Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Trailers - A Wider Audience

Over the past month, my grade 7 English Language Arts class has been exploring the idea of theme in children's picture books. With the help of our former librarian, who also happens to own an independent bookstore, I chose 16 picture books and brought them to class. Students had an opportunity to read books independently and with partners, as we narrowed the list down to eight books.

The finalists were (links are to amazon.ca) :

And Tango Makes Three

King and King

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Ten Birds

One Hockey Night

Lost Teachings

The Road to Afghanistan

It's a Book

Using a Google Form, students indicated their top three choices, as well as communicating two or three others with whom they felt they could work well. From there, I created groups of two, and assigned them their book.

They used iMovie to create their trailers, as the technology was readily available and very user friendly. When I do this again, I will encourage students to choose (and "claim") the template so that we don't end up with multiple trailers using the same format and music. Students loved creating these trailers, in part because they could embrace the creative side of the activity without becoming frustrated by technology troubles.

As a way to further engage students, I let them know from the outset that their trailers would be passed along to the bookstore owner mentioned in the first paragraph, and that they would be on display in the store window. Students were nervous and excited about the prospect of their work being viewed by "real people."

I took the flash drive to the bookstore last Friday, and heard from the owner today. Our trailers are up on her Facebook page and will be shown in-store as soon as the screen is hooked up to the computer! I was able to show students the Facebook page in class today, and the excitement was palpable. Score one for the power of sharing with a wider audience.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

First Foray into MinecraftEDU

I've been waiting for a few months to try out MinecraftEDU with a small group of students. I originally received a grant in November to purchase a server license and 25 student account licenses, but didn't have an opportunity to run it with a group until this past Wednesday (scheduling, snow storms, and technology all got in the way)

My middle schools runs Exploratory activities on Wednesday afternoons, and I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to try things out with a group of 15 students. I hand-picked students who I knew were already really excited about Minecraft, and had played it before. I deliberately chose some students who I knew I could rely on for excellent feedback, others who I knew needed something positive at school, and still others who I thought would benefit from being put into a situation where they were expected to collaborate rather than compete. Long story short, I did not only choose students who would follow instructions in a docile manner ;-)

I spent time ahead of Wednesday in the computer lab setting up each computer, configuring the launcher file to omit certain options for students when the were logging in, and making sure things were working properly. I had students fill out a survey so that I had an idea of what platforms they had previously played on, as well as their interest in mining, building, fighting mobs, et. We started our session with a discussion of how school Minecraft would be different from home Minecraft, and the importance of not engaging in griefing in MCEDU. I mentioned that this version of Minecraft would be run on a local server only. We also talked about the fact that this was a trial run of something I want to eventually run as an afterschool club, and use as part of my curriculum, so I would be looking for some feedback from them. Of course, when it came time to log in, I was faced with the fact that I had 15 grade 6, 7 and 8 students who were not able to read my mind. It took a while to get them all to navigate to the proper location on the computer, and to log in.

And then four of the computers would not connect to the server. Two of them, I immediately identified as being a problem with mods not having been installed properly. I sent a student to get the USB from my classroom (note to self - just bring it with you next time!) and swiftly solved that problem. The other two computers, however, just would not connect. I was feeling a little anxious at this point (about 10 minutes after most students had successfully logged in to the Tutorial World and were complaining about the fact that they were still frozen by me), because one of the students whose computer would not connect was what we call a "red-zone" student at my school. When faced with frustration, this grade 6 boy often begins shouting, throwing items, slamming doors, or running away from the classroom. I could see his frustration level rising as the noise levels rose, and as he realized that everyone else was already online.

Instead, the most magical thing occurred. Through the noise, he spoke up, "Mme [I teach French Immersion], I have a suggestion for fixing this problem. What if the two people who can't connect went and sat with someone else, and then they could take turns controlling the keyboard and mouse?"

I was ecstatic! Despite the fact that all of the other students were rowdy, and excited, and frustrated that I wasn't letting them run off into the distance, this student was able to see a solution and propose it, rather than shutting down.

The rest of the session passed smoothly. Students ran around, sped through sections (and then went back when I told them there were secrets to find!), and eventually learned that when I froze them it was not necessary to exclaim about their frozen state but that it was a signal that I wanted to give them some information or ask them a question. Some were more adept/practiced at cooperating than others, and that will be the focus of our next Exploratory session. I will also remember to turn on the microphone, so that my screen capture will include audio (as it stands, it is currently about 50 minutes of complete silence, which does not in any way reflect reality!)

All in all, I am very pleased with my first use of MinecraftEDU with a group of students, and I'm very much looking forward to continuing this journey, and bringing it into my classroom!

Oh, and the two computers that wouldn't connect? The ethernet cables were unplugged....