Using Digital Gaming with Special Needs Learning

Recently I met Adam Scanlon. Adam is a gamer, designer and father amongst many other things. What peaked my interest in what he was talking to me about was the way Adam was using gaming to assist his sons learning.

His son has autism. As Adam explained to me that brings its own series of unique challenges. Children with autism often don’t learn in the same methods as we would associate traditional learners and therefore new ways of teaching and learning need to be investigated.

As a commitment to finding these new innovative ways Adam has been using the game Disney Infinity.

Let me give you a little background on Disney Infinity. It is essentially a sandbox game. To me sandbox games are of great interest to education. Sandbox games are extremely open in nature and their lack of narrative is what set them apart from most other digital games. Most digital games operate in a linear fashion with a predetermined narrative, which the player must follow, and a set of ever more complicated tasks that the player must successfully complete in order to progress in the game. In contrast to this, sandbox games have no sense of progression, linear narrative or completion. Game play is entirely up to the creativity and imagination of the player/players. These games are providing a framework for the player to enter and then leaving it up to the individual’s creativity to do whatever they want.

The genre include games like Minecraft and Gary’s Mod and to a certain extent Disney’s Infinity.

When recently watching a collection of students playing Gary’s Mod they were collectively interacting and communicating with each other, they were building their own characters, they were inventing their own games within the game and more so they were inventing their own narrative within the games they were playing – that is narrative within narrative.  This is an example of the game makers understanding this generation of learners and providing them with autonomy, the ability to be self-directed and beyond that providing them the ability to be highly web connected. These three concepts are important to our current western education system especially as it grapples with relevancy and what place technology plays.

So back to Adam, why is he attracted to Disney Infinity and how does it help him teach his son? disney infinity

Firstly, as Adam explained, to work with children with autism you need to find the space they are interested in. It is highly unlikely they will come to the space you think they should be in. Adam’s son loves this game and will play it for hours. So rather than pull his son away from this environment, Adam went the other way and embraced it. How could he use the environment his son loves being in to help his son learn? Isn’t this a great lesson for all educators not just those working with special needs, where can you position yourself within the child’s life to give that child the best opportunity to hear you in the first place. As Disney Infinity is a sandbox game, Adam and his son can build there own universe in there, a universe of their collective imaginations that might replicate their current one or develop new ways of seeing the world.

Children with autism need a lot of repetition to grasp certain concepts. Adam explained that to teach a certain task he would have to say it over and over. They require and demand routines and so to teach them a new one, potentially means a changing of an old one. This can be difficult and require a lot of repetition. Again, as Disney Infinity is a sandbox game Adam can now build games inside the game allowing his son to play them, enjoy them and potentially learn from them. garys mod

A couple of very simple examples of the huge range that Adam provided me with might help give context for those unfamiliar with this type of game. To help “potty train” his son Adam built a puzzle game. The task of the game was to get the “brown object” to the toilet, at the end of the game. By playing the game over and over his son also was able to make the real life connections. This demonstrates a great way to instructionally teach something that is going to require a lot of repetition.

Adam provided me with another example of how he uses the game to teach new routines;

The current process for going to a shopping center or supermarket requires Adam and his son to go up and down every single aisle every time they visit a supermarket even if they only need to quickly go in and buy one product. This is a routine Adam’s son knows and is comfortable with and to change this routine causes particular anxiety for Adam’s son, leading to a seemingly uncontrollable outburst of emotion. Adam’s solution, using the game, was to build a supermarket within his Disney Infinity universe, and once again build a task into the game that allowed for his son to enter the supermarket find the object and leave immediately. He is helping form a pattern or predisposition into his son teaching him new ways of doing things.

Communication.

For a long time there was the common misunderstanding that because children with autism weren’t communicating with you in the traditional sense they also were not listening. This is not necessarily so and technology has provided ways for this group to have a voice. Early discoveries came with typing; children who would not necessarily speak out their thoughts when taught to type found this medium an easier way to communicate in.

Adam is interested in taking this concept further. If Disney Infinity is a space where his son feels comfortable and enjoys inhabiting potentially it can be  a means for the two of them to also communicate in. One of Adams concerns for his son is a simple problem that most of us without this experience would not even consider. If his son has  a toothache potentially he will never express this to Adam so how as a father will he handle this situation if he doesn’t even know it exists. While he is still only at early stages Adam is exploring ways through the game that his son might express these every day issues with him and others around him that see.

This might be something that Adam agendas within the Disney Infinity game space or potentially, his son might find the means of using it to communicate in the way he wants to.

While this piece talks specifically to children with autism the same principles apply to all classroom teaching or education in general. How can we turn the paradigm around from reductionist notions such as “teacher as expert” to “teacher as facilitator”? And if we are truly talking teacher as facilitator what do we want them to facilitate? All children exist as learners nested within their own constructions of identity. They bring their own experiences and mindsets into the classroom.

Learning occurs within a complex interplay of biological, cultural and experiential histories. Learning always occurs within the complex systems of the individual, the social surrounds and the culture within which the individual exists. Knowledge is never isolated within that or separated from it. Rather it is deeply part of the web of interactions – it arises out of it, it is an emergent, evolving phenomenon.

We can never teach the same content to each one in the same manner and expect it to have the same impact. Rather we should be getting to know our students, what are they interested in, what do they love and how do they best communicate. Then we need to adapt our methodologies to come to their worlds, not the other way around. Adam demonstrates wonderfully the powerful learning and connections that can take place when the paradigm is reversed using a technology that his child loves – a digital game.

I would love to hear any of your stories, if you are willing to share them of experiences you might have had or seen in this area.

 

 

 

Is technology becoming an impediment to your lessons?

My role as Head of PD at New Era has given me the opportunity to visit many schools around Australia and work with many of the key stakeholders in schools including students, teachers, leadership/administrators to parents. I have also had the opportunity to work across all the sectors.

While each school is unique, having there own particular needs and cultural beliefs that drive their community, there are still some common similarities that can be found in all of them. Interestingly enough this is becoming more and more so considering the rapid globalisation of our world leading to obvious gentrification.

My observations of almost all schools have identified some key issues when it comes to technology and the problems it creates as well as the changes it demands within classrooms.

The first and most obvious issue is the reluctance of many educators to take it up in almost any form. In fact this is so prevalent that there are still significant amount of teachers who not only struggle but also refuse to participate in conversation via email.

When facing this issue I show them a photo I recently took of my son. I have included it here with his permission.

KalaniThis was a photo taken in our lounge room and when properly deconstructed actually says a lot about the generation of students we are teaching and why so many of them might be disengaging from the type of learning that they are required to participate in during school hours and as part of homework assignments.

If we look at the photo the first thing we notice is that he is on multiple devices – at the same time, but more than that he is on a variety of different devices with different operating systems. And he is using them with a sense of personal control – he is not using the TV to watch TV but rather it is merely a screen connecting to where he wants to connect. He is not particularly concerned about the type of device but is comfortable in switching, or even using them at the same time. In my opinion teaching the device is a wasted teaching session.

Secondly it needs to be noticed what he is actually doing with each device. The most interesting thing for me is that each device is connected to the Internet and each device is “pushing out”. He is looking to make connections with other humans. So often I hear teachers rebut the rapid encroachment of technology with the argument that it is taking away the human element. This would appear to be contradictory to the reality that in fact it is increasing the human element, it is just how we are connecting that is changing.

My son is pushing out to “the network” with each device. One is via a Google Doc, one is via a game, his IPhone constantly connects to large networks through the browser or applications such as Kick, he has a pair of headphones on talking to multiple users, he might be connecting to networks via YouTube to learn more about things he is interested in. Not only does he have these devices pushing out to passively connect he is actually looking to become part of the conversation, share his own learning, find diversity of opinion. He creates his own Youtube channels around subject areas he is interested in, he writes blogs around things he is interested in, he uploads films and animations he has made to networks of kids also making films and animations in similar genres. Each of those connections is looking to connect with people to communicate, collaborate, ask questions, investigate and learn. He is in a constant state of learning in the new environments, which is made available to him via the Internet.

If this isn’t represented in the schooling environments that our students attend then you can naturally see a confusion arising in the students leading to frustration, leading to a disconnection.

If our students are merely required to read slabs of text on subjects such as Genghis Khan with no personal application and connection to the students actual life and then asked to answer the questions on their reading from the back of the book , how does that at all reflect the learning styles and environments that they are accustomed to working in in their “real” lives?

How we connect, who we can connect to and how that can transform learning is a very interesting issue that needs to be closely iinvestigated by all of us as educators. When I talk about technology I am mainly talking about the internet because I think the internet is the most powerful metaphor we have to demonstrate that learning is social and is collectively done. It is not done in isolation and it is much more than one-way information transferal.

Education has always been evolutionary, as we as humans are evolutionary constantly in a state of change. It is just that right now the evolutionary change is happening at such a fast pace that it is creating a natural sense of fear. Fear often leads to resentment and anger and a lashing out at the change agents. There is great fear in educators about technology.

How can we reduce this and assist in this rapidly changing face of education to provide a more relevant environment for our students but also help current teachers to transform and still maintain a sence of identity and personal confidence.

My answer is always place the technology change back in the place of learning and teaching – stop talking about the technology, stop PDing teachers up in endless software, stop “Skilling” them up and start allowing them to return to what the love – learning and teaching. It is a big statement but its deliberately big and deliberately provocative because the conversation needs to change. This also doesn’t mean that at some stage you wont need to “skill up” in a tool but isn’t that the lowest form of teaching – the part you should spend 5 minutes of your lesson on and then allow for deep inquiry. Do we really believe this?

So lets look at a few simple pedagogical issues, which I believe are relevant to all learning and see where technology is changing the way we can approach them.

Content – information transferral of content in my mind is not how learning occurs on any significant level. It is also the very start of our journey into the benefits of technology but it is at least it is a place to start. How did we deal with content in a time when we did not have the Internet? We found the content in books, or potentially in whatever information the teacher had, or maybe we would ask the other students in the class, potentially we would bring in an subject area expert once a term or we would go for an excursion. The Internet has opened this up in unfathomable ways. If all content resides online what are the advantages and potential pitfalls to deal with. Well, the content is more likely to be up to date, relevant, a greater and more diverse range of ideas and opinions are able to be accessed providing for a truer picture around subject areas. This allows for greater questioning and debate amongst the students themselves about the “trueness” of fact based reductive education. It allows for real time accessibility into content, thus not slowing the learning process – every time a child has a question and is forced to wait because they are solely relying on one teacher the learning is potentially slowing. The experts the child can now access are greater in number. Once again they are not waiting until the expert shows up at school but rather they can find the relevant experts relevant to wherever they are up to in their learning journey. This is hinting at more autonomy for the students themselves, they are self-directing their own learning.

Feedback/Reflection/Visible Learning – Feedback has always been a key concept that assists in the learning process. Timely and relevant feedback is very important. Teachers practicing without technology reflect as best they can but the reflection potentially has limitations.

Lets look at an example – the written essay. If a child presents work in essay form it is likely to be read by the teacher when he or she has time, marked and graded (providing reflection for the child). This takes time in a busy teachers life. Lets suppose the student receives the essay back in two weeks. Is this an example of timely feedback enabling the greatest possible learning? Perhaps not, Generally speaking the student is highly likely to have lost interest and the impact of the feedback will be lessoned.

Further more this feedback is limited to the reflection of only one person – the teacher. Now that teacher might be extremely knowledgeable but they are still not going to be more knowledgeable than the group – or network.

What if we opened up the feedback cycle and allowed for reflection/feedback by the network?

How?

This refers to visible learning provided by technology. Through tools such as WIKIS, Blogs, Nings, Google Apps etc. the students full learning cycle can be made visible to all, it becomes transparent. By doing this many people can now become involved with the students learning and actively participate in it by providing feedback (think back to how my son was attempting to learn through his YouTube channel.) Now the feedback can become instantaneous – upload something and spread the word and I’m sure you will get lots of comments. It can become more powerful because of the diversity of the feedback – the network is now providing it. Remember the power of the network is always greater than the individual. Beyond that it allows for the student to comment back – they are no longer merely passively receiving feedback, they can instantly reply with a question or even reply with a better explanation of what they might have been attempting in the first place. To often I have seen poor feedback provided by a singular teacher merely because of the pressure to provide it with the proper time allowed to fully understand the child motivation.

Now once again the child is given some autonomy and is empowered to become more actively involved in the process of looking for appropriate feedback. This can can further the learning – the journey isn’t over once the essay has been handed in. In fact that child can take the feedback, learn, recreate and re upload in order to continue the learning process.

Visible or transparent learning provided by the internet also allows for students to feedback into each others work – thus allowing them to find identity as a teacher themselves. This is a role that all humans actually participate in. It is only through our reductive labelling of teacher and student that we have deprived students of their natural state to participate in this experience of teaching. Now they will naturally take this back and participate because the tools (the internet) has allowed them a way back. It is empowering for a student to feedback into another students work and should totally be encouraged –it is the natural process of learning and teaching collectively as humans. This is were all the conversation around the changing titles and roles of teachers sits – from experts at the front to facilitators to what I like to call co-learners. The Internet is driving this realignment of roles because as I have said previously it is a great metaphor for “social learning” – how we have always learnt best as humans. It is breaking down the hierarchical structures we have imposed on reality through the labelling of the participants as teachers and students. This top down hierarchy reflects nothing of the true process of learning.

There are many more interesting pedagogical issues to think about when talking about technology that I am convinced will make it far more interesting to educators than merely teaching them another “tool” or another piece of software.

By doing so it enables them to return to the conversation, it removes the fear, it removes the power from the IT guy and it will help us continue to evolve our practice and systems to be one that totally engages students in how they learn, totally empowers them to take ownership of their learning journey and totally frees them to love learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our model for PD

I recently took a new job at New Era where I work as a manager in the PD department. We have been working very fast to develop a new model for PD around some of the ideas I am passionate about. So…. here it is.
The New Era Professional Development Workshop Calender and the New Era PD program

Our philosophy behind the program is both innovative, well researched and representative of the practices of the modern society we live in.

Firstly “The Workshop Calender” and “Networked Educators”.
This is a series of over 80 workshops lead by leading experts in a wide array of subject areas but with ICT as a focus.
A teacher can purchase a place at one session for $80 or can buy the whole Calender for $200. The advantage in buying the Calender for is that not only do you have access to every session but you also now have access to our Connected Educators Community.

This is the fun place!!

Our Networked Educators Community is a network that we are building enabling you to do whatever you would like to. You can read our blog posts and comment, you can gain access to free resources but most importantly you can contribute – start a discussion, ask a question, answer someone else’s question, join a working group, start your own learning group around an area your interested in researching. No PD company will be able to cover all the questions you have but by setting up a network with as many passionate educators from as diverse backgrounds as possible we are hoping that all your questions will be answered.
But more than that we ware hoping that the network will drive the knowledge to new places that we alone could never have conceived. The sum of the parts is ALWAYS greater than the whole and we believe that together as educators we can achieve great things in learning and teaching. Collectively we can co-create new knowledge.

Another way of thinking about the ‘Networked Educators Community’ is it becomes a ‘community of practice or as Hayes and Gee refer to it a Affinity Space

The platform that we at New Era are building for this space is housed in our Education Portal aur.edportal.com.au . As we grow and develop we have the ability to add things into this space as required and as the network demands. For example we might decide we want to work more collaboratively in the space and therefore we would like Google Apps to be integrated into the platform. Potentially there might be certain apps which become conducive to better creativity. For example – do you use Scoop.it, or are you a huge Edmodo user – and as the network decides those apps can be integrated into our platform.
To access the full list of PD workshops heres the link http://neweraed.com.au/pdfs/NewEraPD2013.pdf

Secondly – Job Embedded PD.

We have started working with a number of schools using our Job Embedded model and are very excited to role out this program into schools around the country.
Our Job Embedded Program is about whole school change in the area of ICT but rather than focus on the tools we focus solely on learning and teaching – how has learning and teaching changed with the advent of digital age and what impact do the new pedagogies have on us as educators. These pedagogies are based in the learning theories of Social learning, Constructivism and Connectivism (networked learning)

Our Job Embedded Program includes

• working with the schools leadership team to develop an ICT road map and vision and plan for whole school scaffolding.
• working with a chosen focus group in developing learning in contemporary pedagogies planning a unit and skilling up with in the chosen tool. The tool will be chosen from one of our developed modules.
• working within the classroom with the teachers to support them in their classroom practice.
• assisting the teachers as they move into the stage of sharing their learning with the rest of the staff.

As part of or Job Embedded Program the learning is done both face-to-face (at the school) and online. Our online sessions will all run through New Eras Education Portal – the same portal that is being used to house our Networked Educators Networked Educators Community.

By being part of our Job Embedded program the school also becomes part of our Networked Educators Community. Once again this is where this is really exciting place to be. This is where you can go where ever it is you want to – learn what ever you need, help others on their journey, connect with educators from all over the world all on different stages of the learning adventure; all with a slightly different perspective, all bringing something unique so that collectively we can create some thing amazing.

Passion, Generosity, Diversity and Participation – this is what makes a great learning network.

All School Blogging

The following article was originally posted on DEECDs website. And talks about some of the work I was involved with when I was working at North Fitzroy Primary School

Blogs –Creating Worlds of Learning (Global2)

An ICTEV study group of 20 teachers arrived at the school gates to find out how blogging and games-based learning enriches learning for both students and teachers of Fitzroy North Primary School. The school in old in years (built in 1875) but young and contemporary in its use of ICT to empower learning and pedagogy. The approach and ideology has at its centre social learning theory.

Leading the group tour was Connie Watson (Principal), Kynan Robinson (Leading Teacher ICT/Creativity) and Kristen Swenson (3-6 ICT Coordinator).

Thanks to strong and innovative leadership, and the commitment of the ICT coordinators, in recent years blogging has become part of the learning and pedagogical fabric of daily life at North Fitzroy Primary. Kynan and Kristen have been active in the Global 2 blogging space for over 4 years. Kynan told the group that, “Global 2 allows kids to connect to the wider world. You can allow them to have an authentic voice and authentic audience.”

“We take seriously Hattie’s notion that feedback is one of the most potent factors in a child’s learning – blogging, where feedback is available from multiple sources is really important. They are not just posting their work for viewing by others, but posting genuine stages of their work and asking for feedback from others in an interactive process, which is much more powerful than simply learning in isolation and then posting your best work at the end of it”, Connie Watson (Principal)

With Hattie’s Visible Learning research in mind, Connie Watson decided that every teacher, every child from Years 3 -6 and every class should have a blog. All teachers were supported to develop their skills and confidence to create content, post, publish, upload images and movies, and moderate blogs. They now share and compare their blogs and their ideas with their students, parents, industry, and peers internal and external to the school.

Blogs are used to extend and assess all areas of literacy, Italian LOTE, and interdisciplinary streams of learning and skills and personal development. Kynan believes that blogging is a great, ‘platform to skill up and build confidence across the entire school staff to use web 2.0 tools to create and publish content not just be a user of content. If they didn’t blog they would miss out with connecting with the wider world. The main benefit is the ability to connect and find connections all over the world.”

The whole school community is involved at home and at school with their blogs. Homework, parent engagement, Italian recipes, news, quizzes, competitions, provocations, reviews, and reflection – it is all done with blogging accessed from home, school, during the week or at the weekends. “All of our Grade 5/6 students have their own individual passion blogs. We made the shift last year from the show and tell blogs to more of an interactive blog. Since then the quality of the students’ writing has improved dramatically. Their passion for blogging is so much greater and they just love doing it. Every time they have a spare moment in class they want to blog and it has just given them their own voice which is fantastic”, said Kristen.

Students create passion blogs and discover networks to discuss new ideas and perspectives from like-minded students. We heard from students who have created blogs on superheros, star wars, comic books, the World of Minecraft, the Hunger Games, Harry Potter and other favourite books. The students are learning to target their blog and writing style for specific audiences to elicit discussion on an international scale. According to Kynan, “the kids love the Global2 cluster maps so they can see their potential audience from across the world’. “It’s exciting collaborative learning and it is authentic for the kids because they are working on things that they are passionate about, and on questions that are relevant to them, often that they have driven themselves”, explained Connie Watson.

Also central to the contemporary learning and teaching practice is cybersafety awareness and copyright. Cybersafety is built into lessons and classroom practice at every Year level all year long. Fitzroy North PS is an ICT savvy school. Each classroom that the 20 strong study group entered, they barely caught the eye of the students who were completely engaged and immersed in what they were doing. The technology was seamless, the content was all important and it was student owned content. As Kristen says, it is not about the devices it is how they enhance the learning and fit within the learning curriculum. According to Kynan, “the point of ICT is to drive your pedagogy, to assist your curriculum”.

Blogging at North Fitzroy Primary School from Kynan Robinson on Vimeo.

How the learning and teaching is changing

Pedagogy – the art and science of teaching, the method and practice of teaching, an understanding of how humans learn best. This is what educators are interested in.
What has ICT got to do with that.
For too long ICT has been sold to us as an essential with little linking to why. How does it make us learn better?  How does it relate to pedagogy?

When we talk about ICT we need to move beyond the tools. I get sick of hearing one presentation after the other espousing the latest greatest, shrunk down, sped up, oversized, undersized piece of plastic that supposedly will change education forever. It won’t.

Education has never been about what pencils you have in your pencil case it is about people – it is about understanding how we learn. I also get tired of hearing that ICT will make your lessons more engaging – it wont – I’m sure they are already engaging and teachers all know that shiny bells in the corner only maintain engagement for a short time – what are you going to do then?


So why talk about ICT at all? The reason is that the way we learn as humans has fundamentally changed because of the digital world and as educators we need to be aware of that.

Lets quickly look at some of the more exciting current thinking about learning.

Social Learning – For too long in western education there has been the over emphasis on the individual. We see children coming to us as empty vessels that need to be filled by us with whatever information (content) we think is important. This learning is done independent of others.
Rather knowing (or knowledge) is about who you are, what you are doing and it unfolds within a social environment – never independent from it. ICT allows for connections, communities of practice and social learning to occur like never before. How are schools prepared to deal with Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter etc) and utilise them for a new approach to learning? baby

Constructivisim / Experiential Learning – This is not a new theory, its been around for over 100 years, but still many schools regard it as radical. We learn best through experience. The worst way to teach is to stand at the front of the class pass on “content” in a lecture style. If you think you can hold more information than the internet well keep teaching this way – if not lets find new ways. This is not to say that explicit skills based teaching is not at times necessary. But the internet holds many repositories of content and millions of examples of good explicit teaching. For example see the Khan Academy, or just type your question into Google or ask Youtube and someone will have uploaded a video teaching you how to do it. If it is a simple explicit fact that needs to be “learnt” in order to achieve a greater purpose, point the student to a place where they can find it (or better still teach them the strategy to do it so you never have to point them again). This frees you up to provide far deeper experiences for your students to learn. Gaming is one great way to develop experiential learning. Digital games such as Sim City or Civilisation or a host of others can be used to give the students the experience previously unavailable to them. For example in SIM city they experience being a Mayor with all the responsibilities and consequences involved with decisions made. Use it to teach ai Civics and Government Unit. The axiom of experiential learning is “I can teach you about swimming or I can let you go for a swim.” Which one is is the most powerful learning experience. ICT now provides us with potential experiences previously unavailable.

Connectivism – this is a relatively new theory that is entirely relevant to the digital age and in particular, the Internet. It claims that all knowledge is now residing in the online networks. Moving on from experiential learning, Connectivism claims that the world is now moving so fast that we can no longer experience all the things we need to in order to keep up. I’m sure we can all relate to this feeling. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. “I store my knowledge in my friends” is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.

This theory is very relevant for the why and how we would use ICT. You can see evidence for it in Social Media, the use of Nings, Wikis, Blogs and many other devices that help students connect to whatever networks they need to to assist their learning. It is our job as educators to encourage participation in these networks. That includes publishing work, expressing opinions, asking the network questions, commenting, tagging information and sharing it to a networked group such as Diigo and so on. Active participation is the key.

This is what makes ICT so exciting, no longer are students locked in to the reductionist methods of closed classroom doors. Rather there is a whole diverse world to navigate, to collaborate with, to co-create with to learn how to communicate with. Use whatever tool you want but keep this deeper principles in mind.

 

Minecraft Project

At NFPS we are a school very focussed on gaming in education (using digital games to teach).
Some of the games we have used include  Civilisation and Sim City to teach term long units on government etc. We have done entire term projects on game making (looking at programming skills plus narrative development etc) in the grade 3/4 area. We used programs such as Scratch, Atmospfir, Sploder and Game Salad to do this.
We also use a lot of games on mobile devises in the Jnr levels to enhance the numeracy and literacy program.
This year we received a schools specialisation grant  to investigate the use of gaming to teach and part of this has linked us into working with Deakin Uni and their researchers, investigating some of the things we are trying to achieve.
This term, in an attempt to teach a science based unit looking at biospheres we are using the game Minecraft across all the grade 5/6 classes (140 students).
The premise is the world is coming to an end and all 140 of us  have to move to a new planet. Decisions need to be made before leaving Earth and Arcs are getting designed in google sketch up and prototypes being built using a 3D printer.
Everything we need to establish our new planet is going to be taken with us so decided upon pre leaving. Then we all fly to our new planet.
The new planet, called Auroura 56 Z will be simulated in Minecraft.

I have built a minecraft server for the school where all the work will be completed.
It is a very interesting project to observe. The way we set these things up are the it is mostly student driven with the teachers working as facilitators to the learning.
The kids have organised themselves into 5 districts (technology and industry , agriculture, discovery and education, recreation, city and culture) and have started to build.

One thing of note observed so far in this project is  the levels of bureaucracy the kids are bringing into the game – demanding the establishment of councils and committees. A lot of it has been driven by their existing knowledge of the game.
I regularly meet with a group of 10 kids  who advise me on game play and how to adapt it to enable the efficient and smooth development of our planet. The project has raised a lot of questions regarding global warming – what causes it, how can we avoid it on our new planet – do we really need to mine everything etc. Furthermore  the game based project has raised very interesting discussion about policing – people can obviously destroy other people’s work in the Minecraft environment – how do we control this amongst 140 players (these decisions are all controlled by the students)

All of the students work is being recorded in a wiki. This allows them to collaborate and plan across classrooms as well as reflect on their learning and cross pollinate ideas. An example of a designed arc is below.

Creativity In Education 8. Reflection

I have been thinking a lot about the type of reflection we ask our students to do and why we do it. In context of attempting to create an educational culture that’s enables and fosters creativity, reflection is an important tool. At the moment when our students reflect on their learning it is in a journal form, mainly written in a book. This has obvious limitations. The most noticeable one is that the only people that will see this reflection are the child who has written it and (maybe) the teacher.

We are attempting to create an environment where each child is inundated with as many ideas as possible. Creativity is often born from the individual’s ability to take two or three disparate ideas, join them together in a way no one else can see and by doing so create a brand new idea.

If a child is not constantly accessing different ideas then the opportunity to do this is limited. If only using the reflection model of a journal in a book, spoken of previously, as only 2 people will be inputting into the reflection, there is the potential that neither the child nor the teacher has any good ideas what so ever and therefore that creative process becomes limited.

I have been working with Richard Olsen from Ideas Lab on this matter and together we have been experimenting with a reflection template built in a Buddy Press platform.This emulates a social network eg Facebook which allows for a flow of ideas, plus other things such as peer to peer learning.

Reflection Template

At the moment I am using this template in a project I am working on (alongside Kristen Swenson) using the game Minecraft. The students driving question for this project was “can you teach an area of our schools curriculum through the game Minecraft” (yes – they were doing some research for me). When it come time to reflect they login to their template where they have all created their own profile and they fill in a fairly simple form.

The power of this system is that as it operates as a social network each child can go to any other students reflection, read it and leave a comment with some advice, something they had noticed, some encouragement etc. Furthermore all of the groups that are forming up around the project question are listed down the left hand side. Each student can go and look at the other projects reflection and read, comment etc. At any stage a student is able to leave their own project and join another group if they realise that it is more suited to them or they have more to add in that project than their current one. A number of students have done exactly that over the term strengthening the new projects they have joined as well as inspiring their own creative thinking by having an influx of new ideas coming at them all the time.

As the teacher at no stage have I had to limit the students by my own lack of knowledge.

This reflective template also draws ideas from the iterative reflective cycle used by software developers using the Agile Methodology as their base.