Time to Level up

Time for Lunch by David Gallagher

Photo courtesy of David Gallagher via flickrcc license

Hooray! I am two units into the Google Certification for Educators.

Whew! Time to  pause and reflect. 

At the end of Unit Two  I’ve:

  • clocked 37 hours of PD time
  • written, tabbed and highlighted 82 pages of notes
  • answered more than 150 multiple choice questions
  • learned a hell of a lot.

This last point surprises me more than the number of hours I’ve committed. I confess I thought it was going to be a bit of a breeze — after all, I’m fairly experienced with web tools in general and I use the Google suite of tools everyday for personal and professional. As it started out, I remember thinking, “How hard could it be?” But that (as it turns out) was not the right question.

The right question is, “How much better can it be?

And the answer is a lot!
The tools have more potential and flexibility than I’d realized and the course is specifically addressing educational uses and applications. So as I am apply my new knowledge about features, functions and settings, the changes to the way I work are paying off immediately.

We often don’t get to know our tools well because:

  • we are too busy
  • we think we know them already (blush)
  • we just aren’t that interested in the tools (do I really need to learn about spreadsheets, they’re kind of boring).

But those are ways of denying ourselves smarter ways to work.

As I work through this course I am reminded that while it takes quite a bit of time,  it is also giving me the time to become an expert with the tools I need to continue to lead in my field.

 

New!

 

A new year and some new projects for 2013 in the library!  We don’t start back to school for a couple of weeks yet, but that doesn’t mean teachers aren’t hard at work. I been running across excellent resources for my new projects and get them organised before I forget.

iPad Cafe

This year our school is launching their 1:1 iPad program, beginning with the Year 7 classes. Each student supplies their own iPad and while IT will get everyone set up on the devices in the first week, the school library will be offering an iPad Cafe every 3 weeks so students and staff can come and learn more about how to use them, find/share apps and just generally get comfortable with iPad technology for learning. 

I’ve got a small team of students (3 so far) who have ‘applied’ for the position of iPad Genius and will be available on the set day after school for an hour to pass on their knowledge  We can’t pay them as such but have arranged to present an honorarium to them and provide a letter of recommendation if they do well in the position

Photo shared by: hammerhead 27 via Flickr cc

Photo shared by: hammerhead 27 via Flickr cc

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For the short hiring interview, I asked them to come prepared to impress me with some tips or tricks. It was interesting that while they knew a few things,they all knew the same things and were not as ‘savvy’ as I’d hoped. So I’m now busy skilling myself up further and gathering ideas to up-skill my genius’s as well. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a Tumblr site keep tips on and decided to go ahead with it. This could be great for the school community — they can go back, review, check it out on their own time and become familiar with a new Web tool (well that would be mostly for the adults). 

So here is the new Tumblr site, not much on it just yet, but will be wonderful soon. http://vscipad.tumblr.com/

Due to Technical Difficulties

This is just a quick update – I know I’ve been quiet on the blog this past two months.

Plans for Minecraft at school have slowed as my IT partner in crime concentrates on setting everything up for report writing. We’ve run into a couple of hiccups with the Minecraft site not liking the proxy server at our school and we’ve just not had time to chase the solution down and apply it.

On the positive side there are several teachers interested in learning more about the possibilities of Minecraft, even more students eager to have a go with it. I also have a nice group of students willing to teach the finer points and help me get the real estate established AND a student showed me a math assignment/problem her’d solved the other week using Minecraft to demonstrate the solution. Cool!

I ran across this article written by the same guy who writes The MineCraft Teacher on Tumblr. Improving Digital Citizenship skills is definitely the area that I’m most interested in when providing students with the opportunity to try out Minecraft next year at school.

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Games-Based Learning: Massively MineCraft Open Day (in which I learn to fly)

I recently attended an online Open Day on Massively Minecraft. It was probably the steepest learning curve I’ve encountered in a while, perhaps since primary school, honest! And here is what I learned.

Massively Minecraft (MM) is a guild or ‘ learning community  for kids and their parents – exploring how to live, work and play in MineCraft.'(MM site)  It had been recommended to me by several colleagues in my PLN as an excellent working model of an educational  private-server community for Minecraft. I was very impressed with MM’s website as I had a look around before the big day. My colleagues were right MM is an excellent model. Here are some things I hadn’t thought of but will definitely adopt:

  1. Their server is a white-listed site. This means they have a set of conditions that users must agree to before they can join and they must fill out an application form.
  2. They have a community charter which was developed by the users (kids) and outlines the community’s rules of engagement. They set the culture and tone of the site and are mostly digital citizenship rules.
  3. The site uses a subtle incentive scheme called Ranks. As MM users demonstrate their willingness to be good citizens online and improve their skills and real estate, they can level-up or climb the ranks. Levelling up gives access to further powers, resources and other areas or worlds.
  4. The site offers forums for users to discuss, share their achievements, and ask questions. These all looked very positive in nature and you get a real sense of community happening from reading them. I also liked that the administrators include and seek input from the users on how the community runs.

So after reading all of this I am excited but starting to realize the size of the commitment in starting up a private server group. (I’m going to definitely need more teacher interest in order to share the love! and the moderation).

As the day/time for the Open Day draws near, I open an account with MineCraft and my older son and Miner Extraordinaire tries to give me a primer on the commands. I find I can’t even walk around properly. Oh dear, this is like kindergarten! Besides just the regular WASD commands (apparently similar in most games) MM has a commands list for their ranks.

When the Open Day starts, I log-in and I am assigned a tour guide to show me around. I did feel sorry for him as I was completely overwhelmed by having to walk, look, read and talk at the same time. There were so many other people on as well that I had a hard time keeping track of my guide in both the dialogue box and in the world. He took me to his mine, past some giant statues, showed me how to chop down trees, go through portals, and how to fly! After all that he got the admin to give me my own temporary spot in the world and permission to try building something then left me to experiment. I tried building a little house (pretty sad effort) and then decided just to wander/wonder around, play tourist. The part that impressed me most? Probably the big hall you first land in with the charter up on all the walls, but there were lots creative efforts happening out in the general community – castles, gardens, fountains, parks …

The experience was truly one of being on the border of a new frontier, a settler in a foreign land. My skills were low, my motivation high and the possibilities (from what I’d seen) endless. I now understand the attraction of playing this game, am in awe of the dedication and effort some of these kids put into their guild. the richness of it is obvious – MM even spells out the educational advantages of it (scroll down the link page to find Massively EdVentures – The 12 Challenges Learning Framework). I am now even more determined to offer this opportunity to students in our school community.

 

Games-based Learning: Hunting and Planning

MineCraft

After talking with my boss (Head of Learning Resources) and with one of the school IT staff who is very supportive of games-based learning, we have decided to pursue setting up a Minecraft private server and beginning a small after-school group in the library next term. The MinecraftEDU wiki has been an invaluable source of information about getting started with this. We plan to purchase a few seats and find a few reliable students who are already keen Minecrafters to mentor a select group of interested teachers and students. 

MineCraft has a fantastic YouTube channel with how-to videos as well as promotional ones. I’ve embedded their official trailer below – I am always amazed at the creative/design possibilities; I know I’m about to hit a steep learning curve and don’t know how much time I want to devote to skilling up in this game but I do want to get good enough to gain a real appreciation for what can be done with MineCraft. 

 

SimCity (Urban Planning elective)

One of the younger teachers at the school recently approached me wanting some help with finding resources for her Urban Planning class. She wondered about the possibilities of using SimCity so this is a second game we are looking to use in teaching and learning. The biggest problem so far is finding a legal version to purchase and download – there is no shortage of sites selling illegal ones! We had originally wanted one of the older SimCitys that didn’t have so many bells and whistles — the older versions concentrate more on the actual principals of design, but the hunt is proving difficult. We found out that the code for the original SimCity was released into the public domain a few years back and that some schools were using this free option. It sounded good!.

After a few days though, I got this note from Dion, my IT Guy:

I had a good look at Micropolis (the free version of SimCity) on the weekend, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it working on Windows, and I couldn’t get it working through the web.  None of the code has been updated since 2008, so it may be that our computers and version of Windows are ‘too new’ to run it (I also had to install a bunch of stuff to support it).  I did get it working on Linux, but I don’t think we’d be able to get connections to a Linux server working in time to be useful.

We may end up having to buy one of the newer versions after all. In the meantime I found that there was a relatively cheap iPad app, SimCity DLX so Caroline (the Urban Planning teacher) and I loaded it up and had an explore. She is really pleased with what it can do. Our iPad program begins next year and only for Year 7’s so this is not an option for the Year 10 classes, but if worse comes to worse, Caroline could use her iPad and play the game a few times using whole class decision-making sessions. Students then have the option to play at home on their own as reinforcement.

In my surfing travels I also ran across this resource which looked worthwhile: SimCity and Urban Planning 

This is a WikiBook and is a guide for ‘ the casual learner about how Will Wright’s popular game SimCity relates to urban planning and how concepts were utilized in the game.’ (WikiBooks). 

Given the challenges so far, I think I’m going to limit my pursuits to these two games.