It’s not Minecraft, it’s you.

Mummy bloggers all over are writing about how they can’t get their kids off Minecraft. They are talking about having to learn a new language to begin to understand their children’s addiction enthusiasm preference for playing the game using media constantly.

What is less understood is that parents are trying to raise children in a world where media is everywhere and everything is media. This is new and aside from the clinical psychologists who led the anti video, dvd and now game lobby – while at the same time making a fortune ‘treating’ kids for it – there really is scant evidence to suggest playing games today has academic benefits, nor does it lessen, harm or otherwise turn kids into dumb adults. What most of the research focuses on (in games) is the emotional responses people have – most often in lab-experiments rather than any real large scale cross-disciplinary research. So mummy blogger is right – no matter what belief she has about Minecraft right now. And plenty of us have observed family conflict over the use of media in the home these days.

Parents have experience of media, access information about media, but no real objective way of learning how to parent children in a world now saturated by it. Minecraft exists along side a raft of media that children consume. Some media, typically that which is made by children versed in the genre of children’s entertainment is very good. Take Good Game by the ABC. The Good Game Spawn Point for ‘younger gamers’ is impressive. In store, evidence suggest most parents take advice when buying games and don’t buy games with inappropriate ratings. However this is no measure of a child’s diet or exposure to media as they move around the metaverse. Vast amounts of media which targets kids is designed to do one thing – make money from advertising. Minecraft, without it’s constellation of media channels (un-regulated and un-known) is not about to craft content in the way GGSP does – nor is it motivated to do so. At the top of the food chain, the channel parents are using to find answers – aka Google – makes billions out of the problem itself. Broadcast yourself (and make money with no recourse) is what is happening. The fact it’s Minecraft is not as significant as people believe. Now it’s Minecraft, later it will be something else.

Co-op Teaching

There are plenty of ways to teach, but if your teaching co-op, this is a list of techniques with the level of difficulty (co-ordination, belief, action). “Team teaching” is often uses as a catch-all to describe attempts to teach numbers +30 students, typically combining two or more classes. Some schools have partitioned walls to do this – often Kindy and Year 1 – but it tends to drop off over time. Other schools use ‘open space’ or as they used to be called ‘learning commons’.
To date, research on the effectiveness of co-teaching as a mode of instruction (for children with or without disabilities) has been scant, and has yielded mixed results. However, to combat falling into what I’ll call a low-modality of teaching block scheduling (in which classes are typically longer) may be most effective in facilitating co-teaching and similar practices, by allowing more hands-on instruction, active learning, and processing time. (medium and high).
But this isn’t just a teacher task. Administrators should strive to design a schedule that will permit regular co-planning time during the school day as scheduling may be problematic for teachers not just at the planning level, but also at the instructional level. Teacher belief and preferences towards their methods as well as their interest in other subjects, willingness to participate in activities they didn’t create etc., all add to the complexity of co-op teaching.
I propose that lessons (or missions, quests) etc., are clearly defined such that teachers understand the modality of the lesson – and most importantly the assessment that should be taking place alongside verbal and written feedback.
I cannot stress enough here, how much the the learning environment matters in terms of design and infrastructure. Low level co-op is pretty easy to do, however moving beyond it – flipping the classroom, creating learning stations, putting kids into autotelic patterns of learning etc. requires higher commitment and levels of digital skills and knowledge of blended learning and instructional design.
  • One Teach, One Observe: One teacher observes specific student characteristics while the other teaches. (low)
  • One Teach, One Drift: One teacher presents material to the class, while another circulates and provides unobtrusive assistance. (low)
  • Parallel Teaching: Teachers present material simultaneously, dividing the class into two groups. (low)
  • Station Teaching: Teachers divide content and split class into two groups. Each teacher instructs one group, and then the other.  (medium)
  • Alternative Teaching: One teacher instructs a large group, while another works with a smaller group needing specialised attention. (medium)
  • Team Teaching: Both teachers work together to deliver content to the entire class at the same time. (high)
Studies indicate that students generally have a positive response to co-teaching, while teachers’ opinions tend to be mixed. Developing a sustainable framework for co-op teaching cannot be effectively built around ‘what the syllabus wants’ but around what the space, technology and people can achieve – which according to the scant literature on this is – variable in terms of academic results, but much more positive in terms of peoples’ emotional response.

What do you value?

Humans have code. Some people’s code is more complex than others, but essentially we all have things we ‘believe’ are valuable and more importantly, they contribute to our self-identity, who we ‘believe’ we are and how we ‘believe’ we project these values though our communication and character. In games, these things are not removed, despite the hype around our “Second Life”. We don’t inhabit an alter-ego, but use the neoevolutionary phenomenon of the media to become “the greatest sword fighter in all the world” – if we want. It’s one reason I believe games (in moderation) are good for kids – they get to try this out in a third-space.

19864450839_48d4f8cff4_zI have some non-negotiable values: Equity (I dislike situations where people are out-grouped, excluded or made to fell less than anyone else). This is really problematic as the world is populated by people who don’t consider or share this ‘world-view’ in favour of direct ‘dog eat dog’ or the unforgivable ‘silent assassin’ behaviour. Effort. I like work and want to make everything I work on or at better. Heritage. Nothing is here now without a past and nothing stays here without the generosity and kindness of other people (many of whom I will never meet). I reject the throw-away media cycle and always look to a persons ‘digital heritage’ to try and gauge the path they have taken, and take time to appreciate their struggles and contributions to the world I experience. For example: if I buy a ‘new’ car, it’s going to have digital-heritage and probably will require effort to maintain it (and drive it). Of course, this is often mis-understood by people around me. That leads me to the last one – uniqueness. Everyone is unique and can only be the person they are, not something else. That is amazing and beautiful at the same time. I tend to pay far more attention to the uniqueness of people and avoid spending too much time with people who are working on hiding it. There are plenty of those people out there and I appreciate they are all dealing with ‘stuff’ which I can’t begin to fathom anymore than they can know me right here, right now.

While I don’t pretend this in exhaustive list, these things matter most to me. It’s one reason I find games an ‘escape’ from reality as I think the games I like to play contain these values as (more or less) rules (ludic and passive). So if we meet one day, you’ll know what I’m about … and I really don’t mind if you agree with me or not – just be aware that the hamster ball I roll around in is powered by this.

The 4-way PBL Project

This week I kicked off a six days (three and a half hours a day) of technology projects for year 7 & 8. I have some 85 students and we do this two days a week over three weeks. All my students are in the same room. I should point out here that I’m teaching with the Maths, Science, English, HSIE, PDHPE teachers along side me.

In fact, we each do this in turn, so in actual fact I am ‘convening’ four projects that are happing at the same time with their help – Timber, Electronics, Communications and Innovation. Each teacher has roadmap of what I want and I make all the resources to support each of the four projects (a website) which the kids dip-into as a series of ‘learning episodes’. I have a system now where kids have to achieve the key outcomes in their first one or two projects which I set, after that, there are a series of projects they can do, and roughly 22 kids choose which of the four they want to do – based on what they have not yet done. When they have done four projects, they get a ‘master project’ brief (typically year 8) in which they create their own technology ‘start-up’ and make a prototype and the necessary items to promote it. For example, they could start a skate business in year 7 and use their tech-time to investigate and experiment with creating ‘things’ for it over the entire course.

What I’m giving them are a set of non-negotiable learning aspects. For example, if you want to make skateboards, then you’re also going to have to tell me what kind of timber is out there, what tools you can use etc.,

Let me give you an idea of how this works. Kids will work on a “maker space” project as a core-unit. The essential questions is “what would you make, and how are you going to make it happen”. Of course they probably have no idea what a Maker Space is .. but by Day 2, they all have to come up with a ‘pitch’ for what they want. A “pitch” has a few parts … the opportunity followed by the hurdles and hassles. As we all know, nothing get’s done easily and even the best ideas soon meet hassles and ‘yeah buts’. So the kids have to be clear that they know what the barriers are and then present their vision (which must get around those hurdles). Next the have to come up with 3 (or more) options in their idea, then pick the one they want to go with – and defend why. Finally, they have to list the potential risks and problems that might happen with their idea.

By the end of Day 2, all the kids have a pitch. Some will have got into their ‘birds of a feather” groups, which are people who have skills they need, or ideas and goals similar to theirs. If they like, they can pitch again as to why they want to form a group (company) rather than stay solo – but I want that over night.

So what’s the driving question? well, there really isn’t one in the traditional sense. What we’re doing here is learning how to tell stories (reports, explanations, pitches etc.,) and to visualise them using the head, heart and facts available. To be specific, a few kids decided to form a business to ‘up-cycle’ skateboard decks. On day one they didn’t know what a maker-space was, by the end of day 3, they have spoken to veneer suppliers, skaters, board-makers and started to work out how to pitch their plan to the community. They know what tools they need and what they need from a space to make it happen. So they are busy this week trying to work out how to raise the capital to for their ‘start-up’.

What I like about this is that we’re not stuck in a loop of Googling and sketching out designs for skateboard decks. We’re not trying to make one deck, but create a long-term start up which will recycle and build new boards, and allow other kids to come and learn how to do it.

All 4 projects work the same way. There are goals, rewards and visible learning systems to work with that allow them to believe they can be a start-up. Thats what I’ve been working on for a while. You might like.

Why do teachers talk at all?

In an era where the Internet seemingly has all the answers, why do teachers spend so much time talking to students? The answer is of course complex and unresolved in totality, but we do know why teachers feel as though they should lecture students. One is the dang bell that signals the start and end of a lesson. Teachers believe they can ‘on-ramp’ students with an intro and with 5 mins to go, the are using the verbal whip to push that pony home in the last stretch. We know that many teachers like to teach the way they were taught (particularly early career) on the whole and it takes time for them to build strategies and confidence to do otherwise. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much ‘modelling’ going on in University to show them otherwise either. Some like to simply show off and talk about themselves, because it’s nice to have a captive audience.

I’ve been reading and picking at a great little book recently called Show and Tell by Dan Roam. Although it’s about presentations, it’s really about communication. Communication can’t be easily defined either, although a horrid woman once told me it’s ‘verbal, spoken and written’ which amused me and really summed up her skills brilliantly. Roam says it is to “tell the truth, tell it with a story and tell the story with pictures” which is delightful depiction for my middle school students immersed in project based learning. He also says we should used “head, heart and data” which again is fundamental and sadly ‘data’ is routinely omitted by many of the soch-presenters broadcasting on Chitter.

Talk fades fast, where as drawing and visualising the conversation captures information, ideas, data and most of all a shared connection between the participants. I get through a stack of paper doing this every day. Nothing beats a bold line from a sharpie to cut through tricky problems.

All that glitters …

There was a time I hearted Chitter, the conversations and the connections. Today, Chitter is quite a different proposition as a media channel. It’s ability to allow anyone to have a voice is mediated by their audience. Chitter is free and allows anyone to dive in and grab some attention. Chitter works better for individuals, when they cluster together as a vaguely aligned group who understand and share some common understandings about how to behave. Following the rules, means the cluster expands and so doe the chances of the individual to increase their social-capital – be it neo-capital within the phenomenon.

Of course if you don’t know this, then someone who apparently has connections and followers, posting attractive messages may well appear knowledgeable and influential. To make sure, people produce all sorts of media around their social-presence which reinforces their correctness. But all that glitters is not gold. It is less easy to impress people who demand evidence. For example, while videos about using Minecraft, doing science etc., are interesting, as is posting links to scholarly work — actually showing that what is happening cannot be achieved in another (often simpler) way is more difficult. Showing that what is happening is ‘better’ is ineffable though the media and human filters that regulate the ‘clusters’ correctness (social importance). If this wasn’t’ the case, no one would bother researching or talking about methods of research in attempting to improve education. I reject the idea that ‘social’ is a short-cut or ‘grass-roots’ version of academia. Plenty of people do both.

The clusters tend to focus on particular topics (each node likes to have it’s own operating space). This can have an effect on reality. By appearing to be on the leading edge, it is possible to build social capital and actually climb the ladder. Remember nodes like to bind with other like-nodes in the cluster, which is another form of in-group and out-grouping. The problem I have here is that I want to be convinced by evidence rather than media representations. While it’s great to see people blogging and sharing, it does no harm to look a little deeper than media-presence and ask yourself, is this really golden?

Teamwork

School leadership comes in many forms and sizes. People are complicated and want what they want and perceive what they perceive. This results in power-plays between groups and individuals. In some cases, notably the pre-iPhone world of management and manufacture, when western manufacturing still provided work for the masses – top down culture, middle management and time served was well established. This has proven to be broadly disastrous in the face of globalisation. Today few kids can expect to fail school, avoid further education and still find a long term job.

So we need a new kind of leadership. We need people who can lead and most of all we need people who genuinely connect, collaborate and share with others. Not people who do it for their own ambition, but ones who actually understand that individualistic approaches to the workplace neither model to children the skills they need, nor will people around them participate with or be subjected by it anymore.

This presents considerable issues for the adoption of so called ‘new’ pedagogical arrangements such as service based, problem, project or game based learning. Not only do people need to understand and be able to implement a multi-focused curriculum to engage and inspire children, but they also need to grapple with their collective and individual power issues that come with the modernist legacy — and indeed general ambition or lethargy of humans.

Edutopia provided 5 characteristics of an effective school team. I think ‘effective’ is a great way to look at running a several classrooms, subjects and teachers. As being effective cannot be disconnected from being professional in the 21st Century ie – Connected, Collaborative, Communicative and Creative.

In a good team, there’s healthy conflict.

This is inevitable and essential if we’re learning together and embarked on some kind of project together. We disagree about ideas, there’s constructive dialogue and dissent, and our thinking is pushed.

Of course this one is really problematic to people who operate on characteristics such as with holding information, excluding people from important discussions or meetings, acting passively at times when action is needed and an array of saboteur behaviours which prevent overall effectiveness. From experience, I am firm on the reality that people who behave in this way are never going to make an effective team member – and these days, that means an ineffective teacher.

What is more scary is the pre-teacher dislike of ‘group work’. Of course knocking out essays and attending tutorials can earn some form of a degree, but with the number of students being churned out these days – the danger is we have people who will readily engage in the pre-iPhone hegemony and perpetuate the exact culture that kills innovation, creativity and the kind of learning episodes that are needed.

Never participate in other peoples power-plays if you want to be in an effective team. It’s socially awkward to say “No”. But that is all that’s required to start a new, and better ‘healthy’ conversation. In situations where you are not included in the decision process, excluded from prior conversations etc., then it’s easy to go along with it, because the intention has been to ensure you ‘get the message’ and comply. These are unhealthy. It’s really hard to say “No” but sadly it’s the only way to draw the line and be heard.

To create a safe and healthy learning environment (Edutoipia link) then everyone needs a voice and to know they are important and valued – students, teachers and administration. It’s not like the Internet isn’t full of great advice about this … but the people with power rarely talk about, or point you to them.