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Mining Minecraft Donations


OK. I admit it.

I’ve bought into Minecraft as an educational tool.

I think it will work to build a pretty good community in my classroom. So I’ve posted a request for donations on DonorsChoose.  DonorsChoose is a grass-roots crowdsourcing site that allows you to hit up all the lovely people you know for a buck here and a buck there. And eventually, you can buy those things that the school just doesn’t seem to have the cash to purchase.

Here’s the request that DonorsChoose asks me to send out to friends and neighbors and relatives:

Subject: Help me build a better classroom

Hi Friends,

I want to make sure my students have the materials they need to succeed, so I just created a DonorsChoose.org classroom request.

Building Soft Skills Through Minecraft

In return, you’ll get awesome photos of your gift in action and our heartfelt thanks.

Thank you so much,

P.S. If you know anyone who may want to help my students, please pass this along!

And I will. But first, I need to talk through my justifications.

I have just played Minecraft for the past five weeks with an extraordinary group of educators, most of whom already have bought into Minecraft as a thing you do. Some of them are extensively knowledgeable.

Me? I’m a newb. I didn’t know anything about Minecraft, other than it was important enough to my daughter to ask me to invest $6 of her own money for an app on the iPad so she could play.

So I jumped in. How can you criticize something you know nothing about? I had heard it had educational applications. I had my doubts.

But now I can see specific applications where students could be nudged not only into participating, but into joining–and thriving in–a community.

One of my mantras since I started blogging was the need for students to feel safe and loved and cared about in order for learning to take place.

In my schools in chilly Vermont, there is not one teacher who doesn’t surreptitiously take a look at the footwear of children as they walk into a room on a cold, snowy morning, just to make sure they have the right clothing. We feed our kids snacks, and we offer breakfast in the hallways to hungry teens. We don’t worry about the economic backgrounds. We just know that hungry, cold, hurting kids can’t learn.

And a big part of that is establishing a loving community in the classroom. As I’ve told my students in the past, you don’t have to like everybody, but you do have to accept them as people, and you do  have to understand that everybody is going through his or her own personal struggles.

And we can be a friend to those in need.

Conversations that have been happening in the EVO Minecraft community often have to do with people asking for help or asking for advice. Everybody is trying to figure things out, and to do that, you sometimes need a friendly voice to talk you through it, or to throw you a bone. Or to tell you how to build something you desperately need to be able to move on or find a new goal.

I started thinking about soft skills, something that I had tried to connect dance and movement to in my classroom for the past couple of years. Soft skills are those things that we are rarely explicitly taught in the classroom. You can’t really test soft skills. But you can develop them. And hone them.

I found this lovely video of a teacher in Maryland who found out that he was teaching soft skills with Minecraft:

And then I was sold. I went immediately to DonorsChoose and wrote my grant. It just got approved yesterday to be posted on the site.

I think this can bring those boys who I am so afraid will drop out so very soon back into the fold.

The fact that they are the masters, they are the ones who are the decision-makers, the builders, the knowledge holders, it puts them in a unique position to feel power and control over a world in which they feel they possess very little power and control.

Maybe I can convince them that life doesn’t just happen to them. They can be the movers and the shakers.

And they can be the ones to create a chest that has a bunch of food in it for the person who is struggling to survive. They can be the one to just happen to have an extra compass on hand that they can throw at someone so they can find their way back home.

I have found that there came a point in Minecraft where I finally felt as though I had abundance. I have enough to give away; I have enough to share. I have enough that I can show kindness to strangers and feel like it’s the right thing to do.

And if feels much better than hiding from zombies.

Prepping for Survival

I stepped into Minecraft a couple of times this past week… I built a house with a rooftop garden. I let my daughter spawn all sorts of horses and chickens. I built a henhouse. And I flew.

It was fun! It was zen. It was addicting.

But while I was there, I was chatting with another participant who had only played survival mode.

And I got scared.

There’s no flying in survival mode.

I thought I should give it a shot, just to see what we’re heading into this next week. So I tried playing on the ipad.

I drowned. Before I even figured anything out. I fell in the water and watched my life slip away.

First, the air bubbles.

Then the little hearts, marking health points, disappearing with little >>pop!<< noises. (Or maybe those were just in my head).

Then I went back to the laptop and tried again. Twice. I died the first time, again, and then I started dipping into the internet and finding people smarter than me. I learned how to make tools. I built an underground house. I am getting attacked by weird things. I died twice. But now it’s not so upsetting. I know I’ll respawn. I’ll try again.

So this is a great exercise for grit, the new word we’re supposed to be fostering in kids. They are just missing grit.

I think my students have that, but they also don’t like to just have things be out of control. They’ve had enough of that.

So I still need to get to the bit about language learning. I have read what people have said. I have seen some instances; but I still think this works a whole lot better as EFL than what my kids are facing.

Anybody have curriculum-based examples you’re ready to show me?



My first venture out…

house I stoleI went to the EVO Minecraft world last night and was totally lost. I made holes in the ground trying to use things… I picked up slime accidentally.

And then my daughter took over. First, as side-seat driver, then, eventually and subtly, sliding my  laptop off my lap onto hers.

She helped me spawn a horse. And then I accidentally spawned its twin in a house.

She helped me take over a villager’s home. A faux pas I didn’t know was a faux pas, until I met another of my Minecraft course mates. I planted potatoes. Well, my daughter planted potatoes.

She spawned a pig, put a saddle on it, then used a carrot on a stick to get it to transport her around.

I can see how this can be addicting.

Just when I started figuring things out, it was time to make dinner.

I totally buy into the idea that getting kids hooked on the mode of conveyance of material is the best way to make them study more.

Media channels are value neutral. The ‘channels’ through which we receive media encourage personal preference (like Plato’s oral learning), and we hone our literacies for learning based on the media channels we prefer. Readers get better at reading, viewers get better at viewing, and speakers get better at speaking.(Dikkers, in press)

But how does this lead to language learning?

In one of the articles provided by the Minecraft EVO leaders, Smolčec & Smolčec talk about how their non-native English speaking sons have taken off in the world of Minecraft, reading, watching videos to learn more (something my daughter also is fond of doing), and even one son creating his own series of videos in English.

So great!

But I wonder how, beyond teaching the words needed to find objects and describe the journey, I can control content for my English learners, who really should be using English all the time, every day, but often find themselves immersed in their own language subgroups.

I guess I have more reading to do.




Minecraft? Really?

I am jumping into Minecraft.

I’ve heard a lot about it, my daughter’s hooked on it, but I just don’t see how this can help reach educational goals. I look forward to learning.

I’ve watched my own daughter spend crazy amounts of time on Minecraft. I’ve heard it has educational value. But what I see looks just like a waste of time, similar to the mindless hours I spent on FarmTown on Facebook.

But maybe.

I’ve been experimenting in one of my classes with Code Studio, just to get my students to do some problem-solving in English. There’s no real connection with my curriculum, but it is spawning some interesting conversations in English, and it’s creating some interesting leadership that didn’t exist before.

Students who normally wait for others to do their work are quietly taking the lead, working toward becoming the experts in the class.

And… they are speaking English.

How cool is that?

So, maybe this will prove to be a fruitful five weeks through the Electronic Village Online.

I’m actually pretty psyched!



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