#DBCBookBlogs: Block Breaker

My oldest daughter and Minecraft are the roughly same age. In May 2009, Minecraft (Classic 0.0.10a) was released and in June 2009, Bailey was born. Take a minute to guess which one held my focus that year…

It wasn’t until 2014 that Minecraft really got my attention. Lucas Gillispie came to my district talking about this video game with blocks and creepers and that I definitely needed to get this going in my school. Um… no, thank you. However, after a “quick” (aka 2+ hour) Skype session while downloading Minecraft and getting into the inevitable flow state that ensues, I was hooked. I, too, wanted to break “just one more block”. He was right… I needed to get this going in my school. I saw so many possibilities in classrooms! Minecraft Club became a thing, classes started using MinecraftEdu to teach volume, coordinate grids, perimeter, area, setting, etc and I was in love. We even had our 4th grade classes create our state as their culminating product for their research project. Read more about that in an earlier blog post here.

So when Brian Aspinall asked me if I would be interested in endorsing his book Block Breaker, I immediately said yes! I loved it the first time I read it and couldn’t wait to have my hands on the final product. Now YOU get to read it, too!

SPOILER ALERT… It’s NOT really about Minecraft!

BlockBreaker

Because I could literally write a book about the goodness of this book, I’m going to attempt to stay focused by sharing my tweets and a quick thought… we’ll see how this goes, okay?

It’s here!

I was so excited to finally get my copy! Of course, Brian is the sweetest person and rather than celebrating that his book was out, the first thing he told me to do was find my name. I’ve got to admit; it’s the first time I’ve seen my name in print like that, which really tripped me out a bit. I shared it with my students and they were pumped because it’s a Minecraft book, which automatically gave me street cred as a “cool teacher”. Thanks for that, Brian! LOL!

Hello, World

Oh my goodness! Brian just puts it out there as soon as you start reading! We’re not even in Chapter 1 yet and he’s already inspiring, encouraging me to push beyond any limits that I have placed on myself and others.

Chapter 1

Brian tells a story in chapter 1 that touches my heart. His “why”; his reason behind using Minecraft in the classroom is one that you will want to read again and again. It brought tears to my eyes and challenged me to consider what else I can do to reach every student I encounter. Brian specifically states:

“This book isn’t really about Minecraft; it’s about personalizing learning and meeting each student’s educational needs.”

Chapter 2

Specifically speaking to math and Minecraft, Brian gives an abundance of evidence as to why this video game is the way to reach students. Best part: as educators, we don’t have to know a thing about how to play Minecraft! Let the kids teach each other!

Chapter 3

So this chapter escalates quickly! Check out the blog post that inspires the controversial topics Brian discusses here! It’s all good… REAL good!

Chapter 4

So this chapter is as close as it gets to becoming a Minecraft book. Redstone is in the title of the chapter. But what this chapter is really about, is 1:1 relationships, getting to know your kids on such a level that you’re not focusing on their weaknesses, but on their strengths as a way to improve their weaknesses.

Chapter 5

I loved this chapter for two reasons.

  1. Brian discusses the difference between computational thinking, computer science, and coding. Those three words are not all interchangeable; they do not reference the same things.
  2. There’s an interview with Steve Isaacs. The aforementioned Lucas introduced me to Steve several years ago via Twitter and I got to meet Steve face-to-face at a Minefaire two summers ago. Super awesome guy doing pretty epic things! Go check him out on Twitter.

Chapter 6

Mic. Drop.

Chapter 7

Brian doesn’t just share this thoughts in this chapter (although, for my money, his thoughts are research enough for me…), he shares research. He takes me back to my educational psychology class (that I wish I had paid more attention in), back to the teaching of Piaget. Giving students the opportunity to get their hands dirty, both figuratively and literally, allows them to connect with content. Giving them choice provides them with the opportunity for ownership. Brian even says it breaks down walls to provide equity. Wow!

Chapter 8

You’ve heard of something being a “labor of love” (or a “labour of love” as a shout-out to my sweet friends outside of the US)… that’s what this chapter focuses on. #DBC50Summer was so much Hard Fun that I chose to continue it with #DBCBookBlogs. It can be tough – finding the time to read the books and write about them. Not only devising a plan to implement, but then finding the time in my schedule to implement it… but you know what? I LOVE IT! It’s exciting and I’m growing. When I grow professionally, others around me grow as well. It’s Hard Fun.

Chapter 9

Feedback vs Grades… this is a big topic in my book, not my figurative book, lol. My actual book. I have been in a position without grading for three years and I love it. I give feedback. Students share their projects with me, not because they want the “A” or because they “have to”, but because care what I think. I could talk for days about grades and how they are for the parents. What baffles me is that educators feel that grades are unfair, students hate grades, parents get upset about grades… it seems like so much focus is on “the grade”… I wonder what would happen if GPA information was eliminated from college/university admissions? Just thinking out loud.

Chapter 10

What does your class culture say? What’s the best way to find out? Ask your students! Ask them tomorrow! Support them. Maybe you think you are, but it’s not coming across to them that way. Their perception is their reality.

Implementation & Final Thoughts

As I said, this book really isn’t about Minecraft at all. There are Minecraft ideas embedded throughout and lots of examples of how Minecraft applies to various topics at hand, but this book is so much more than a “how-to”. If you’re not a gamer, please don’t let that stop you from purchasing this book! It’s a short, very fast read and has sooooo much ooey-gooey goodness for educators that I’d hate for anyone to miss out because you’re “not a gamer”. (I see you with Candy Crush on your phone, btw…)

I am in the middle of a PBL with my sweet friend and colleague Holli Hudson (7th grade math teacher) in which students are designing a dog park and creating it in Minecraft. I will write a blog about it (and our past PBLs using Minecraft, which are pretty incredible) as my implementation for Block Breaker.

By the way, if you’ve been sitting here the entire time wondering why you know the name Brian Aspinall, it’s because he wrote Code Breaker (DBC Book 34). With two amazing books already out, I feel a trilogy coming on and I can’t wait to see what he shares with us next!

You should definitely check out Brian’s Instagram because his stories are on fire (his random airport air drops are everything) and he shares his travels with his followers. For a limited time, Brian is offering his Scratch Coding course for free. I’m not sure how long this offer will last, so jump on it now. Finally, check out Brian’s website here and his TEDx Talks here. (While you’re at it, go ahead and subscribe to Brian’s YouTube channel here.)

As always, there is a flipgrid to share reflections and ideas. Huge thank you to Andrea Paulakovich for allowing me to copilot this space for global collaboration on every Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc book ever. Be brave, take risks, be the first to create a video! It’s the PIRATE way, right?!

Why are you still here?! Go get Brian’s book, Block Breaker!

Mustang Madness

Teaching to an empty room

This quote is at the heart of the book Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess. (Shoutout to Shelley Burgess for creating this beautiful graphic!)

When I read about Ryan McLane‘s Teach Like A Pirate Day, inspired by this quote, in the book he and Eric Lowe co-authored, Your School Rocks, I knew I had to figure out a way to make it happen! It quickly became one of my implementations for #DBC50Summer even though I had no idea how I was ever going to convince the teachers I serve to give up a day in their already busy calendar.

The Plan

In early August, I met with my principal and explained this day centered around celebrating a love of learning. The more we discussed it, the more her eyes lit up. (Side note: I love that she is constantly finding ways to let me lead & grow. This was just one example of that. She rocks.) We discussed that this would need to be brought to the School Improvement Team (SIT), so we made a plan for me to pitch it to them at the next meeting. Little did I know that I would be elected to serve on SIT just a few weeks later.

Every month we have a Mustang Madness Day built into our schedule. These days are usually held on dates with early release schedules or at the end of the quarter when we’d be holding our awards programs for academics and athletics. The members of SIT seemed eager to develop this idea further, so we preemptively looked for holes and concerns our teachers might have. We scheduled the first attempt at a #tlap day for the Mustang Madness day before Christmas vacation. Then… life happened.

In late November, I sent our SIT chair and principal an email asking if we were still moving forward with the date as scheduled. Getting the green light from them, I began organizing the day with as much structure as possible, as suggested by SIT.

Here’s how it went down…

Every teacher in the school shared their activity on a Google Sheet. Using that sheet, I created a form for students in each grade level to rank their interest in the activities (1st choice, 2nd choice, and so on). Here’s an example of a form.

*We decided to keep students with their grade levels to streamline the process this time.*

During media classes in early December, students completed the form. It took about 5-7 minutes in each class. Using those responses, I created schedules for every student (yes… every. student.) making sure to respect their 1st and 2nd choices in the core classes and 1st choice in their encore classes. No child ended up with anything less than their 5th or 6th choice!

On Wednesday, two days before our Mustang Madness date, I printed a copy of each teacher’s class lists for each class. Teachers still had their planning period in tact and would be going to lunch at the same time. On Thursday afternoon, I emailed every student their schedule for the day.

Let me just tell you, the hype was REAL! Kids were pumped to be at school the next day! I could hear them discussing which classes they had and trying to figure out who they would be in class with!

*When students completed the form, they did not know which teacher would be doing which activity – I wanted them to choose based on activities only to eliminate any preconceived notions about their own interest level. When they received their schedule, they only got the name of the teacher! So there will still so much suspense around what they’d be doing the next day. It was so much fun to listen to them guess which teacher was going to do which activity.*

Then… it was time.

Signs were placed at classroom doors with the name of the activity and the teacher’s name. I hung up poster-sized schedules with 1st period locations to prevent confusion among students, especially our 6th grade students. The bell rang and the excitement in the halls was palpable. By the end of the day, I was so exhausted, but in the best way! I had FUN teaching! To my knowledge, there wasn’t a single behavior issue the entire day. I asked students and teachers to complete a survey at the end of the day and responses are still coming in. This is the preliminary data.

That’s HUGE! Do you SEE that? From what I’m seeing, 62.5% of students CAME TO SCHOOL (on a snow make-up day, no less) because they were excited about Mustang Madness! Yep – that’s making kids want to tear down the walls to get INTO school, rather than to get out! In my eyes, that statistic alone makes the day a huge success.

Here’s some other feedback I received:

From students

What did you love about today?

“it was funner than school has ever been”

“having teachers i don’t normally have”

“I loved the fact that we could do what we chose and that we could choose our own schedules.”

“everythang”

What would you change?

“nothing”

“make it longer”

“If i could change anything i would make the option for the students to have more access to which students there going to be placed with in there classes because some people may have got no classes with there friends and people that may have really wanted to have this day together couldn’t so i would love to see more accessibility towards that part.”

“Today everything was fun and we don’t need to change anything today.”

From teachers

What did you enjoy about today?

“Getting to do lessons that we are really passionate about, and being able to meet new students that we normally do not see.”

“The vibe of the school is so much fun.”

“How much the students engaged in something that was an “out of the ordinary” experience.”

“Getting to have fun with the kids and see them at their best.”

What would you change?

“Not much, the schedule worked great but having a little more input or access to the sign-up process would be nice.”

“Do it on a full school day; may need more time with some activities”

“Let kids sign up during homeroom so we can catch the ones that are absent.”

*It is worth noting that 100% of teachers said this is something they want to do again!*

So… what’s next?

I would love to see this run like Ryan did his. Students report to first period for attendance and announcements, then disperse throughout the school for classes. I think that once a class is full, the teacher will shut their door and any remaining students who wanted that class can go to their next choice and try to attend the class they missed in the next block of time. I’m excited to see our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students mixed up within the classes. This was something our teachers were very hesitant about; I mixed grade levels in the media center with no trouble, and am hoping that will serve as a model for the next iteration. I believe that allowing free movement and not having a “schedule” ahead of time will give students the ability to have more classes with their friends. Also, if we have it on a regular school day (not an early release) students and teachers will have more time in each class.

Some of the best feedback I received from this day came from three different people.

One teacher said, “You didn’t know it, but I needed this day so bad. It reminded me why I love teaching. I had forgotten.”

One of our custodians said, “My favorite part about today was seeing teaching today. Every time I walked by <his/her> classroom, <he/she> was so excited! I’ve never seen <him/her> teach like that.”

My administration said (and this meant so much to me), “Today was the very best, smoothest last day of school before a break that I’ve ever experienced in my 17 years of education. Thank you!”

As kids were leaving the school, the halls were vibrating again. It wasn’t necessarily from excitement to leave. It was from students yelling their “see you laters” and “Merry Christmases” to new friends. I believe they will be excited to be back on January 2nd, and that they will be looking forward to our next Mustang Madness.

Enjoy a few of the pictures of our day celebrating a love of learning! This is just a sample of what our incredible teachers and students enjoyed. Thank you for this incredible idea Ryan, and for sharing it in Your School Rocks! Just another example of how #DBC50Summer is changing my world, one book and one implementation at a time.

For more on this idea of #tlap day, check out Ryan’s blog! He has so many resources and has done this many times! It’s a wealth of knowledge and he’s super helpful if you need anything that you can’t find there!

Stained Glass and Snowflakes

Stations. The best unkept secret in education.

Snowflakes are hexagonal… perhaps the best kept secret in advertising.

macro photography of snowflake

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

During #DBC50Summer, I followed every author from Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc on Twitter and love being connected to them! One of the funniest authors is easily Denis Sheeran, author of Instant Relevance. His sense of humor pulled me into his book and now I get to enjoy his wit through social media. He created a hashtag to serve as a Public Service Announcement. Snowflakes are hexagons. Really! #Snowflakesarehexagons

The poetry written to the companies along with the photos of his own version of “false advertisement” cracks me up! With those posts, do you know what he did? He made me stop and count the dang sides of every. single. snowflake. in every. single. ad. I see.

Our amazing 8th grade math teachers, Ms. Luce & Mrs. Hawks, and I had already planned to do an extension of a PBL in MinecraftEDU. The students had learned about how linear functions are used to create stained glass windows. They had a guest speaker a few weeks ago who actually showed them how she creates stained glass and students have been creating their own stained glass (by coloring) and figuring out the linear function in slope-intercept form of each line. In MinecraftEDU, students could create a stained glass of their choosing. This could be done by modifying the one they created with linear functions to be “blocky” so it could be built in the game, they could create anything from scratch, or they could look up pixel art and use stained glass blocks or wool to create it.

This gave us two stations in our classes, but we needed a third. I had just discovered that Sprite had six-pointed snowflakes on their product (thanks to Denis’s Twitter PSA) and thought students might have fun discovering which products had “the right snowflakes” on them.

Our third station was a huge hit!

First, students searched for snowflakes in advertising and shared an image they found on a Padlet. Bonus for me: I get to talk about digital citizenship next week and have students determine if this was best practice for using images! (Hint: No, no it was not.)

After finding an image, they read one of the three articles referenced in Denis’s blog post Snowflakes are Hexagons. They were to secretly tell me how many sides every snowflake has and why it has that many sides based on their research.

Upon giving me the correct answer, the students did exactly as Denis suggests in his blog… they created paper snowflakes. There were a lot of octagons, decagons, quadrilaterals, and circles, until finally someone used their resources and googled “How to make a six-sided snowflake.” HA! My principal suggested taking it up a notch further. These paper snowflakes (with the correct number of sides, of course) will be used as decorations for their Winter Dance in December.

Check out a few of their creations that I tweeted out! There are dozens and dozens of hexagonal snowflakes in our media center now!

 

Then, this morning, this kid blew me away!

The MinecraftEDU station turned out pretty fantastic, too! I am currently working to upload the file on my YouTube channel and will embed here when finished, but for now, check out this link to a walkthrough on my Google Drive. (There is no sound.) I was so impressed with what they built in the 25-30 minutes they had available to create. Several came before and after school as well as during their lunch to finish their stained glass pixel art and more have asked to return this week. Students showed one another how to “light up” their windows using glowstone, so when the world turns to night it glows in the most beautiful colors!

I am so proud of the students I serve, and the teachers were blown away by both their stained glass creations and their unique snowflakes. This was one of those times that we got it right. Thank you, Denis for inspiring a way to make learning relevant for our students! This definitely serves as one implementation (I’m sure there will be many more to come) for my #DBC50Summer post on Instant Relevance! I am honored that our 8th grade math teachers trusted me to help create this PBL extension and spur-of-the-moment lesson on snowflakes. I’m looking forward to more lessons like this!