Category Archives: Course 4

A Minecraft Inquiry

If you work in a primary school chances are you have heard your students discussing Minecraft. Currently over 21 million people have purchased Minecraft. There are a staggering 7 billion views of Minecraft related activities on YouTube. Clearly it is very popular. My question is ‘Can Minecraft enhance student learning in my classroom?’.

Image from Flickr by Thomas Wagner


I have researched how many teachers have integrated Minecraftedu successfully into the learning engagements. I have read and learnt from previous coetailers’ blogs about integrating Minecraft into a primary classroom, in particular @wayfaringpath @mikehoffman and @biggles. I am hoping to learn from their experiences and to build a valuable resource for teachers like myself. My aim is to create a blog that is aimed at primary teachers interested in integrating Minecraft into their classrooms.

The first draft of my Minecraft blog.


I am particularly keen to see how Minecraft can integrate into an inquiry classroom. I will be focusing on how the PYP transdisciplinary themes can be used in Minecraft, as well as looking into possible conceptual links with the PYP key concepts. I am also hoping to see any potential ways to teach language, mathematics, social studies or science learning outcomes.

Image used with the author’s permission.


My research will also include reading Colin Gallagher‘s new book ‘An Educator’s Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom’.

It is my aim to provide a simple guide for primary inquiry teachers to integrate Minecraft into their units.





A Unit of Inquiry: Design a School

I have designed a unit of work that will help to introduce MinecraftEdu to students. The project is deliberately open to enable students to follow their own ideas. Students will be working collaboratively on designing and building a new school. They will have to justify features of our new school design and then follow a plan to all build it together. We will also be focusing on cooperation skills so that it is a collaborative learning experience. The detailed plans are below:

My Concerns

My main concern is that, although using Minecraft will be fun, it may not be academically rigorous. I am also worried that it will be a distraction for students. In regards to my blog my concern is that I am repeating what other teachers have already tried to do. I am also unsure of how using Minecraft can be linked to our curriculum as I will be learning as I inquire. I am also concerned about the technical side of using Minecraftedu as this is the first time it has been used in my school.

New Pedagogy

This will be a new experience for me. I have not yet used Minecraft or seen it in action in the classroom. As a homeroom teacher I will be rethinking how I can teach all areas of my curriculum to find authentic links through Minecraft.

Image from Flickr by Steven Saus

Let the inquiry begin!

iPad Time!

As a class we have decided it is time to update our system of iPad access in class. Up until now the teacher has had control over when the students have access to their iPad’s. Increasingly students request their iPad’s for a range of tools (spelling, translation, research etc.) and I realised it is time for me to let go of the control. I asked myself ‘Am I hindering my students’ learning?’

Previously, I have been concerned about device distraction, lack of social interaction and an overload of screen time. Common sense media recommends one hour per day for primary aged children. We have six hours of class time per day. Does this same amount apply to supervised educational use? There appears to be limited research that applies to our specific situation: a small class of motivated Grade 5 students who are encouraged to independently make the right choices about their learning.

Are we hindering student learning by restricting tech use?

I proposed to the class my idea for allowing them to use their iPads at any time in the classroom. Surprisingly a quick vote showed me that students wanted a list of rules that they could follow. They explained that having some guidance made it clearer to understand what was acceptable.

When deciding on these rules the following points came out in a class discussion:

Encouraging self-management skills.

We conducted a ‘think, pair, share’ thinking routine to analyse these results. We narrowed these ideas into four workable class rules that addressed our concerns. A student also suggested we review these rules every month. Another student suggested that they monitor their own daily screen time – if we use the iPad’s a lot at school – play outside at home.

Class designed rules.

I look forward to the monthly review!

My Classroom in 2030

After reading Michael Barber’s article on ‘How Could-and Should-Schooling Look in 2030’ I began to reflect on what the future might hold in my PYP classroom. My dream learning environment of the future is an open learning space with comfortable furniture filled with the latest technology. I will be able to enlighten my well-motivated, internationally minded students. However, from what I can remember these have been my dreams for some time.

I decided to compare my PYP classroom from 15 years ago with my vision for my future PYP classroom in 15 years time. When using Mary Beth Hertz’s levels of technology integration I can see that 15 years ago my technology integration was sparse. I would currently rank my classroom as between ‘comfortable and seamless’ but I wonder what the next 15 years will hold. What is beyond seamless?

I also reflected on how teacher use of technology may change in the future. Will the email epidemic continue to take up value time? Will university entrance exams become 100% digital thus releasing the pressure on handwriting expectations?  I researched potential future technology use for the classroom including from ‘Co creation and the web of new things‘. I also attempted to keep my financial expectations realistic whilst considering how technology advancements can impact student learning in my classroom. Below is my infographic to demonstrate my ideas.

How technology may change in the future.

Student-Centred Learning

A Brief History of Student-Centred Learning

Student-centred learning is not a new phenomenon. John Dewey outlined many educational theories including the importance of how ‘students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning’, in 1897. Project-based learning, Problem-based learning and more recently the apple launched Challenge-based learning all discuss the importance of student-centred learning, and inquiry being central to the learning process. What all of these learning styles have in common in today’s classrooms are that they naturally lend themselves to integrating technology. If the technology is available, and students know how to use it, it should be a part of the learning process.

My current conundrum is ‘If I want a student-centred, inquiry classroom, should my students should have access to technology all of the time?’

My Concerns

How much screen access is okay? Should ten year old students have access to iPads all day? I decided to find out what students and teachers thought. I used a great idea from @traintheteacher. A binary question for all students to answer as they arrive at school.

    I also tweeted a poll for teachers’ viewpoints:

An Experimental Inquiry

Our central idea

After discussing these issues in class we decided to try an experiment. A full day with unlimited technology, and a full day unplugged completely.

Below are some student reflections from our ‘Tech Saturation Day’.

Students were also asked to write a Headline (maximum of ten words) to sum up the unplugged day. Below are some examples:

Teacher Reflections

  • Beginner EAL students were able to work independently. They produced more work than they ever have before.
  • Some students were easily distracted with the iPad. They did however still complete all of their assignments.
  • Working on paper is time consuming. Ten minute tasks took at least four times that.
  • Students enjoyed drawing and paper-craft.
  • Our replicate social media account is the students favourite past-time.
  • Marking and photocopying work is very time consuming. This took up approximately two hours of my day (compared to minutes using google apps).


I will still have some parts of our school day tech free but will monitor for which learning engagements this is an advantage. I’m interested in hearing how other teachers manage the availability of technology in a student-centred inquiry classroom. Is it time to let the student’s decide?

Technology Immersion

Image from Flickr


I am currently reading ‘Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job‘ by Yong Zhao. The book discusses the difficulties associated with technology integration and examines what we should be trying to achieve in education. It asks the compelling question:

“How can teachers and technology work together to create a sustainable learning environment?”

Yong Zhao, Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job

The book explains how schools and teachers should allow technology to do what it is effective at doing (Zhao states these niches as ‘Mechanical repetitive tasks, creative ways of presentation and interaction, and opportunities to promote learning’).  This can then free up the human teacher to focus on what they are most effective at (Zhao highlights ‘critical thinking, social and emotional interaction’). The central strand running through the text is described below:

“The ultimate goal is to tap the advantage of both human beings and technology and therefore provide an optimal learning environment for learners.”

Yong Zhao, Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job

This book has helped me to broaden my view as an educator and to consider how I can be more effective in the classroom, whilst utilizing technology to its full effect. This, to me, should be the aim for all educators.

My Definition of Technology Integration

Technology integration is interpreted in many different ways. The word integration implies that technology is combined or melded onto education. However, I feel that technology is intrinsically a part of everything I do. Even if I am not using technology in a particular lesson, I have planned and researched the lesson online, and probably tweeted or blogged about it. Technology doesn’t feel like something that is ‘combined’ with our learning- it is intrinsically a part of our learning environment. It is ubiquitous and we are immersed in it.

Technology in my Classroom

After viewing the TPACK model I tried to relate this to my classroom. The authors of the TPACK model, Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler, explain why this may not be easy:

We understand that, in some ways, the separation of teaching into content, pedagogy, and technology is not necessarily straightforward, or even something that good teachers do consciously.

Punya Mishra and Mathew KoehlerUsing the TPACK Framework, Copyright © 2009, ISTE

Watching this Common Sense Media video helped to clarify my thoughts. (video no longer available)

There are wonderful moments when I feel that I am in the magical spot of TPACK, but this is certainly not always the case, and isn’t always the aim. My technological, pedagogical and content knowledge are always improving, and always should be. In a Grade 5 PYP classroom independent inquiry is actively encouraged. Students are always excited to point out new technological features to me and each other, and we may be finding out new content knowledge together.

Today’s Lessons Plotted on the TPACK Model

I have attempted to plot my teaching day on the TPACK model to give a snapshot analysis of technology use in my classroom. Today I taught four one hour lessons so have placed a star on the TPACK model to indicate where I think each lesson could be positioned.

On reflection I think this is a fairly typical day. However it doesn’t really demonstrate how much I feel that I am not doing. Just because I am using technology, does not mean that there is a not room for improvement.

I am fortunate to work in a forward thinking PYP school, where all primary students have their own iPad. This has enabled me to experiment with technology and use it when it is relevant. Students are also now increasingly selecting a range of technology tools for their needs when it is required. Mary Beth Hertz identifies this level of integration as ‘seamless’.

Seamless: Students employ technology daily in the classroom using a variety of tools to complete assignments and create projects that show a deep understanding of content.

Mary Beth Hertz, ‘What Does “Technology Integration” Mean?‘, Edutopia

At school we have a whole school technology integrator to coach and advise teachers, and a primary technology integrator to co-teach and support teachers. This model, along with small class sizes and a good internet connection, means that we are in a strong position to use technology in a beneficial way.

My Reflections

I am pleased with the progress of technology immersion in my classroom but there are still many new initiatives I wish to pursue in my teaching. I am also actively creating my own content now as an educator, this includes shared content on YouTube and Flickr. I am also increasingly a teacher that enjoys discussing technology with colleagues. After reading Kim Cofino’s blog on ‘Creating a Culture of Collaboration Through Technology Integration‘ I now recognize the informal mentor role that can exist within the working environment.

This is an exciting time to be in education. Technology is enabling us to extend the possibilities in our classrooms and help our students to create and collaborate like never before. As educators if we share, collaborate, learn, initiate and create, together we can continue to utilize technology for the optimal learning environment that Yong Zhao suggests. We need to remember that to be truly effective, technology and pedagogical practices need to be intertwined and the focus should be on the learning first, rather than the technology.