Monthly Archives: December 2015

Another Step in our Minecraft Journey

For those of you that have read my blog posts before, you know I am a big fan of using Minecraft in the classroom, but I also try to use it in a way to bring my students’ learning to life.  It was because of these two things that the newest project my students did came to fruition.

Around six weeks ago I came to my students with their newest challenge.  In our school district, we are in the process of building new schools because our numbers are expanding.  I explained to the students that one of the new schools would actually be built not that far from us.  I explained to them that if they could be the ones that designed the school, what things would they have, what would their school designs look like. This fit in very well with the beginning of our structures unit in science plus a multitude of other things like problem solving, collaborative and creative thinking skills and more.

I honestly started that simple, but as the weeks went on we had points where we stopped and discussed things to redirect them or ensure they were staying within the guidelines of the project.  I asked things like what did their school have that made it special  so that their design would be different than others, but more importantly why did they have some of the things they had.  I wanted them to make sure that there was reasoning behind having things like swimming pools, soccer fields and I know this will shock many (not really) but roller coasters.  This was challenging for some, having to look deeper at their designs to justify design choices. I explained it had to be something more than “it would be cool to have it in their school.”

The project did start out for many where they thought this would just be fun and play, but as they got into it further, many realized there were challenges.  Sometimes group members did not agree on design ideas, so I would often explain to them that I would only step in if I felt it was necessary. It would be up to them to find the common ground, so compromising was a new skill that came up in some of the teams.  As well, some found out the hard way that design ideas that sounded great in theory were much harder to put together in Minecraft or that it took a LOT of work to make the idea come together and work. What I loved was that groups would help each other out because most times one student would figure out the solution and then point out to those still struggling the steps to making it work which was awesome.

It wasn’t until halfway through the project that I came up with the Dragon’s Den idea and I honestly didn’t think it would come together.  I thought how amazing would it be, how real world would it be for them to present their design ideas to judges a la Dragon’s Den.  I would bring in “outside experts” to judge their designs as if they were presenting them in real life. Now at this point many of you would ask how did I make this happen.  It wasn’t anything all that hard, I just put out some emails and asked.  I felt it couldn’t hurt to ask and if the people I picked said no, then I couldn’t say I didn’t try.  But lucky for me, these people had time in their busy schedules plus they were willing to come and see what my students had put together. They were all interested and intrigued with the project and the final designs. My three judges included the actual principal of the school being built, one of our district school design planners and a Minecraft expert.

Interestingly enough when my students found they were going to have to present to people other than myself many got worried and scared.  They weren’t sure their designs would be good enough, some felt what they had to say would sound silly.  So again there was a lot of discussion about why they needed to be the “voice” of their designs, why they should be proud of what they had put together and accomplished.  It is funny that by grade 3 some of them already have this idea that they aren’t “good enough” to do things.  I knew this would be a very big challenge for some to overcome, especially one of the students in my class. She was on a personalized learning plan because she was coded being selectively mute. She was not one to speak in front of anyone, let alone strangers so I was honestly unsure how this would all pan out.  She had come a long way from the beginning of the year but in a way I was really asking much of her but I made sure she was in a good group that would step up if she didn’t feel she could and not make her feel bad about it.

However I am proud to say the day of the Dragon’s Den presentation my students did an amazing job.  In their teams, they stood up and spoke about their schools sharing the things that made their schools stand out.  They were confident, articulate and great listeners of the judges’  critiques.

Dragons Den V

Judges sharing their thoughts on school designs


Dragons Den I

Judges’ critiques

As for my one student who I wasn’t sure would speak, well she surprised us all.  I had talked to her group about whether they thought she would speak and asked if perhaps I gave her my FM mike that might help.  And sure enough when the time came, she was “heard”.  She was not able to actually look at the judges while speaking but she did share her ideas aloud and for many of the kids in the class this was the first time we actually heard her speak. It was honestly hard for me not to go out in the hallway and do a Snoopy dance during this moment.

Dragons Den VI

Indoor garden for the Nature School Design

Dragons Den VII

Science potions lab from the Fancy School design

At the end of the project I did ask my students to reflect on the following things including what had they learned, what they were proud of, what would they change.  The responses below validated the kind of learning that can happen in this type of project.

Dragons Den II

Student reflection I

Dragons Den III

Student reflection II

Dragons Den IV

Student reflection III

To end things off, I would say this project accomplished many curricular outcomes for me in science, language arts and more.  But more importantly it reinforced something I have always tried to teach my students in that they have a voice, they have important things to share and they deserve to be heard.


Hour of Code (One Year Later)

It was only a year ago that I participated in my first Hour of Code. I was lucky that my grade three partners were open and willing to try something new. I wrote about my experiences here. It had been such a great experience last year  so now when Hour of Code came around again this year, I was ready to take things to the next level.

I introduced Hour of Code this year to my staff by taking them to the Hour of Code website.  I showed them all how it was set up and how easy it would be to walk their students through the different activities for the different grade levels.  All grades right from k- 6 were willing to give it a try, so Hour of Code became something my entire school participated in. I was also lucky that I had a supportive admin because I was given time out of class (being that I am a tech coach I already get some time but I was given more for this activity).  I went to many of the different classes and introduced coding to the students and did activities with them.

To start off in Kindergarten and Grade one I started low tech.  I talked about how they need coding to play the games they liked on their ipads and moms’ phones. I explained how coding is what makes flappy bird fly or makes Lego Batman jump and walk.  We worked together on a coding activity I made where the students had to write the “code” to get Angry Bird to the Pig.


Kindergarten working through the code we wrote to move Angry Bird.


When we moved onto the Code website to work through some of the activities, the K and Gr. 1 teachers were surprised and happy to see some of the directional language they had been working on with their students – up, down, left, right came into play. With grades 2-3 again the directional language of North, South, East and West was reinforced through the different activities the students had to work through. The students needed to know these words to work through the activities which reinforced curricular objectives.

When I worked with the grade 4 – 5 students we talked about how coding is what made Steve in Minecraft break blocks down, dig for obsidian and build towers. As well, certain math concepts like angles came into play when they worked through some of the different coding activities so again students could see where what they were learning in class would be needed in other places.


Student coding with Minecraft








When I went in and worked with the grade 6’s I explained to them that coding is a language and that those with logical, sequential mindsets, coding might be a language that they could speak very well.  At this level, coding would be much more complicated and multi-step.  It was amazing to talk to some of the students and find out how many were working on their own on different coding websites and activities.  I talked to them, as well, about how there were students not much older than them coding apps that could be used on ipads or iphones. (many were definitely intrigued with this idea )


Grade 6 working with the many steps needed in Star Wars Coding.









For me, the biggest positive about this experience was seeing the students engaged and excited.  They had to be out of the box thinkers to make some of the coding activities work, they had to be problem solvers to figure out where things were going wrong in the code they had written but for many, resilience was something that came into play – they had to not give up when things went wrong, but go back to the drawing board and try again.  For some this came easily, but for others it was interesting how hard it was (especially for those students who things came easily to them in other ways).  I was excited to see students talking and working together, helping each other out when one got stuck. I loved seeing girls high – fiving each other about the number of lines of code they wrote.  A big highlight for me was at the end of the week, one of the grade one teachers came to me with a parent note asking where this coding website the grade one’s had been working on was because her son came home so excited about how he had been coding and wanted to do more at home.

So for those of you wondering if Hour of Code is for you and your school, I cannot say enough about the positives of this experience.  It is definitely something I would recommend trying, even if just on small scale to start.  For me, Hour of Code was a great success and I look forward to where it goes from here.