Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two Kinds of Teachers

Now that I am a student, I realize that I have two kinds of teachers and both are necessary.  One group of my teachers are the excited visionaries. They see my future and are eager to show me all that world of Minecraft can become. They enthusiastically race ahead into the realm of possibilities.  I frequently am unable to follow where they are going but I sense that their ideas are worth pursuing and am willing to persist because they know something that I want to know.

Then there are the logicians.  They are the calmer, sequential thinkers. They can shift down to my level and clearly explain my exact next step.  I rely on them to guide me and turn to them when I have questions.

I need both.

This leads me to consider just what a misguided effort it is to attempt to standardize the delivery of education.  The idea that one size fits all or that if we just develop the right program we can finally put an effective education system into place is a waste of time.  Just as students require differentiated instruction, teachers require recognition that different teaching styles exist and that one is not more valid than the other.  I would not want my own students to have a teacher like me every year.  I know my weaknesses and am grateful that there are other teachers in the school who compensate for what I am unable to do.  And I know that the way I engage with my students compensates for the weaknesses in their systems.   Each teacher has something unique to offer. It's time that the world of education recognized this.

I Can't Believe I'm Having This Conversation With You, Mrs. Siwak

This week, we've been back at Minecraft in my classroom.  I have some excellent teachers who are enthusiastic about helping me learn. I've made a craft table, collected wool, and now have a bed so that morning can come faster. I've learned the benefits of collecting cobblestone and of building a very tall tower so I can find my way back. I am the proud owner of, a spade!

Today we decided to move out of my classroom and into the computer lab for our Minecraft club as our group is expanding and there are not enough computers in my room.  In the lab, two grade 8 students were working on a language assignment and joined our conversation once they realized we were playing Minecraft.  The best way I can describe what happens when students discover that I am gaming is that an ignition fires and they come to life - the passive, uninterested, meaningless conversation that passes for dialogue between teacher and student is eliminated and real discussion occurs - the kind of discussion they might have with someone outside of school.  It is at a much more sophisticated level than anything I have experienced previously with students - and I have been teaching for 20+ years!

I learned a great deal from these students.  When one of them explained how to access the game from a different computer, I was pleased that I was able to follow in my head the sequence of steps he was explaining. There, tick it off the expectation list: student is able to give directions. Level 4 - the explanation was sophisticated, complex and sequential. It made sense.  Why should he have to bother writing directions for an invented assignment when he can do this already?

As the conversation continued, this student recognized the role reversal and remarked on it - that I was just another student learning to do something.  His estimation and respect for me went up, as did mine for him.  We were connecting on a level that does not usually happen in "school".   "I can't believe I'm having this conversation with you," he said.  I invited this student to join us on Day 5's at first and second Nutrition Breaks and to bring anyone else who might be interested.  Once again I am moving into new territory.  I am learning how to build relevant relationships with students - relevant to them and me!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Survive My First Night

My teachers (they're 11) said I should really get the Beta version of Minecraft, that way I could save my game.  Always listen to your teachers!

This time it was easy to create a world and begin moving through it.  I was fascinated by all that I saw, but was primarily focused on motion control, which is thank goodness rapidly improving now that I'm using a mouse instead of the keypad.  After exploring this new world for a while, I knew that I needed to begin building and thought that I should start to place blocks. To my horror, none of the methods that I had learned in the first version of Minecraft worked. I was right back to square one.  This time though, I knew that there was a logic to the control panel and I just needed to figure that out.

I went back to the first tutorial I had watched on how to survive your first night in Minecraft . This time it made perfect sense.

All I needed to do was gather a few resources such as wood and coal, build a workbench, make some tools and find a place to shelter for the night before the night creatures found me.

As you can see from the bottom, I am gathering wood.

For those who have followed my struggle to determine simply how to move in this game,  you can imagine my sense of satisfaction that I had reached this point. After chopping down a number of trees,  I went on to find coal in order to make torches before it became dark.  It was so exciting to find the hillside with a large vein of coal. I proceeded to dig away, but unfortunately, did not pay attention to the time.  It suddenly began to darken and stars appeared.  It was really quite beautiful, but I knew I still needed torches and shelter. I began to feel anxious. What would happen?

I had no option but to continue to problem solve.  I returned to my craft centre and that's when I found out that I hadn't been gathering coal at all!  No! I had been gathering ...


I could not make a torch.  I had not built shelter. I had no other tools.  What to do?  

My husband who has begun to take a keen interest in my progress and is thinking of becoming a player too, whipped out his phone and looked for assistance - Minecraft Buddy.  He scrolled through asking what resources I had. Minecraft Buddy confirmed that I was stuck.

I thought that I might as well continue exploring this world at night and ventured forth.  The moon appeared; it was quite lovely, but then I spotted a Zombie. Panic. That's it. I ran for cover and hid in a tree; it was nerve racking as I had no idea how long night would last or if I would live to play another day.   It felt real and lonely. Eventually the sun appeared and it was with a great sense of relief that I saved my game for tomorrow.  


It is the not knowing what to expect that makes this game so captivating.  As adults, it is not often that we put ourselves into unfamiliar situations where we need to problem solve without schema to draw upon.   Usually when we encounter a difficulty, we apply  previous knowledge  in order to work through it.  In Minecraft I have very little schema. Every move I make, I am making it for the first time.   I have to say though, that I am hooked!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Minecraft has been Unblocked

I looked for the reason why Minecraft had become blocked.  It stated: games. I kid you not.  Fortunately, a simple email request was all that was needed to rectify the problem.  

Always Blame the Equipment

That was a piece of advice my brother-in-law offered my daughter when she began playing hockey many years ago.  It popped into mind today as I realized that part of my difficulty in advancing in Minecraft was due to my equipment.  Instead of using a mouse for maneuvering, I've been using the keypad on my laptop which made the task unnecessarily difficult.  I discovered this by accident when sitting down to a PC to play - with the mouse I was able to be more accurate in my movements. Such a simple thing. With the right tool, learning can now proceed.

This also made me think of how having access to the right tools allows learning to proceed among a group of students that we've really not been able to serve well in the past:  the learning disabled.  What a phrase!  It implies that these students are unable to learn. A more accurate description would be that these students learn differently and that traditional educational tools do not meet their needs. This, however,  is no longer the case as assistive technologies become more common in classrooms. Speech to text word processing, digital readers, and a host of other tools are slowly becoming integrated into teaching practice. Students no longer need to sit helpless and frustrated while everyone else moves forward..  The right tools are allowing them to get on with their learning independently.  Always blame the equipment, indeed!