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

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!

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.

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 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!

5 Unexpected Lessons from Tech

When our school received our first cart filled with 30 brand new, shiny iPads. My principal at the time, Jackie Howard, said to me, “Iram, this is all going to be you.” I went home that evening terrified. Tech doesn’t like me, it NEVER works. I don’t know what she was thinking!
Well, I sucked it up and acted like I knew what I was doing. Reflecting back, I have realized that I have learned many unexpected lessons from tech that have influenced other aspects of my life and career. Here are my top five.
1. Patience
Yes we are in the 21st century and tech can do amazing things, but sometimes it takes a little time for all the pieces you are trying to connect to register what you are asking it all to do. Who doesn’t work at a school that is trying to squeeze the limits of older tech on sketchy wifi, right? Just take a breath, and let it do what it is doing. That “circle of death” is now, for me, a “focus for meditation.” Who am I kidding, I hate the circle/line of death, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was a focus of meditation?
2. Have a Back-Up Plan… Or Twenty
If things aren’t going they way you planned, be prepared to shift gears and try another plan of attack. This is why it is important to have a variety of tech resources in your tool belt ready to pull out, like cords, dongles, apps, YouTube tutorials, the staff of Apple shrunk to an inch put away in your pocket etc.. There is nothing more frustrating than having a brilliant lesson ready to go and not being able to even begin because of “tech issues”. Most of the time, there are ways around the problem. Your tool belt just has to be full of different options and you have to allow yourself to think outside the box.
3. Let it Go
Sometimes, no matter what you try, things just don’t work at all. That’s when it’s okay to just shrug your shoulders, abort the mission and take time to chew on what went wrong.
4. Let it Go Part 2
The best way to teach tech and encourage tech integration is to let students and teachers explore and integrate it in their own personal lives. I can preach until my face turns blue, but until people have time to actually play, nothing will change. They will just look at you as the “crazy mentally unstable techie” who has drunk way too much of the kool-aid.
5. Build Capacity
The more people who learn the lessons above and the more we allow ourselves to learn from others no matter how old you are or what your job is, the easier it gets! It’s not rocket science!
Which leads me to the the phrase, “you are so techie”. I have realized this means more than just being able to set up and trouble shoot tech. It is a mindset. When someone asks me a tech question or throws a problem at me, I am now comfortable enough to say, “It’s okay, relax. I don’t know, but let’s figure it out.”

iPads aren’t for Everyone

Okay, so another teaching assignment change for me… Just had teacher librarian added to the mix. I’ll still be teaching Kindergarten one day a week, but I’ll now be in the library three days a week and vice principal one day a week. Phew! Just writing all that made me tired!

I took on the teacher librarian role as an opportunity to collaborate with all the enrolling teachers at my school and as a way to really get to know all the students. I also was excited about the ability to integrate technology during our classes’ library times.

While I know that technology is to be used as a tool for teaching and isn’t a magic solution to all children’s learning needs, I have never really experienced students not wanting to use technology!

Well, in come a group of 4th graders and I excitedly revealed to them that I would be pulling out the iPad cart for them to find more information on the different birds we read about. My announcement was followed by cheers and clapping; they could not wait to get their hands on the iPads! After searching on Google for a few minutes, one student nervously asked, “Are we allowed to go on YouTube?” Me: “Uh, yes, of course!” The library suddenly was filled with bird song and a lot of sharing. We watched videos of robins hatching, a warbler singing, a sparrow building a nest, and many more. So much engaged learning was happening! I was about to pat myself on the back, for a job well done, but then beyond the sea of happily engaged students I spied a group of boys on the carpet at the back of the library… with no iPad… and they were not talking about birds!

Me: “Boys, do you want an iPad?”
Boy 1: “No, I don’t like iPads?”
Me: “Well have you used one before?”
They all nodded and sneered in my general direction, not wanting to make any eye contact.
Me (totally thrown off and not sure where to go with this awkward situation): “Okay… Uh, hmm…”

And then it dawned on me, we were in… A LIBRARY!!
“Do you want to look at books about birds?”
They all nodded eagerly and stood up. I then skipped over to the 598 section (yes, I am becoming a Dewey Decimal System Master!), showed them where the bird section was and they happily looked at the books until the end of their library time… engaged in learning.

Now that was unexpected! The boys looking at books were just as engaged in their learning as their classmates who were using iPads. This was a big reminder that technology isn’t for everyone and it is just another option as we differentiate instruction for our students. Forcing every student to use technology to learn and present their learning is just as ineffective as forcing every student to all use pencil and paper and books in the library!

Oh, and in case you are curious, here are some of the bird videos these students found. Welcome spring!
Robins Hatching

Sparrow Building a Nest

Warlber Singing

Yes, Genius Hour in Kindergarten!

I have been reading a lot about Genius Hour and have been inspired by my own district’s Gallit Zvi and her journey with integrating it in her classroom. The teacher of our Grade Five buddy class went to a workshop that Gallit ironically spoke at and decided to integrate it into her class.  Wow, am I ever lucky that our classes are buddies!  Her Grade Fives have been doing amazing work during their genius hour time.

So, as January came to a close and we noticed that the kindies in my class were becoming more independent and fully capable of using iPads, we set them to work with their buddies in our first Kindergarten Genius Hour project. Because this was our first time, we had to put some parameters around it. I know, I know, less direction the better when it comes to Genius Hour… but you have to give us some credit for loosening most of the strings!

Our kindies thought of something that they would like to learn about and brainstormed some questions about the topic. The topics and questions that my kindies, yes FIVE year olds, were thinking of were beyond my imagination. They were vibrating with excitement at the possiblity of actually controlling what they were going to learn about. Some of the topics that were decided on were cowboys, cars, dresses, birds, and owls.

Then the magic happened.  The Grade Fives paired up with their Kindergarten buddies and off they went.  Engagement, conversation, collaboration, and critical thinking just happened… and we, the teachers, were minimally involved.  After meeting every Friday morning for a few weeks, the kids were ready to present their finding in a Keynote presentation.  I was so proud!  Our kindies confidently presented with their big buddies beside them helping them along the way.

I am excited to further explore Genius Hour more in our class, with the assistance of our big buddies. We will now be changing the name of “big buddies time” to “Genius Hour”! I also can’t wait to show the parents how much we are learning, once agian, from playing around in Kindergarten!

If you would like more information on Genius Hour, Gallit Zvi has some excellent posts on her blog here: Integrating Technology: My Journey

Below is a sample of some slides from a priceless presentation on Ninja Turtles.

Bring on the Technology!

My school this year was lucky enough to receive a grant where we have been able to buy 40 iPads, and a projector for every wing in our school.  Wow, has this ever transformed my teaching. This is why CanTeach, once again was put on the back burner. I have immersed myself in creating and collaborating. I kept thinking, I should add my thoughts to CanTeach!

My district has been so supportive with offering workshops and bringing in wonderful guest speakers like George Couros ( and Bill Ferriter ( who have inspired us to use technology as a tool to encourage 21st Century learning.

As a result of all this support, I have been able to do so much.  I haven’t immersed myself in technology since first starting CanTeach in 1998!  A lot has changed to say the least!  It has been a huge learning curve. I can even sync 40 ipads and give them all a iOS 6.1 update… and when it fails, I know how to fix it! If I have been able to do it, you can do it too!

I am so excited about what these new tools has done to my teaching and the connections I have been able to make with my students, parents and colleagues. This year has been the best year yet! My students are engaged, I am making more use of the time in the teaching day, and I have been able to make some deep connections with parents.

In future posts I will share apps that I have discovered for early learning and all the messy things we have been playing with, but for now I’d like to share a video I made with one second video clips.  I shared this on our class blogs to show how print rich our classroom is and how we are loving learning how to read and write.