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by Kostas Karolemeas

Computers are everywhere! In our smartphones, in our TVs… even in our refrigerators!

These incredible machines have changed the way we do things. Think about a text editor that helps us write down our thoughts. Also think about social networking and messaging apps that helps us communicate with each other.

Computers have also changed the way we think and make decisions. They give us access to information in ways it was not possible before. Think about the knowledge in Wikipedia and the power of Google Search.

They are arguably an extension to our brain! Imagine the power of being able to control these machines. We would know how to give them step-by-step instructions on solving a problem. Then we would just feed them with relevant pieces of information just get the solution fast and without getting tired. The solution that could make our personal of professional lives better!

The art of programming a computer (coding) is about putting together those step-by-step instructions. Everyone can master it. It takes time as it is the case with any art but we founded Allcancode just to make it doable!

Our game

We believe that the best way to master programming is by making it a fun process through games. Starting from younger kids (6 to 12 y.o.) we designed an adventure game where Marco is the main character. He starts a long journey towards learning more about himself. Down the path friends will help him and enemies will hinder him. Levels or series of them present a goal that the player needs to achieve by giving step-by-step instructions to Marco.

A writer of children’s literature provides the storyline. He works close with the game designer while the end result is validated by teachers in classrooms.

Our visual programming language

We have chosen a custom visual programming language over a real one. It is easier to understand and more fun to apply. Professional developers tend to argue on which is the best programming language. In reality there is no best or worst but more or less suitable for a specific problem / application. Once one masters the art of programming using any language she can then learn and apply any other really fast. The computer language is a means for expressing a solution so that the computer can execute it. The goal is to learn how to put together the solution in the first place. Our visual programming language avoids the syntactic sugar of real ones. This makes it easier to read and understand without sacrificing its expressive power.

Current Status

We have delivered the first 10 levels that teach simple instructions, repeat-n-times and repeat-while. The next 10 levels due in October 2014 will introduce if-then-else. This will complete the first set of levels. The next set will introduce the concept of memory (i.e. variables). In parallel that set will foster the development of simple algorithms. The goal is to gradually present goals, which are more difficult to achieve and thus require complex logic.

The game is available: For browser on Windows and Mac:

http://marco.allcancode.com

T h r o u g h C h rome S t o r e :

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/run-marco/objdeaibfajdoeikopmgincdhjifjfle?hl=en

On Google Play for Android tablets (7″ and up):

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.allcancode.runmarco

On iTunes Store for iPads:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/run-marco!/id919554969?mt=8

 

by Andrew Mills
http://www.bitsandbytes.cards

The beginning of the new school year in England heralded the introduction of a new curriculum for primary schools that was described by some as a “revolution in education”. In what was a world first, these changes include the study of computer coding.

The inclusion of computer coding is a move that should be applauded, especially given the increasing pervasiveness of software and the Internet. Twenty years ago the thought of shopping online was scoffed but since then the prevalence of the Internet has grown exponentially and this is set to continue and escalate well into the future. We see children using tablet devices and computers now, and instantly think these children “know computers” or that they are experts in computers, but nothing can be further from the truth. These children are simply adept at operating an interface, not a computer. If this continues then this generation of children will be nothing more than passive consumers, unable to influence products and services of the future. If we want this generation of children to be a generation of creators then they need to understand computer coding.

Boys playing

This is not to say that every child should be a computer programmer when they grow up but given the current trajectory of technology it will be important for them to be able to understand how computers work and the way computers approach a problem. In the future computers will touch every facet of their lives.

By including computer coding in the national curriculum we are preparing our children for the future, but are we?

In some respects referring to it as “computer coding” in the curriculum is a misnomer (especially for children in KS1). What is actually being taught is the mindset – the ability to approach a problem and devise a step-by-step solution to the problem. What is actually being taught is logical thinking – but I guess calling it “logical thinking” isn’t as sexy on the curriculum as “computer coding”.

I shake my head with despair when I read about primary schools and parents rushing out to buy tablets and electronic devices for children in KS1 classes simply so they can comply with the new curriculum. These purchases stretch already over-stretched budgets and why are we going down this path when there are countless studies saying we should be limiting the amount of “screen time” children have each day why are we encouraging more screen time? I know my children don’t need another reason to stare at a screen.

Over two years ago, before the announcement that computer coding would become part of the national curriculum, I was grappling with this same issue – teaching children the fundamentals of computer coding with a computer or expensive electronic device. After several months I had the answer – a card game. A card game called “Bits & Bytes”.

Bits & Bytes teaches computational thinking (or as I prefer to refer to it – the fundamentals of computer coding) through a simple card game that children of all ages have fun playing – no computer or knowledge of computers is required.

The rules of the game are simple.

Facebook ad_Code Instructions

Between two and four children can play at once. Each child takes their turn in moving their “programme” (which resembles a monster and their home planet is called Ram), with the objective being to get their programme home. They take it in turns issuing instructions – turn right, move forward, turn around and so on. If they uncover a wall in front of them they cannot move and need to think of another way to reach home. Sounds simple right? And it is.

But that’s just the basic rules – this is where the children start getting creative – and creativity is incredibly important for computer coding (coding is one of the most creative industries).

If the child uncovers a bug they can be sent back to the start or they can play a different rule where they send somebody else back to the start (for children playing who are age 4-5 we recommend everybody goes back to the start). If they uncover the dreaded overlord, Seepeeu (pronounced CPU), then everybody is captured and sent back to the start. Or the children may be very lucky and discover a precious gem like a ruby on Earth but is called a “Function” on the planet Ram. If they discover this gem then the child can play this card and create a function – for example: IF THEN; or DO UNTIL

; the limit on the function they create is their imagination.

After a few times playing, children start creating their own rule for what each card does, which is great. We want children to be creative.

If children master this level of play then it can become more difficult. Either the children can put two or more decks together, making the game grid much larger and thus more complex, or they can even write their very first computer program (without using a computer). In this version of the game, each child takes it in turns to lay out every step in advance that is required to take their programme from start to home. They then run their programme through each step/instruction (effectively a line of code). If they encounter a wall, a bug or the dreaded Seepeeu then their sequence of instructions doesn’t work and they have to debug their code. While they do that the next person has their turn and so on.

This entire process of laying out their code in advance and then debugging is the exact same process as writing a computer program and the children are doing it without a computer (and in most cases they don’t even realise they are coding). Their eyes light up when you explain to them what they have done.

But the game does much more than this. Every part of the game has been designed to make children feel comfortable with computer coding – ready to actually code. The terminology in the game (for example: the character names) uses common computer terms. The font used is commonly found in coding user interfaces. The backstory of the game explains how computers basically work.

Why a card game you might be asking? Out of all the potential formats Bits & Bytes could have taken, a card game provided the most flexibility and encouraged the most creativity. If it had been a board game the players would be limited to the extent of the board, if it were an app the player would have been limited to what the programmer of the app allowed, but a card game is different. Children can increase the game grid to make it more complex (or decrease the size of the grid to make it easier), they can change the rules, and within the same game it’s easy to have different versions of the game to suit the more advanced children.

Not only that a card game is affordable (the price of one cheap netbook is the equivalent of 10 games of Bits & Bytes, which up to forty children can play at once), it doesn’t take up space, children from age 4 through to age 11 can play the game, it doesn’t matter if they can use a computer already or if they are a boy or a girl. It’s a card game.

Children play Bits & Bytes and they are learning computational thinking – the fundamentals of computer coding. To be precise, they are learning:
• Problem solving – Breaking down problems into their components
• How a step-by-step process leads to a solution
• The sequencing of instructions (and once a child has mastered the game they can create their own programs – just like real coding)
• Algorithms (an algorithm is a series of ordered steps taken to solve a problem or achieve an objective)
• Developing a logical mindset
• And much more, and all without a computer or any required computer knowledge on behalf of the teacher or parent.

My background is in computer programming. I’m passionate about it and teaching children to code (I volunteer to teach coding to children in years 5 and 6 at the local primary school). I’m so passionate about teaching children to code that when it came to funding the first production run of Bits & Bytes (through crowd funding) I wanted to not only raise funds but also raise games to donate to primary schools in the UK. At the time of this article we have raised almost 150 games that will be donated to 15 primary schools – that’s 15 primary schools that will be able to teach up to 40 children at once the fundamentals of computer coding at no cost to them. It’s something I hope to be able to continue in the future.

by Yasemin Allsop, ICT Coordinator, Wilbury Primary School

Looking at recent articles online, It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that the new Computing Curriculum has definitely received an incredible amount of attention from both educators and industry leaders. Interestingly, I have been receiving so many emails from teachers around the country, asking me questions related to the implementation of these changes into their school curricula, and they are not necessarily in the same context. What this means is, the starting point for schools will be very different for teaching the new computing curriculum, as they face different issues. Schools, even within the same local area have such different experiences of using technology for teaching and learning, it is very correct to suggest that their previous experiences will surely affect the way the new computing curriculum is adapted. If we add the variances of  infrastructure and the approach of leadership in the school, which are very important parts of this change process, you can see that we need to have a very clear plan to complete this transformation.  It won’t be happening by just getting a scheme and trying to teach without setting the main principles according to the needs of the learners and teachers.

So, what is the main idea that we need to focus on?  Miles Berry’s short sentence in one of our Twitter discussions answers this question in a very simple and clear way.  He described the move from ICT to computing as;

“Computing is the new ICT.  More to computing than CS; more to CS than coding; more to coding than Scratch.”

I think this one sentence perfectly clarifies the misconceptions around the new computing curriculum. Recently, there are so many articles and items of news focused on programming, people have started to think that the new curriculum is all about coding and nothing else. This is very dangerous, as it may result in ignoring the main elements of computing which includes digital literacy, computer science, Information technology and E-safety.Then again, limiting computer science to only coding activities and coding to the use of Scratch; although I love it, will make us miss a very important opportunity to support learners to develop higher level critical thinking and problem solving skills which are the  foundation to learning in any area, both at school and outside. I won’t be explaining the elements of the new Computing Curriculum here, as there are so many very good examples already available online, however, I will share a few tips which I have found to be very useful when making sense of these changes and getting ready to teach them.

HOW SHOULD WE BEGIN?

Although it is really difficult to summarise our journey of getting ready to teach the new computing curriculum in a few sentences, I will try to share a few tips that might be useful as a starting point.

PLANNING. Keep your planning, simple and jargon free. Start with working on basic-draft planning with your students and colleagues.

Involve school leaders, teachers and learners in both the design of the planning and also the ways of teaching them. Make sure that your planning clearly shows progression across the age groups  and your school has the infrastructure to meet the technical requirements. Do not file your planning document, it is not your P60.  Turn it into a working document by evaluatingand re-developing the content with your learners, so that it will be relevant to their needs and interests. If you get stuck, or just want to find out how others are doing, have a look at the resources people are sharing on the internet, join forums and discussions. CAS has forums for both primary and secondary stages where, you will always get help from enthusiastic members. There is also a resources section for people to share teaching materials, which I have found to be invaluable. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel, we just need to develop our own by looking at the examples already created.

LEARNING SPACE. Every part of your classroom is a learning space, so use it.  In my experience, by confining children to sit in certain places and limiting their movements within the classroom, also limits their thinking and freedom to learn. When they feel comfortable and free to move and interact with other learners, the space turns from a static-controlled environment into a  dynamic lab. This enables them to explore, discuss ideas actively both independently or with others which, provides in depth learning experience. Having control of their own learning experience, empowers students to learn. It is also a great opportunity for teachers to stay in the background and spend time not just observing children to evaluate their learning, but also gaining an insight into how they learn, which will be very useful when designing and evaluating activities.

PEDAGOGY. We may think that, if we give children a digital tool; tablet, laptop, PC etc and ask them to make their own digital game, they will all just get on with it and enjoy it. This may be true for some, but not for every learner. I know we are fed up with hearing the word ‘differentiation’, however this is still a very vital part of teaching. We need to be aware that from blogging to coding, for all the activities that involve the use of technology require certain skills to be used.  The learners in our class will have different level cognitive resources but also language skills thus, their ability to accomplish the task will be varied. Some will engage with the activity, but some will be lost. It will be the job of the teacher to guide the children to reflect upon their learning by helping them to develop their metacognitive skills when they are stuck at any stage of the task. This means, teachers need to be aware of the strategies to manifest the desired outcomes and have knowledge of the learning approaches that work well when teaching with technology.

CONSTANT TRAINING.  As learners, teachers  will have not just different experiences of technology, but also approaches to teaching and learning. We can’t expect quality teaching without providing teachers with quality training. When I say training, I am not talking about one off INSET, but rather regular constant workshops where teachers will have the chance to experiment with tools, share ideas with their colleagues and even have discussions with learners around lessons before planning. They need to understand not only the mechanics of the tool but at the same time the strategies to use with which to manifest the desired outcome. Of course, the main aim should be, engaging learners and providing in-depth learning experiences. Most importantly learning to learn with learners is the best way of connecting them with learning and also keeping up to date with the constant changes. So having sessions to just sit and play with students is a must for learning in the digital age.

When we started to plan our Computing Scheme at Wilbury, we first looked at the resources available, then had discussions with our teachers and students. It is still a working document, as our ideas and the tools that we use are constantly evolving. We have designed a one page simple planning guide to help teachers and learners to see the progression, as it is very important to know the learners starting point and where we are trying to move them onto. We then created detailed planning with cross-curricular links.

I have organised a few staff meetings on the new curriculum to share the changes with my colleagues. We also had practical sessions organised by our digital leaders. I think allowing learners and teachers to explore the tools together moves learning to a different dimension. As learners and teachers become actively involved in designing and deciding activities, learning becomes more relevant to both of them which, makes learning a more fun and positive experience. So, just sit down and have a chat with your students. You will be amazed at how much they know. I have to admit I learned more with them, then researching on the Internet.

USEFUL WEBSITES

  • A guide for primary Teachers by CAS and Naace.

http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/data/uploads/CASPrimaryComputing.pdf

  • Very well organised website with brilliant resources for teaching Computing Science, by Phil Bagge, CAS Regional Coordinator and CAS Primary Computing Master Teacher

http://code-it.co.uk/

  • Really good website for planning resources and activity ideas. I love the powerpoint for introducing the new computing curriculum to staff.

http://primarycomputing.co.uk/

In conclusion, although there is still confusion around the elements of the new computing curriculum, thanks to organisations such as CAS, Universities and many enthusiastic individuals, I think schools have a good support network available to prepare themselves for teaching the  new curriculum. Of course, this is only possible if the leadership team see the impacts of skills developed through computing activities on students learning in the whole and support teachers who are trying to lay the foundations for the new computing curriculum.

by Eileen Bach, English Teacher

Concordia International School Shanghai

The ideal situation is to take students to museums, preferably those that maintain or recreate the original context. But, if you cannot go to the mountain, then there are ways to bring the mountain to you!

Multiple types of lessons may incorporate images from, or virtual tours of, museums to support interdisciplinary course work. Both major museums with online collections, such as The British Museum in London, and lesser-known institutions, such as New York’s Fenimore Museum of American Folk Art, Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum of Anthropology & Archaeology, and The Morgan Library, offer many of their stellar collections online. These online collections may be brought to life vividly right in your classroom. What follows is a sample of lessons ranging from teaching a particular art form, such as Vanitas Paintings, to illustrating ideas by using images and recordings from museum archives.

TYPE: Using museum images to illustrate ideas

Example: Sutton Hoo treasures, supporting a unit about the English epic, Beowulf

Museum: The British Museum

URL: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights.aspx

Images used to showcase Anglo-Saxon culture “love of beauty, joy in creation, perfection in craftsmanship [flourished] in the Dark Ages” (R. Bruce-Mitford)

Assignment: Pseudo-archaeology

Enrichment: Poem “Junk”

TYPE: Using museum images to teach a particular form

Example: Vanitas paintings, supporting a unit on visual literacy (Advanced Placement English)

Museum: Johnson Art Museum

URL: http://www.museum.cornell.edu/HFJ/handbook/hb118.html

Image used separately following instruction from http://www.artisanart.us/lubin.html

Followed by text from the Johnson Museum site.

Assignment: Apply understanding to new image.

Enrichment: Create your own vanitas still life

TYPE: Using museum images to enrich a unit

Example: “Bound for Freedom’s Light: African Americans and the Civil War”

Museum: The National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/exhbound.html

Assignment: Telling a story through vintage photographs

Enrichment: Walt Whitman’s Civil War era notebooks, available through the Library of Congress at:

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/whitman/wwntbks.html

TYPE: Using museum images as a “hook” to interest students in a topic.

Example: The Puritan

Museum: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

URL:http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/american_paintings_and_sculpture/the_puritan_augustus_saint_gaudens/objectview.aspx?collID=2&OID=20012380

Assignment: How can you identify this man as a Puritan? What conveys this?

Enrichment: Poem “Upon the Burning of Our House”

TYPE: A Virtual Tour to set students in a particular time and place

Example ONE: Virtual tour of Dickens’s house in London

Museum: The Dickens Museum

URL: http://dickensmuseum.com/vtour/

Assignment: What elements make this home Victorian?

Enrichment: “A Child’s Christmas in

Wales” (post-Victorian writing but Victorian in sentiment and setting)

Example Two: The Peabody Essex Museum

URL:http://www.pem.org/visit/yin_yu_tang.php

Assignment: What elements characterize Chinese homes?

Enrichment: Architectural symbolism in Chinese homes, e.g. the vase as a symbol of peace

TYPE: Using museum archives (both images and recordings) to bring history to life.

Example ONE: The Voting Machine

Museum: The Smithsonian

URL: http://smithsonianimages.si.edu/siphoto/siphoto.portal_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=detail&negNum=200426275&action=detail

Assignment: Used as illustration to

accompany “The Declaration of Sentiments”

Enrichment: Compose your own Declaration of Independence

Example TWO: The Foundling Hospital Museum

URL: http://www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk/oralhistory.php

Assignment: Used with studies or stories linked to poverty (Nickel and Dimed, Grapes of Wrath)

Enrichment: Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era photographs

Example THREE: The Peabody Museum

URL: http://www.peabody.yale.edu/collections/hsi/hsi_whatami.html

Assignment: Which of these items might have been Victor Frankenstein’s? For what purpose?

Enrichment: What is Maxwell’s Top?

OTHER MUSEUMS OF INTEREST:

This is an eclectic list, based upon my personal experiences and prejudices!  Please add to this list!

The Art Institute of Chicago

http://www.artic.edu/

The Clark

http://www.clarkart.edu/museum/video-tours/

Fenimore Art Museum of American Folk Art

http://www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/fenimore/collections/american_folk_art

The Frick

http://www.frick.org/virtual/index.htm

The Louvre

http://www.louvre.fr/llv/musee 

visite_virtuelle.jsp?bmLocale=en

The Morgan Library

http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/defaultExhibOnline.asp

The Pitt Rivers Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology, Oxford University

http://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/collections.html

Rijks Museum

http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/meesterwerken

Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection of American Indian Art

http://www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/files/fenimore/collections/thaw/exhibit1/

vexmain1.htm

The Uffizi

http://www.uffizi.com/

Victoria and Albert Museum

http://www.vam.ac.uk/activ_events/do_online/films/index.html

And remember those noted in the sample lessons:

The British Museum:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/

highlights.aspx

The Johnson Art Museum:

http://www.museum.cornell.edu/

The Library of Congress:

http://www.loc.gov/

The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/

The National Portrait Gallery:

http://www.npg.si.edu

The Peabody:

http://www.peabody.yale.edu/collections/hsi/hsi_whatami.html

The Peabody Essex Museum:

http://www.pem.org/

The Smithsonian:

http://smithsonianimages.si.edu/

Just one more block…”, “If I just flatten this area and put this here I’ll…”, “I can build that in a few minutes…”. These are just some of the comments you’ll hear from someone lost in the vast worlds of Minecraft. Building colossal structures they’ve never seen before, landscaping whole valleys, mountains and forests, rerouting rivers and exploring deep caverns underground. It’s this level of freedom to create that makes Minecraft such an engaging platform for play. And it’s this engagement that makes Minecraft such a valuable learning tool.
I’m a huge fan of using Minecraft as a learning tool. To date it’s one of the most powerful games-based learning platforms I’ve found. It neatly fuses the engagement of gaming for pleasure with the elusive art of subliminal learning, a strategy sought after in so many ICT and games-based learning initiatives. I‘ve use Minecraft in many areas of education from primary to secondary; In after school clubs, with not-for-profit organisations such as libraries and museums, with businesses  and I‘m about to start work on a sizeable historical project reconstructing a famous Scottish town as part of the 2014 year of culture. I have taught elements of literacy, numeracy, science, art, design and technology, RME, computer science, primary topic work and much more using Minecraft and I work with educators around the world using Minecraft across a wide variety of curricula.

However, like all good tools for learning, Minecraft must only be used in the right situation and under the right circumstances. With forethought, planning and a clear, valid purpose. While It’s easy (and tempting) to use technology for the sake of using technology, it’s important to make the results of using Minecraft measurable.
Aligning the virtual tasks we undertake directly to our curriculum outcomes and experiences.

I note from some comments on Twitter recently that some people just don’t see the educational merit of Minecraft. I have carried out CPD on games-based learning in which a geography teacher has left desperate to install Minecraft while his/her history colleague sees no use for it. Education can never be a uniform system…on account of many elements, not least of all the pupils. So the more tools educators have, the better. Let Minecraft be just one of those. Not everyone will want to use it…just like podcasting, animation, cameras, some web 2.0 tools, e-journaling, blogging tools and more.

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Worldwide Minecraft CPD

I recently built a learning environment using Minecraft specifically for teacher. From the basic functions of mining, crafting and building to applying the game’s mechanics to their own subject. Educators are offered free, in-game CPD with me using Skype. It’s been an interesting project with teachers from all over the world visiting; from the UK to South America, Europe, Scandinavia and as far as New Zealand (though lets face it…in an online context, that’s just a few milliseconds away).

Many have commented that Minecraft became infinitely more applicable after such a session (usually just one hour). Perhaps there is some weight here in the importance of training in the use of these kinds of tools? Time, space and funding for pioneering new ideas, technologies and pedagogies in the yearly allocation of training for staff? Larger risk, but I’m willing to bet there will be much larger rewards too. This in turn raises the question of why education is generally always way behind industry, commerce and home life in the application of technology? But that’s a whole other article.

It has been said that pupils will be put off by the regimentation of Minecraft in a learning environment, far from the freedoms they have outside of school. While Minecraft simulates the real world, the truth is, it isn’t real. Initially this strikes me as an accurate argument. After all, one of the main attractions of Minecraft is the sandbox environment and freedom within it to create anything you can imagine but within a set world to set rules. But if we look at this historically, in the realm of human development, this is how we flourish. Without some sense of order, law, rules, regulation, civility and such, there is only chaos. This is no different in Minecraft. Where I have left my own worlds open to this freedom we have experienced malicious destruction of our school constructions, the burning of our ‘Gruffalo Forest’, our in-game QR codes changed and so on. However, over time (and in some cases a very short time indeed) children begin to develop a sense of order, form rules, tasks, levels of acceptable behaviour. They police themselves, they plan and organise, allocate land, remove shoddy work and promote good work elsewhere. They make teams and work collaboratively or in healthy competition. It doesn’t take us as administrators or educators to do this!

If planned, managed and structured for learning and so, to some degree limited, Minecraft can prolong a pupil’s interest in the game and overall learning purpose. The beauty of Minecraft is the freedom we have to actually set rules, borders, challenges and problems. We used flooding and minefields in a recent project we undertook for a geography department exploring the displacement of population after a natural disaster or war. It was used to great effect to keep the pupils from growing bored of the freedom to go anywhere, do anything. Focusing their minds on the task in hand, the fear of that mine or the importance of the construction of flood defences before the imminent flood.

pastedGraphic.pdf

Dam from above before the flood.

pastedGraphic_1.pdf

Dam open

Of course, giving them that freedom as a reward for completing challenges and maintaining the rules is a matter of ‘gamification’. Pupils were able to build a hugely elaborate settlement once they safely reached their chosen resettlement area.

One final point; if we strip away the subject specifics of curriculum learning. Assume we don’t need to meet outcomes or objectives or experiences in any given subject. The sheer wealth and quality of soft skills developed through the collaborative work encouraged by a tool such as Minecraft is astonishing.

Communication skills (in multiple languages where necessary), leadership, sharing, teamwork, organisation, time management, task management, decision-making, self and peer assessment and more. All willingly…or rather unwittingly given, as part of the experience. Music to any educator’s ears!

I am sure the Minecraft phenomenon will fade eventually as new games with ever more attractive mechanics are released (notice I didn’t say graphics). The games industry is changing rapidly towards a more interactive, ‘hack’, ‘mod’ and ‘build-your-own’ model. Lets just try to keep an open mind about all of the tools available to our educators. For now…I’m a fan of Minecraft as a tool for learning. Provided it’s the right tool for the job in hand!

Thinking back about my father who had never been to school, couldn’t read and write. Still, he could design and make Turkish stoves and later on street carts on wheels using a few tools to exact measurements. I remember him cutting and connecting metal tubes, wheels and other parts for hours sometimes for days using just basic tools outside our flat. How he understood the mechanics of his designs and decided what he needed to make it work is still a mystery for me. We didn’t have books, or TV, definitely no Google to search for instructions. Sadly he passed away when I was young, so I will have to try to answer this question myself…

Recently, especially in England, where ICT has been replaced by the Computing curriculum, writing and talking about teaching children programming and coding is more popular than ever. Every day I read a new planning scheme shared by someone or watch a video of how to teach Python, Java, Raspberry pi and so on… Suddenly, everybody became an expert in teaching programming to children; raving about all kinds of programs or tools. What is missing is, understanding how children learn and how to best teach it.

I am not sure that teaching children just textual coding will be enough to equip them with very valuable transferrable life skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaborative working and creativity as learning is extensively derived on how well students can transfer and apply these skills to different learning contexts.  Bransford et al. (2000, p.55) states that the transfer of the skills and knowledge is possible when learning involves more than simple memorization or applying a fixed set of procedures.  Foremost, the student needs to understand the concepts and become expert in the skills, then know how and when to apply the skills to new situations.  Although these steps look very straight forward, it is only viable when one develops the ability to understand and reflect their own thoughts, in other words metacognitive skills (Flawell, 1979; Fisher, 2005).  Textual coding, if not taught in a context can turn into practice of memorization or applying a fixed set of procedures, which is not going to be a very meaningful experience for young children.

I personally would like to focus on ‘computer game design’ You may ask why? Resnick’s explanation of the  ideas behind creating Scratch probably summarise the whole concept behind my thinking. Resnick (Resnick et al., 2009) asserted that, although his team was inspired by programming environments such as Alice and Squeak Etoys, they wanted to create a programming environment that was “more tinkerable, more meaningful and more social than other programming environments”. By “more tinkerable” he means being able to snap and build the programming blocks like building with lego bricks so that children can start tinkering with blocks to just try out their ideas straight away. Kafai’s description of learning through design also explains the relationship between the ‘design’ element of game design and children’s learning. In her book Minds in Play: Computer Game Design as a Context for Children’s Learning’ she noted (Kafai, 1995 p.xvii), “Learning through design considers programming not only valuable for its computational and technological knowledge, but also supportive of other learning. It proposes an environment in which the computer becomes a tool that allows children to express their personal thoughts and ideas, in the form of a product”

This again emphasises the importance of how design makes programming more meaningful for the learners by enabling them to reflect their individuality moulded into their design. In game design, children tell the story in their mind where the words can’t… It is like mental sentences written in the form of shape, objects, narrative, codes and actions. Their feelings, worries, enjoyments, dreams, curiosity, interests, excitement all find a voice in their own game design which reflects their world in their mind. When students can relate to a learning context, learning becomes meaningful which activates the engagement trigger throughout the learning process.

The question is how does game design enables children to learn? In order to answer this question we need to explore their mental activities. in other words their ‘thinking’ when designing their own games. The following section will explore this.

From ‘Private’ Speech to Conversational Thinking: Learning Through Game Design

Watching children designing their own computer games over the years, one of the most common repeated  behaviours I noticed was, they kept touching on the codes, characters on the computer screen and speaking sometimes aloud to themselves, sometimes to their friends. There were situations where a few children closed their eyes whilst speaking aloud to themselves. Some of them looked at the screen for a very long time, without saying a word, in their words they were ‘thinking’.  When they were asked what they were thinking when designing their answers included;

“I think about the motion in real life.  When I think about swimming, I think about like I move my arms up and down’

“I imagine the game before I make it.  If I make a game where it is a car game, in a city, first I make the scene-imagine the city, then the car and I think about what to do with it”

“I test it out in my mind.  If it is not realistic, then I won’t try on my design, because I know it won’t work”

“I try to design the movements in my mind but I try them out on the program, because the codes are on the program, not all in my mind”

What this tells us is, when children are designing their own computer games, they are constantly thinking. This thinking is more like having a conversation with their ‘self’ and ‘others’. At this point it is very appropriate to mention Vygotsky’s (1934/1962; 1934/1987) “private” speech theory. Vygotsky described “private” speech as the critical transitional process—the pivotal stage—between speaking with others and thinking for oneself. What is fascinating is how the children turn their private speech into lengthy conversations, which they then use for designing solutions for problems by themself. By having conversations with their ‘self’ instead of only ’others’, the child takes on both speaking and listening roles, where thinking becomes verbalized in solutions or the design created. As mentioned before learning takes place when one develops the ability to understand and reflect their own thoughts, in other words metacognitive skills (Flawell, 1979; Fisher, 2005). In a game design context; conversation with ‘self’ enables children to go inwards and recognize/design/evaluate/develop their thoughts and then reflect them through conversation with ‘others’ which helps them to develop their ideas further. You may say is it only when designing games children learn through conversational thinking. The answer is of course not, however there are some characteristics of the learning context that game design offers, which  children can relate to easier than other learning environments. I haven’t got space to discuss them all here but still I would like to list a few of them:

  • We all know that children love playing computer games, therefore having an opportunity to design a game that they can play alone or with their friends means a lot to them.
  • During game design, children don’t always have to listen or follow the instructions of an adult (they shouldn’t anyway), they can just get on with their work, exactly how they would when making creations with Lego. No time for boredom!
  • Computer game design gives children time ad flexibility to make up a world or a narrative that reflects their own world in their mind. They are not confined to a space or limited by time. It is like freedom to learn…
  • Designing a computer game helps them to turn their abstract thinking into a concrete design which is quite an advanced learning experience.

Final words….Please stop teaching me, Let me Learn!

I think one of the main reasons why children learn better when designing their own games is, because they not only have an opportunity to design and manage their own learning experience actively but also internalize and externalize their own thinking through constant dialogues. Simply they have time to understand and reflect on their own thinking. Today in schools most of the teaching done by teachers is where children are forced to sit and listen for the most of the lessons. No time to think, no time to discuss (both with their ‘self’ and ‘others’) and certainly no time to reflect. Most importantly, no opportunity for the students to develop and manage their own learning experience or at least take part in the process of it. No flexibility for wondering around either in their mind or in the physical learning space. Surely in this model, students will only use and develop listening and sitting skills rather than thinking…

Well, we need to stop complaining about children. We ask children what they are interested in, then ignore  their answers when designing lessons, we tell them to be an active participant in the classroom, then make them sit and listen for a very long period of time, we ask them if they understood, then give them no time to think of an answer. Basically we keep talking and teaching (we think we are) but we don’t allow them to learn. There is nothing wrong with todays’ children. We just don’t understand how they learn and how best to teach it.

Going back to my father, how he learned to design those amazing stoves and street carts?  I think he had time to listen to himself and have many long conversations with his ‘self’, which helped him to verbalise his thinking into a design.. He was also free to make mistakes, try out many ideas before deciding which was the best one. He didn’t have someone telling him what to do all the time or giving him the instructions directly. He had to think for himself and developed a sequence of thinking which helped him to get more efficient when making a stove or a cart the next time. He enjoyed designing and making… When you compare his ideas with others, they stood out, they looked so much better and I am not saying this because he was my father. I believe that he didn’t just design them just to earn his living, he put extra time and effort into each one of them because he not only had pride in his work, but also it was a language for him to express his thinking where he couldn’t do it in words…

REFERENCES

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). Learning and transfer (Chapter 3). In How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (pp. 51-78). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Fisher R. (1998), Thinking about Thinking: developing metacognition in children. Early Child Development and Care, Vol 141 (1998) pp1-15. Retrieved June 12, 2013, from http://www.teachingthinking.net/thinking/web%20resources/robert_fisher_thinkingaboutthinking.htm

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive-developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, 34, 906-911.

Kafai, Y. (1995) Minds in Play: Computer Game Design as a Context for Children’s Learning. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Resnick, M., Maloney, J., Monroy-Hernández, A., Rusk, N., Eastmond, E., Brennan, K., …Kafai, Y. (2009). Scratch programming for All. Communications of the ACM, 52(11), 60-67.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. (E. Hanfmann & G. Vakar, Eds. and Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

 

 

by Dr. Maryanne Maisano & Dr. Deborah Anne Banker

ABSTRACT

This paper focuses on the specific use of Second Life within the instructional design of a teacher education course in the aftermath of a hurricane super storm, which devastated this US metropolitan area. Second Life, an immersive learning software program of a Virtual World that allows selfdirected learners to actively communicate not only with professors and peers within the course room but with people from different places and different cultures, with the assistance of simultaneous translation services. Teachers, with their students, can create scenarios in endless venues, focusing on concepts of culturally responsive teaching, while “meeting” educators, colleagues, and students from other cultures and countries for discussions, ideas, developing thinking skills, and participating in simulated field experiences thus providing a venue for continuous professional development under many circumstance.

Keywords: technological simulation, global perspectives, continuous professional

Introduction

Traditionally, lectured instruction has taken place in many a college course room, with the professor as the expositor of information toward students within the hallowed halls of academia. The twenty-first century learner has rapidly become testimony to multiple teaching and learning approaches with the use of technology in a constantly changing technologically immersed global society. One specific approach noteworthy of documentation will be extensively discussed in this paper as the alternative virtual learning environment introduced to students of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, NY, USA by one professor as a means to meet the technology standards of course instruction. This professor chose a virtual classroom environment to meet synchronously within the realm of Second Life as part of a hybrid methods course of the college in the immersive world environment created by a former colleague already established in Second Life (SL). “Second Life” poised not to replace the current physical classroom but to enrich an already strong teacher education program beginning with a Virtual World called Second Life (SL), available via the Internet.

Methodology

The specific design of this paper will illustrate a qualitative study using the methodology of focus group and narrative questionnaire analysis of student generated d i s c u s s i o n a n d w r i t t e n documentat ion of cont inuous course of study during the aftermath of the storm. The findings and results will herald the voice of students in the education program at this specific institution of higher l e a r n i n g – b a s e d s i m u l a t e d environment. Players create and take the form of avatars which are visible, that can interact with each other and use and create objects. Communication between players include text, graphical icons, visual gestures, and sounds. Some communication may also include using touch, voice command, and balance senses, depending on the version and technology being used by the players. Because of the interplay of senses being provided, players experience the sensations of telepresence or the feeling of actually being present within the imaginary, fantasy world.

A TECHNOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS IN A TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAM

With SL, already a virtual reality designed specifically by one of the authors of this paper for the use of teaching and learning in an immersive world technology, the authors of this paper will present the current possibilities and a d v a n t a g e s o f c o n n e c t i n g traditional classroom instruction for students in a teacher education program with the expansive oppor tuni t ies for c las s room inst ruct ion provided by thi s technology format, which is part of the system known as immersive learning. What began as simply an alternative method of instruction based on the technology standards for the course ultimately found this method of instruction to be a beacon in the storm in the 5 aftermath of the super storm Hurricane Sandy that unleashed its wrath of destruction in the NY metropolitan area on October 29, 2012. To date, there is still much devastation in the process of rebuilding and although much of the teaching and learning has returned to normalcy in many courses of study, the use of the tool of technology for synchronous meeting continues to maintain excellence in the world of teaching and learning in higher education.

Currently, the Second Life Viewer refers to itself as a free client program that enables its users, called Residents, to interact with each other through Avatars. Residents can explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another, or travel throughout the world, which Residents refer to as the “grid”. SL is designed for users aged over eighteen. Built into the software is a three dimensional modelling tool based around simple geometric shapes that allows a resident to build virtual objects. This tool can be used in combination with a scripting language called Linden Scripting Language for adding movement and function to objects and can be combined with three-dimensional sculpted forms for adding textures for clothing or other objects, animations, and gestures. (Taken February 16, 2009, Second Life, Wikipedia, And The Free Encyclopedia). Once again, it is important to mention that at no cost to students in this immersive world of SL, students were graciously invited to the virtual world created by the co-author and professor from another US University, for synchronous instruction for educators. This virtual environment is shared by educators world wide for continuous professional development available to anyone interested in not only exploring the immersive world technology in education but to build on content area learning in multiple disciplines.

Second Life in Higher Education

While teaching methods courses at St. Francis College in Brooklyn NY, one of the authors of this paper in collaboration with her co-author initiated a Second Life component to the Education Department’s course of study for pre-service teachers in the undergraduate program in teacher education. While adhering to the in-place curriculum and conceptual framework for this course, she explored the possibilities of using SL with her students. As this component was developed, many significant principles of learning (Vygotsky, 1978, Gardner, 1983, Marzano, Pickering, Pollock, 2001, Strong, Silver, Perini, 2001) became available to all the participants, principles that were previously introduced by the professor in face-to-face instruction and the participants were now able to receive the same body of knowledge in a virtual classroom synchronous meeting. The following extensions available through SL represent only the first steps in the merging of this SL technology with teacher preparation:

First. Virtual Classroom Development which can be modified continuously, as required, for specific subject area learning and attention to individualized needs.

Second. Subject-Area Availability and Integration through access to the Internet and human resources.

Third. Practice Teaching Simulations and Role-Playing allowing every pre-service student to participate and interact with colleagues.

Fourth. Distance Learning Opportunities for Developing Culturally Responsive Teaching with “distance” being global and communication made possible through immediate translations (ex. Italian to English and English to Italian, etc.)

Fifth. Simulated “Field” Experiences that take students to “courthouses, hospitals, environmental sites, geographic regions” or wherever else one can actually and, therefore virtually, reach.

We will explore how each of the above aspects of this pre-service course was expanded through SL. Combined with these aspects of learning is the research that attests to their value for both classroom teachers and students and can be provided more effectively and efficiently by access to SL. This preparation is essential for developing quality teachers imparting a high-level curriculum who can particularly address the needs of students of diversity who may have previously been “under served” (Rothstein, M. and E. Rothstein, 2009). Further, it is important to reiterate the knowledge we impart in a traditional setting of course instruction is mirrored in the virtual e n v i r o nme n t b o t h s y n c h r o n o u s l y a n d asynchronously—a clearly defined asset set in place for specific use in spite of the aftermath of a devastating storm which left many students unable to travel to campus for regular instruction.

SL allows the teacher, as well as the students, to continuously “modify the classroom.” The Second Life scenario, students can set up vir tual environments of cities, countrysides, museums, wildlife settings or whatever is related to the curriculum just as the co-author of this paper has done for the purpose of coming together synchronously in a virtual presence. By creating these simulated settings, teachers and students are involved in active research from the Internet and other media, which they can then present, to colleagues or classmates for true sharing and discussion. Through this simulation, the teacher guides the students in a true cross-cultural model for individualization of instruction (Maisano, 2004).

Subject Area Learning and Attention to Individualized Needs Through Virtual Instruction Time

“Planet earth is inhabited by all kinds of people who have all kinds of minds. The brain of each human is unique. Some minds are wired to create symphonies and sonnets, while others are fitted out to build bridges, highways, and computers… (Levine, 2002.1)”

This opening statement in ‘A Mind at a Time’, rarely serves as the basis for subject area instruction in a traditional setting. Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2001) express a complementary viewpoint on instruction by challenging the concept of what “all students” need (rather than what the individual student needs) by asking if there are instructional strategies that are 1) more effective in certain subject areas 2) more effective at certain levels of instruction 3) more effective with students from different backgrounds, and 4) more effective with students of different aptitudes (9). In response to these questions, the authors state three strategies that have been shown to have positive effects, known as student-centred instruction, teaching of critical thinking skills, and the use of hands-on activities. Preservice teachers are taught to model these strategies in their course of study. This is implemented on several levels in the hybrid class, which embodies both face-to-face instruction and immersive world instruction in the virtual environment of Second Life.

While administrators and teachers may agree with the concepts of Levine and Marzano, they may ask, justifiably, how they could possibly create instructional formats that are “individualized” and “student-centred” when all the students know the same information, which they must all learn at the same rate. A modestly stated answer to this question might lie in the inclusion of Second Life in the classroom which can be introduced and maintained by the current population of pre-service and inservice teachers who enter the classroom with SL knowledge and skills which this paper addresses.

Subject-Area Availability and Integration

As pre-service teachers prepare, practice and model quality instruction they keep in mind the following iterated by E.D. Hirsch’s second chapter in The Schools We Need is titled “Intellectual Capital: A Civil Right”. Hirsch opens with the statement that “The need in a democracy is to teach children a shared body of knowledge”(17), which he calls intellectual capital. “operates in almost every sphere of modern society to determine social class, success or failure in school, and even psychological or physical health” (19). Hirsch continues to explain the concept of Intellectual Capital as a necessity for economic and psychological well being, focusing on those children denied access to this “capital.” He empathetically writes, [these children] “fall further and further behind. He then compares this lack of intellectual capitalism with money stating that a “child’s accumulation of wide-ranging foundational k n o w l e d g e i s t h e k e y t o e d u c a t i o n a l achievement” (20).

The inclusion of SL in the teaching/learning spectrum and in the preparation of pre-service teachers can be a powerful adjunct in the development of intellectual capitalism because not only does it have the advantage of being a virtual modifiable classroom, but because it offers access to specific subject-area topics that, again following through on Hirsch, “can be broadly shared with others” for effective communication and learning (20). Through SL, preservice teachers and students of all ages can “go to” sites on beginning reading, mathematics, chemistry, or whatever curriculum area is needed. A further advantage of this access is the opportunity to truly integrate subjects. At an SL site, students at their desktop through their “Avatars” with different aspects of knowledge can meet to present and discuss, for example, “the relationship of mathematics to chemistry, “ or “the history of the English language and its affect on English spelling.”

Visitors to the site can bring their high-level intellectual questions and find other visitors and materials with answers. The learning is not linear and based on a pacing guide, but circular and expansive, and dependent on shared knowledge. This specific goal is maintained through the networking of educators worldwide. Pre-service teachers at St. Francis College, Department of Education had the unique opportunity to p r e s e n t a n d participate in an international o n l i n e c o n f e r e n c e m e e t i n g t e a c h e r s a r o u n d t h e w o r l d t o d i s c u s s pedagogy t o practice. This practice alone is one aspect of using this s p e c i fi c technology tool to enrich the learning experience for all students on multiple levels of cognition.

Practice Teaching Simulations and Role-Playing

SL gives every participant student multiple opportunities to participate and interact with colleagues. In the History of Education in America, published in 1994, the authors Pulliam and Van Patten wrote of the “Character ist ics of Futur ist i c Education” (270-281), much of which they have said is not only relevant, but still needs to occur. They begin with the axiom that “Education is more than training”. Training refers to providing students with existing information. The true purpose of education, they state, “requires an environment in which students are not asked questions for which the answers are known”, but which develop the “ability to solve problems and communicate in a meaningful way” (272). The classroom, as we know it, is a limited setting for pre-service teachers to practice teaching simulations and to role-play not only the teacher, but also the learners. The teacher who lectures can only hope that the “wisdom and knowledge” emanating from the lecture reaches and interacts with the brain of the learner.

Two publications extend the earlier work of Pulliam and Van Patten: Howard Gardner’s Five Minds for the Future (2007) and Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind (2005). Gardner’s “five minds” represent what he terms “five dramatis personae” that allow a person to be “well-equipped to deal with what is expected, as well as what cannot be anticipated” (2). The five minds, according to Gardner, are the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind. Gardner’s specific use of the terms dramatis personae tie-in not coincidentally with the need for “role p l a y i n g ” i n t e a c h e r p r e p a r a t i o n . Daniel Pink (2005) also focuses on the mind, referring t o a r t i s t s , i n v e n t o r s , d e s i g n e r s , s t o r y t e l l e r s , c a r e g i v e r s , consolers, big picture thinkers—those with minds needed for the forthcoming decades. Needed for a successful future will be those people who exhibit the qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning. If we can imagine future teachers having minds that merge the qualities of Gardner and Pink, we can imagine teaching and learning environments well beyond the current classrooms we now have. To begin this process, teachers of the future need to begin their training by simulating and role-playing of what is likely to be.

The addition of SL to pre-service teacher preparation is designed by its structure to foster and promote continuous interactions and role-playing, based on solving problems that confront learners and learning, st retching thei r minds to be discipl ined, synthesizing, creating, respectful, and ethical. Every participant in a SL setting must interact cooperatively, (not competitively) a behavior, which the authors emphasize, is predictive of not only success in school, but also success on the job and in life (Pulliam and Van Patten 274). Also, interacting cooperatively encompasses the qualities cited by Pink. In an SL setting, pre-service teachers can be involved in all or most of these simulations and roleplaying activities (Maisano, 2010).

Distance Learning Opportunities for Building Culturally Responsive Teaching & Continuous Professional Development

During the aftermath of the storm, lives were shaken, saddened by the destruction and devastated by the paralysis of life perhaps once taken for granted. Transportation of any kind was nonexistent as railways and roads were riddled with debris and flooded tunnels. It is during this time that this alternative method of instruction had an impact on students to help them stay connected with one another, their classmates and professor as well as staying connected with their learning community. This model of culturally responsive teaching and learning was poignantly clear and appropriate to distance learning opportunities for building culturally responsive teaching. Aspects of teaching and learning are visibly simulated in SL, with “distance” being global and communication made possible through immediate translations. With the immersive world-learning tool of Second Life (SL), pre-service and in-service teachers communicate directly with a variety of educators from other countries and cultures with opportunities to become culturally responsive teachers.

Gay (2000) defines culturally responsive teaching as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students. Similarly, Ladson-Billings (1994) studied actual instruction in elementary classrooms and observed these values being demonstrated. She saw that when students were part of a more collective effort designed to encourage academic and cultural excellence, expectations were clearly expressed, skills taught, and interpersonal relations were exhibited. Students behaved like members of an extended family assisting, supporting, and encouraging each other. Students were held accountable, as part of a larger group, and it was everyone’s task to make certain that each individual member of the group was successful. As the potential of SL develops, pre-service and in-service teachers have direct experiences in communicating with peers from different cultures and backgrounds. Imagine a group of pre-service teachers from St. Francis College exchanging methods, concepts, and ideas with teachers from Yarrawonga, Australia, using the technology of Second Life to exchange materials and artifacts, share problems and solutions, and maintain ongoing dialogues.

Simulated “Field” Experiences

Second Life (SL) can take students wherever one can virtually reach. In A Whole New Mind (2005), Pink outlines six “high-concept, high-touch senses that can develop the whole new mind” that students will need. He names these “senses” design, story, symphony, empathy, and play (5,6). While all of these senses can be elevated or raised through participation in SL, “play” can have a special place and a special value in the SL experience. Pink cites the definition of play by Brian Sutton-Smith as “to act out and be willful, exultant and committed as if one is assured of one’s prospect’ (187).

One of the pleasant school activities for most students at any age is a field trip. A field trip is not only seeing and being part of a place outside the classroom, but means freedom to walk around, possibly touch plants or animals or unique objects, talking to classmates without disapproval, and learning “outside the box” (Maisano, 2010). Yet field trips are generally infrequent for many reasons. Adding the SL “field trips” to a one’s course of study, can be a high-level substitute that expands horizons and offers visualizations beyond those that can be provided in textbooks and other written materials.

Pre–Service teachers at St. Francis College (SFC) in this particular genre of learning had the opportunity to meet and greet educators from many international locations while presenting at a Social Studies International Conference with Virtual Pioneers (http://virtualpioneers.weebly.com/). Enhanced by a scenario of role-playing set in an historic period in new geographic locations populated by “characters” of a different era and maybe speaking a different language that is now simultaneously translated on the computer screen.

Findings & Results of Focus Group Student Led Discussion and Narrative Anonymous Exit Questionnaire Taken of Pre-Service Teachers at SFC and Their Use of Second Life in the Aftermath of the Storm

The focus group discussion and questionnaire comments were in response to the following discussion points.

Did the course meet your expectations?

What were the highlights/strong points of the course experience?

Do you feel the course prepared you for your future teaching experience?

Given the circumstances surrounding the aftermath of the storm during this semester, did you think the alternative method of instruction and use of technology helped to maintain the standards and requirements of the course?

Is there anything you would have changed or done differently in this course or requirements?

The findings will be documented as positive and negative responses to the aforementioned questions, which resulted in 85% positive responses and 15% negative responses. For the purposes of this paper, we have presented the questions and a sampling of the responses to each question divided in positive statements and negative statements.

POSITIVE 

I feel that the use of technology during the hurricane was a brilliant idea. It was a wonderful accommodation for the students.

The use of SL during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy not only made learning convenient but also broadened our understanding of methods of teaching Science.

A highlight of this course would have to be using Second Life.

I strongly believe that although Hurricane Sandy was a tragedy, it was a great example to show us that these things happen, and we must continue with life as we are given. I was able to find a location with WIFI and didnʼt have to worry about attending class on campus. There was no way of getting to SFC because of transportation issues.

I feel that given the aftermath of the storm our professor was prepared to continue class on second life. I thought that was great because everyone would still be together, we could hear each other and there was a certain comfort in being together and helping each other in the middle of so much confusion and destruction. I would have felt lost coming back to class 3 weeks later if it were not for our meeting in SL.

We canʼt help natural disasters so I think the use of technology (Second Life) really helped all of us to stay in touch and be on target with our studies and connected to our classmates.

I find it interesting how you can put up lessons and see the same things we would see in our face-to-face class even in a virtual learning classroom.

Second Life was a bit challenging at first however, seeing how convenient it became in the aftermath of the storm I was drawn to it because it brought us all together when we couldnʼt be together in real life! I wish all my courses had the option of using SL.

Because of Hurricane Sandy, we were not able to attend our class on campus at SFC. Second Life acted as a meeting place online. This was not the same as using ANGEL (Blackboard) because it was not like other online courses Iʼve heard about. We actually met and learned together virtually. This helped our class stay on track and up to date with assignments and lessons. SL was a great experience.

I learned not only how to teach science and social studies, but how to incorporate technology in our teaching.

I was amazed at how much I could use SL. I learned quickly actually and was lucky enough to present at the Virtual Pioneers Conference in SL and got to meet teachers from many different places around the world.

The technology allowed me to experiment, experience and gain knowledge on what I can push myself to do and ways to better serve my future students.

This technology alternative allowed me to study social studies education in ways I didnʼt know were possible. I felt that the strong points for me in this course were being able to express my creativity in a variety of projects instead of only writing papers and taking tests.

I learned so much in this class. Many activities and techniques that I could incorporate in my future teaching were the highlight of this class. It was amazing how many projects we could do in SL.

I think the use of technology helped me maintain the standard for this course because we were doing the same thing we would usually do on campus in the virtual classroom.

I think Second Life was a great asset to this course in particular. It was convenient and it made presentations easier than bringing everything to campus.

I enjoyed learning in a different atmosphere.

The use of technology we used in this course made my life as a learner easier and more enjoyable. I love learning new things.

SL was not so new to me this semester and by having the prior knowledge, I was able to help my peers to adjust. The technology helped maintain the standard and requirements. We presented our projects in SL, which, I donʼt think many students at SFC are able to do.

I wish all our methods classes were hybrid. This would give us all a chance to learn new technology while still covering our entire subject learning too.

I enjoyed the online virtual aspect of this course. I believe that the online experience was a unique way of collaborating with classmates and getting to know everyone by presenting projects in SL.

Everything we did with the use of technology was exactly as we would have done on campus. I enjoyed this different experience.

The highlight of this course was using Second Life to learn how to teach social studies. I think technology in this course was very effective because of how much technology is present in the world around us every day. I had an awesome time teaching and learning in Second Life.

I really enjoyed the Second Life experience. It was an introduction to teaching with technology for me. I enjoyed working in groups and collaborating and sharing ideas to put all our projects together.

It was really important to me to be able to keep in touch with my classmates after the storm. I was stuck and couldnʼt get to campus and I missed the learning. I didnʼt want to think about all the terrible things the storm had done.

Actually, the bad storm brought us closer together as a group because we were able to still have class online in Second Life.

Using technology to interact with each other was very eye opening. I learned there are other ways of learning than just meeting on campus.

Found a key aspect of this course was the effective use of Second Life and textbooks assigned. The online program enabled us to meet synchronously at any day and time and allowed the integration of more technology in the world of education.

I absolutely feel the integration of technology into this course is vital to our career development. It broadens our teaching strategies and prepares us for the ever-changing classroom that is becoming more geared toward Smart Boards, tablets, and I phone apps. Though some professors may not agree with the use of Second Life, I find it very beneficial to meet the needs of students while still meeting the standards for the course.

NEGATIVE

I felt uncomfortable with my inexperience with Second Life. I was afraid to use it. I donʼt think Second Life has helped me.

I donʼt know what I am supposed to do and I had trouble following along in class.

I had a hard time with the program. Even though the professor helped me I still felt like it wasnʼt the same as being face to face.

The storm was too much for me and I didnʼt want to worry about school when so much was going on at home.

I preferred class on campus and only some classes in SL.

I did struggle with Second Life but I eventually got the hang of it. It might have been better if we had more learning technology time.

I would rather have both on campus and SL experience in the course.

Sometimes I felt overwhelmed.

CONCLUSION

In an analysis completed by the co-authors of this paper, we have come to the conclusion that for the most part, students were happy to have the opportunity to experience a new genre of technology to enrich the course of study. Most students agreed that meeting virtually did not change the content of instruction that students would experience in a face-to-face class. Given the nature of the circumstances surrounding the aftermath of the super storm Sandy, students felt a sense of comfort and normalcy in meeting virtually, which, would not have been able to happen in a class on campus because travel to SFC was impossible given the transportation issues after the storm. Students that struggled with the technology were given assistance by the professor and from peers, however they were overwhelmed with the technology added to the complications of the storm. Our experience as professors using technology in our teaching experiences and with using the immersive learning experience of Second Life is the potential for expanding the global perspectives of both teachers and their students. While many may struggle with the technology of new software and new ways of interacting both with “avatars” and the demands of the college and university programs, they had the unique experience of “meeting” a global world and have the advantage of meeting other educators worldwide and broadening the network of teachers dedicated to the profession. Thomas Friedman (2005) stated the world is flat, a new way of looking at the globe and its potential for direct communication. Second Life, as one way of immersive learning, can be a starting point for global interaction, continuous professional development and a way of moving us closer to the long sought after goal of a world of teaching and learning in a global society.

Having the opportunity to gather thoughts and feelings of helping to maintain the continuity of teaching and learning in higher education during a devastating time after the storm was also a way to express the thoughts of our students and allowing them to find the beacon in the storm and exploring a new way of using technology in education.

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Associate professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa

What is the Problem?

The problem is that home literacy is changing faster than school-based literacy. There is a widening gap between the literacy that children are experiencing at school and what they are engaging with at home. For example, my ten-year-old son Connor was reading the novel Cabin on Trouble Creek (Van Leeuwen, 2008) at school and doing homework assignments related to this novel, but as soon as he was done, he was either on a smartphone, IPod, or IPad engaged in digital literacies using digital technologies. Not too long ago, school-based literacies and home-based literacies were more similar. Students were reading books in print at school and at home with the difference being mostly the selection of reading material. With the ever growing availability of new literacies for children, books in print are quickly becoming boring and obsolete. Our family has book shelves at home filled with a huge array of print literature representing various genres and topics that Connor is able to read, including many graphic novels and comic books, but they are beginning to gather dust. He loves to read, but print books no longer hold his interest; they can’t compete with the trans-literature available through multimedia interactions that involve all of his senses.

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a video game originally created by Swedish programmer and designer Markus “Notch” Persson and fully published in 2011. The game illustrates a virtual world or an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment. Players create and take the form of avatars which are visible, that can interact with each other and use and create objects.

Communication between players include text, graphical icons, visual gestures, and sounds. Some communication may also include using touch, voice command, and balance senses, depending on the version and technology being used by the players. Because of the interplay of senses being provided, players experience the sensations of telepresence or the feeling of actually being present within the imaginary, fantasy world.

The creation of the world. Minecraft is a three dimensional, procedurally generated audiovisual world meaning that the computer graphics and sound, including speech and music, are automatically created by the computer program with seemingly infinite variation. In the beginning, players are given a seed or a number that is used to initialize the creation of the world. Multimedia including the combination of text, audio, animation, video, and interactivity come into play to fully enhance the fantasy experience for the players.

The Appeal and Benefits

The information content of Minecraft is relative to the literature genre of high fantasy in which a highly complex imaginary world is created by the author. Even though this world could not exist in reality, it is so effectively developed that the world seems real and believable to the reader, but in the format of a trans-literature game, the reader is known as the player. The genre of high fantasy appeals to both boys and girls, and Minecraft is also played by both. Just as in high quality fantasy, players are able to transcend everyday experiences. Minecraft engages the players in battles, danger, fearful creatures, weapons, and real things and places that they can learn more about and talk about with friends. These discussions can take place through social media technologies such as weblogs, social blogs, podcasts, and wikis, to name a few. Through engagement with Minecraft, students can learn technological skills. Minecraft can be played on desktop computers, IPods, IPads, laptops, and smartphones, and is filled with an ever changing array of items through updates that students can read about and look forward to. Students enjoy competition and challenges. Minecraft has various means for players to achieve or complete certain tasks, but there is no end-game involved, so players have infinite choices and experiences. Minecraft encourages exploration and invention on the part of the player, something students appreciate, therefore, the challenges are not required in order to participate in the game, but rather are present in case players want to try them.

Instructional Applications of Minecraft

The instructional applications of Minecraft range through all subject areas studied in the classroom and include the following topics and themes: farming (animals and crops), natural resources, adventure, survival, hunting, exploration, mining, smelting, crafting, building, and trading or bartering. Below, I have explained curricular relationships of the game to the main subject areas typically taught in the classroom.

Reading and Writing. Players learn about each of the content elements and how to participate in Minecraft through reading written text within the game itself, however; reading about how to engage in Minecraft does not stop there. Players can also participate and learn through collaborative trans-literacy projects available within Wikipedia, blogs, micro-blogs, and wiki pages. Players can read and write through content communities such as YouTube and DailyMotion, and social networking sites such as Facebook. Students can engage in the participatory culture of creating and publishing their own multimedia projects based upon their responses to Minecraft.

Science. The world of Minecraft lends itself to the study of the Earth sciences. The Minecraft world is divided into biomes or the world’s major habitats that range from deserts, grasslands, rainforests, and tundra. The biomes contain land features such as mountains, caves, plains, valleys, and various bodies of water. Players can lean about each of these biomes through exploration and interacting with the natural materials located in each biome.

Students can learn about the concepts of physics. Players in Minecraft are able to virtually move matter through time and space with energy and force. Complex systems can be constructed by the players using primitive mechanical devices, but students can also learn more complicated electrical systems using switches, circuits, and magnetism.

Social Studies. Players in the world of Minecraft learn about the primitive tools and resources that were used by people for survival. Students learn to craft their own tools consisting of such things as axes, shovels, and pickaxes from natural resources that they gather from the different biomes. They use the tools that they craft to chop down trees, dig soil, build shelters, and mine and smelter ores and learn that tools made out of stronger resources, such as iron and stone, will perform their tasks more effectively. Although the overall setting of the world of Minecraft draws from the Medieval period of history in Europe, it also, through fantasy, integrates concepts and elements from today’s world and popular culture.

Throughout the course of the game, players encounter various non-player characters known as mobs (short for mobile character), including animals, villagers, and hostile creatures. During the daytime, non-hostile animals such as cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens are generated or spawned, and players can craft tools such as swords, bows and arrows, and axes from wood, stone, iron, gold and diamonds for hunting the animals for food and clothing. Players also have the ability to craft swords and shields from resources that they gather from the biomes that they can use for protection and defense against hostile creatures.

During the nighttime and in dark areas,hostile creatures spawn; including large spiders, skeletons, zombies, and unique to Minecraft, an exploding creature called a Creeper, and a creature called an Enderman that has the ability to teleport, or disappear and reappear in a different location. Players can protect themselves from the hostile creatures by building shelters made from gathering resources in the environments such as dirt and wood, and mining and smeltering cobble stones.

Math and Engineering.

Players in Minecraft learn about maths and engineering concepts through building constructions out of textured three dimensional cubes. This activity is related to the use of computer aided geometric design (CAGD), in which shapes are designed and used for creating objects and space. Students are able to visualize their building ideas and realize their functionality through their own virtual designs.

Bringing Minecraft to Your Classroom

Minecraft can be integrated into your curriculum. MinecraftEDu http://minecraftedu.com/ is an educational organization that was formed in 2011 with the goal of introducing Minecraft into schools. The group works with the publisher to make the video game affordable and accessible to schools. In September 2012, the organization reported that approximately 250,000 students around the world have access to Minecraft through the organization. Besides offering educational discounts, they offer customised versions of the game, simplified multiplayer software, tools for teachers to use for integrating their own content, a free library of activities that teachers can use to teach various subject areas, and they offer on-site workshops and inservice training.

Conclusion

We can prepare our students for being competent in today’s rapidly changing global mainstream by incorporating new literacies into our curriculum and instruction. It’s important that schools keep pace with how technology is being used in the world for getting things done. It may be difficult to set aside novels that are sentimental to us, and replace them with trans-literature, but if we don’t, we run the risk of increasing the divide between the literacies taught in school and the literacies that students engage with at home, and thereby causing students to become even more disenchanted with their education.

References

Leeuwen, J. V. (2008). Cabin on Trouble Creek. London, UK: Puffin.

Persson, M. (2011). Minecraft [Videogame]. Stockholm, Sweden: Mojang.