ISTE 2015: Reflections as an Attendee and Presenter

ISTEIt’s been almost two weeks since I arrived back home from my trip to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Philadelphia. I, like many attendees and presenters out there, have had a difficult time blogging on my experience. I have started three posts and abandoned them all. There is just too much to say! As well, I wanted to share the experiences of my co-presenter and first time attendee, Margaret Westaway.

So, as I don’t shy away from learning new things and piling more work and stress onto myself (yay!) and this is an area I want to learn more about for my students, I decided to publish an audio recording of what Margaret and I love doing. We love to reflect and ask each other questions about everything! Of ciste liveourse the only way for me to get this ISTE whirlwind out of my head is to talk about it.

So here we go! In this recording (remember this is the first recording I have ever done, thank goodness my husband is a patient teacher), Margaret and I discuss our experiences as attendees and presenters at ISTE, as well as a side track into reflecting on how ISTE honed our philosophy about Makerspaces. If you are thinking of attending and/or presenting at ISTE 2016, we highly recommend it. We will be there!

 

 

ISTE NewselaIste minecraftIste SnapshotIste Curious GeorgeISTE panelISTE Peter Reynolds

ISTE cups

 

 

 

littleBits and the BitOlympics at Vancouver MakerLabs

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What a privilege it was for Margaret Westaway and I to be able to present about our makerspace journey at this year’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. I have many blog posts brewing about ISTE 2015, but in this post I am going to focus on our unexpected encounter with the wonderful folks from littleBits and the Vancouver MakerLabs.

Our students love littleBits, so we had to discuss the role littleBits played in our makerspaces through our ISTE sessions. Problem… we wanted to bring our kits with us, but didn’t have the room to pack them in our limited luggage (we were, after all going to make a trip to New York afterwards for some shopping!). So, Margaret decided to take a chance and fire off an email to the “people” at littleBits to ask them if we could borrow a kit. We were shocked that we actually received a response back! The littleBits people gave us a kit and it was waiting for us at our hotel when we arrived. What a great company!

LittleBits had a booth at ISTE, so we decided to visit to show our gratitude. We had so much fun! The representatives were all gracious, helpful, inspiring and as excitable as Margaret and I are! We had great conversations with everyone. Through one of these conversations, we found out that the MakerLabs in Vancouver was hosting a littleBits Olympics event.

After returning from our trip to Philadelphia and New York, on the first day that I felt recovered from my conference/vacation whirlwind, I dragged the family to the BitOlympics not knowing what to expect. I am so glad that we went! MakerLabs is a beautiful 26,000 sf makerspace that I have wanted to visit for some time and this event was a perfect excuse to check it out.

When we arrived, a number of people were engrossed in using littleBits to make Olympic themed creations. I was a little nervous as there weren’t many children around, but that went away when my 7 yr. old son excitedly expressed that he wanted to build a mini soccer goal net that lit up and buzzed every time a goal was scored.

Now I have to admit that I have seen my children and many of my students use littleBits to create awesome inventions. I have also seen many cool creations posted by littleBits. But, I have never really made a project on my own, let alone with my son. So, I let go and let my son lead the project.

Attempt 1: Motion Trigger

motion triggerhttp://littlebits.cc/bits/motion-trigger

For our first attempt, we tried using a motion trigger. If the ball rolls into the net, the motion trigger would trigger the lights and buzzer. After listening to the buzzer go off about a hundred times, we realized the sensor was too sensitive, it was reacting to every little motion. This resulted in the buzzer continually buzzing deep into my brain. I could sense myself getting frustrated. I wanted to abandon the idea, get some coffee and try something else, “Hey Zain, how about we do a diving board instead?”, but soccer means a lot to Zain. He wanted to continue.

Attempt 2: Roller Switch

http://littlebits.cc/bits/roller-switch

http://littlebits.cc/bits/roller-switch

Next, Zain examined the choices of bits and decided to try the roller switch. The theory was, if the ball hits the roller switch, it would trigger the buzzer for the lights to go off. At this point I begged him to not use the buzzer anymore. Mama had a headache. After a lot of tape being used to keep the switch in place we realized that the ball had to hit the switch quite hard for it to activate, plus our accuracy wasn’t that great.

Okay, now by this point I really wanted to move on. I even went and collected materials for a diving board. “Zain, it would be so cool if we made a diving board, see we can even use the roller switch for it.”

I saw the disappointed look on Zain’s face. He then said, “Mama, you really want to do the diving board, so do it.” I’m going to do my own thing. My seven year old wanted nothing to do with his mama! Ack! No, this was not supposed to happen, I wanted to create something together! So, I pulled back again and watched as my determined son went back to the bits library and pondered what his next step would be.

Attempt 3: Sound Trigger?

soundtrigger

http://littlebits.cc/bits/sound-trigger

Zain brought back a sound trigger bit and said, “I think this is really going to work, mama come on we can do it!”. My inside voice said, “What the heck is a sound trigger going to do? A diving board would be so much easier!” I watched him as he skillfully attached all the pieces together. After decreasing its sensitivity, the sound trigger was just the thing our soccer net needed! The ball rolled into the net and the noise that was created through the ball hitting the bit triggered the lights to go off! Success! We cheered and high fived as though we scored a goal at the FIFA world cup!

Zain Soccer Game

Zain then surprised me and marched up to Nick Weinberg, who was the littleBits rep helping with the event, and asked him if he wanted to see how he finally got it to work. Nick had stopped by a number of times during our process earlier and Zain was excited to show him the successful version. Nick ended up documenting Zain’s project and put it up on the littleBits site (you can see it here). My heart swelled while I watched from a distance my confident my little boy explaining our project and the pieces that were used to make it.

This event proved to me once again how kids will persevere if they are given the freedom to explore their own passions, with few limitations, and when given support if needed. It also shows me how easily us adults give up. Just the slightest glimmer into failure I wanted to abandon his idea. Yet at 7 years old he was able to push through numerous setbacks and eventually succeed. Even more powerful to me was that he was able to stand up to me and not allow me to change the path. He pushed me to keep going. As a mama, isn’t that what I am supposed to do for him?

Thank you littleBits and MakerLabs for providing us with an opportunity to play. More importantly thank you for the message that tech like littleBits in schools and home isn’t essential because it wows and “engages” students. It’s value is not in the products that it enables users to create, it’s value is in the process. Our end product was pretty basic and looked very messy, but it was made amazing because of the journey that Zain and I went through to complete it. Our hacked together goal net, assembled with tape, cardboard and card stock that lights up every time a goal is scored will hold a precious place in our memories. Here is another video of Zain explaining the project, showing how it worked and what we used to make it.

“It’s Like Trying to Push Molasses Uphill”

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photo credit: molasses sequence (license) 

As the principal of an elementary school and the parent of two young children, I have been thinking a lot lately about the special needs of all of our learners in the public education system.

Over the past week, administrators in my district have been working on placing Education Assistant (EA) hours that have been allotted to us. It is a heartbreaking, stressful process trying to create workable groups of designated special needs students to work with the EA hours that have been given to us. It seems like every year, we try to work with less. The hours also always need to be stretched to unofficially support those students who are undesignated or designated but do not qualify for EA support. There are never enough hours. And because it is difficult to ask for more funding, we begin to question, what we are doing wrong. Are we overlooking efficiencies? Are there designated students who do not need as many hours as we think? Are we not encouraging special needs students to gradually pull away from being dependent on EAs? Do teachers have access to enough professional development to support special needs students?  Many administrators struggle with these questions and prepare themselves for the inevitable frustrations and stress that the announcement of the EAs and the possible placement of students for next year creates in our school community. We try to do the best we can, but it is difficult for administrators to not to feel the fires are just temporarily being put out and that they will start again in time.

Now where does this leave our Gifted students? (and yes, Gifted students have special needs). I recently attended the Gifted Children’s Association of BC Mini Conference. (where I heard the title of this blog post stated numerous times!).  I met many parents who are tirelessly advocating for their children and sadly many of them have resorted to pulling their children from the public school system to home school, transfer to an independent school, unschool or participate in a combination of alternative schooling. In addition to the emotional and financial burden of doing this, many parents are paying thousands of dollars to get their kids psychological education (psycho ed) assessments that public schools cannot provide because of the long wait list where gifted students are often put at the bottom. Psycho Ed assessments provide parents and schools with an in-depth report of the areas of strengths and needs and recommends ways to support the student. Psycho Ed assessments are often needed to attach designations to students and for schools to access funding. Even with officially gaining the “Gifted” designation, though, parents are frustrated with getting the crumbs (if even that) of support that is left over from the “more needy students”.

Being able to tirelessly and successfully advocate for your child’s special needs is often taken on by the parents who are doing well financially or have decided to put aside their basic financial needs to seek support. I worry about those students who come from families who struggle with their own day to day survival. How are they to advocate for their child? Who advocates for these kids and their parents?

Not being able to fully meet the special needs of our students is a growing problem. I understand that the funding tap cannot be open all the time and there is work that can be done to improve the efficient use of the funding that we do get. Having conversations with all parties involved and being transparent is important. As a society, If we believe that inclusion is important, we should also believe that the appropriate funding for full inclusion to work is also important.  At times like this though, it feels like trying to push molasses uphill.

Dear Parents, Is Homework Helping Your Child?

homeworkphoto credit: Homework Night 56/365 (license)

Recently the discussion about homework has entered the media again with a New York elementary school banning homework and telling their students to play instead. According to some media sources, parents are “outraged” and are threatening to pull their kids from this school.

Remember when you were in elementary school and you ran home as fast as your legs would take you, gobbled down your snack then eagerly worked on your homework every day? You put so much effort into it, knowing that it would get you that “A” and help train you to be better at independently completing homework in high school. Yeah, me neither.

I did homework because I was eager to please and my parents would kill me if I didn’t! Every day, I would shut myself in my room and struggle through the required tasks. My parents went to school in another country, English is their second language and they had no idea how to help me. And even when they thought they knew how to help me, it always ended in arguing, yelling and tears… on both sides! I wasn’t a great student in elementary school, I found everything, especially math, very difficult to grasp. I remember staring at jumbled numbers for hours and blaming myself when I could not understand how to do math equations. At the same time, I had perfectionist tendencies that would push me to forget about the pain in my fingers or the lack of sleep I was getting because I had to colour title pages and maps and leave no white spaces. White spaces didn’t give you good marks. It became worse in high school, but I learned to play the game. I learned to give the teachers what they wanted, present the homework in a visually pleasing way, but without truly understanding what I was doing.

When having discussions with parents about homework I often hear “well it worked for me, so it’s good for my kids.” Think about it, though, did it really work for you? Did it help promote your innate love for learning? Did it improve your knowledge of subjects more than what you learned at school? Did it teach you how to learn independently? Did it increase your stamina to write high school and college papers? Did it give you the discipline to learn?

I doubt it “worked” for many of you. So why do we keep up with this routine? Nostalgia? I often also hear from teachers that they give homework because parents are asking for it.

Many parents are spending a great deal of time driving kids to practices, games, and lessons. Families are filling the holes that are often to be first to be cut from schools: sports, arts, music and enrichment. Shouldn’t kids be getting some sort of break from homework if they are participating in these activities?

So what about the families who can’t afford or choose not to take part in activities outside of school time. Well, I’m sure there could be something that they are doing at home that they can replace homework: reading, writing a letter, helping make a meal, having a conversation with a grandparent, making a structure on Minecraft, meal planning, the list can go on and on.

At the same time, as teachers are saying that they often give homework because the parents of their students are asking for it, I also am hearing that parents are struggling with the demands homework has been putting on their children. One of my friends said she was looking forward to spring break because of the homework respite! Her child is in grade two!

We have to put an end to this madness. Why aren’t teachers hearing from parents that they do not support homework, that they can’t do it anymore, that it is seriously impacting their family time and their lives. If you feel that homework is having a negative effect on your child and family, this is not okay! You know what’s best for your child. Please go speak to your children’s teachers and express your concerns.

Here are some really great articles with supporting research if you need some help conveying your thoughts…. and thank you!

Homework is Making Our Kids Miserable: Why the Classroom Staple is a Colossal Waste of Time

Rethinking Homework

The Growing Argument Against Homework

Probing Question: Is homework bad for kids?

Too Much Homework Is Bad for Kids

 

 

 

 

 

Ignite: A Walk Through the Informal Learning of Minecraft

Recently I had the privilege of sharing the Minecraft love in Coquitlam at Ignite Night – Sharing our Stories and at my own school district’s Ignite: Engaging the Digital Learner Series. For those of you who have never been to an Ignite, it is a series of quick presentations. I was given the parameters to tell my stories in 20 slides with 15 seconds per slide. Talk about pressure!  At the risk of sounding like the next Chipmunks album, this format forces you to really think about the main points of your message. As an audience member, it’s a nice way to get quick snapshots that can be further discussed and embellished on twitter or during the breaks through face to face conversations.

Both nights were a success! While I barely remember presenting, I do remember all the other wonderful, inspiring talks that I listened to. If the opportunity presents itself for you to participate or attend in an Ignite, do!  It was a great experience for me.

Here is my Ignite.

Minecraft Mania: A Walk Through the Informal Learning of Minecraft.

On Twitter My Notes Come Alive

https://www.flickr.com/people/ssoosay/

CC https://www.flickr.com/people/ssoosay/

This is not a post on why educators should be on Twitter or how wonderful it is to create a global professional learning community… Many others have done that already! I just have something that I need to get off my chest.

Recently at some professional events, I have had a number of people come up to me and say things like “Wow, Iram you tweet a lot”, “You just love seeing your face on that twitter stream don’t you?”, “How can you listen to the presentation if you are tweeting the whole time?”. I want to respond that if they think I tweet a lot, they’ve seen nothing!

While made in a joking tone, I can’t help feeling like there is a tone of judgment happening with these comments… as though I am wasting time, or even worse being obsessed about my ego. I could just forget about it and keep tweeting, but  I feel like I need to make some things clear, defend myself and possibly defend fellow tweeters at the same time.

Tweeting for me is like writing notes. As a presenter shares their knowledge, quotes and resources that I would like to remember and refer to later, I tweet to record these gems. Now why don’t I just write notes or type them into my computer, why do I have to do this on Twitter? Well, when others tweet what they see as gems from the presentation, I can reflect on their thoughts and make my own thoughts which add to my notes. I sometimes retweet exactly what they said or modify their tweet to add my own thoughts to it. At times these tweets spur a side conversation right at the moment or even a few days later. Written notes or notes typed on my computer are a dead end for my notes. On Twitter, my notes come alive and are expanded on and spread to others who missed out on the event or didn’t catch exactly what the speaker was saying. My professional learning community expands in the process and the presentation experience becomes way more than just sitting and mulling over my thoughts in my own head or with the person beside me.

I know this post is probably mostly going to be read by those people who already use Twitter and love it; however, maybe I can help you folks justify your use when THAT person comes up to you and decides that they absolutely need to comment on YOUR Twitter use… and maybe, just maybe, you may convince THEM to tweet.

 

TEDx West Van Ed: I Wonder How to Encourage Wonder?

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One of the many reasons I love spending a whole day taking part in a TEDx is that it forces me to sit, listen and reflect. I attended TEDx West Vancouver Ed: Rethinking Education yesterday and now am filled to the brim with reflections and ideas of my role in education and as a parent. This will be the first of a few blog posts that I have rattling in my brain.

The first speaker was “Inquiry Based Learning Consultant” Kath Murdoch @kjinquiry (Kudos to her for having to go first!). Kath spoke about how classrooms need to be a place where we invite wonder in. I loved her image of a car being a wonder bubble. As anyone who has had to drive kids anywhere knows, car rides stimulate many questions from kids. The longer the car ride, the more out there the questions get! How can educators replicate the wonder inducing environment of a car ride into the classroom?

During lunch several colleagues expressed that they were frustrated that their students, when asked, weren’t able to come up with questions or wonders. They felt that their students needed to be taught how to ask questions all over again and that for some reason as early as grade one, the sense of wonder was stripped from their students. Last year, while introducing Genius Hour to several intermediate classes, I was dismayed that our students could not ask a good question or name a passion they would like to explore. I automatically chalked this up to the idea that kids have learned to expect to be told what to do and the older they are the more difficult it is to get them to independently learn or even want to learn.

While this is somewhat true, I have to wonder, what are we as educators doing to encourage an environment of wonder? Why are we expecting students to come up with great wonders on demand? How would you answer right at this moment if you were asked, What do you wonder about? I don’t know about you, but I get anxious just thinking about it. Will my wonder be good enough? What will everyone say about my wonder? Now I wonder… how do our students feel?

We all have an innate sense of wonder, it is part of what makes us human! We just can not expect students to reveal wonders on demand. While some students will share wonders with anyone, I believe most students (as most adults) need time and a conducive environment to germinate wonders. I love the idea of a wonder wall. I have seen many examples and think it’s a great idea for students to feel free to add to it at any time they have a wonder. Then, when it is “wonder research time” or genius hour, they have a wall of wonders to choose from. However, if students do not feel like they have a safe, respectful class environment, wonders will never be revealed. Maybe this is why car rides are so great for wonders!

So, with this all in mind, what are you doing to encourage an environment of wonder?

Parents and Teachers, You Can Play Minecraft Too: Tips for Beginners

collaborate and listen

In my last blog post, I am a Minecrafter: ISTE 2014 Made Me Do It, I made a confession that I began playing Minecraft and I was loving it! Since I last wrote, I have discovered an emerald and diamond patch, a slime block and a spawner cage. I have learned how to make pumpkin pie, milk cows, tame wolves and make the wolves have wolf puppies. They are soooo cute!

dogs

I also went through an epic journey that tested my patience and perseverance where I built a fantastic home complete with a well stocked farm and a yoga studio, while looking for some more iron got lost for two days (in real time!), was killed by a creeper, respawned in a dark cave, dug myself out of the cave with no tools or torches, got spit out in the middle of an ocean, swam to shore, cut my losses and built another new fabulous home then discovered my old home during an epic trek!

Want into this world?!

As a result of my last post, I have had many discussions with teachers and parents who are going to begin looking into Minecraft for themselves. I thought I’d share some advice and good resources (not in any particular order) for those of you who are interested in giving it a go.

1) There are different versions of Minecraft depending on what platform you would like to play on.

  • The computer version, which can be downloaded straight from the Mojang website.
  • The app, which can be downloaded for your respective tablet device.
  • The game console version which is currently available for PlayStation and XBox, but further releases are planned.

While all three have their different strengths, the computer version is the most complete. However, I have been playing on my iPad and am loving it. The computer version does take up a lot of memory and speed, so just be wary of that before downloading it onto your home computer.

2) Find a kid who loves to play. Ha, this should be REALLY easy! My tutor was my six year old son. He was thrilled that I wanted to learn to play his favourite game and even more thrilled that I wanted him to be my teacher. Turn on the multiplayer setting and play TOGETHER, meaning both of you work through the same world!

If you are on an iPad. Just click on the tools button on the opening screen to the game. Then slide the button to the right for “Local Server Multiplayer” Make sure your wifi is on.

multiplayer

Oh my goodness, this is SO frustrating at times, but you will learn quickly as to what you can and can’t do and how to communicate with your fellow player(s).

3) To ease yourself into the game play involved, begin with “Creative Mode” rather than “Survival Mode”. This option will be given to you when you create a new world. Creative Mode has all the resources available to you and you cannot “die” (oops, my son wants me to let you know… unless you dig yourself to the bottom of the world). Creative mode would also be a better version if you are working with a club and/or a class project where you are presenting challenges. Survival Mode is more challenging, you begin with no tools, there is day and night and there are many creatures (that especially get scary at night) that can kill you.

4) Watch Paul Soares Jr.’s (PSJ) Minecraft tutorials on YouTube. He is one of the leading experts on Minecraft and was the first person to create video tutorials for the game back in 2008. He has several series of videos out, but the How to Survive and Thrive series is a great one to begin with.

All of PSJ’s videos are so enlightening and entertaining. He shows viewers how to play and highlights projects that other players have been working on and challenges he embarks on with other players, including his wife and kids. Currently my family is watching a riveting series of episodes where PSJ’s trusty mule has been kidnapped by another player who is demanding ransom for instructions on his whereabouts. Another bonus is he strives for clean language and family friendly content, which I can’t say for some of the other video tutorials out there.

4) Get your hands on these babies.

minecraft booksMinecraft Beginner’s Handbook, Minecraft Redstone Handbook, Minecraft Combat Handbook and Minecraft Construction Handbook

I don’t know what I am going to do come September when I have to have our students share these books at the library. Multiple copies are on order, but I don’t think these copies are going to satiate the demand!

My son has read these books from cover to cover multiple times, so I decided to take a peek at them and they are ah-mazing!! On a side note, take a look at
Liam O’Donnell’s  post, How Those Minecraft Books Got My Students Reading. These books, co-written by Paul Soares Jr., are very clearly laid out and easy to refer back to if you have specific questions about how to play the game.

5) Google, Google, Google if you have any questions. I have stopped playing many times, after my son has gone to bed, to punch in questions about the game. There are so many Minecraft related websites and forums out there. It can be overwhelming, so here are a few you may want to begin with.

Minecraft Wiki
THE wiki for any information about Minecraft

Minecraft Forum
THE forum for Minecraft questions and answers and the sharing of ideas

Minecraft Institute of Technololgy
I found out about this at Marianne Malmstrom’s (@knowclue) Minecraft session at ISTE 2014 and I was floored! As their website states:

Minecraft Institute of Technology (MIT), is a premium school for minecrafters. Here we teach all sorts of skills, like building, brewing, and horse riding. The faculty has been selected from the best of the world. We own cutting-edge facilities which are always being expanded. MIT is located on XP Galaxy, near the capitol city Pigston.

You go through worlds with your teacher as they guide you through specific skills. How awesome is that?! Note: You need the computer version to participate.

Minecraft Architecture
Get inspiration from this collection of screenshots of amazing homes that players have created.

Minecraft Challenges
A list of challenges you may want to set for yourself or your students.

I hope this post gives you all a great start with Minecraft. Have fun, and remember that you may need to take a Minecraft break, it is very addicting!

 

 

Yes, I am a Minecrafter: ISTE 2014 Made Me Do It


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Hi my name is Iram, I am 39 years old and I might have a little problem called Minecraft.

I blame Marianne Malmstrom’s (@knowclue) ISTE 2014 Session, Minecraft: Learning Blocks for pushing me over the edge.

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Before this session I had no desire to actually play Minecraft. No matter how much my son begged me to, I just couldn’t do it. As I was thrown into the amazing ISTE 2014 experience, I thought I’d dabble in it and learn to play so I can connect with my students and my son. In no way did I see myself ever SERIOUSLY playing let alone ENJOYING it, but who wouldn’t want to try to create an amusement park with farm animal roller coasters, right?!!!

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You know you are fully immersed in the game when you are on a family road trip and you are actually having an animated conversation with your 6 yr. old fellow Minecrafter about all the “biomes” you are driving through, the different types of trees you are whizzing by, what kind of rock the mountains are made of, where we could possibly find coal and diamonds and the government’s role in primary resource management. Also, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I knew this game playing was getting out of hand when I shut my eyes to go to sleep and all I could see was rock as I mined myself to sleep.

I’m currently on a husband sentenced Minecraft “break” (ahem, rehab)… I should be okay. As anything for adults and kids, it’s all about moderation folks!

Malmstrom hit me hard when she stated,

Minecraft isn’t the ultimate TEACHING tool, it’s the ultimate LEARNING tool.

Sometimes educators unintentionally can ruin a good thing by focussing on what they can make students do. As with any tech we need to be careful to remember that tech enhances learning by acting as yet another tool. It doesn’t magically teach curriculum and it doesn’t magically engage students. It needs to be thoughtfully integrated, but not necessarily integrated. It all depends on your students and their needs and learning styles.

In a recent blog post My Beef With the Gamification of Education, Bill Ferriter writes:

As most of you know, I’ve been arguing that technology DOESN’T motivate kids and that our goal SHOULDN’T be to engage learners for a long time… to suggest that students will only willingly embrace those skills when they are working through “exciting worlds full of monsters and magic juice” is a cop out for teachers and an insult to kids. Imagine how much more meaningful learning could be if kids were failing and planning and strategizing and sharing and collaborating with one another while trying to address a REAL problem facing REAL people in the REAL world?

As Howie Diblasi stated at another ISTE 2014 session I attended,

Gaming and simulations work well where kids can try new things. It’s a safe place to fail and persevere.

I believe that this is where Minecraft can play a role in schools. It provides a safe, non-judgemental outlet for students to learn and practice skills. From this point we can then step forward to link the skills learned from games to real life… to things that are actually going on in this world and to help students to step up and confidently play their part in changing the world.

I was inspired by Malmstrom to play Minecraft because I realized how important it is for everyone involved (teachers, parents and students) to have time to “play” before making judgements. It has been wonderful for my son and I to play together in a simulated world. We worked together to mine for resources to craft tools to survive. The 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creating were working over time. We got to a point in our game playing to be able to have the rich, real conversations we had on our road trip.

I have learned that Minecraft has connected my own child to real life issues in this world and I plan to help him explore them beyond Minecraft. I also have learned that it has allowed us to connect more and become closer. It has been a winner in my life and I am excited to see what it will do for the students that I work with. Thank you Marianne Malmstrom and Howie DiBlassi for pushing me into seeing that there is more to gaming than meets the eye.

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Kindergarten Orientation: Not Just Another School Event

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Our school had it’s Welcome to Kindergarten afternoon today. I love it when new parents and students arrive through our doors at any time of the year, but the feeling I get from over 30 parents and their children arriving at school at once is even more exhilarating!

I have taught Kindergarten at many schools and the orientation format changes from school to school. Some schools have guests move through stations while they learn about important characteristics of the school and Kindergarten program. Some schools provide children a chance to spend time with the Kindergarten teachers while parents are given an overview of the school and the Kindergarten program lecture style. Some schools only invite parents.

Whatever format your school chooses to do, there are some important things that schools need to remember about this annual event. I get it, it’s a really busy time of year and things are crazy, but we can not risk treating this event as yet another obligation at this time of year to get through. I’d say it’s one of the most important events of the school year.

1) This is your chance to shine, to celebrate why your school is so great! With that you need to put your best foot forward. These parents are entrusting their most valuable possession to you. If you are having a bad day (who hasn’t had a bad day?!), put whatever is bothering you aside for a few hours.

2) Your role is to be welcoming. Be open to answering questions, and be patient with new parents who, most of the time, only have their own schooling experience to reference. Some parents and children may be overwhelmed with this new experience.

3) Use this opportunity to get to know kids and their parents. Covertly make note of “issues” children are displaying; however choose another, more private time to ask parents for more details.

4) Keep the teacher talk to a minimum. Share stories of your own kids and/or students. The best response I have received is sharing that I taught Kindergarten for over 10 years and when my own son entered Kindergarten I was a wreck! I needed to know every detail. If I didn’t have to be at work, I would be one of those moms hovering and peeking through the windows.

5) Don’t let them leave empty handed. Give them things to work on over the summer like a pair of scissors, play dough, a list of math and literacy games, etc.. Oh and, of course, you have to give them a tasty snack (healthy choices optional!)!

Kindergarten orientation is such an important event on so many levels, don’t let it go by without some thoughtful planning and discussion.