How Minecraft Teaches Reading, Writing and Problem Solving

Image credit: Paulo OrdovezaLast month, Scientific American declared “…“not only is Minecraft immersive and creative, but it is an excellent platform for making almost any subject area more engaging.” A nod from a top science magazine to the game many parents wish their kids had never heard of. This, following Common Sense Media’s seal of approval.  On the surface, it’s not so surprising. Something like 80% of five-to-eight year-olds play games and 97% of teens. Early simulations like Reader Rabbit are still used in classrooms to drill reading and math skills.

But Minecraft, a blocky retro role-playing simulation that’s more Lego than svelte hi-tech wizardry, isn’t just the game du jour. Kids would skip dinner to play it if parents allowed. Minecraft is role playing and so much more.

Let me back up a moment. Most simulation games–where players role-play life in a pretend world–aren’t so much Make Your Own Adventure as See If You Survive Ours. Players are a passenger in a hero’s journey, solving riddles, advancing through levels and unlocking prizes. That’s not Minecraft. Here, they create the world. Nothing happens without their decision–not surroundings or characters or buildings rising or holes being dug. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. There’s merely what You decide and where those decisions land You. Players have one goal: To survive. Prevail. They solve problems or cease to exist. If the teacher wants to use games to learn history, Minecraft won’t throw students into a fully fleshed simulation of the American Revolution. It’ll start with a plot of land and students will write the story, cast the characters, create the entire 1776 world. Again, think Legos.

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Categories: Multimedia, problem solving, reading, writing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Why Digital Textbooks?

Since I’m a huge proponent of digital textbooks, I thought I’d share an infographic with you (compliments of What’s not to like about books that:

  • can be constantly updated
  • are interactive
  • offer lots of resources
  • provide supporting documentation for everything they include

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Categories: education reform | Tags: | 2 Comments

Tech Tip #81: I Have Office 2010; Everyone Else Has 2003–They Can’t Read My Stuff

As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each week, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!

Q: My school updated to Office 2010 and many parents are still on 2003. What can I do so they can read my stuff?

A: When you save the doc, go to File-save as, and select file type 97-2003

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Categories: MS Word, tech tips | Tags: | 2 Comments

Bammy Award in Ed

Woah–I’ve been nominated for a Bammy Award in the category of School Technologist by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. Here’s the reasoning submitted by the Nominations Committee for the nomination:

Jacqui Murray has taught K-8 technology for 15 years. Based on her experience, she wrote a tech curriculum for kindergarten-fifth grade, which is now used in hundreds of schools all over the country. She is webmaster for five blogs (most notably the award-winning Ask a Tech Teacher), an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a technology columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for ISTE’s Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Technology in Education. She has also written several ebooks on integrating tech into core classroom units.

I’ve worked with Rae Pica over at BAM on her radio show, most notably this conversation about keyboarding. She always has great guests and the discussion becomes spirited as we share ideas on how to best deliver quality education.  I’m humbled to be nominated.

Of course, the nomination includes a voting segment. I’d be thrilled if you’d click here and vote for me. If I’m not right there on the front page, search for me with the tool in the middle of the screen:

BAM Awards

While you’re there, check out the great information about education from Rae and her colleagues. Be prepared to spend some time. You won’t want to leave.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a columnist for, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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Websites that Teach Your Kids About Money

economicsI keep a list of money and economic websites for K-8. It’s a balancing act–teaching them to value money while doing so responsibly. I’m always on the lookout for new sites that accomplish that difficult goal. I must confess, they’re hard to come by.

Until Isreal Defeo, new Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, came up with these six. I hadn’t heard of any of them except Planet Orange (which might be going away. I left it in hopes it would survive). Check these out. I think you’ll like them:

It’s never too early to teach your kids about the value of saving money. Some child experts say that as soon as your child can do basic math, that’s a good time to start. You’ll want to begin as early as you can to make those money-saving skills stick: The ideal situation is that it’ll become as ingrained and second nature as brushing your teeth or changing your underwear.

Here are some websites that can help make learning about money fun.

Planet Orange’s

(Literally) out-of-this-world game takes kids by the hand to guide them through basic financial concepts. After signing up, kids pick out an astronaut name and password, and start their interplanetary travels. Tasks must be completed at every planet to earn money (or “Obux”) for gas.

Besides teaching kids that money is necessary for certain activities (like decorating their spaceships), it also demonstrates the concept of bartering, or exchanging goods for other goods.

ING Direct assures parents that the site is purely educational and free to join.

Gone… how sad…

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3 Apps that Boost Creativity

There are so many apps out there, I can’t keep up–and I’m supposed to. I’m the tech teacher. I used to download every app that looked fun, exciting, useful, try it out, be amazed by it, and then like a squirrel, dart to the next shiny object. I rarely got back to that one that so magnificently filled my attention for all of ten minutes. People in my PLN–teachers I respect and admire–have favorites that they swear by, which means I must try them. And I do, often love them and am sure I’ll use them the next time I have need of… a virtual Swiss Army Knife or an e-dressing room to try on clothes. But I don’t. Usually, it’s because there are ten that are Just Perfect for whatever I want to do, or I can’t find  the one I loved just a week ago. If I could remember the name, I could search for it, but at times my brain is as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Truth, there are so many apps on my IPad, I’m throwing out those I haven’t used in a year, have forgotten about, and/or can’t figure out. What’s left, I’ll use before I download more, no matter how exciting the new widget sounds.

And I found some amazing apps–about twenty that have me gobsmacked. I’ll start with three I can’t believe I never used:


This is my current favorite note-taking app. Consider this scenario. You’re at a meeting, taking notes. Typing away. The speaker draws something on the whiteboard–you fumble to record it on your IPad. Or s/he’s referring to a picture that’s in your camera roll, but how do you bring it up and add his thoughts? You know there’s a way, but what app was it and how do you integrate it with the note-taking app? Then–horror–he’s talking too fast to keep up. If only you could just tape him and listen without struggling to write every word.

You need Notability. See the image to the right? That’s how you use this powerful, inexpensive app:

  • take notes by tapping the screen. Wherever you tap is where you type. No waiting for a cursor or working from top down. In this case, I type right next to the image.
  • quickly change from typing to drawing by accessing the short, ever-present toolbar at the top of the screen (hard to see in the drawing, but it starts with a ‘t’). Drawing defaults to what would normally be a pencil, just like you’d want if you were handwriting notes and needed to copy a picture from a screen. Width and color is easily changed with another tap.
  • open an image or PDF from your Google Drive, DropBox or another location and write directly on it–or just take a picture of the speaker’s work and insert it into your notes.
  • give up note-taking and tape the presentation with the microphone tool at the top of the screen. One click and you’re recording. Another click and you’re back to typing.

From its dashboard, you can easily find and access notes, edit, revise and share with anyone. I have used Evernote faithfully and will still use it for collecting websites, data, images, and more. But for quick notes–what you might take on a yellow lined tablet (that has access to image downloads and audio taping)–I now use Notability and then share with Evernote.

(BTW: If you’re looking for a simple image annotation tool, Notability is great. Open the picture and write all over it, wherever you want.)


The idea of being able to annotate pictures is powerful. Many images speak for themselves, but others require enhancement–something to make the idea clearer or communicate a unique perspective. If you couldn’t see the puppy’s thought bubble in the picture to the right, you’d never know how happy he was (though the flopping chaotic ears give it away).

Thinglink is quickly taking over the market for annotating images. Besides thought bubbles, you can add hotlinks that when hovered over, become words, emoticons, weblinks, document links, tags, and more. You can even include music, videos, and other pictures. This is perfect in the classroom. One seminal picture can be linked to relevant information that covers an entire topic with just a few clicks.

Once a Thinglink is completed, it can be shared, commented on, even embedded into personal blogs and websites.

And education accounts are free.

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18 Things You Know If You’ve Been Reading This Blog

computer skillsComputer technology isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does require consistent use. You can’t learn a skill and stick it on a shelf for three months without it molding. Here’s how you do that: Read this blog. I cover the stuff you will use daily. It won’t get stale. Take my test. Try these eighteen:


Common Core Basics

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Apps and IPads as Education Tools

ipad appsI was having a discussion with my PLN about IPads in the classroom–how teachers are using the apps–and I got this comment from David Kinane over at Dakinane . He has some great ideas for moving iPads from babysitters and static practice to interactive tools for formative assessment, sharing, and publishing.

I do have a range of techniques that enable the least promising of apps to release their information. I do this by using the best features of one app and then ‘layerng’ the output. By this I mean taking the content from one app and then putting that information into another app so that the students can then share their learning. I have presented on this often with the schools that I work for, but you can see a blog post I have written about it—elearnings-panacea-00201.html

To answer your question I would use the following example: An app like WordsPyramid, which has good” word level” literacy work in it for students, but produces absolutely no usable information for teachers. When the students close the app, their work is gone! I teach the students to screen capture each of their efforts and then load these images into Skitch to annotate what they had done, or Fotobabble to notate and record what they have done or Educreations to annotate, collate and record what the group had done. By passing information in this way from one app to another, the students have been enabled to publish their WordsPyramid work to the Internet using apps like Fotobabble or Educreations. I have several videos on these apps on my blog just look for ‘App of the Week’ if you are interested.

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8 Google Apps Tricks Every Teacher Should Know

google appsThe more I use Google Apps–Sheets, Slides, Docs, , the more of a fan I become. The facility for collaboration, sharing with others, publishing to multiple media is unmatched. No surprise that Google Apps–and that cousin, Google Apps for Education–is a transformative tool that will change the way both teachers and students deliver education and learning.

When you use Google Apps, you quickly realize it’s not business as usual. That alone makes it intimidating and exciting at the same time. As a teacher, I have to tilt everything slightly out of focus, look at it from a different angle from my traditional. No ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ when dealing with Google Apps. It’s about shaking the educational world up, turning it on its nose, and seeing what happens.

I’ve been using Google Apps for about a year now and have a list of my nine favorite tricks. I know these will change in the next year, but for now, these are the tools that make me yell ‘huzzah’ in class. See if you agree:

Revision History

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Categories: tech tips, writing | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

16 Poetry Websites for Poetry Month

Try these with your students during April–Poetry month!kindergarten websites

  1. Cinquain Poems
  2. Favorite Poem Project
  3. Fill-in-the-blank poetry—easy and hard
  4. Giggle Poetry
  5. Glossary of Poetry Terms
  6. Instant Poetry—fill in the blanks
  7. Magnetic Haiku poetry
  8. Magnetic poetry—big collection
  9. Musical poem—write poem, add music
  10. Poem generator
  11. Poetry Engine
  12. Poetry Engine—writes poem for you
  13. Poetry forms
  14. Poetry with a Porpoise
  15. Shaped Poems–fun
  16. Write Poetry and Decorate it

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Categories: writing | Tags: | 5 Comments