Google Like a Boss

Look what I found on Reddit today. I will be practicing these techniques with my Digital Ambassadors and sharing it throughout the classrooms I work with.

How to be a Google Power User - Via Who Is Hosting This: The Blog


Why Minecraft? This. And how.

Grade 5 Minecraft Guild group photo in front of our Christmas present to the school, a giant snow globe. (Missing: Alec)
Grade 5 Minecraft Guild group photo in front of our Christmas present to the school, a giant snow globe. (Missing: Alec)

I lead a Minecraft Guild.

I chose guild over club to emphasize craftsmanship, because we build things and are guided by a code of conduct. We challenge and learn from each other. And I have a lot to learn about Minecraft.

It’s easy to be an apprentice. Minecraft is enormously engaging. Our guild has 10 members sharing 10 licenses, so it’s only when one student is absent from school that I get to muck in during meetings. If I have a question about how to do anything in Minecraft, I immediately have half a dozen students by my side, ready to assist me. Jack, a fifth grader, is our master craftsman. When I was visiting classrooms to publicize the guild, a student asked why a 10 year-old was going to teach the club instead of me, and before I could answer, his classmate answered more succinctly than I could – “Because Jack’s a beast at Minecraft!” It’s true.

Why Minecraft?

bloomsrevisedtaxomonyMinecraft engages all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, both traditional and revised versions. Guild members have memorized dozens of command codes, single lines and combinations, to customize Minecraft interface and constructions. They have learned through instruction and practice how the Minecraft world operates and have applied it to aesthetically wonderful and delightfully complicated constructions. They build up, tear down, and then build again to improve. And they create, create, create. Some students are building on interest piqued by the Grade 4 community unit, where they designed their own cities, and all are vanguard for the Grade 5 Area and Volume math investigation. All are involved because they love Minecraft.


Gaming and School Venn

Banish the mental image of a classroom of students hunched over their laptops, with no sound but the clicking of mice and keyboards. Our meetings are exuberantly social, with students flitting back and forth between friends and, more often, talking across the room. A little in your face, but it’s an engaged group of creative problem solvers, where, in the words of Dr. James Paul Gee, “the group is smarter than the smartest person in the group”. This creative chaos works, and avoids the Darwinian world of gaming, because our guild functions according to our essential agreements.

Essential Agreements

An evolving document, here are our guiding principles. Members of the Minecraft Guild:

  • Recognize that membership is a privilege
  • Treat each other, and each other’s’ Minecraft builds, with respect
  • Listen when necessary
  • Respect our own and other’s right to be heard and take turns speaking
  • Practice respectful and responsible time management – We Minecraft in class only with teacher permission

Student/Teacher/Home Partnership

Joining the Minecraft Guild requires three things from applicants, an interest (“Why do you want to join?”), some experience (“Email a screenshot of your best work.”, and a goal (“Why do you want to join?”). Students also had to compel their homeroom teacher and parents to email me with permission to join. The motivations for joining were far more diverse than I expected. Desire for fun creativity loomed large in their statements of interest, but also the chance to continue studies in coding and circuitry. Many praised the opportunity to practice Minecraft in a social setting as well, including one student, another master builder thanks for hours of self-study, who wanted to break out from the loneliness of building Minecraft by himself  at home.

Minecraft Guild reasons for joining
Aggregated answers to the question, “Why do you want to join the Minecraft Guild”. Word cloud built with Tagxedo.

Project-Based Learning


The snow globe takes shape, fuelled by fried rice.
The snow globe takes shape, determination fuelled with fried rice.

It would never occur to me to build a giant snow globe in Minecraft, but that’s what Jack suggested and his peers agreed. I love the idea. Over four lunchtime meetings, we framed out our glass skyscraper, and then populated it with spruce trees, villagers, snowmen, elaborately coded houses, and a fireplace. A Rube Goldberg-esque snow generator on the roof made for a convincing snow fall, but not at first, and not all the time, but guild members lived out the philosophy that FAIL simply means First Attempt In Learning.

Minecraft Winter Wonderland

What’s our next project?

Feel free to make suggestions in the comments. Then watch this space for further developments.

Hong Kong Stories

HKH website header vimeo

One can walk most Hong Kong streets and easily be astounded by the density of its buildings and the pace with which they are being replaced or remade. What difference does the built environment make to a city’s cultural identity? That was the question for teams of 3-4 grade 7 students over the last six weeks. Click on the above Hong Kong Heritage banner to visit their Hong Kong Heritage documentaries on Vimeo.

Feel free to leave feedback! You’ll make a budding documentarian very happy.


PYP Exhibition Juggernaut, launched!

It’s PYP Exhibition season! That means the PYP class of 2015 needs a logo for banners, t-shirts, and wherever else they publicize this big deal. And it is a big deal! Grade 6 students may choose to address the theme, How We Express Ourselves, using coding, photography, poetry, film, drama, and more.

Step One: Learn about logo design

(Contact me if you’d like access to presenter notes.)

Step Two: Apply Learning to paper.

G6 Digitime: Logo design
(Actually, students sketched personal logos midway through the logo design presentation, and then re-evaluated their designs based on five principles of effective logo design.)

Step Three: Learn how to use Adobe Illustrator

Step Four: Get some feedback

David's personal logo, beta.
David’s personal logo, beta.