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Notes on Minecraft EDU

Two weeks ago, Heidi James, a grade 7 teacher, and five of her students from Colquitz middle school came to our technology class to talk about how they are using Minecraft in their learning. Not only does she use Minecraft as a way to learn about civilizations, she runs a Minecraft club that students from Grade 5 – high school join. Here are some of my notes from their visit:

  • The students helped get $5000 from the principal to build a Minecraft server for their school
  • Recently, Microsoft bought Minecraft which has affected the privacy permissions for the club. They can still play through their old server, but the district will be getting permissions to use Microsoft soon which will clear things up (this is all very confusing for me but I’m trying to keep up)
  • Heidi uses Minecraft because she finds that it builds teamwork and problem solving skills
  • The students really enjoy it (they are super enthusiastic and it’s awesome to see)
    • They find that it builds a sense of communitity
    • They learn about agriculture – seeds, tending crops, building fences, getting dirt, breeding animals
    • They have to cooperate in order to succeed
  • The grade & curriculum looks at early human civilizations
  • For a unit last year the class talked about leadership and identified leaders in their class. These students were selected to be pharaohs who lead civilizations in Minecraft. The students had to work together to get resources, make tools etc
  • Through Minecraft, they learn about x, y, z coordinate grids and have to use these to navigate within the game (dying and being rebooted seems to be a big part of Minecraft so navigating back to their teams is a frequent task). Coordinate grids are in the Grade 7 curriculum
  • They also learn about pulleys and machines (Grade 5 curriculum)
  • Also about mining, contruction, making tools
  • Environmental stewardship sensitivities are built into the game to prevent over extraction of resources
  • Animals and crops don’t die, but they will grow slowly if you don’t take care of them properly
    • If you harvest trees properly, they will resprout and even start to produce fruit
    • Strip mining could cause you to fall into lava (and die)
  • They learn about extreme environments – there’s an underwater world you can build in with an ROV
  • The students in class spoke confidently and seemed to have a warm relationship with Heidi, they have obviously built strong connections, in some part through this game
  • Heidi plays on her own, but she says she can’t match the skills of all the students combined, or even some students individually
    • Teachers also could just supervise and not play
    • There is teacher mode where she has absolute control over everyone’s avatar and has some extra powers like teleporting and flying which makes it a bit easier to keep an eye on everyone
  • It’s a social game, there is chat built in and a lot of classroom talk – which we experienced when they let us play. It was loud with chatter and problem solving
  • The Minecraft EDU will be available for all schools on the south island soon
  • The students built the tutorial world, and another game world, that we tried out together with Heidi
  • Not all students will buy into this as a classroom tool, definitely depends on the class
  • For assessment, Heidi said she just stops and listens, see who’s on task, take anecdotal notes for core competencies
    • They also do self-reflection – answering deep thinking questions about core competencies
    • They justify the work they did, what were the struggles personally and for the group, how they overcame them
  • Heidi said, and I can see this being true, that it is a new way for some students to stand out – quiet smart kids who might not speak up a lot in class can become leaders in the Minecraft EDU world

They set us up to play and let us run wild for a while. It was definitely a fun game. I don’t know if I have time to take on a new hobby but I have a new found respect for Minecraft. I didn’t find it disorienting, but I don’t get nauseous easily. Other people in class did feel sick after a while though. I tried to take screen shots but I never figured out how to do it while inside the game, and then I had to worry about bedtime and being eaten by zombies and everything anyway. I was one of the lucky ones with a bed but it was still very exciting times at night!

Learning Plan: Multimodal Haiku

My Literacy learning plan is about writing haiku and creating imagery to go along with them. We will use Animoto to create slideshows with images that compliment our haiku. This is the example I created for a haiku that I wrote collaboratively with Jamie and Tessa. Enjoy!

Animoto is pretty easy to use, and I feel confident Grade 5s would be able to use this to personalize their haiku. You can change the text, choose from stock photos or videos, upload your own (which could be scanned artwork), set the time for each slide to display, change the music, trim videos… and on and on. They have a lot of different templates, but I just did this one from scratch. It’s mainly a website for marketing videos but the free trial account is worth checking out. The watermarks will come off if you use the paid version, but for a school assignment right now this is fine with me. I want to play around and make more fun videos!

Ed Tech Inquiry Presentations Day 1

Today was the first day of our Eduational Technology Inquiry class presentations.

Keiro presented her inquiry into Stop Motion Animation

  • She played  a video showing a simple class project where students moved post-its around on the floor to create a video. It looked like the kids were having a lot of fun, taking turns, moving their bodies
  • For her project, she had problems with one program (iStopMotion?), but used the Stop-Motion app to take all of her photos with a tripod and a special phone grip
  • She put the animation together in photoshop to add drawing
  • The “twinning” button helps make the motion smoother
  • The pros for using this in the classroom are that you could use it for every subject (We are going to integrate it with our art lesson plan I think)
    • One idea she suggested was taking photos in gym class and getting the kids moving around a lot take motion photos
  • The cons she discussed were that you can be really limited by technology sometimes, and it is quite time consuming
  • Her tips are to use a remote camera button
  • And check out for awesome gifs!

Katrina, Brie and Taylor presented their inquiry into Digital Literacy. This include:

  • Information literacy – what is fake vs authentic, who is benefitting from information and what bias is there
  • Ethical use – copyright issues
  • Protecting yourself online
  • Digital footprint
  • Handling digital communication
  • Cyber bullying
  • Some interesting resources they covered are:
  • Best practices are:
    • Student choice & voice
    • More creation than consumption
    • Multi-modalities
    • Collaboration – learn and make mistakes with your peers
    • Ensure accessibility for all learners
    • Crowd-accelerated learning
    • Social media & peer-to-peer social learning
    • Focus on core competencies
  • Talk to parents
    • Don’t assume understanding and awareness – parents may not be aware of their child’s online use and footprint
    • Different families have different rules
    • This is part of the B.C. curriculum
    • Communication is key, with a cool idea about a digital family night in class or for the whole school
    • Balance the risks and benefits – validate parents’ concerns, provide reassuring info
  • Address sex ed in digital literacy
    • Kids are learning about sex online, which is both good and bad
    • There is misinformation but also can be more inclusive for people who’s questions are not answered by information about heterosexual relationships
    • Websites don’t replace good quality in class info, so it’s not a way to cop out.
  • And a revisit of the House Hippo!

And we presented our inquiry into Google Geographic Products. The slides  for our presentation are here: Ed Tech Maps

And you can find more information here:

Google Maps Basics

Google My Maps

Google Street View

Cool things to do on Google Earth

Google Sky, Mars, and Moon

Google Earth vs Google Maps

Also check out this post about StoryMap JS. You can use this in somewhat similar ways to My Maps, but it’s a different user interface and slightly different functionality and look.

Google Maps Inquiry: Street View

Going further in our Google Maps inquiring, we can look at  Google Street View

Not only can you see what streets around the world look like – this includes, buildings, cars, even people and city scenes, but you can explore amazing historical and cultural sites without leaving the classroom.

This part gets a little bit away from traditional maps, but it gets into social, cultural, political and physcial geography that would opens up endless avenues for student relevancy and interest.

The Google Cultural Institute is like  a virtual museum. This site lets you explore museums, architectural significant buildings, natural wonders, or even the roof of the paris opera house. In museums you can basically walk through as if you were there, seeing art and artifacts. In another section you can zoom in on art work. The cultural institute is where you can also see historical documents and deep dives into different topics. It’s almost overwhelming the amount of information they have there and I really recommend checking it out



Google Maps Inquiry: Basics

StoryMap JS

In researching for our Google Maps in Education project, I was looking at the workshops available at the Digital Scholarship Commons. They have a data visualization and mapping workshop this week but I don’t think I can fit it into my schedule. The content is pretty interesting though, and I saw a few things that were new to me when I looked through the agenda.

StoryMap JS

This is a cool tool for making web maps that you can add content to tell various stories. These could be personal trips, the sequence of historical events, making a map of your community. It’s a tidy and easy to use format that I could see students really enjoying. It’s not too disimilar from Google My Maps, but has some extra style and prettiness built in to the functionality. It’s being used in journalism (like in this article about the spread of the Islamic State from the Washington Post) which would be awesome for students to feel that they are using a professional product.

There would be some FIPPA concerns I’m sure, but maybe a class account could be created, and all content could be educational rather than personal. Or permission would have to be granted.

I could make a StoryMap to show which countries all the food I’ve made for my free inquiry have come from!

Timeline JS

Timeline JS is used for making web-based timelines showing events over time. We’ve all seen timelines like this and would be a cool idea to make timelines with students. I remember making timelines on paper in school and I’ve seen them on our Wednesday link2practice as well.

Just like StoryMap JS, Timeline JS is being used on by professional writers and journalists, like here, in an article about Nelson Mandela’s life.

After seeing this I’m considering using Timeline JS to create something for my final project for our seminar class. We are supposed to document our progress for one of the Teacher Education Program Competencies and I think it would be kind of cool to make a timeline of what I’ve learned this term.

Google Maps Inquiry: My Maps

For our group inquiry project we are looking at how Google mapping products can be used in the classroom to increase relevancy and interest for learning.

I personally believe there are almost limitless ways that maps can be included in the classroom, either paper maps or digital. The mapping and GIS technology that is available today can help students look at their communities and world in amazing ways. Talk about connection to place!

Google has a lot of really cool mapping (and exploration) tools that education environments can take advantage of. What I’m most interested in is how students can make maps themselves. One of the easiest ways to do this is with My Maps. This different from Google Maps which is more for looking up information. In My Maps, you can:

  • Add Points, lines, shapes
  • Attach photos, videos, links
  • Calculate routes, perimeters, areas 
  • Place markers along a route
  • Save and share the map to collaborate
  • Use different base maps
  • Change the icon images
  • Save different information in different layers
  • Icons can be coloured based on numerical data – colours will then show information

You could use maps like this in the classroom to describe points of interest in the neighbourhood, province or world. Students could add photos or videos, even audio of their voices talking about the locations. They can delineate different areas, show them in various colours, and calculate their areas and perimeters. The measurement tool can be used to measure distances without adding shapes or lines to the map. You can plot routes for car, walking, public transport or bike.

Students could create a tourism map for a location they have studied in class. They could delineate where different languages are spoken throughout the world, and give examples for different words. They could plan a real or imaginary trip, calculate the distances, travel time and mileage. They could map the locations from novels and other fiction. Or map information about their class – house locations, birth places, locations people have visited, free wifi locations, make field trips maps – for parents ahead of time, or to reflect on a trip after the fact. The additional information they add for points along the way in any of these scenario has a lot of value.

Information can be separated into different layers – e.g. historical events can be separated by time periods, or species information can be saved separately. You can print maps from here, or export to PDF.

In terms of simple map making, My Maps has a lot of functionality that could be easily brought into the classroom. There is no software cost, and it is browser based so it’s accessible anywhere.

Here’s a tutorial from another teacher on how to make and annotate a map:


Notes on a Kindergarten Inquiry classroom

This past week our class visited Rebecca Bathhurst-Hunt‘s kindergarten classroom at George Jay Elementary School. She’s been teaching at George Jay for 6 years, and focuses on teaching the B.C. curriculum through a inquiry lens. Here are some of my notes and observations from our visit:

  • George Jay is a growing school, I think she said they had almost doubled the number of divisions since she started there.
    • It is pretty wild to think there are that many MORE students in central Victoria just in the past several years. I wonder what other kind of demographic changes these neighbourhoods are going through.
    • From the way she spoke about the changes, it sounds like the growth has some kind of impact on her work there, maybe more opportunities to try new things or be involved in setting the direction of the school? She recommends looking into the background of schools once we finally get our first contracts
  • In 2018, she published a book with Trevor MacKenzie – Inquiry Mindset, so she’s obviously super passionate about her pedagogy!
  • Her tips for taking on this type of teaching practice are to:
    • Tap into the knowledge bank in the families of the school community
    • Make sure you stay grounded in your teaching philosophy to not get overwhelmed – there are always new things to learn and try, workshops to take and ideas to explore but it can be overwhelming for a new teacher to try to do all that and also have work-life balance
  • She always starts the years with Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
    • This book is awesome, I read it almost every other night to my daughter. It, and Iggy Peck, Architect have wonderful stories, beautifully simple illustrations and delightful rhyming prose
    • I don’t have Rosie Revere, Engineer yet and this was a good reminder to pick that one up
    • She uses Ada Twist because Ada waits a long time to talk, but once she does she has a lot of amazing questions. It’s a good way to start little kids off with a patient and questioning mindset
    • She also told me there are simple chapter books too, which I will keep in mind for when my kids get older
  • In terms of using inquiry with kindergarteners, she emphasized how structured inquiry can be
    • They start all their explorations with questions, and she provides a lot of modelling, guidance and structure
    • There is a gradual release of responsibility but this takes the whole school year if they even get all the way there
  • The difference between structured inquiry and any other lesson is the essential question
    • In early stages, the inquiry question often comes from the teacher
    • Then they are given more choice in “controlled inquiry”
    • Guided and free inquiry follow with more responsibility
  •  She tries to have a lot of her classroom environment support asking questions
    • A wonder wall
    • Provocations in the room
    • She wants to environment to spark joy
  • They go on a lot of walking field trips
  • The Three Questions that can start inquiry are:
    • What do you see:
    • What do you know?
    • What do you wonder:
  • She tries to connect her students with curriculum even at this early age but using “I can..” statements to talk about Core Competencies
  • Some inquiry is just experiential, not connected to a greater project
  • A lot of their school activities are nature based – exploring outside, noticing things, reading about trees, using magnifying glasses
  • I would love to read her book to learn more about this approach to teaching. The whole visit actually made kindergarten more appealing to me!

Bon Appétit Podcast

Bon Appétit is one of my forever favourites. The magazine, website, their facebook page, the youtube videos. It’s just the best food content that I could soak up all day long. I only recently discovered they have a podcast as well (of course they do!). I took a quick browse and found that episode 102, from March 2017 was “All About Middle Eastern Food (Perfect Rice! Man’oushe! Rose-Water Brittle!)“.

In this episode, Reem Assil, a first generation American chef talks about  her business. Then BA Senior Food Editor Andy Baraghani talks about creating a feast for the Persian New Year. These are my notes from listening to this podcast. I tried to focus on what the two chefs were saying about Middle Eastern Food in general, and I got a lot out of it.

Reem Assil is a community organizer turned restaurant owner 2011

  • Her restaurant is Reem’s Wraps (now Reem’s California I believe)
  • She was inspired to make a career change because of the connection of food and community
    • Restaurants, bakeries, and food in general can create a sense of home for immigrants
    • A place to gather with people you relate to
  • She is Syrian and Palestinian
  • She sees a cross over between food and activism
    • Food can bring people in, to build trust and to engage them in real issues
  • Their signature dish is Levantine flatbread x California cuisine
    • It’s called Man’oushe and flavoured with za’atar
    • Za’atar is wild thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, salt, and  olive oil. It’s like a pesto
    • Bread is cooked in a high heat oven or griddle called a saj
    • Topped with fresh veggies – tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh mint
    • Also, labneh (thick strained yogurt) and avocado
    • Or with shakshuka sauce – roasted peppers and tomatoes and aleppo-style pepper
    • Other flavours are sumac, parsley, turmeric, pomegranate molasses, pine nuts, cardamom, and orange blossom
  • Levantine region of the middle east is a temperate climate
    •  mountains, ocean and woods all in driving distance

Then, Andy Baraghani, a resident chef at Bon Appétit, frequent video host, talks about the menu he put together for Persian New Year, Nowruz, that came out in that month’s magazine.

  • Nowruz is a 13 day holiday
  • For the gig meal, rice is the most important dish
    • Before cooking, basmati rice should have a golden hue
    • Rinse the rice until the water is clear, then soak for hour at least
    • Parboil it in salted water, then drain
    • Add fresh herbs – cilantro parsley dill, a little fenugreek, tarragon, mint
    • Put in back in the pot, piled up like a mountain. Poke holes in the top. Cover with lid and towel to absorb the steam. Cook on low heat for 25-35 mins
    • Add butter 3/4 way through. More butter than you think
    • Then, could invert the pot on a plate. This isn’t a tadig though, but it does retain its shape.
    • Need lots of salt and butter
  • All the food on table at once
  • For the main dish – fish. Either a smoked whitefish (from store) or baked fish. Andy’s mom always made baked salmon with saffron, tumeric, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil
  • There’s a cecipe for whitefish in March issue
  •   Also, Kuku Sabzi – Persian frittata
    • This has LOTS of herbs – parsley, dill, cilantro. 4.5 cups total and only 5 eggs
    • Fenugreek – bitter celery tasting leaf – just a sprinkle
  • And a special yogurt with cucumber, somewhat similar to a tsaziki. With garlic, chopped and toasted walnuts, golden raisins soaked and chopped.
  •  Barbari Bread – a very thick flat bread. 4-5 feet long traditionally.  With ridges on top from finger tips
    • Topped with sesame and nigella seeds, sea salt.
    • Brushed with a flour x hot water x baking soda mixture to help brown the top
    • Serve with a platter of feta, herbs, and radishes
  • After dinner, table games and brittle
    Sohan brittle  – made with corn syrup, butter, saffron, rose water and topped with fresh pistachios, rose petals and sea salt. Mmmmmm

I found this podcast really interesting and will definitely be subscribing to more!



Notes on Graphics

In class this week we talked about graphics – how to make, edit and use them:

  • Graphics are either pixel or vector based. I haven’t thought about this stuff in so long, but my background in mapping and remote sensing was where I initially learned about these terms. Sometimes I forget that I do have quite a bit of experience dealing with graphics, it was always just on the side so I didn’t really know I was learning it
  • The most commonly used programs for creating and editing graphics are Adobe Photoshop (pixels) and Illustrator (vector)
    • I’ve used these without any instruction and muddled my way through. There’s definitely a lot to learn.
    • They are expensive to buy (thank goodness for a student price 5 years ago), and now have annual subscriptions which increase the price as well
    • Most school districts don’t have access to these, so using them in our future classes is likely not possible
  • There are lots of other options. Some are also proprietary, others are open source or browser based. There’s also freeware, where you can use it initially for free but some functions are off limits with paying
  • A few I jotted down and will check out later were GIMP, Vectr, and Pixlr
  • BUT Michael mainly wanted to show us some of the capabilities of using Microsoft Powerpoint for editing (and creating) graphics
    • Widely accessible, not nearly as expensive
    • Familiar to most people
    • The early Microsoft take over of the office product suite really was incredible in how it still continues to dominate despite most of our class using apple products for everything else
  • So, in using Powerpoint, anything on the slides can be exported as a graphic, and it won’t be the size and shape of a slide, but the actual graphics you are interested in
    • You can save as all different kinds of file types
    • All the slides in a deck can be saved as individual images (I need to find out if there’s an automated way to do this because that would be great. Do they append the names?)
    • There are different artistic effects and formatting tools
    • You can add text, and use cropping and flipping/rotation to alter images
    • Smart Art can do a lot for you, or at least give some ideas

So I tried it out and made this image, which I’m going to use in a post soon to get into the weeds a bit about what really makes Middle Eastern food what it is….. a spice and ingredient round up! Stay tuned.


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