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.
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.
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.
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.