#ISTE2014 reflection number 3 #Minecraft

One of the most awesome things about #ISTE2014 was catching up with people in my PLN. People who I have been following for years, people who have inspired me and pushed me. My PLN is varied and that is what I love about it. I had the opportunity to catch up with @tasteach, a wonderful lady who is impacting the lives of people across the globe with her Student Blogging Challenge. She is not afraid to push the boundaries to ensure students get the best opportunities!

Then there was the Minecraft group – WOW! How lucky was I to meet up with them! @Knowclue was presenting at ISTE and invited me to share the Riverside High School story. She had three different sessions where our story was shared with regard to the wonderful things our students have learnt using Minecraft. Two of the sessions provided teachers the opportunity to play and one took on a lecture style format. As a result of meeting up with @Knowclue I was able to meet @Coggone, a quietly spoken teacher who had a fantastic story to tell about her own learning as she entered the world of Minecraft to explore mathematical concepts. She too presented in the three sessions. Then there was @MrMalmstrom who is the tech guru behind the work that @Knowclue does. @ruriknackerud was also present to help out, his focus is on research in the gaming area and continued to bring a smile to everyones face with his exuberance and wit. @mr_isaacs was also there to help, I had the opportunity to meet him at the Games, Learning and Society Conference a few weeks earlier. And last, but not least, @PeggySheehy who has a wealth of knowledge about games and gaming in the classroom, being well know for her use of World of Warcraft in educational settings. Being in the same room as these people and sharing our story in this format was an incredible opportunity. Thank you so much @Knowclue :)

2014-06-30 10.19.05 2014-06-30 10.18.54

Then came the icing on the cake. Often I wonder what someone really walks away with from a PL session and if it does have relevance to their classroom practice.  Than suddenly a tweet popped up the other day, where a teacher who attended one of the play sessions reflected on her ‘walk on the wild side’ with Minecraft.

Screenshot 2014-07-30 21.58.58


What wonderful feed back for @Knowclue. A huge amount of effort goes into submitting a potential presentation for a conference like ISTE, and I am sure that this put a big smile on her face, as it did mine :)


Here is Iram’s journey into play and learning with the ultimate learning tool, Minecraft:



The server is all a buzz! #minecraft #ProjectMIST


I’ve stayed up late tonight to get see how things are going on the ProjectMIST server. WOW! Things really are a buzz. So much has been built and so much is being built. I will have to go in and explore at a more appropriate time for me – it’s midnight and I need my beauty sleep lol! Taking a quick peek at the activity on the dynmap was so exciting! I miss that class. Lots of fun, great discussion and heaps of learning going on. Can’t wait to see some pics being posted by them.

Charter schools – what’s the go in Ohio?

Just been to Rotary. Today’s speaker, Steve Dyer (https://twitter.com/StephenODyer) spoke on the funding breakdown provided in the state of Ohio regarding education. When it’s broken down to a per student basis Charter schools get significantly more money per student than public schools from the state (Charter Schools: $7,446/ pupil compared Local school districts: $3,611/ pupil), yet their educational data on report cards is not anywhere near as good as the public schools. The other interesting thing Stephen mentioned, in discussion after his presentation, is that transport is provided for students to get to a Charter school. Yet no transport is provided for students to get to their local public school, as it is deemed that they don’t need transport provided due to being in the 3mile (5k) radius of their local public school. Which raises the question, where would a parent choose to send their child if getting to a public school, via walking, was not considered a safe option. Public schools appear to be on the back foot for a range of reasons, yet they are not under-performing like the Charter schools. The other thing mentioned was the connection to politics that appears to exist with Charter schools. Not only do I feel uncomfortable about this, but incredibly saddened by the inequity that hits me in the face. Admittedly, I’m only hearing one states perspective on the impact of Charter schools. It’s always important to understand the bigger picture.

#iste2014 reflection number 2 #assistivetech

Over the last 48 hours I have been to Canada and back, with the purpose to re-enter the USA on a student VISA. That provides lots of time on a plane, so what better way to use that time than to put my thoughts together…

ISTE was a couple of weeks ago and I’m still thinking through some of the things that popped up over that conference. It was fascinating, to say the least, being at a conference with just over 16000 educators. And as you can imagine the sheer numbers presented challenges at times. The line up for Starbucks coffee was never ending and some sessions saw disappointed faces, as potential attendees were turned away due to their popularity not being foreseen. However, link ups to screens were quickly created to ensure that disappointment did not last too long. And with plenty of coffee and PLN to touch base with, meet for the first time and engage with connecting was just as purposeful as the sessions themselves.

There was one session that I encountered the huge line up and the momentary disappointment of being turned away, the first IGNITE session.

2014-06-28 14.14.44

The YouTube video will give you and idea of how the session runs.

I soon learnt the need to get super organised and get to things early. Luckily, I did this with regard to Gary Staggers session, getting seated half an hour early (and yes, just lucky at that, grabbing a seat in the back row). However, I’ll digress a little to the session where I learnt the need to be organised. As this one still stands out I’m my mind.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to teach a young man who was provided an iPad as a tool to assist him with regard to his disability. I think this young man taught me much more than I ever taught him. Much of what we did in the first year with the iPad was trial and error, he had to help me understand what his learning needs were and what apps worked and what didn’t. He stretched me as a person and as a teacher. This was my first encounter with an iPad and to be honest I only purchased mine so I could work out how we could incorporate/use/integrate his, making learning more accessible for him. Prior to that I saw them as an expensive tool that allowed access to a range of media, a portable entertainment system if you like. An expensive entertainment system from my perspective at the time.

It was due to this that I watched with interest when Matthew Newton spoke about Google Glass as assistive technology. Wow! And you know he’s right, the potential for Google Glass to provide greater access to communicating, interacting and being is spot on. Google Glass for the right person could change the way they participate in learning and life.

Interestingly enough, there were many conversations occurring around Google Glass at the conference. There were early adopters sporting them on their face and a range of people who had played with them. It was intriguing to listen to some of the conversations. Some felt that the market was not ready for them. Raising issues of privacy with regard to those wearing them, being able to video and take pictures without others knowledge and then posting immediately to places like Facebook, blogs, photo sites, twitter and the like. It was even sighted that some establishments were refusing patrons to wear them when on their premises. Hm…this raises an interesting question – can’t a smart phone be used in a surreptitious manner?

Others raised the issue of cost and how this was not conducive to school budgets. Questioning potential learning gains was avidly discussed and the reality at this stage that one could not justifying the cost outlay as a result. Admittedly this is a big issue for schools with regard to purchasing technology. Will the integration of it be of value? And do you jump in as an early adopter, or wait? Learning from the early adopter is of great benefit, after all they politely make some mistakes that you can avoid.  And as for costs, well they usually come down as the tech tool becomes more common place. So it makes sense to hold off – right???

But let’s get back to google glass as an assistive tool and the issues that were raised.  Firstly, why does it need to be common place in the classroom? Surely it can be used in a manner that is optimum and if it allows one child to learn more effectively and their learning and everyday life is empowered by it, then that is good. Secondly, it’s about being a respectful citizen both online and face to face. So the tool is not the issue. It is the user. If one child in your class is using Google Glass to enable a more equitable learning environment for them then the issue of privacy, as raised earlier, is null and void for surely learning about and demonstrating that they are a good citizen will be part of their overall learning. And finally, someone has to be brave and make that step if the tool appears to have real benefit. Should we be scared about being an early adopter if it empowers the learning journey of a child that might otherwise be hitting obstacles that can be removed by such a device?

Lets find that child that will benefit, lets find that educator that will dive in and play. Lets learn together.

For notes on the first IGNITE session visit https://docs.google.com/document/d/1bhBndxabKwV1ZZjlowtVysZSdF-Ed-qgzTuNwUV9luI/pub by @kevinhuitt

#ISTE2014 Reflection Number 1 #iphoneography

Since signing up to twitter in 2009 I have been keen to attend ISTE due to seeing tweets pop up that captivated my interest and conversations occurring in the twitter-sphere. Well this year, thanks to the generosity of the Hardie Fellowship, I was able to attend. I signed up for a session on the pre-conference day, of which I am really glad I did for a number of reasons. Firstly, I got to scope out the venue prior to the 16000 people populated the space.  This number of people made lining up, in what felt like never ending lines, for programmed events and coffee the norm. Secondly, I enjoyed a session that will provide wonderful opportunities for students and myself as we continue to develop our visual literacies combined with social media.

To contextualise this a little, in term one I was teaching a couple of English classes, of which I felt quite out of my depth due to it not being an area I have trained in. To support myself and the student learning I felt that it was important to start with something we could all buy into and as a result have ownership over our learning. Photography seemed like the perfect platform for this to occur. So with smartphones, ipods, ipads and cameras in hand my classes set out on a range of tasks that set the scene for their English work. In the process we learnt heaps about each other, our interests, talents and developed our English skills along the way. This was not all smooth sailing, as the issue of school policy was our first hiccup, but hey, policy is there to evolve to enable learning to occur in our ever changing world. So after a few weeks our mode of learning was not in too much conflict with school based policy. I will chat more about this later as this was central to another session I attended at ISTE.

So my desire to attend this session was based on the learning I and my students had undertaken before I left for the USA.

For a look at the slides from the session Edutogs – Integrate Photography into the Classroom visit:


The thing that I loved about this session was the chance to go and play, to immerse and to think about how I could ensure that the next time I use photography in the classroom more is gained from it. One of the challenges that I face, and I’m sure that some students do too, is the time to tinker and explore the medium being used. Sometimes it takes time to feel comfortable with what you are doing and the tools you are using before you can focus on the assessable task that is required. Creating does not necessarily happen immediately, how do we provide adequate time for our students to do their best, to feel connected to the task and the learning?

He are some pics I took on the day during our photo walk, where I focused on texture, angle and shape:

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I then went onto playing with different apps to change the photos:

Since then I have had further opportunity to think about the photos that I take and manipulating them to communicate a story that I want to tell:



Games, Society and Learning #gls14 – Part 7

The last day of #gls14 rolled around quickly, as with most conferences a lot is discussed, shared and questioned. I need time to consider what I have learnt, and I am still thinking about some of the presentations from this last day. A storify from that day is available by clicking on the pic below:


Screenshot 2014-06-29 22.04.26


I do appreciate those that tweet out during a conference, some people are so quick at summarising what is being said into the 140 characters available for each tweet. These people provide a great backchannel for those not in attendance and a great bank of notes/discussions for those of us in attendance. For me, these tweets compliment hand written notes that I take while listening – yes that’s right I still take hand written notes! I find I am able to learn more effectively this way. The tweets are a mere summary/snapshot of the moment for me, my hand written notes contextualise things a little more and take me back to the moment in a physical/emotional sense. Having my PLN participate actively on twitter during a conference ensures the learning is no longer an individual pursuit, it has a real connectedness to others, hence I find the combination of tweets from others with my own thoughts, reflections and notes provides greater richness to the learning undertaken.

What is it that I will take away that will last with me for a long time and become part of my practice? What will be momentarily useful?

Some aspects of this conference have already come in handy and have had direct application to what I am doing now, especially from a reaffirming perspective. Others will be more relevant later on. I am sure that my brain will effectively dig deep into my memory to reacquaint itself with the information and thoughts filed away, in amongst the grey matter, when the moment arises. ;)

Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 6 Social and Emotional Learning

After watching my students play Minecraft for the past few years, it has become obvious to me that they gain so much from game play. It provides a space for them to connect, to be and to grow as young men and women. It completely delights me when I hear how supportive they are of other players, taking on roles of mentors, community builders and leaders. Demonstrating in each instance behaviours that are often not openly captured easily in face to face interactions by their teacher or other significant adults. Behaviours that identify strong values and beliefs around equity, fairness, trust and acceptance of difference.

Having opportunity to watch without impacting on their game play is truly remarkable. We have a dynmap (dynamic map, a map of the Minecraft server worlds that shows where they are and their in-game conversations) set up so I can do this without interrupting their play, without impacting with my presence. They are all aware that I use it to watch, and I do say hi, as I believe it is important that they know I’m around. By using the dynmap it just means I’m not physically appearing in the game, so their play is not impeded by me. This vantage point has enabled me to see the value games have in a learning context with regard to self esteem building, negotiating ones way around social interactions and building resilience. As a result of this, I was particularly interested in attending the paper presentations on Social/Emotional Skills.

Jessica Berlinski presented on SEL and the game IF, an overview of SEL and the game can be found here (click on the pic for a spreecast, it is a bit sketchy at times):

jessica berlinski

We want our students to develop:

  • self awareness
  • self management
  • social awareness
  • relationship skills
  • responsible decision making

The game IF, which can be found at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/id709306030?mt=8, and information about the game can be found at http://ifyoucan.org.

The game allows building of identity. It provides for failure to enable self awareness building. Through the game play children can explore and participate in taking different perspectives, building empathy. This game is primary school focused and does provide for parental involvement.


The other presenter was Richie Davidson, whose biography can be found here http://richardjdavidson.com/biography/. He spoke about compassion as a learnable skill. He mentioned that 1 1/2 hours of game play can change the structure of the brain, which incorporates the understanding of neuroplasticity. To gain a better understanding of what he presented it can be found here:


Richie Davidson commented that we are born with the seeds of compassion and goodness. We need the opportunity for these to develop – just like language. We need to regard wellbeing and kindness as skills. He made further comment to mindfulness being vital, as without it all forms of learning are compromised. Richie Davidson has been working with the Games Learning Society with regard to Crystals of Kaydor and Tenacity (http://gameslearningsociety.org/blog/?p=431 and http://wid.wisc.edu/featured-science/wid-collaboration-builds-video-games-aimed-at-teaching-pro-social-skills/)


Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 5 #failure

What do you think of when you hear the word failure? Do you think of all those times that you tried but did not succeed? Should failure be associated with negative emotions? Failure and games go hand in hand. Failure is part and parcel of hard learning in a gaming environment. Failure in games leads to success. Why is this not the case in other environments? Failure in games means you have discovered what does not work, that you need to take another path.

Playing games involves play!

freedom to fail

This is why playing games is so important. Games involve narrative, problem solving and good games provide agency.

Interesting questions were raised and it became evident people have different perspectives on some topics, which is great to see occurring on the backchannel. For an insight into the second day, via the backchannel, of the #gls14 conference click on the pic below:

Screenshot 2014-06-25 21.25.37

A slight deviation – FOOD!!!

Before arriving in the USA I was aware that portion sizes would be different to what we receive at home. I was also aware that there would be some minor difference in the way we do things too.

To be totally honest, I am amazed at the subtle differences and the portion sizes! So far Simon and I have shared an entree (main) for most of our meals – they are huge! Drinks are huge too!

It all started in Madison where beer came in one size – way bigger than I was use too! Nothing smaller than a pint. Later on in Lanesboro I ordered a root beer. Well…I didn’t want that much soft drink! I didn’t want that much sugar.

root beer
Food servings are huge – OMG, my head is still spinning, or should I say I am still in a food coma. Simon ordered a Pizza, let’s just say there was enough for a family! Please note that the pizza is sitting on a king sized bed and the box has been cut down to fit in the mini bar fridge – OMG!



Then there was the appetiser…sausage platter for one!

sausage platter


Please don’t get me wrong, some of these have been wonderful and fitting for the place of purchase. The sausage platter was a menu item at a German themed pub.


We have had opportunity to experience food more to my liking, such as a wonderful gluten free sandwich at a little cafe in Winona, called the Blue Heron Coffeehouse.



Not to mention the cheese platter in Madison.

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Tonight was our first experience of fine dining. Portion sizes were normal. Cutlery was not. It appears that Americans in a fine dining experience don’t use a knife with their entree (which they call appetiser), nor do they use a fork with their dessert…I will eventually stop making comparisons, well until I get back to Australia when it will start to happen again.



Games, Learning and Society Conference #gls14 – Part 4

One of the things that my Minecraft students have taught me, over the last couple of years, is that we need to be true to the game. We need to understand the genre of the game, just as we would if we were immersing into music, literature or other cultural objects. In coming to terms with this, I have been challenged on many levels with the internal conflict of placing Minecraft into an educational context. In particular, are we using Minecraft in a manner that it was intended, and more specifically, are we using it in a manner that students are playing it when not in school? One of the greatest challenges that comes with taking a game that is not specifically designed for the educational context, and placing it in one, is the fear that students will get to a point where they will buy out, rather than buy in. This thinking was also presented at the session I went to called Designing Fun Learning and Assessment Games.

The Designing Fun Learning and Assessment Games session was focused on Sim City Edu. Interestingly, they spoke about similar things that my students believed I should be aware of and apply to the classroom with regard to using a game in an educational context.

In the development of Sim City Edu they asked Jenova Chen what the original SimCity taught him. They mentioned his response was “life is difficult and confusing, but if you work hard at it you can change things” and he also learnt about coal. The key message they took away with regard to taking a cultural object and placing it into an educational setting was that they needed to:

  • resect the game
  • find the learning
  • focus on what players do – series of meaningful choices
  • plan for failure
  • seek the wisdom of others

This has led me to think and question the use of games more broadly in the classroom. Do we feel a need too, in some way, tweak video games so they are educational when we use them in the classroom? Do we feel this same need with a board game?


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