Monday, October 02, 2017

Pirate Cove Part 2: Digital Project-Based Learning in Minetest

This is post 2 of a two-part series on using Minetest to explore project-based learning with Grade 3 students.

Step 4: Check

I included a checking step in the project: all of the 'paperwork' had to be done before the teams could earn building time in the game. This was an opportunity for all of the student teams to finish the research and design phases and help anybody in the class that needed extra help. I emphasised that our pirate town is a community and we all had to help each other. This mentality was later seen in the building phase as students asked to help other teams finish their buildings. Our lessons during this project were quite intense and busy for me and this built-in checking step helped me actually have a chance to look over their written work and ask students to adjust their work if needed.


Step 5: Build!

This was the highlight of the project for the students and the part that provided the motivation to complete all of the previous steps! The students logged in and we spent a chaotic first session getting used to the controls, the map we were building on and the plots that the teams were allocated. My students impressed me with their levels of cooperation, they really tried very hard to follow the rules of Parley and stay focused on their objectives. Despite a large range of skill levels, the students helped each other learn basic tips and tricks to make their building projects a success. I rewarded the most helpful pirate of the week with permission to wear a gold medallion which further helped to incentivise helpful behaviour.

The Minetest version we used allowed for the students to customise the appearance of their character, which was massively popular. This feature had the side effect of teaching the students about using Function keys on the keyboard (F7 changed camera perspective) and the importance of a correct username (if they logged in with a differently spelt username they lost their customisation).


We constructed our pirate coves for a total of 4 hours = 1 hour per lesson. In that limited time both classes finished their assigned buildings and worked together to improve their towns. Students came up with original ideas to customise their town: one class worked on a large statue with a pirate hat and another class came up with the idea of creating a path to join up their buildings. Here a sample of one pirate cove being built up over the four lessons.

3H Timelapse.png
The final lesson was set aside for students to leave their plots and walk around the town, exploring what they had built together. At their request, I set the game time to night in order for us to see pirate cove lit up from the light of the lighthouses and other buildings. At the end of the lesson, I asked the students to park their character in a spot of their choosing as we turned the server off for the last time. Most of them chose either a beautiful viewpoint or inside the building they had made. One student gave this advice:

When the time comes to turn the server off forever, make sure you go somewhere with a good view.


Click here to view a slideshow of screenshots from our finished pirate cove project.

Step 6: Reflection

The students learned how to take a screenshot on a computer (print-screen key) and paste it into Microsoft Paint. After saving it, they imported the screenshot into their Building Quest document and completed a reflection page about the project. We then discussed advice we would give next year's students:

  • Don't jump into deep holes looking for shiny rocks, you will get stuck.
  • Work as a team and listen to your partner's ideas.
  • Keep your idea simple, don't let it get too complicated.
  • When you dig don't dig straight down, it's dark.
  • Ask people for help if you need it.
  • Don't sit in chairs, you will get stuck. (we had a few glitchy chairs)

I feel this is a refreshing mix of advice relevant to the game and also to wider contexts!

Step 7: Learning

Learning areas for this project included:

Digital literacy:
  • Online interactions and appropriate behaviour
  • Design process
  • Online research
  • Integrated studies: Pirates

ICT skills:
  • Software: Minetest
  • Software: Google Slides
  • Software: Microsoft Paint

Computational thinking approaches:
  • Collaboration
  • Persevering
  • Creating
  • Tinkering

The students and myself thoroughly enjoyed the experience of project-based learning in ICT this term. The maps for each pirate cove have been saved for posterity and future showcases.

Completed Building Quest Projects:

Pirate Cove Part 1: Digital Project-Based Learning in Minetest

Ahoy! Welcome to Pirate Cove!

Digital Project-Based Learning in Grade 3

Background: Objective

Pirate Cove was a 9 week project that I ran with two classes of Grade 3 students. Each week we had one hour of lesson time to work on our project. The Grade 3s had a term-long Pirates theme that stretched across all learning areas and I wanted our ICT lessons to integrate with that theme. I dedicated the entire term to the project as I wanted students to become invested in our final, collaborative product - a pirate town built in the computer game Minetest. Aside from learning how to play the game together and various ICT skills (screenshots, image manipulation and importing), I wanted my students to research, plan and design their building project and reflect on the process.

Background: Technical

Minetest was my chosen Minecraft clone because it was free and runs well on the computer lab Windows machines. It also runs locally which means that it didn't require any bandwidth or internet to run. Each student used a Windows desktop to access their project document (Building Quest) as well as build on Minetest. The students had briefly experimented with Minetest last year and some remembered it fondly, but this project was the first time any of them had spent longer than an hour with the game. I've written more about Minetest on my blog here.


Step 1: The Building Crew

The first step for us was to determine what we were building. The first lesson was taken up with explaining the parameters of the project, our goals, and giving the students time to come up with ideas. They filled in this Google Form so I could gather data about how much experience they had in Minecraft/Minetest and what they wanted to build. I used their responses to build up a number of teams (building crews) in each class, roughly based around what the students requested. I also used this step to introduce our rules of Parley, which covered expected behaviour to work together and not cause any trouble.

The survey allowed me to gather data from the students and sort them into compatible teams. The students were sorted to balance out experience at this kind of game and type of building they wanted to work on. They chose the crew names themselves and became quite attached to their colours!


Step 2: Research

The students were sorted into their teams and we rearranged the seating plan so that teams could sit next to each other. While this created a delay in the beginning with logging into new machines and profiles, in hindsight this was an excellent choice as it helped students work together with their partners. They started work on a structured research task to find out more about their building assignment. The students each worked in a Google Slides workbook (Building Quest) where they completed all of their 'paperwork' for the task. There are links to samples of completed workbooks at the end of this write-up.

Students used a bank of suggested websites as well as saved videos to learn more about their building assignment. They had to try and find out information about the types of materials that would have been used to build their assignment in real life during the 16-17th century. Each step of the project was clearly laid out and teams were able to move ahead with the next step as soon as they felt ready to. I was able to take certain teams aside to give them individual support to complete a task they needed more help with. This differentiated approach was a new experience in the ICT lab and the students appreciated being able to work at their own pace.


Step 3: Design

Once the research task was complete, students moved onto the design phase. They used Microsoft Paint, a new program for us, to sketch out a proposed design for their building. The students largely learned how to use Paint from each other. For the group of students that needed it, I ran a brief tutorial on the basics of the program. Afterwards, the students saved their design (giving the image file a good name!) and imported it into their Building Quest document. The next phase was to label their design to give it more detail, then complete a 5 sentence write-up of what their design would be made of.

I believe that including this design step helped the students become much more invested in the later process of building. I was really blown away by their work!

This is post 1 of a two-part series on using Minetest to explore project-based learning with Grade 3 students.

Click here to read Pirate Cove Part 2: Digital Project-Based Learning in Minetest.

Monday, August 14, 2017

5 Awesome Starting Activities on Seesaw

Hello, internet!

I wanted to post an update about using the Seesaw app with our Junior Primary shared iPad lab. Seesaw has been a fantastic tool in our classrooms here at Bridge House School. It's a brilliantly simple app and it often takes very little time for a teacher to understand how it works. The first snag can come, though, when you want to begin using it with your students but aren't sure where to start. This term I've been guiding my Junior Primary colleagues through Seesaw and many now feel ready to start using it on their own with their students (yay!). The important thing to remember is that Seesaw is a tool to record and reflect on learning. Add Seesaw to enhance learning and it will be hard to go wrong.

To help with getting started, here is a list of the top 5 activities that I have done with students ages 6 - 9 (Grades 1 - 3) on Seesaw using our iPads. It's in countdown format, but all have been equally fun and valuable.

5 Awesome Starting Activities on Seesaw

Friday, July 14, 2017

Seesaw: The app that changed everything

Maybe that's an overly-dramatic title for this post: the app that changed everything! Seesaw came along and did completely change how I think about using iPads in Junior Primary, though.

Seesaw has been on my radar as a portfolio-type app for years, so their icon was familiar. The first time I opened it I saw a login screen and immediately ruled it out as not useful for my situation. Here is my situation:
  • A class-sized set of iPads
  • Shared in a mobile lab
  • No guarentee you would get the same iPad each time
  • Users are 9 years old or younger
I saw the login screen on Seesaw and thought that it would be too complex for my little users. There are already enough logins that they/I have to remember: Windows login, Reading Eggs, Mathletics, Cami Maths, our typing program - I thought adding another login would be a waste of my time.

My colleague, @mrkirkbhs, pointed me back to Seesaw earlier this year as he had heard good things about it being used for younger grades. I have been given more earmarked time for iPad use this year and, in an effort to make that time more meaningful, I went back and had another look at Seesaw. Just past the dreaded login screen is the fantastic trick that makes Seesaw fit my situation:

Seesaw offers a class-level login based on QR code! This makes it ideal for shared iPads with young students!

This is amazing for two reasons:

QR code: No alpha-numeric login for my students to remember or type in on the tricky iPad keyboard. They just tap "I'm a student" then hold the iPad up like they are taking a photo of the code and voila! They are logged in to the main hub of Seesaw, ready to create content.

Class-level login: This is fantastic for my young students. From the main menu they create content then, when they are finished with it, they 'tag' their work by selecting their name from a list (or multiple names if it is group-work). Again, this removes any problems with spelling login names incorrectly and puts the student's work at the heart of Seesaw.

What have my students been able to do with Seesaw?

Seesaw has opened the door for my young students. Whereas before, the iPads were really only being used for drill work and games, Seesaw allows a child to record their learning. This is huge. Imagine Seesaw being a digital journal, where the student can add drawings, text, voicenotes and video - even on top of imported images. This allows the student to annotate and explain, and share their learning with their classmates.

Seesaw has a family app where families of the students can be invited to participate in the shared learning: next term I will be introducing that to my classes. I will also be making more of an effort to show the brilliant features of Seesaw to my Junior Primary colleagues, so that they can also gain the benefit of having a digital journal ready and waiting in their classroom space.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Children and Bad News: advice for helping children deal with world events

Waking up to news about another terror attack in London, I thought I would send out this collection of resources to help with conversations around scary events on the news.

First, there is an up-to-date excellent article and accompanying video written by BBC's Newsround (their childrens' news outlet) just after the Manchester bombing. It is comforting and practical, and aimed at the child. I listed this article first as I found it so effective in putting bad news in the context of your own life.

Next, here is a clip featuring Mr Rogers, taken from his American children's show, aimed at young children. His references are dated (Lennon, Reagan) but his advice is solid gold about what to do when encountering news about bad people and violent events.

On the PBS Parents site there is an article aimed at grown-ups about how to help children deal with scary news:

This last link is aimed at adults though could be of use when discussing bad news with children. The anxiety caused by bad news and the constant negative 24-hour news cycle can have a serious toll on our mental health. Here is an article about handling that anxiety about the bad events we see on the news:
Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

I hope these links can be helpful in your classrooms.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Scratch Jr: Perfect for New Coders

Phew, this has been a bumper crop of blog posts this week! These activities and photos were all captured earlier in the term but I haven't had the time to write them up until now.

 After our Unplugged week, we started with Scratch Jr. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, it seemed like a natural progression from solving concrete puzzles on the floor with 'arrow code' on whiteboards to Scratch Jr's block code, largely featuring arrows. The other reason was that our school network was still recovering from the lightning damage and my plans to use Google Slides were on hold due to no connectivity. So, we dived right back into more coding.

I immediately found that Scratch Jr was completely accessible to students of all ages. The blocks are large and intuitive and the app comes loaded with a large number of sample projects that you and your students can pick apart for ideas. Once I gave them a short intro session to get them comfortable with the layout of the app, my students tucked in under the tables and gave it a go. I hope my students aren't the only ones who enjoy hiding under the desks when working with iPads? They almost all choose it over sitting at their tables.

From the beginning, the narrative prospects of Scratch Jr shone. Students wanted to tell stories with it, right away utilising the voice recording block to add sound effects and speech to their creations. Student choreographed dance routines and loved the stage background where they could showcase their dancers. My Grade 0 students particularly loved the activity where we turned the default Scratch Cat into a space cat and got it to dance. This project let them display their creativity with altering the Scratch Cat sprite and no child had the same outcome as another.

The possibilities of Scratch Jr are vast. I can see multiple grades using this app to recreate familiar narratives like The Three Little Pigs and programming the sprites to move to enhance their story. I can see older grades using it to make a choice story - one where a choice the player makes changes what happens in the game. We will defninitely be using a lot more of Scratch Jr.

"It's an evil cake and the red block makes it go around over and over again."

Unplugged: Coding using Grids

Over the last term holidays, we were unlucky enough to have lightning strike near to our school during a storm. We lost large portions of our network switches and machines, and our technicians have really been superheroes in getting everything up and running in a couple of weeks. Due to this, I had to be flexible and rapidly adjust my curriculum plans. On the upside, it has given me precious time to investigate coding, both plugged and unplugged, with my students.

Unplugged: Coding using Grids

Thanks to some amazing folks on Twitter, I came across some great unplugged resources. I was participarly inspired by what teachers were doing with BeeBots. I don't have access to BeeBots, but, I do have access to masking tape and a floor!

My grids were rudimentary but they were a big hit.

Using a handful of small, wheeled toys that I picked up at a  local shop, I began to lead all of my students through a week of Unplugged content. Some of my students remembered the word algorithm from the sandwich robot activity that we had done previously. We talked about this unplugged coding being like a puzzle that they had to use rules to solve in order to achieve specific goals - like reaching a square marked as the school.

I led each class through some puzzles together, where they all took turns to move our car through the obstacles I had set out. I witnessed unbelievable patience from students as they waited to try out their code. We all wrote out our code on whiteboards, which was invaluable as I began to teach them about debugging their code and fixing mistakes they notice along the way.

Unplugged coding was not only embraced by the younger students. My oldest students loved it just as much. I was able to let them split off into smaller groups to debate how they were going to solve the puzzles. Some groups were even able to create challenges for each other to navigate through and race to see who could finish a puzzle in the least number of moves.

Many groups didn't want to stop at the end of the lesson and asked me to take photos of their coding grid so that they could carry on next time. One Grade 3 group wanted to continue playing into break! It was so refreshing to see these digital natives enjoy such an analogue concept. There were no screens, just cars and whiteboards and a set of rules. 


The students gained a solid understanding of what algorithms were, and how coding could be used to solve problems and puzzles. All of my students could create and debug simple programs using what we dubbed 'arrow code' on their whiteboards and some understood that shorter code was more efficient. For me, this unplugged week was the perfect introduction to coding using apps.