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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

6th Grade Discovers Audio Books

Last school year I began purchasing playaway audio books for the LRC. We had a nice cabinet put together for them, introduced students to them in assemblies and orientation lessons and then waited for the demand to become greater than the supply. It didn't happen quite that way, Some of the audio books became very popular and a certain number of students did use them often, but it wasn't the explosion we had expected.

Schools are busy places and initiatives, while important, can often get waylaid temporarily at certain crunch times. It doesn't mean they are forgotten and it is not necessarily a bad thing. Often we need to step back and rethink an initiative, weigh things a bit and decide on a new plan of action.

Just this week I was approached by a teacher in the English Dept. who wanted to broaden her students' awareness of the variety of resources we have on offer. Sometimes it makes sense to listen to a book, sometimes reading it is a better fit. For reluctant readers an audio book can provide a enjoyable respite, in which they can experience the story through an audio rendition, pick up new vocabulary, visit new destinations and live amazing experiences all through the eyes of the characters in the book.

We set up two lessons with the 6th grade today in which we sat down and explored the Playaways, as well as the other digital book collections we have been curating over the last few years. Everyone enjoyed this special reading/listening time.  We are hopeful that word will continue to spread,  and that our students will continue to use these great resources.

When the new audio books come in we will invite teachers to bring the students down and explore them as well as our online collections in the Useful Resources Section of the Learning Resources Centre Website.

Here is a small collection of images from the visits. For a more complete collection please visit the LRC Facebook page.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Minecraft Project Update-Fortresses and Castles

Where We Are
Our 7th grade students have been moving full speed ahead on their Minecraft projects. These projects involve teams of students, designing a fortress and castle, based on what they learned about such structures in 6th grade. They are using Minecraft to create the structures on the school server. We are one week away from testing them out in survival mode. Students are rushing to get supplies stocked up, ensure that their structures are well fortified, and are busy contriving and building traps for potential invaders. Needless to say there is a lot of strategic thinking going on!

What We Use We opted for Minecraft Edu which was a smart move as it allows the teacher control of a lot of what goes on in-world. Among the various options available are the abilities to freeze students, teleport them back and forth, mute their chat, bring them all in to the teacher, toggle between creative and survival mode and revoke student building as well as student creative mode. I am able to do all of this as well as work with them on our map.

We came up against two major challenges when beginning this project. The first involved constant server crashes which occurred when the whole class was logged in. We solved that by initially partnering the students up and then bumping up the memory on the computer that hosts the server. This was a great solution and we have not crashed since!

The second challenge had to do with demonstrating respect for others. With over 100 students playing on one map, on the school server, it can tricky to monitor the goings on. For that reason Student building privileges are limited to class time and after school for one hour. That way i am able to pop in and visit while I monitor behaviour and chat. 

Respect for other people's work is vital in an online project,  just as it is in real life. Griefing and  "trolling", are not unheard of and some kids do partake in it when playing on different servers. I spoke with the students about this upon commencing the project and come back to it in each lesson. Unfortunately,  there have been a few cases of griefing and trolling during the project. You can imagine my surprise when I logged in yesterday only to find out that my own structure had also been greifed at one point! 

I have to admit that it was a bit disconcerting at first, but these incidents ended up providing the basis for teachable moments. The whole project is about learning to work together online. The issue having hit home provided us with the fodder for a relevant discussion about griefing and trolling . 

I have to say that the kids should be commended. They are are amazingly flexible and despite the setbacks many have experienced, they remain very positive and even come in to work after school. They are quick to fix any damage that occurs and and then they move on. Let's face it, many of them, especially the team leaders are experienced gamers and have dealt with these problems before. It is great to see how positive they are about it all.

Our team leaders are doing a fantastic job of running the builds. They organise their teams, direct construction, teach others how to create more advanced constructions, all while working on their own building jobs, designing defence contraptions and meeting with the teacher to discuss the progress and the parameters for testing day. 

I was able to capture some video footage in-world, while a few classes worked on their structures. Please have look at the video to see what they have done.