Tag Archives: educators

Creative Mode

My Minecraft Inquiry is now well underway. I still have a lot to learn but we are definitely making progress with MinecraftEdu. I’ve discovered that we achieve more in Creative Mode and that border blocks help students to build in the same location. Our unit of inquiry is almost complete and then I will begin the process of compiling a video for my Coetail Course 5 Project.

Our new school so far!

I realised I have had to learn a lot of new vocabulary quickly. Students are already familiar with Minecraft which left us teachers new to Minecraft constantly researching definitions. I decided a MinecraftEdu glossary aimed at beginner educators would be a useful addition to my Minecraft Inquiry blog.

Throughout the Minecraft lessons the students helped to create an assessment rubric. Student suggestions are listed below which we then constructed into a rubric.Assessment tips

The students identified a range of skills required to be successful in our Minecraft Inquiry including face-to-face social skills as well as ‘in game’ social skills. They also felt it was important to follow the plan and recognised that this was related to staying on task.

Students identified cooperation and kindness as key Minecraft skills.

As in all aspects of education, the more time and effort I put into the Minecraft lessons the more the students get out of them. I have now scheduled an hour’s set up for each lesson where I just explore the world, check on student buildings, and prepare any assignments or additions for the lesson. This has really helped me to understand the expectations for each student for every lesson, which in turn helps students to be successful with clear guidelines.

My Initial Observations

Student engagement in MinecraftEdu is staggering. Every student is completely focused on their task for every minute of the lesson. Every single lesson ends with disappointment when the students realize they have to stop working. This level of student interest is remarkable and motivates me to consider how else I can integrate MinecraftEdu into our curriculum.

One minute warning: What already? #MinecraftEdu the fastest hour of the day #coetail#minecraft

— Amanda (@ALMcCloskey) February 23, 2016

The social and thinking skills that the students are developing are incredibly beneficial.  Elena Malykhina discusses in ‘The Scientific American’ the impact that digital games can have in education. The challenge for teachers is trying to find the time to assess how to best utilize these resources. Hopefully my ‘Minecraft Inquiry‘ will support other teachers hoping to incorporate MinecraftEdu in an inquiry classroom.

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.

A Mid-Year Tech Review

As I am approaching the half-way point of our school year I want to assess my ‘Tech Targets’ to review my plans for the remainder of the school year.

Flipped Learning

The Flipped Learning Model is a practical way for teachers to maximize class time. The excellent Flipped Classroom Infographic by knewton.com provides an easy way to see the benefits. This is a useful tool for front loading information and allowing students to prepare questions in advance.

In an inquiry-based PYP classroom I rarely prepare lectures for my class. I want to be part of their learning journey to assess prior knowledge, address misconceptions and plan the next day of learning depending on student understanding and ideas. However, using video reminders after a lesson has been very useful. I decided to design my own infographic, based on Knewton’s, to target the specific needs of my flipped classroom.

Below is an example of how I have begun to put these ideas into practice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC7ACLOrNL8  (video no longer available)


Every now and then in education you stumble across something that has a big impact in the classroom. Kahoot.it is a simple idea and very easy to use. It is attractive, fun, engaging and has seeped into all curriculum areas of our classroom.

Kahoot excitement to liven up a shape quiz on a Thursday afternoon #sislearns #kahoot pic.twitter.com/b3kt4YcagI

— Amanda (@ALMcCloskey) October 15, 2015

My class are constantly requesting more Kahoot quizzes. We even have our own style of chair dancing emerging thanks to the catchy tunes. If you haven’t tried Kahoot yet I recommend it!

Minecraft Mania

It is clear that Minecraft is currently a major influence on primary-aged children. The excitement of even mentioning a mine, and the many conversations in class that can be related to Minecraft is impressive. I first saw it used in the classroom by @donovanhallnz in 2013 and began to realise the potential of Minecraft. I now feel ready to launch an ECA and have just received approval for site licenses and a server. My research has now begun and I have found some excellent information on some coetail blogs including @davidc, @wayfaringpath @chezvivian, @holtspeak. My new project awaits!

Image from Flickr by Mike Cooke

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?

Another Feather in a Teacher’s Cap

teachers cap

Image from pixabay

Teachers are adept at wearing many hats. In a ‘normal’ week in a primary school a teacher may also take on the role of coach, leader, nurse, engineer, editor, designer, cleaner, peace-maker, philosopher or facilitator. The list is endless and ever changing and now often includes blogger, web-designer, vlogger, social media marketing managers and many more roles.

The hurdle for many teachers today is that they are not equipped with the correct skills to fulfill these digital roles successfully. An understanding of web design, topography, visual hierarchy, scanning patterns etc. should now be a priority for all educators (and their students) both as consumers and producers of information.

An informative post by web developer, Brandon Jones, has helped me to understand the essentials of web design. He explains web design as visual communication. He goes on to explain the importance of using size, colour, contrast, alignment, repetition, proximity, density and whitespace, and style and texture.

Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.

Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, Brandon Jones

So now time to make my learning authentic. How can I improve my own blog? Admittedly I have not given much thought to the design of this blog. I am now reviewing my own blog through the eyes of my new role as a web designer. The size of the large sunset image draws the eye but it is now relevant to the content of the blog. The background colour could be toned down to be more ‘calming on the eye’. I also need to consider which widgets and headings I want.

Digital Inquiry

My COETAIL blog homepage


One of the questions that Brandon Jones tells us to ask ourselves is:

Does the expected importance match up with the actual designed importance?

Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, Brandon Jones

This is an important question for me as the expected importance in the layout, particularly the widgets, does not match up with the designed importance. A photograph of personal significance doesn’t have a lot of relevance to my audience. I am also now analysing the priority of the tool bars and widgets. What do I actually want you, the reader, to take from my page? The aim of my blog is to connect with like-minded professionals and to promote collaboration as a tool for developing classroom practice.

Possible design updates:

  • technology related header image
  • reorder widgets depending on relevance
  • new background colour to complement new header image
  • upper tool-bar categories for each coetail course
  • twitter feed more prominent
  • links to my other blogs
  • include some personal information about me
  • global visitors map/globe counter
  • clear licensing details

As always, I look to my COETAIL colleagues for inspiration. The design of these blogs have given me some great ideas.

chez vivian with comments

A screenshot of Vivian’s COETAIL blog.

chamada with comments

A screenshot of Clint’s COETAIL blog.

And now I shall begin the process of updating and improving the design of this blog. I now feel more confident to include web design in my own teaching as I help my students to understand and benefit from the importance of visual media. As George Lucas succinctly put it in an Edutopia article:

We live and work in a visually sophisticated world, so we must be sophisticated in using all the forms of communication, not just the written word.

James Daly, Life on the Screen: Visual Literacy in Education

And here is a screen shot of my ‘new look’ blog, which may continue to evolve as my confidence in visual literacy grows. Watch this space!

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 10.25.53 pm

My new look blog; constantly being updated.

Are you using more tech than a 2nd grader?

School has broken up for the summer holidays! This is a wonderful time of the year to appreciate all our students have achieved. As I reflect on my adventure in educational technology this year I can’t help but wonder how many educators would also achieve our grade 2 tech goals for this year.

So before you head off on your summer break ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is the majority of your work saved in the cloud (googledocs etc.)?
  2. Are you using hyperlinks instead of attachments?
  3. Are you a confident googledocs user (e.g. using the suggesting setting)?
  4. Are you using a photo sharing app or are you still uploading/downloading every picture?
  5. Are your cloud based documents organised into folders?
  6. Are all the images you use cited/licensed correctly?

In my class the aim was for each student to achieve at least 5 of these. How did you do?

What else would add to this list?


Are we all keeping up with our students tech skills?


Activating Learning

Schools face many challenges when attempting to integrate technology effectively. These challenges include training, awareness, and the prioritization of appropriate technologies based on cost and benefit. The adoption of technology is never a ‘one-stop’ solution but always a continual process of upgrading, learning, adapting, purchasing, training and implementing new tools.

It is becoming increasingly clear, at least in my classroom, that the redefinition of learning moves at a much faster pace when students, have access to a 1:1 device. This is expressed in Claire Wachowiak‘s blog post ‘A Beautiful Game’ where she compares not being 1:1 to a team of footballers not all being allowed on the pitch at the same time. Mark Prensky also highlights the impact of not having a 1:1 programme in his Edutopia article ‘Adopt and Adapt’.

Any ratio that involves sharing computers — even two kids to a computer — will delay the technology revolution from happening.

Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom by Mark Prensky (Edutopia), 2005


Image by Creative Commons. https://pixabay.com/p-214364/?no_redirect

However, there is a lot more to implementing technology than just purchasing it. ‘Alive in the Swamp: Assessing Digital Innovations in Technology’  is a detailed report by Michael Fullan and Katelyn Donnelly. In the foreward Sir Michael Barber addresses this concern:

For years – ever since the 1970s – we have heard promises that technology is about to transform the performance of education systems. And we want to believe the promises; but mostly that is what they have remained. The transformation remains stubbornly five or ten years in the future but somehow never arrives.

Alive in the Swamp: Assessing Digital Innovations in Education, 2013

Below is a video summary of the Alive in the Swamp research paper.

Whilst reading this report I came across the term ‘activator’ to describe the new role of a teacher. This struck me as an excellent way to describe how our role is now being defined with technology in the classroom. This was illustrated in the report with a teacher as a ‘change agent’ (not just a facilitator of learning), guiding students to take charge of their own learning.

Active Proteins. Image from Creative Commons https://www.rcsb.org/pdb/images/2wns_bio_r_500.jpg?bioNum=

Active Proteins. Image from Creative Commons https://www.rcsb.org/pdb/images/2wns_bio_r_500.jpg?bioNum=

This report also supports the view that just having the technology is not enough. Teachers need support and guidance to effectively implement the technology. Mark Presnsky goes on to discuss strategies that might enable educators to do this:

So, let’s not just adopt technology into our schools. Let’s adapt it, push it, pull it, iterate with it, experiment with it, test it, and redo it, until we reach the point where we and our kids truly feel we’ve done our very best. Then, let’s push it and pull it some more.

This approach to integrating technology is not necessarily easy, but it is, I believe, important. The dangers of not supporting teachers in this approach are outlined in a recent Edudemic article focusing on the pros and cons of educational technology:

If not utilized properly, the positive effects of technology become negative which continue to hinder students’ success.


There are many things that administrators can do to enable teachers to be successful in integrating technology. Expectations and priorities should come from the leaders of the school, preferably supported with a proactive technology integrator. A culture of collaboration amongst teachers should also be encouraged, face to face, and also by utilizing an on-line PLN. A realization that this is a continual process for teachers and that time and guidance should be encouraged to accommodate this also helps. I also believe that teachers need to plan technology integration with a purpose. Whether modifying or redefining tasks, we need to actively plan to incorporate technology in a meaningful way to facilitate learning.

The good news is that there are many international schools leading the field in successful technology integration. By developing PLN’s and connecting with like-minded educators we can learn from each other to successfully integrate technology and move learning forward in our classrooms. Let’s get activated!