Minecraft digs deeper into learning.

Minecraft has many potential benefits in education. I believe these are being under-estimated. While some uses seem obvious — building a sustainable house, making a replica of a ancient monument and so on — it’s important for teachers (and parents) to recognise and value the learning processes which are happening. I’m about to argue these processes have widely been considered the domain of adult eLearning — and are skills which go beyond many definitions of “21st Century Learning”. In addition, your children and mine are bringing these skills into school.

Regardless of whether a school allows or sees value in Minecraft, there will be a significant number of children (using sales, age and platform sales) who have these skills and are sharpening them evenings and weekends.

Let me be more specific here. Using John Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design, its possible to show Minecraft is teaching kids skils that get buried underneath ongoing controversies around screen-time.

Keller’s ARCS Model for motivational design

  • Attention – Get the learners interest and curiosity
  • Relevance – Show the importance and usefulness of the content to the learner
  • Confidence – Including challenging, but do-able activities (tasks and sub tasks)
  • Satisfaction – Make the experience worth it (ie Why should I care about this?)

Using computers to assist learning only really works when the learner feels satisfied and commits what they learned to long-term memory. We’ve all been to demo or had training where we walk out and never revisit the lesson.

As a parent, it’s totally frustrating that my children seem to remember a thousand items in their favourite video game inventory — yet can’t remember what todays homework was. Keller’s model is the foundation of many eLearning and classroom activities. What I’m saying is that we can see kids doing this without any adult prompts or motivators. The brilliance of the game design is that it allows humanistic learning.

The major problems of our age deal with human relations; the solutions can be found only in education. Skill in human relations is a skill that must be learned; it is learned in the home, in the school, in the church, on the job, and wherever people gather together in small groups. – Knowles.

Minecraft doesn’t have ‘rules’ on how to accomplish a task other than the machine-rules about the properties of objects in the virtual landscape together with the players ability to interact with those objects. The game itself allows an ‘idle’ state where by the player can do nothing at all if they want. Time passing is marked by the sunrise and sunset. The first task learners perform is how to create a personal space — where they can be safe from harm. The classic hierarchy of needs becomes realised almost immediately. She builds a shelter by analysing her performance constantly to race again time and if successful in that task — starts to think about deeper task analysis.

This is hugely powerful stuff. A four year old is undertaking constant task analysis more often than they are reacting to tasks set. To me this represents a significant alternative view of “flipping the classroom”. Among the questions she’s asking herself (and seeking media information to answer) are:

  • What’s the complexity of the task?
  • How often does it needs to be performed?
  • Is the task critical to the end state (performance) I want?
  • Is this task separate, connected with or linked to other tasks?
  • What does the overall task-relationship look like?
  • What are the risks associated with not being able to complete the task?
  • What background skills to learners need to perform these tasks?

It’s critical to acknowledge that kids playing Minecraft are developing two fundamental skills. They are working towards developing the kind of reflective, critical “self-directed” skills previously associated with adult learning.

This immediately creates new challenges and opportunities. Minecraft allows kids to engage in humanistic informal learning by becoming self-directed learners, maintaining deep motivation towards their own goals. I think Knowles would have liked Minecraft.

This will, to some, clash with many EdTech’s assumptions about what kids can/should do with computers. In particular who benefits most from using them – students, system or teachers. It fly’s in the face of popular opinion and assumptions. When I then hint at the power of connectivism and network culture, I begin to see kids as part of a new and vast network of learners.

I think using this lens, kids are doing things in Minecraft is quite staggering. The objects they make are not the measurement of their achievement, but simply a landmark on their increasing ambition, skill and knowledge. As I said at the beginning of this post — I question the need to create lessons for Minecraft. I see greater value (to them) by simply allowing kids to play for a few hours a week. This has benefits which so far, EdTech has really not achieved despite vast investment and enthusiasm.

Minecraft is not just a game — it’s a sandbox for self-directed learning which is probably one the most significant skills children will need in the years ahead. Obsessing over “digital literacy” seems a particular teacher and system obsession.

(Tapped on a phone, in a train).

Minecraft’s Notch is the new Rodin.

Minecraft again today.  Just a quick post as I wait for a machine to finish a dull task.

I thought I’d introduce parents to a theory of learning called “contructionism”. As thats probably not interesting, I’ll skip to a few points that are – why Minecraft is the best FREE design teacher you’ll ever meet.

Minecraft encourages two of forms of learning that teachers would see as absolutely brilliant in their classroom (if they could magically have anything they wanted). These things are also REALLY important to “design thinking” which is another really ‘hot’ topic in how to get kids to think critically about problems and coming up with solutions.

So what are they? Perspective-Talking and Object Construction. These two topics have been mulled over by academics for decades, as they are all about our relationships with knowledge – or put another way – how do we get smarter.

Minecraft forces kids to ‘de-centre’ their view point and take someone else’s point of view. That might be in the game with another player as they make something, or it might be when they try to explain what they are making to you (the awesomely important parent and praise giver). It might be in a forum debating which is the best solution to a redstone problem or disagreeing with a YouTube “Let’s Play” video which is WRONG.

Despite outward appearances, Minecraft is not all about the player – it’s actually more about their relationship to knowledge (how to get more of it, ditch the rubbish and improve the wobbly bits).

Object construction gives them a kind of “gods eye view” of the world they are making. But they can’t succeed if this is their only view. It’s one BIG reason parents need to play with their kids in the game, not just moan about it and why allowing one person to have all the power tends to suck for the rest of us. Relate that to life – anyone know someone with a god-complex that likes to rule over everything? Did you read the Hunger Games?

In order to build knowledge Minecraft uses imagination to teach kids that they are not actually gods, ruling over the game or others, no matter how many tantrums they pull. The game-world works in certain ways only. If they really want to change the way the world works, then they need to learn how to ‘mod’ it. Is this not the same message ‘self improvement’ pundits like to talk about? Don’t take the world as it is, but take action to improve and change it?

By playing Minecraft, kids learn when they start to learn from opposites, forge new relations and separating ideas about the game-world, they have relevance to the real world. I’m yet to meet a kid playing Minecraft that’s a sheep. They are all goats who like to do whatever they want. That’s powerful stuff, but it’s also massive thing to learn, and Minecraft (can) do it really well. (With great power comes great responsibility). You tend to only hear about the ‘bad Minecraft’ in the media of course. But trust me “good Minecraft” can be used to tackle just about anything positively too. Notch has put down the ground work, but parents clearly need to be on deck to help their children make use of this new found knowledge and agency.

This form of learning (yes, learning) is not at all unlike the way science is taught under constructionist methods. If fact, it’s endorsed by your local school. I’ll just use Science to illustrate here. There is a borad consensus that children’s learning depends critically on their ideas about science, scientists and experiments. Minecraft is just a science lab by another name. The fact it can replicate this experience without a teacher or curriculum at all is just one of the many unique qualities games have, and most schools don’t’. It’s powerful stuff, and of course disrupts how we see ‘learning’. As with science, the way we ‘learn’ it can result in active identification with it (Science is awesome) or alienation (Science is rubbish). It’s the same with computer and video games, how we (you, me and others) learn about them matters a great deal. Remember I said – perspective talking. That’s what is happening all the time when playing Minecraft.

Take social media in schools and collages. No one’s learning about them as a subject, in fact most schools BAN them completely. Yet in order to make sense of the world, students need to learn about them (just as they do science) if they are to function in parts of the world where online is just part and parcel of life. Teaching them only about ‘fear’ is like only teaching them about “when science goes bad” and in fact education spends vasts about of time trying to build “wicker men” from any technology it doesn’t understanding (like games).

My point is, that simply allowing kids to play Minecraft in school would be far better than giving they stupid cyber safety chats, quizzes and lectures by the local police. Kids don’t turn learning off and on, like teachers sometimes turn the job on and off (bells). You can’t tell a kid that games are not learning and you can’t stop them learning when a game like Minecraft is so optimally tuned into the most powerful educational theories out there. The irony of course is that ‘culture’ get’s in the way and most educational administrators have not themselves learned the value of perspective talking and can’t separate the game from the objective.

Designers sort out what object mean to them or others; then they selectively connect features of an object and features of a CONTEXT into a coherent unity. This belongs here because, this works here because, I am happy here because and so on. Over time, designers build up a lot of knowledge and understanding about how to place and connect objects in the world, so as to give them situated meaning to others. BIG examples: Egyptian pyramids, great sailing ships, statues, buildings, vehicles.

Now ask yourself, what is MY kid doing in Minecraft … playing AND learning to be a designer? – How are they relating DESIGN in the real world to themselves and others in the game-world?. How does copying from the board do this? How does filling out a worksheet do this? How does listening to a lecture do this?

It doesn’t. Kids put up with it, because kids have no power at all in school – despite dubious claims from educational advoates about how technology ’empowers students’. Rubbish, one persons in charge, the dude at the front. And that dude has no clue about games like Minecraft, so will avoid it like the plague.

Most of all, according to the theory, the construction of meaning is most potent when learners are engages in building external and sharable facts. Minecraft is all about those things.

To the generations past, Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker” was the prototypical image of thinking. Notch gave us a new image, one which is a now prototypical of todays “thinkers”. They happen to look like boxy-stick-people, but really, Notch’s design for the new thinker is right up there with Rodin in terms of art and craft.

The Digital Dust Bowl



One of the things that is changing the way families experience games are the new media layers that games are appearing on. We’ve known for years that media works better when it is fluid. If you like, if we were to take the sum total of all forms of media that appear in popular culture, make them immersive and interactive – and where to you find yourself?

On the Internet is not the correct answer. The Internet is just the transport for media layers. Where you end up is inside one of several networks, which carries media more powerful and fluid than newspapers, radio, television, books, magazines – or websites.

Sony, Nintendo, Valve, Xbox, iTunes and Google Play are the network layers that manage to exist in two key areas of our lives. Firstly, the pocket. At any moment we can be entertained, thrilled and most importantly – consume and purchase. Secondly, in the lounge room. The one place that most families inhabit  Not the study or a nook (where the PC lives) but front and centre of viewing.

Games are more powerful, because games are a significant part of these networks overall media business. Not just blockbuster games, but Indie games which are relatively smaller and cheaper to download. They exist alongside the DLC (downloadable content) which are ‘additions’ to the games you buy in the store – and you pay for. They sit along side downloadable videos, television, music and news. They link into you social feed. An Indie game, such as Super Meat Boy can turn 10,000 units in a day at 12000c a pop, which is somewhere around $20.00.

A big reason the media (be that television, print, or websites) will fail to win their relentless attempts to diminish games as a media (we already spend more time playing that doing anything else) is that games are central to the economic success (and growth) of these media networks. If you were born after say 1978, you grew up playing games on micro-computers. If you were born after 1990, you grew up on optical-media based consoles. If you were born after 2000, you are growing up on network-games.

The thing about this – the thing which seems of the most importance to me right now – is that we know almost nothing about the motivations and perceptions of parents towards their use in the home. In education, the scary thing is that these things are never mentioned in relation to ‘integrating ICT’. There’s a huge assumption that eventually, though the pathways put forward through popular Internet media layers (the feed of blogs, Twitter and so on) – sufficient adults will understand online information pathways to develop the skills (what skills) needed for the future. At best, this near future is seen as a shift from laptop top tablet.

This of course means that the ‘cutting edge’ in popular culture of online education is based on tablets, mobile phones and on maturation of Internet websites. It ignores completely the use of wearable technology, smart televisions, Kinect, Google Glass and many more technologies that have already entered the home. When educational futurists painted a vision of Web2.0, they assumed it would be on a computer, then a laptop and now a tablet.

The future of online learning won’t be these things. It will be in fast moving, on-demand content that can be immersive and fluid. It is perhaps the biggest reason I found the MS Surface tablet exciting. It looked, worked and talked to my Xbox network. It amases me in higher education that no one (or no one I can see) isn’t working really hard on how eLearning might look via a network layer such as Xbox live – one which has a mature system of reputation, avatar, history of use, money and of course downloadable content. How hard would it be to create an amazing learning managent system that worked on the Xbox network? Well, impossible actually – as education simply hasn’t considered that just about all of it’s ‘innovations’ for interactive screens, live cams, secure mail, gamification, flipped classroom, internet searching and so on can be done on Xbox live.

So when these media networks have machines hooked up to wall mounted LCDs pushing data at us though 8 cores of processing – and hiring thousands of programmers to do it … it seems almost Edwardian to suggest websites have much of a future. Every major media player in the world is on or trying to get on the network layers that sit in our pockets and lounge room walls.

My money (if I had any) is on the future being a solid return to subject mastery in classroom and a retreat from the high invested (low return) that we’ve seen in the last decade. I don’t imagine for a moment that student results will be diminished. I think that higher education and other offerings of ‘learning’ will make their way to layers such as Xbox live (and not just iTunesU) and we’ll be interacting in real time with real people using gesture based technology, wearable technology – because the networks which carry games such as Crysis3 are currently limited by the machines – the Wii, the Xbox and the PS3 are a decade old.

Imagine if the classroom had laptops and computers 10 years old, they would barely run todays software – and yet the ageing PS3 and Xbox still deliver media and games which you’d expect on your iFad3 or i7 PC. If anyone knows how to get the maximum interaction out of a machine – it’s game developers and all of these media networks (those used to selling movies, TV and music) know – if they want a future doing just that – then they need to fund the games industry … and that is expensive … like many millions and years of waiting for it expensive.

I doubt you’ll find a single proposal at ISTE last year, this year or next year, that will look at how networked media will flood into lives of kids in the next few years. We’re about to enter a new generation of machine – the PS4, the Xbox (720) and so on, which will quite simply transform the way media is delivered and interacted with. Instead theres a bunch of people who are in the old-marketpace. To me it’s like the boom and bust of the wheat farmers who ignored the cattle-men and believed the solution to low grain prices what to produce more grain to sell, or if the price of grain is high, plant more grain to make money.

The dust-storm is arriving … me, I’m working on figuring out how and why families choose the games and networks they do … as it’s only by getting that, could I then try to imagine how we might prepare teachers for the next generation – the ones who will grow up feeding on high-speed media via cheap boxes that know their name.

Now I”m going to play Fez – which is metaphor. The world is 3D, it has four sides, a top and a bottom – what I’m seeing in edu-tech is an unwillingness to accept change is not about changing one surface for another (web1.0 to web2.0, computer screen to laptop screen, laptop to tablet screen). It’s about waking up and realising there’s stuff going on around the back that your current feed does not want you to know about.

At times it feels ironic that what is presented as ‘the edge of new learning technologies’, quick to vilify ‘old methods’ – is already a chapter in history – relevant in the 1990s, but in denial of what comes next – for no greater reason than they don’t have a place in it, and about to find themselves living in the ‘digital dust bowl’.

It’s very exciting stuff. It’s like finding the Web all over again, or that whole – what am I doing here – thing that came with Second Life or Minecraft. I’m betting that the way MOOCS and online learning for adults will explode is exactly the same way they exploded for games. I’m also betting right now all the money for MOOCs and massive online learning delivery systems is going into dust-ware.

Me, I’m working on a game with Mr11 about a Monkey with a monocle – because his homework said to make a pencil box using a set-square. I’m by-passing the Google Sketch phase and going straight for the understanding of the design process.

5 stages of Games Based Learning

The Kübler-Ross model suggests suggest that the patterns of grief are one way of describing the basic patterns of integrating new information that conflicts with previous beliefs.

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” said Schopenhauer of the learning process.

I’m not sure he’s right – he had some barking-mad ideas … yet corresponds to the five stages of grief in the Kübler-Ross model with ridicule being denial, opposition being anger and bargaining, and acceptance being depression and acceptance.

It is hard to deny social-media for educators is awash with people seeking satisfaction, and though we are more free to do what we want – we’re still can’t simply will it.


  • This is high-school, high-stakes tests, so games are not relevant to the way we teach.
  • We’re not in charge of curriculum, if change is needed, they would tell us.
  • I don’t have gamer-kids here, these just are my students.


  • I can’t believe you think games are academic!
  • Why is no one showing us more about using games!
  • It’s just going to consume more time we don’t have!
  • This is just a waste of my time!


  • What about I just change grades to points?
  • Can we just talk about it next semester when I have more time?
  • To do this, can’t you lighten my teaching load?
  • I suggest we ask the parents before we decide anything.


  • Sigh. We’ve done all this work on blogs, wikis and now you tell us these tools are not so powerful?
  • There’s so much in this, it’s really hard to get my head around.
  • What’s the point, it’s just another thing that won’t last.


  • Lets take a look at the ideas in a way that doesn’t compromise our goals or professionalism.
  • Lets look at the scholars we already know about’s theories and ideas about games, play and imagination.
  • Wow, kids who play games develop skills we can use to teach them even better.

Minecraft Dilemma

Minecraft Dilemma

A school in Sweden has made Minecraft compulsory. Settle down, this is a headline – Minecraft didn’t become a subject like Maths or Science, just another ‘thing’ schools make kids do during some appointed time. Mums against Minecraft will be horrified still.

This is a dilemma, as it’s impossible to make learning compulsory, however I get the point that as an immersive experience, some students would perhaps find it of use. How you’d measure that is another matter – especially as standardized tests are lump-hammers. Other comments immediately called for ‘evidence’ that it would be edumacational. A standard volley these days, but indicative of the cultural assumption that other parts of academic activities are more educational. This is the belief that what has proven true in the past is stable and improvements can be made every year.

I am not denying the nobility of that idea, but as this comment reflects, schools seem to assume while technology is useful in modernity, and notionally see this as ‘computer assisted learning’ – they remain unable to deal with the potential that it is only now that accepted educational theory from respected scholars like Dewey and Pappert can be leveraged though well designed games. Note that I am talking about ‘networked independence’ and ‘learning’ – not ‘teaching’ as an act.

I am also not suggesting that this would be true for all learners, or that having an adult teach something is not a worth while and valid part of childhood development – far from it – as there is plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, though like games, there is no universal truism. For many kids (one of my own) not understanding how he learns, means he will tune-out. Many teachers do this too, “oh, video-games … I can’t learn anything from those” … and tune out too.

Tune back in – it may well be that kids can play games in learning episodes that don’t rely on teacher’s to police it, or put it in a lesson-cage at a certain time of day. This again is well documented in early childhood research. Games are useful for learning in many ways – however the outstanding problem with schools and teachers is pedagogy – something that remains dominated by teachers. Game design remains dominated by imagination and controversy – as games are also a form of art.

Art is education. Playing a guitar teaches you many things, and draws the learner into ever deeper learning. It is only objective bias that argues, picking up a game controller is time-wasting entertainment – mostly in order to deny the possibility that a more of the school-day can be given over to greater freedom of choice, liberty and art – not less. I do advocate for Minecraft, but endorse the sentiment in this comment completey. Learning is not better is you put it in a straight jacket and assume a teacher has to teach it.

I argue this lack of attention to games, and right now Minecraft is part of the reason parents are picking up the heat at home and concerned about the amount of time kids are playing it. When they think ‘is this learning’ – they imagine what learning looks like. If it looks like lessons, cells and bells – then you know what most will decide.

Games like Minecraft are a role model for how learning could occur – and schools as a function of society still refuse to accept their resistance to change the day to day regime is setting a bad example to kids and parents. Teachers are a function of school, so it’s futile to say they ‘don’t get it’. They do a good job, inside the parenthesis of the job. When people say “I’m stuck in traffic, the correct reply is, no … you are the traffic”. This to me is the  impass in educational technology right now. The gurus that espoused Web2.0 can’t see past it – because web2.0 dogma is based on computer assisted learning. You can sell that to schools, but clearly you can’t sell it to all teachers and only a handful of students.

Great to see Minecraft in schools – but better to see schools operate more like Minecraft.

Maintaining motivation to enquire

Asking a driving question laced with teen-interesting dilemmas and undertones get’s their attention – once. It’s my belief that when kids experience teachers asking them questions which they feel is because they are a person of interest – so they pay attention. If they don’t detect this feeling, it’s taken as a disingenuous attempt to disguise “school-work”. They’ll probably comply, but with no HUD display over their head via your ARG powered iPad – how do you tell?

Kids, like adults pay more attention to “meaningful work” and that is motivating.

I’m going to explain how to experiment with this, so in anticipation, I’d love it if you could TWEET this for me, just to get the ball rolling.

If not, you are not allowed to read the rest. Deal?

How to maintain the learning rage

The challenge of PBL is not to motivate students (though I believe it can awaken them from sleep if teachers know how). The challenge is to keep them motivated during an enquiry.  This, I don’t see being explained by the popular PBL-talkers too much, so I thought I’d add it.  It’s not a learning thing, they teach you this in ad-school.

We are bombarded with brain-memos, the loudest being “is this too easy or too hard right now”. If ourbrain say’s yes or even maybe then we are likely to feel bored. Bored kids invent less boring realities for teachers – which teachers tend to dislike. Adults are no better, at conferences some people actually fall asleep in response, where most of us politely disappear into cyber-interests.

You are a person of interest

To keep kids interested – and therefore at least willing to pay attention to school work, a great PBL teacher learns how to see (and treat) kids as a person of interest. I don’t give a monkeys about your learning-cycles, design thinking steps – unless you can find ways to show kids (or adults) they are a person of interest – they are mentally out of there ASAP.

Imaginative Education Trick: Level 1

Here’s one from the IE box of tricks, it’s a trust builder – as trust comes before powerpoint (snigger).

Using sleek, smooth, plush, slick, salty, hot, crisp, and juicy, which combination of two would make…

                            …the ideal teacher for you? 

                            …the ideal friend for you?

                            …the ideal enemy that could defeat you?

                            …the ideal minion for you?

                            …the ideal leader of the free world?

                            …the ideal sauce?

                            …the ideal snack food?

If students respond, let’s agree that you got their attention. Ding, level up. If not, check for signs of life – they might be so deep in sleep we’ll need to do something more radical. But I digress …

Getting students motivated (again and again) is best achieved by deliberately tapping into their emotions and saying to them – you are a person of interest to me.

Imaginative Education Trick: Level 2

Split kids into two groups – Get them to sit around and talk about the next 10 years (10 year being infinity to kids). This pitches the conversation out into their imagination and away from more immediate anxieties and pressures.  Give them 10 mins for each question, then get them to explain the differences (critical thinking).

Ask them – “In 10 years …

“How Much Better Do You Want To Feel?”


“How Much Happier Do You Want To Be?”

Now give them 10 mins to list out

“in 10 years,  what are five things that will get you there?”

When they’ve done that,ask each individual to come up with five steps for each thing that they think will help them as individuals – which should round you up to an hour.

If they can do this, then chances are your students will make great PBL students once you get your head around this stuff and they’ll leave, wondering what all that was about … kids who wonder about stuff as they leave are engaged.

Don’t be afraid to ask them using the good old voice box to target kids with emotionally provocative questions which are not in the syllabus.

PBL teachers learn how to use these bad-boys. It’s challenging because teacher questions are (historically) tied to a certain Blooms taxonomy (aligned with selected content) which disrupts the way our minds naturally question the world and each other. Natural language is impossible to achieve therefore communicative learning is equally un-realistic.

Think how dumb it would be if each time you came home from work and your partner asked “list what you did to today” followed by “compare this day to any other day” … see it’s just not a natural way to learn or communicate with others is it?

Here are some templates to use:

How Much Better…..?

How Much Energy ….?

How much more/less time …?

Is this the same as…..?

Isn’t it time you….?

Isn’t this the most unusual….?

Is this the most …?

Is that the least?

Wouldn’t you be better off……?

This is of course how advertising works. So if you have a design background you’ll be saying “deh” right now. In ad-land, we’d write “How much younger do you want to look?” where as in education we’re asking “how much more do you want to learn”. This to me is why you should get someone to teach you about PBL – most kids are told what to learn, what the limits (and consequences for not learning) are. This is of course stupid, but convenient.

Tapping into emotions using these kind of lead in questions will allow you to re-tap personal-emotional motivation – but over time, you’ll forget and it will just be natural. So if you’re tire of the same old battles with student bevaviour, buy a PBL coach.

Tandem Learning

I’ve been involved with an ambitious accessibility project in Indonesia. In short, if you have accessibility needs in Indonesia, even being colour blind, you will find it almost impossible to attend any form of consistent education, not least University. As many as 59% of Indonesian children with any sight impairment get no education at all.

MQAS is working hard to improve this. It’s not easy, but it’s massively rewarding to learn that our partner – Brawijaya University – has enrolled 10 students in under-graduate courses with disabilities – the first time ever. This is of course achieved by lobbying for funding, something that groups who work with disabilities know all about.

If you have ever met MQAS’ Sharon Kerr, you’ll know that there is no dream too big, and no high office that can’t have it’s doors opened. Getting students into University was step one. In the next few months, we’ll be working with 33 provinces, teaching teachers how to work with and teach people with disabilities. As if that wasn’t enough – we’re also starting generating ideas on how to get children with disabilities to school – even if that school is actually a University using technology.

One idea is “the tandem project”. If we can get 20 tandem bikes (lots of bikes in Indonesia, not many tandems), we can use them to get people with vision impairment to school in a peer-mentor program. This is perhaps the opposite of what might be expected from a technological solution. Perhaps we could just give them iPads – but they don’t have electricity reliably or the Internet in many cases.

The idea is to create geographic “bike-hubs” which act as classroom, perhaps makeshift, perhaps not. The essential ingredient is to have a socially inclusive classroom where fully able child can help another get to a place of learning. They not only learn together – they learn about each other shoulder to shoulder.

In many cases this might be for the first time ever for both of them. This makes it all the more remarkable that 10 students have been able to get into a University at all on their own merits – they have been taught by their communities alone and the photo here shows the volunteer mentors. That’s the key ‘volunteers’.

If we could get 20 tandem bikes in communities , it would  allow 40 students to study for less than the price of 10 iPads. So that’s one of the next missions – how to make this a reality for kids.

If you want to help, then get in touch – saving the world is a multi-player game.


How to use Balance, Gimping, Campaign mode to improve assessment tasks easily

How about trying something from my  epic book “Living with games, dying with zombies” or something like that. This is how to use game-methods to improve something most students hate – getting marks and grades back from exercises and tests. No game needed, no tech either … a Zombie could do this.

Let’s assume most teachers issue marks to their class and we know from research marks and class-ranks are really de-motivating for most people. If there are 30 students, then it’s not hard to work out someone will get top and someone bottom. League tables are a common feature of games however, so how come publishing them are considered a bad educational idea, yet an almost expected in games. There’s something obviously missing then.

The game solution

Rather than avoid posting a class-rank on the wall, or handing out individual ones privately to avoid awkwardness, use Excel. I know Excel right, that old donkey which comes with Office. The funky people might use Google Docs or a database. Depends on your geek-power. You could use paper if you want to be old school.

The Method

You get excel to read each row and pick out the student name and their mark and comment on what EXACTLY they need to do in order to improve their grade in DIRECT relation to the grades of the students TWO rows immediately above them.

The easiest way to do this is to MAIL MERGE it. Select the student’s row and include the two names and marks of those immediately ABOVE them and two names and marks of those immediately BELOW. Now print that stuff out and hand it out.

Each student (if you’ve followed me) has their mark and a comment on EXACTLY what they need to do to beat the two in front of them. They also know who are their nearest academic peers. You have just generated a second thing, better ‘groups’ by clustering. Yes, some are at the top and some at the bottom, but nothing’s changed right? – that was going to happen anyway. Wrong.

The top group has to SUSTAIN itself and bottom group has everything to play for. But now the fun part – how to get them to play. You’ve just created GROUPS of 5 to power peer-learning based on EVIDENCE.

Now start cheating. Break the norm-rules! I won’t bore you with a speech about the types of rules games use – but cheating is a very valuable rule in game-theory. It’s called GIMPING, I’ll explain that later.

Give the bottom THIRD of kids things they can grind on to improve as a GROUP. Repeating, re-doing, coaching, whatever. Tell them they’ve got a WEEK to re-submit a different task which you PROMISE will be no easier or harder than the last.

Give the MIDDLE third kids nothing new to do at all.

Give the TOP third something more philiophical to deal with with the promise of a few more marks if they do it. This should be something more open, not easily answered etc.,

Here’s what has happened. You have 3 key working groups (top, middle, bottom (you do anyway). You also have a peer-assisted learning loop happening, you are allowing the middle kids to float between the bottom and the top (choice), the top are being extended (or sitting on their laurels which won’t last long). The bottom kids are repeating the task, now working in a group to improve together because they feel more trusted and valued.

What changed in terms of teacher practice?

Ultimately, there is nothing radically changed in what’s being taught or the assessment itself. The big change is to way it is being reported and the finality of it. For the most able academic students, there are being given a new opportunity to explore the metanarrative

These theories may be political, economic, social, literary, philosophical, or any other kind that claim to explain the material to be learned. Challenge the students to find the most powerful underlying idea or principle – and what example(s) they can find to explain it. This, for high-achieving students focuses them away for ‘getting the answer’ and finding what is emotionally engaging about  the topic.

Why is this Game Based Learning?

If you like, call this learning in ‘campaign mode’. It taunts you with getting content that is ‘locked out’. This is typical of how Modern Warfare or Battlefield get you to work harder, to get better gear. In the context of the top-kids, it’s called balancing (wikipedia simple version) which creates uncertainty, leading to the tension and excitement. Why do this? Because the way marks and tables are managed in the classroom is the equivalent to what gamer’s call GIMPING. Most players don’t mind ‘some’ gimping if the game is balanced, but it if’s always GIMPED, it just sucks. And players who want to be better hate it.


Layering questions in PBL classrooms

At the heart of project based learning are driving questions. There are questions that are irregular and not easily answered. Personally, I prefer them to be somewhat obscure, romantic, mystical or even ironic (jokes are great!).

The point to drive more questions though a systematic process. Unlike the traditional Blooms approach, my preference is to start with questions that pose binary opposites and evaluative responses right off the bat. I’ve been constantly surprised at the responses and generally it allows me to get into differentiated discussions fast. The last thing I want is for everyone to move forward at the same pace or in the same direction.

For example. “Has technology become the worlds biggest bully?”

This question will of course will draw out plenty of answers, and all of them to some extent will contain truth and fiction. This video is provided just to kick start the conversation – to pose a question in a context that has relevance to today’s young people. What follows will not be some didactic lecture on cyber-safety. Why? Because that’s something that appears from school, not from the rest of their lives, so kids often can retell and repeat ideal behavior, but disregard it when the influence of the teacher and the topic are removed.

PBL students use KWL charts to decide as a group what they believe they know, what they don’t. However, like most people, they don’t know what they don’t know, so they need directing. The point being, they don’t all need directing in the same direction. Below is a list of questions that could be added to the a KWL session to help kids focus in on a topic. They take multiple perspectives at the early stages because critical thinking isn’t about tuning in on the best solution as soon as possible, it’s about exploring as many possibilities. Design thinking (if there is such a thing), is best thought of as a systematic process that promotes divergent thinking.

For students new to PBL, giving them a series of questions helps. PBL isn’t driven by one question or one agenda – a series of questions can be recycled and re-framed constantly. They are also turn-around questions when students start moaning “I don’t get it this, it is stupid” or “what is the point” which is really them pinging you for answers – as that is the think that education has told them to expect.

Have a practice – get some groups together and give them 4 questions each to work on KWL charts.

Do you agree with the actions…? with the outcome…?
What is your opinion of…?
How would you prove…? Disprove…?
Can you asses the value or importance of…?
Would it be better if…?
Why did they (the character) choose…?
What would you recommend…?
How would you rate the…?
What would you cite to defend the actions…?
How would you evaluate…?
How could you determine…?
What choice would you have made…?
What would you select…?
How would you prioritise…?
What judgment would you make about…?
Based on what you know, how would you explain…?
What information would you use to support the view…?
How would you justify…?
What data was used to make the conclusion…?
Why was it better that…?
How would you prioritize the facts…?
How would you compare the ideas…? People…?
Is there a better solution to…?
Judge the value of… What do you think about…?
Can you defend your position about…?
Do you think…is a good or bad thing?
How would you have handled…?
What changes to.. would you recommend?
Do you believe…? How would you feel if. ..?
How effective are. ..?
What are the consequences..?
What influence will….have on our lives?
What are the pros and cons of….?
Why is ….of value?
What are the alternatives?
Who will gain and who will loose?