is kind, creative, generous, and full of positive energy. For those who have wondered if all this gaming can turn into a business – absolutely, and there are multiple entry points at Minefaire for young people to get engaged and encouraged to convert their play into other ventures.  

Learning and the relationship to knowledge changes when computers and computing are the mediators between people and ideas. This a fundamental principle driving change in schools and Minefaire is a great example of what happens when we rethink our view of the classroom. 

Minefaire Los Angeles 2019 taught us a lot: Code original programs, customize default behaviors, animate your structures, create stunning two-dimensional art, explore art museums, immerse into mathematical concepts, repurpose Minecraft as a green screen soundstage, design your own games, and get inspired to find your own path and purpose. 

With a wide variety of material demonstrated in the Learning Lab and on the Inspiration Stage at Minefaire, you can discover new ideas all day long. And with professional game designers and production studios setting up extensive gameplay booths for all day play, you can also deeply explore highly specialized multiplayer Minecraft sessions – even in virtual reality. 

The heart of Minefaire resides in education. Yes, you will have fun; you will also learn. Your excitement for what you can do will grow. And why is this so? Because Steve Isaacs, champion of all-things-gaming, is a lifelong educator and organizer of Minefaire. He teaches game design in New Jersey public schools and has garnered great respect from educators and creators alike for his insight, initiative, and innumerable contributions to Educational Technology. 

Thanks to Steve Isaacs, an incredible array of gamers, educators, and creators flock to Minefaire every year in many cities to join this celebration and opportunity. All ages, all experience levels, all career interests, we all show up to see done what we never thought of doing, and we connect with each other to form new projects. 

There is room in this convention to showcase well-known personalities alongside people who passionately want to build an audience – this tells you that Minefaire is about creating an inclusive environment. Official Microsoft Global Minecraft Mentors are there in full force alongside novice volunteers. The same philosophy of Minecraft’s open sandbox environment applies to how Minefaire organizes and includes its vendors, educators, and creators. And this extends to all the attendees. If you play Minecraft every day or if you are just starting to think about it, Minefaire is for you. 

See you at the next one! 










Minecraft Education Tweet Meet

On 09/17/19, I will participate as a host in a global Twitter chat regarding Teaching and Learning with Minecraft. I appreciate this opportunity, and I thank Microsoft and TweetMeet for extending it.

Minecraft as an educational tool sparks my imagination and gets me excited about school, thinking, inventing, and creating every day. Since the game’s inception, I have been playing with my adult friends, my child, and all of my child’s friends. I have created summer camps for kids, brought the game to my classroom as a teacher, taught adults and educators how to play, and engaged in years of building and dreaming with friends across the globe. When #MinecraftEdu became an official software development of Microsoft, I knew that we would see great things ahead.

Learning about Minecraft Irish Elks

We are there. The great things are happening now. Minecraft: Education Edition has opened up new potentials, new possibilities, new ways to dream and think with computers. If you can think it, you can build it. With a refreshed collaborative spirit towards teaching, learning, thinking, and building, Minecraft: Education Edition could be the next best school we have not yet made.

Students ought to think with computers, but too often teachers place them at computers. The computer is an object-to-think-with.

One problem facing computer use in the classroom resides in their long history of sitting in the corner or up against the wall. Even though we frequently use computers as a software terminal kiosk, we have also known for a long time that there was another way to work with computers and students. Minecraft is one of those other ways — so what are you waiting for?

I spotted a Minecraft Irish Elk

Students ought to think with computers, but too often teachers place students at computers. The computer is an object-to-think-with — an opportunity to extend and augment the human brain, not a push-button right-wrong answer machine. Minecraft: Education Edition has so much built in and ready-to-use. And with so much potential for you to build on your own, it will change school forever.

On 09/17/19, at 10am Pacific Time, an incredible group of educators worldwide will participate in a Twitter discussion about using Minecraft for teaching and learning. I hope you will join in, share some ideas, learn some ideas, and begin or continue your own journey into rethinking education with students.