The importance of makers

Making is becoming a very interesting topic. The maker movement, like most neo-movements, is underpinned by digital technology and enveloped by a culture which amplifies and fuels popular debate. Thinking back several years, digital technology was seen by teachers as emergent, and now, if pop-culture is any measure, ‘the maker movement’ is the new emerging. Interestingly, and the maker movement appears to have defined, perhaps for the first time, a particular self-image which has been rapidly replicated because of media. I am talking of course about the hipster.

The hipster, unlike the geek or the gamer seem is almost ubiquatous and in-group ‘cool’ among makers . Many of these seem to be geeks. They appear to be rebelling and seeking new counter-culture. This becomes mainstream almost immediately as a result.

Educators are not immune to this, being a maker-educator is as cool as being a Google or Applephile. With  high-tech culture firmly embedded in a consumer sales cyles these days – it is expensive to be high-tech-cool. Cool people like think they are individual, despite the tropes they embed themselves in – cool people believe they are making the choice to be cool. This is hard to do if cool is firmly hitched to the marketing cycle of high-tech companies who offer marginal innovation to an existing product in order to maintain a price point. Of course there are innovations that impress even cynical guys like me, but since the iPhone the high-tech world offers radical innovation at a premium which exasperates the gap between have and had nots.

So are makers as important as they appear? Is making the counter-culture to this high-cost, high-tech consumerism? Can a good beard and an Instagram account fill some gap in education? What is that gap? When did we notice it? What were we doing before?

Are toddlers learning to be architects in Minecraft?

I’ve seen a number of posts in which people discuss todders developing architectural skills and knowledge by playing Minecraft. This is interesting, as these posts are written often by adults, whom tend to enjoy projecting adult-behaviours and skills onto children. The psychology of projection is quite a fascinating topic too. It’s often entwined with religious sensibilities and moralising about the nature of children and how they are corrupted, abused etc.,

In this sense, children’s behaviour is often a reaction to adulthood – the old ‘honour thy mother and father’ rhetoric. If the child is able to play Minecraft Pocket, the chances are they are also from a high socio-economic background where higher education, creativity, art and culture itself is valued. At the same time, toddlers need to develop gross motor skills in order to also develop fine motor skills — and therein lies a whole other debate about technology’s role in the physical development of children.

There are limits to what you can and can’t do with Minecraft. Overall, the game’s objective is for the player to create and/or manipulate a naturalistic world one block at a time. Whether adult or toddler, there is a cognitive learning curve needed to do this. It’s not as complicated to operate as a paint brush, but essentially what the toddler is doing is purely experimental and reacting to the ludic rules of the game, and the reactions of the adults, who one assumes are watching them ‘build’.

I’m not saying that no toddler can be an amazing architect at the age of 3. It’s just very unlikely. A toddler might start to represent aspects of the world around her, given the tools to create that world are specifically designed to do so. Minecraft does allow players to create ‘a world’ of endless possibilities – but that isn’t necessarily a great idea for toddlers who need to also develop gross motor skills and many more things – as toddlers.

This leads me to another reality check – games like Minecraft are seemingly endless – but childhood isn’t. There are precious few years to spend with children and I think many parents are beginning to think that media (not just games) is taking that away. There’s little proof, as there’s relatively little research about this. However, when children go to school, they are treated the same now as ten years ago. We try to ‘teach’ them things based on a school-reality that excludes the vast changes to ‘childhood’ itself. Toddlers grow up fast and there’s a real danger that if we allow the media itself to project a consumerist, agenderised rendering of the world on children, that we take away the sheer natural joy of being a child. At the same time, schools ban games as some weird counter-measure rather than try to deal with a generation for whom media is all too keen to engage, sell and deploy them in a never ending media dialogue.

I don’t think toddlers can be architects in Minecraft other than through our own projections of what we think architecture is or should be. If however, toddlers are developing fine motor skills faster now than a decade ago – by playing games – then that’s actually quite a BIG call.

Timetables and Content – An un-holy union

There are numerous theories about learning. The best ones are based in research, the worst based on brand-loyalty and self-belief. The Internet has become rich in blog posts about learning models [like that one].

These things don’t exist in a vacuum. The timetable is the straight-jacket we dress change in. The time-table’s power lies in the hour-by-hour dogma of content and ‘dot-points’. Regardless of learning model and new technology, the literature maintains that where teaching is a ‘job’, these dot-point requirements and pre-requisite content tropes are seen by teachers as ‘their job’. They can only do their job if the timetable is created in a certain way. 50 hours for this, 25 hours for that.

There is no readily available time for more learning – which many argue is essential; digital skills, literacy, ethics, research etc., These things are assumed to be ‘inside’ the dot-point/content union, which is ridiculous yet complied with by teachers. The time-table is seen as ‘difficult’ to change. It’s perhaps the hardest conversation to have in a school – how do we change the time-table – because it’s often the main villain when it comes to improvement, reform, change or whatever you want to call it.

If you don’t want to change (anything) for (insert one of thousands of reasons) the sake of trying something new, then the timetable is a sanctuary. We can’t change the timetable you heritic! Then sit back and wait for the assailant to give up. If they persist, point out just how much content there is and how few hours. That will see them off.

Time-tables and content should not dictate the learning model, the technology nor the design of the space itself. But it does because it’s welded into cultural understanding. Technology has had very limited impact on the timetable – it’s the social clock that families, students and teachers rely for normality. However – when we look around this modern world of ours – learning is 24/7 if we want.

Are the #EdChats actually useful?

I’ve noticed a number of people beginning to claim they founded this, or that – #EdChat variant on Chitter. I wonder why they feel this is important?

It seems to me that people are increasingly keen to ‘own’ some of the collective mind-space and have others symbolically aligned with in-group thinking. Overall, Chitter’s truncated-text method, limits meaningful discussion in real or near real time. While it’s good for amplifying bigger messages, deeper articles and richer video’s, it isn’t good at holding a conversation. If indeed, these #edchat expert panels know anything something about media, they would simply use Chitter to announce, and hold a virtual meeting in a medium that is designed for it – Noodle Hangouts with a side order of chat-room.

I argue that the reason people hold #edchats is to be noticed and valorised within social and cultural borders. It is not to enable a deeper conversation, nor connect anyone to a broader conversation, unless that person has the capital to do so.

#EdChatter does not yield the kind of immersive experience of media much better suited to it, nor do these things need to be in ‘open access’ public timeline spaces.

While I can see the value of event based hashtags to filter comments, the idea that a regular ‘discussion’ is best facilitated in Chitter is ridiculous. Regular discussions will be improved if they contain voice-image and other rich media elements – and these are well established in numerous webinary, virtual worlds etc., Nope, founding an #edchat is simply about being seen and being seen with the ‘cool people’ and finding a soap-box. If teachers are going to become better media educators, then they need to model best media practice … hashtag meh.

Clash of the Clans – Why game rating systems are broken

Clash of the Clans is another game which is gaining media attention in relation to children. It’s also a great example of how the rating system no longer provide a useful guide for parents. Clash of the Clans is a fun game. Children (and adults) create a village as well as plan battle strategies. The rating on iTunes is 9+ making it seemly suitable for younger gamers. As it collects personal information you need to be 13 to sign up for it. Don’t confuse this with the video game, movie or television or music classification systems.

Clash of the Clans is rated 9+ because the app developer filled in a form. Thats it, but let me explain more, just to illustrate the issue.

Here are the ratings as per the iTunes store.

  • 4+ Applications in this category contain no objectionable material.
  • 9+ Applications in this category may contain mild or infrequent occurrences of cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and infrequent or mild mature, suggestive, or horror-themed content which may not be suitable for children under the age of 9.
  • 12+ Applications in this category may also contain infrequent mild language, frequent or intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and mild or infrequent mature or suggestive themes, and simulated gambling which may not be suitable for children under the age of 12.
  • 17+ You must be at least 17 years old to purchase this application. Applications in this category may also contain frequent and intense offensive language; frequent and intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence; and frequent and intense mature, horror, and suggestive themes; plus sexual content, nudity, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs which may not be suitable for children under the age of 17.

So right off, we can see that Apple actively undermines and circumvents all established content based rating systems in favour of developer-marketing goals. In effect the wolf looks after the sheep, overseen by more wolves.

While clash is cartoon like, and certainly no hack and slash video game … the issue with Clash is not content or game-play, but it’s intentional design to keep children playing as long as possible – in the same way casinos set the lighting to keep gamblers numb to the passing of time. I’ll skip ahead.

Clash of Clans doesn’t sleep. It is what is called a persistent game. Every morning children wake up to a device full of notifications about raids and battles that have gone on. The resulting behaviour is one of giving constant, but not lengthy, attention. During the school day, kids know that people are playing and that being away has a negative effect on them. They want to play, they need to play … so they will find ways to play it on their devices and that will include being dishonest and secretive. The last thing parents want to raise is a child being secretive about what media they are using … but the game isn’t remotely interested in the media-habits or kids other than the persistent nature of inbound revenue.

Parents have little information about games such as this at the time of purchase. The old questions has been “are games addictive” … is rapidly becoming “which games are designed to create new, habitual behaviours from the outset”.

Now I like games right? You know I like them … but seriously, Clash creates new online sub-cultures and promotes massive distraction in kids, especially 10-14 year old boys from my observations … When a kid is struggling to pay attention at basic maths, read a book, yet spends hours in Clash … we really have to wonder about the ‘app’ revolution in schools. Sure, iPads are great for learning, but there is no way teachers can (or should) police the use of skinner-box, persistent snack games when they are trying to do their actual job.

So if you are a parent reading this, and you’re early teen is playing Clash, then I would argue that it will, and is, having an effect on their education, in cases where that child is unable to self-mediate their use of games and where the parent really has little idea how the game is intentionally designed to occupy their mind space constantly. Not all kids, but certainly some kids are displaying signs of negative media-habits … or is there another hypothesis?

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.