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Minecraft in Education…Not Just A Game

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 2.15.19 PMThis year, I turned 40 and while all of my classmates were throwing events and dinners to celebrate their special days, my nephew was deep into his system creating a world just for me…in Minecraft.

Yes, I had a Minecraft Fab 40!!

In my world, my nephew created mini games involving getting sheep to cross treacherous paths, a Merry Go Round and a game that allowed players to shoot at boxes with images of prizes…with those prizes landing in a chest and into the player’s inventory. He even made a bowling alley. Yep, we bowled in minecraft!

The best part though, was my roller coaster where Braeden programmed music boxes to play such hits as The Birthday Song, Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood, Everything is Awesome and of course a song from Frozen.

It only took him two days!!

Like many kids, my nephew doesn’t get to play Minecraft in school. As a matter of fact, his teachers told him constantly not to play which meant that we were absolutely going to play much more because through minecraft, the exploration goes much deeper than a worksheet or homework schedule.

I’ve been in teacher tech sessions where I shared creative ways that kids are using minecraft for storytelling and the teacher response has been either that they do not have time or my favorite…

“Minecraft is a game and if we put that on their ipads, they won’t use anything else.”

To be clear…

Minecraft is more than a game. It’s like having a blank canvas to do and be anything. It’s like having a master key to your greatest adventure.

The worst thing that can happen if we let kids play is that they will learn much more than our standards sometimes allow. Those who play minecraft know this but the problem is that most people in charge of schools and curriculum do not. So, how can we change that?

For starters, Minecraft isn’t like any other tech tool that we use. It can definitely be implemented so badly that kids grow to hate it. Please don’t do this. Minecraft was not created to be a single set of choices so avoid turning it into a multiple choice assessment.

When we define the learning that should happen before allowing kids to explore…we are doing it wrong. Instead, give kids the task of mining and crafting to their creative desires. Draw upon that creativity to empower deeper learning. I exercised more math and science in building a house of my own free will than if I were given the definitive structures of what makes a house.

The only way to truly understand that is to play and I think that all teachers should. You can even let kids teach their teachers, which is immensely powerful! What should happen is that as teachers play, they’ll get an understanding of where and how the learning happens.

Discussions should follow and those discussions should probably center on learning and purpose because if we go into Minecraft in education approaching it along the same lines as a textbook or worksheet…it will be that…which is frightening.

If all else fails…challenge your teachers to plan a party much like my nephew did for me.

They’ll get it.

Trust me.

In case you missed it…His minecraft 4th of July celebration


The Best Part of ISTE2015…YOU! (Also Minecraft…Always)

The Best Part of ISTE2015…YOU! (Also Minecraft…Always)

There was a moment in Stephen Reid‘s session when he described what it felt to walk the streets of Philadelphia…moments of thought common to minecrafters. He said that as he looked at buildings, he saw beyond their stature and literally saw himself through the lens of building them. His words… “I can build that”…formed the phrase that lasted beyond any other moment at ISTE. The power of knowing what you are capable of is empowering.

More on that later…

For me, the best parts of ISTE weren’t the moments that people may think. It was amazing to nervously give an ignite about diversity…twice. I was starstruck meeting Soledad O’Brien, especially after being told that I only fought for her speaking because she was a woman of color and because I was a fan. (She killed it, didn’t she??) I even had a workshop that went quite well.

My excitement about ISTE was in none of those things but in the result of those things…The Powerful Connections that I made with people. I will always love that.

I was once a lurker, a person watching from the shadows of the room in a distant chair. I was terrified that talking to people would invite their judgement and the idea of being rejected was paralyzing. As a matter of fact, the first time that I allowed myself to truly connect, the people that I talked to didn’t even remember. Those people are some of my closest friends now but it’s a meeting that we still disagree about. It’s still telling that people have conversations with entire groups of people and often fail to see the individuality of the group itself.

It was two years ago at an ISTE where, possibly one of the biggest voices in Education, George Couros…basically willed me to blog and I have done that with a vengeance. It was at an ISTE that I learned that my silence about my own passions and the work that I did held me back more than the pronounced over-speaking of others. This is what motivates me to be as open as possible and to give people the same attention that I was given…perhaps motivating them to open up the same.

Yes, a conference is one big social gathering but by focusing on the single moments of negativity and disconnectedness, it’s easy to forget about the insurmountable amounts of real connecting that are taking place amongst people who are learning and finding their “tribes” for the first time.

Back to Minecraft…

Perhaps, my favorite moment was sitting beside a teacher waiting in line 2 hours early for the Minecraft class. She had never played herself but was interested in perhaps finding an outlet for her students to play in an after school program. She said…”Starting is what matters” and she was so right. It was in that room that I literally could have lived all week…and not because I am a Minecraftoholic (I am)…but because there is something completely magical about a person discovering such creativity for the first time.

As an parent and aunt, I have watched my own nephew find his creative voice through minecraft and as a district leader, I hope that we can help other kids and teachers do the same. If you missed the line wrapped down the hall and around the corner for Minecraft, you truly missed a treat as it was the place to be at ISTE!!

Also, Microsoft brought the best possible person in Stephen to lead the “beginner session” as his perspective was truly inspiring and I definitely plan to draw upon his nuances to help our teachers understand how and why Minecraft impacts learning.

Hint…Get in and do the simplest of things…Build!

When Stephen said, “I can build that”….I related to it on a much deeper level than minecraft.

I can learn that.

I can do that.

I can be that.

I can _______ that.

Like the multiple learning pathways of ISTE…It’s your blank to fill.

Debating the ISTE2015 Keynote Selection

Debating the ISTE2015 Keynote Selection

Last year when I saw that America Ferrera was slated to keynote ISTE, I was absolutely confused by her selection. When she backed out and was later replaced by Ashley Judd, I was even more confused. Fast forward to the end of Ashley Judd’s speech and I, like almost every other person in that room, was mortified at how uninspired she was for that particular event. (While her story is compelling, it was not the right time or tone for that event)

This year, ISTE announced Soledad O’Brien as the opening keynote speaker and it gave me pause, not because I am a  “Soledad fan”, as one so eloquently put it…but because I am familiar with some of her work in the diversity arena. I sat with my family and watched her documentaries, political forums and interviews. I am very familiar with the stories that she has created and shared and actually see the correlation of her voice to an educational technology event.

Others though? Not so much. The questions, placed publicly in a social forum…Why a celebrity instead of a female educator? Why is it that when women are touted to speak, they are celebrities and not teachers?

First let me say that these are valid questions and in looking at the keynotes for the last few years at ISTE, it’s one that ISTE needs to answer.

However, when I pointed out Soledad’s credentials as a person living what we are empowering our kids to do with technology, I was immediately reminded that…”This is not about Soledad O’Brien”.

To be clear…The only woman speaking this year is Soledad O’Brien. She is a celebrity, therefore it IS about her. (Simple math logic makes this the case)

ISTE’s Diversity Issues…

Aside from Soledad O’Brien, there are two other keynote slots. One is being filled with a celebrity speaker, Jack Gallagher and the other is an educator, Josh Stumpenhorst. People were excited for Josh…including the same people questioning Soledad’s selection…because he’s an educator and known very well within this community and on the speaker circuit.

Quick questions though…Why are we not questioning these last two slots? Why are we not questioning Jack Gallagher’s selection? Could women in education not fill this slot?

Also…Why do we raise the diversity angle and not consider other types of diversity?

For example…I do not have a problem with a celeb speaker as long as their story is compelling, relatable and hits the tone of the event. Soledad is a media personality who not only advocates for equity in education but has also covered some pretty diverse stories in her career…stories that are often ignored in mainstream media…which sounds a lot like edtech and it’s own diversity issues.

I do agree that there is an oversight of women speakers who are educators but you can’t make that argument when in the same breath you suggest women speakers who are not even working in schools…except as authors and paid consultants.

Also, don’t just raise questions about the qualified woman that is selected to speak if you are not willing to raise those same questions about the two white men who were also selected.

And yes, I brought up race because ISTE’s keynote problem isn’t just a lack of educators who are women but also an issue of race. It’s an issue of perspective, age and also academic relevancy.

While I still stand by Soledad O’Brien and even Josh Stumpenhorst…that other spot could have and should have gone to an educator.

Dear ISTE, If you want a formula that works…choose your speakers in this way

1. A person who has made a significant contribution to society, media, edtech…etc

2. An educator

3. An Educator

Now…make sure that within those selections are people who represent diversity of race, idea, age and gender. 

When you do that…this debate stops.


One more thing…NO ONE ATTENDS ISTE BECAUSE OF THE KEYNOTE SPEAKERS…unless those keynote speakers are Audrey Watters, Diana Laufenberg, Jose Vilson or even Chris Lehmann. They are on my shortlist anyway.

ISTE’s Keynotes Over the Last Few Years

2015 Keynotes

  • Soledad O’brien
  • Jack Gallagher
  • Josh Stumpenhorst

2014 Keynotes

  • Ashley Judd in place of America Ferreira
  • Kevin Carroll
  • Jeff Charbonneau

2013 Keynotes

  • Jane McGonigal
  • Steven Johnson
  • Adam Bellow

2012 Keynotes

  • Sir Ken Robinson with Shawn Covell, Marc Prensky, and Mayim Bialik
  • Dr. Yong Zhao
  • Dr. Willie Smits and Christopher Gauthier

2011 Keynotes

  • Dr. John Medina
  • Dr. Stephen R. Covey with moderation by Boyd Craig; follow up session by Muriel Summers with Dr. David K. Hatch
  • Chris Lehmann

2010 Keynotes

  • Jean-François Rischard
  • Panel: Karen Cator, Terry Godwaldt, Shaun Koh, Jean François Rischard; Moderator: Jennifer Corriero
  • Jeff Piontek




Dear Edtech, You Still Have A Race Problem

Dear Edtech, You Still Have A Race Problem

When “diversity in edtech” is mentioned, the conversation almost always materializes as one about women. We talk about it often and there are plenty of initiatives created to “change the ratio”. I get it. There is a disparity and we certainly need it.

However, when it comes to race…people will barely even admit that there is a problem. Let me rephrase that. We refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem.

We still have non-diverse “thought groups” speaking on panels in rooms full of decision makers…also non-diverse. Have we really gotten so comfortable with our silos that all white rooms aren’t to be questioned? Do we honestly believe that there are zero people of color ready and willing to share their expertise and experiences?

Please…do join me on the side of questioning it because in case you missed it, Edtech has a race problem and it’s not just tech companies either.

Earlier today, I was looking through tweets about panels at ISTE…a ton of all white panels, including from my own publisher (Corwin Press). The irony…Really??? I thought about SXSW and it’s written rule that states that panels had to be diverse…intentional diversity that tech conferences like ISTE and its affiliates have yet to do.

I was then sent a link to a tech company’s all new “initiative to get their overpriced product into schools” and every single “educator advisor” was of the same non-diverse lineage that seems to be advising every other edtech company. They even created a contest centered on this group of people. I didn’t need a swivl before and I certainly do not now.

If you’re wondering why this is a problem, please do let me explain…

I happen to be connected to a group of technologist of color…a group created so that we could mentor each other on everything from matters of tools to career. It’s a safe place to have discussions that range from encouragement to the extremely necessary gripe when needed. (Voxer is amazing for this)

As much as these “panels and advisory groups” are mostly redundant, we have found that they matter in terms of access, visibility, opportunity and acknowledgement of our own expertise. We work with teachers in diverse schools that teach diverse populations and sometimes in situations that not one person on “the chosen list” could even fathom.

Yet…as much as each person’s expertise is articulated…their feedback is rarely utilized because most tech companies are blindly running behind the “appearance of influence” (twitter followers) for the sole purpose of selling product.

EdTech companies have yet to see how tapping into a collection of teachers who are teaching the kids that need innovative learning most…could bring greater credibility to the success of their product with diverse groups.

Dear Edtech companies using this “let’s only get these people with twitter followers on board” strategy…When I look at your list of advisors and fail to see a diverse collection of teachers, I do not trust you. Instead, I question your purpose.

More of us should.

I do not care that you have the teachers and bloggers with the greatest following using your product because the reality is that they are typically not really using it and are only using it to satisfy the visibility requirements of being featured on your site…you know, that agreement that earned them either free product or travel?

(Except for Canva. They too feature the same list of “influencers” but their product is basically like Chick-fil-A. It’s great so you use it anyway and believe me….I curse myself greatly each time that I do.)

I do need to acknowledge Remind because they have done a great job of intentionally working to change their ratio of educator thought and that matters.

I referenced SXSW’s “diversity rule” earlier. Here it is below and I encourage you to visit their resources.

On SXSW’s website reads

A Diverse Community is a Strong Community

Strength of community also comes from diversity of thought, gender, geography, and background. We strive to achieve this goal community-centric goal by utilizing a V-O-W-E-L scale of basic diversity principles:

Variety – SXSW always aims to bring in new speakers with new ideas (as opposed to simply showcasing the same speakers who make the tech conference rounds).

Opinion – SXSW highlights a variety of opinions on tech-related matters, even if we sometimes don’t agree with the given opinion.

Women – SXSW strongly believes in featuring the accomplishments of the many strong female voices in the tech industry.

Ethnicity – In addition to featuring more female speakers, SXSW also strongly believes in featuring speakers of various different ethnicities.

Location – SXSW is also committed to speakers and panels that raise awareness about tech innovation outside of the US.

These V-O-W-E-L principles are integral to decision-making in the PanelPicker and are visibly reflected during the March event where diversity is abundant.

One more thing…In case you needed to see an actively growing list of POC in School Edtech, do check here. (If I missed you, tweet me and I’ll add right away!)


Because Writing Should be Powerful, Not Punishment

Because Writing Should be Powerful, Not Punishment

A few weeks ago, my nephew arrived home from school with a plan. He still needed to get about 15 points for his AR (Accelerated Reader) total in order to attend the school shopping trip where kids were able to cash in points for money. He was determined, and not because he was dying to go spend what would amount to about $10 in junk but because he could not bear the thought of being left behind to write.

Yes, those that did not get the points required would be left behind on campus with a “two page” writing assignment about why they did not read the required number of books in order to earn their points. (Completely bad practice)

Yesterday, my nephew offered this feedback for such “writing as punishment” assignments.

I love writing stories, especially fiction. Writing gives me the chance to be creative because I can make up characters and have them do whatever I want. Why do teachers punish us with it though? I hate to hear, “If you don’t do this, you’re going to have to write.” I hate that so much. Sometimes when they do that, I just want to write anyway and make up everything just to annoy my teacher. Don’t they know that making us write like that just makes kids hate writing?

Please stop using writing as punishment. I like to write but when you punish us with it, it’s not fun. -Braeden, age 10

Punishment or to Waste Time

Writing as a time waster is just as bad. Upon the return from the shopping trip, Braeden’s teacher then told them to sit and write about what they bought and why they bought it.

The problem with this writing is that it begins and ends in the same place…on the student’s paper. This could have actually been creative writing and it could have even been more powerful if the experience was not limited to items but truly focused on the experience itself…and shared in some capacity for feedback. Except…it wasn’t…so there’s that.

I utilized writing in my math class frequently. My students wrote reflections, “what ifs”, wonderings, how-to letters and sometimes…just because. I read them…and gave feedback. We gave each other feedback. When were were able to write online via blogging through our LMS (My Big Campus…which I hated with all of my being), my students wrote and received feedback from their peers.

It wasn’t about punishment or “time wasting”. It was a human form of communication…sometimes real and sometimes, fictional…but always relevant.

If you are a teacher or decision maker using writing in this horrendous way, please rethink that practice. Writing is such a poetic form of expression and the moment that we turn it into something related to punishment or non-purposeful…we destroy a bit of our students’ desires to engage in such powerful practice.

Let’s rethink this…shall we?

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