Category: Writing

How Minecraft Teaches Reading, Writing and Problem Solving

A while ago, 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 should catch the attention of teachers. This follows 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.

My students hang my picture in the Teacher Hall of Fame every time I let them play Minecraft–which I do regularly. Of course, I provide guidelines. Which they love. It’s fascinating that today’s game playing youth want a set of rules they must beat, parameters they must meet, levels (read: standards) they must achieve, and a Big Goal (think: graduation) they can only reach after a lot of hard work, intense thinking, and mountains of problems. Look into the eyes of a fifth grader who just solved the unsolvable–something most adults s/he knows can’t do. You’ll remember why you’re a teacher.

A note: Any time students use the internet, start with a discussion on how to use it safely. This is especially important with multi-player games like Minecraft (you will close the system at school, but that may not be the case in the student’s home). It is fairly easy for students to create their own servers (requires no hardware, just a bit of coding) and invite friends into their Minecraft world. Encourage this rather than entering an unknown server-world.

In case you must ‘sell’ this idea to your administration, here are three great reasons why students should use Minecraft in school: Reading, Writing, and Problem Solving.

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An Update on Digital Storytelling

A great article from Edutopia:

An Exercise in Digital Storytelling

To engage my 11th-grade English students during the 2020–21 school year, I created a digital storytelling unit. Whether they attended school in person or remotely, it was a success. Students were able to explore various frames of reference, identify a personal story to share using digital media, and experience empathy throughout the process. Digital storytelling has a permanent place in my classroom.

Read on…

We’ve written several articles on digital storytelling that can extend your understanding of this tool|

Best-in-Class Digital Storytelling Tools

10 Tips for Digital Storytelling You Don’t Want to Miss

And, here are some webtools you may find useful:

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Comics–an underused tool to boost SEL skills

Comics have long been considered not just to gamify education but to teach writing skills that are challenging for some students. SmartBrief Education tells Dan Ryder’s story,

How comics curriculum boosts SEL

Dan Ryder, a learning facilitator at Community Regional Charter School in Skowhegan, Maine, says he uses comics to support students’ social and emotional learning. In this blog post, Ryder shares several ways he will use comics in the classroom during the first weeks of school, including to help foster discussion about choices and different perspectives on social issues.

Read on…

You can create comics in dedicated webtools or with tools you probably already have, like Google Drawings:

comic strip in google draw

For excellent online comic creator tools, check this list:

  1. Book Creator–(iOS/Android) templates to create digital comic books and graphic novels.
  2. Canva–excellent comic templates you can use from an individual or education account
  3. Friendstrip–use their library of pieces; create/publish/share
  4. MakeBeliefsComix–simple comic creation
  5. Marvel– create comic strips and books with Marvel characters.
  6. Pixton.com–offers a comic builder to simplify the process
  7. PlayComic–English or Spanish
  8. PowToon–try free, then fee
  9. Storyboard That!–the gold standard for comics; free or fee

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Tech Tip #63: Reset Default Font

tech tipsIn these 169 tech-centric situations, you get an overview of pedagogy—the tech topics most important to your teaching—as well as practical strategies to address most classroom tech situations, how to scaffold these to learning, and where they provide the subtext to daily tech-infused education.

Today’s tip: Reset Default Font

Category: MS Office, Google Apps, Classroom Management, Writing

Q: How do I change default font and spacing?

A: Type a couple of paragraphs in any document. Highlight what you typed and right click; select font. Change the font to what you prefer. In my case, it’s TNR 12

Then, in Word: Click the Default button on the lower left to approve that this is how you’d like future documents formatted. See how-to video here.

In Google Apps: Go to Styles drop-down menu>Options>Save current.

That’s it. The next time you open an MS Word or Google Docs document, it will have this revised formatting.

Sign up for a new tip each week or buy the entire 169 Real-world Ways to Put Tech into Your Classroom.

What’s your favorite tech tip in your classroom? Share it in the comments below.

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Inspire Young Writer’s with Young Writers Program

A warm welcome to Sean Clark, Instructional Aide, and his first time contributing to Ask a Tech Teacher. He’s also a Teacher-Author with a wonderful experience involving his students in November’s NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program:

School-age kids these days are bridging huge linguistic and literary gaps almost every day: reading books checked out from the school library, but also online assignments, texts, and instant messages from parents and classmates.  They’re learning cursive and concurrently expected to raise their words-per-minute on the QWERTY layout, possibly both in the span of one week.  They must know an adjective from an adverb, but also a header from a heading.  

My name is Sean Clark, bearing the official title of Technology Instructional Aid, though most of the time around the school, I am referred to simply as ‘the tech guy.’  I’m one of several at the elementary level holding this job description in my district where 1:1 devices are now the norm.  On that gap described earlier, the teaching of the latter half is my responsibility.  Before current events transpired, my work week involved heading to each classroom to give a lesson on whatever I had made up for the day; typing, coding, docs, slides, or other various thematic and interactive activities I’d discovered through sites like Ask a Tech Teacher.  

Outside of work, I’m still connected to technology, often for playing games, but also in the pursuit of satisfying my creative mind by typing out my thoughts into stories, and sometimes turning those stories into novels.  I run a writer’s blog by the name of Fifty Shades of Grease, a title birthed from a time where I worked a less glamorous job in a deli.  In my blog, I archive many of my short stories, as well as track progress on other, bigger works that get the full run-down to be turned into proper ebook and paperback novels.  To date, I’ve self-published two trilogies, a short story, and a literary collection.

I’ve been writing on and off properly since community college when a guest teacher running the English 1A class revealed the wonders of creative writing, rather than just the regurgitation of rhetoric that High School had taught me to focus on.  At some point that semester, I had a flashback to 4th grade when I was voted ‘most likely to become a writer.’ It wasn’t until after graduating from University five-and-some years later that I finally found the time and motivation to write a complete story from beginning to end.  At that point, I knew I couldn’t stop at just one.

My biggest outlet of story writing energy is the National Novel Writing Month- abbreviated to NaNoWriMo– community.  Running two short events during the summer, and a full-fledged 50-thousand-word writing sprint in November, writers find themselves bound by their own honor to write more-or-less every day in order to meet their goals.  Since joining the community a few years ago, I have not missed a single session.

So, you’re probably wondering- how do my tech lessons and my students fit into this?  Personally, I’ve enjoyed the chance to bring in my own books to read from for various classes.  While it is slightly self-aggrandizing, the message that I hope students can find is that with the proper effort and dedication, they can produce something unequivocally theirs (a sentiment not only limited to writing, of course). In fact, the NaNoWriMo community can serve such minds just the same, with a special space all its own for school-age children wanting to attempt something so grand as writing an entire story; the Young Writers Program.  Rather than being thrown in with strangers and set up with strict goals, the YWP allows a teacher to curate a class with a class code, ready to be set to run for any month, any topic, and any word count.

When we began teaching at a distance this spring, over Zooms and Google Classrooms and less-than-ideal Youtube lessons recorded from Chromebook cameras, this program was one of the first I jumped on to offer as a tech lesson.  Maybe it was the lack of a stimulating home environment, growing burnout out from Cool Math Games, or just having the desire to create something original, but more than a few became truly engaged in their newfound project.

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Teacher-Authors–Do You Write Fiction?

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Teacher-authors–do you write fiction? I do! And it feeds my soul in the same way that teaching does.

 

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Two of my novels–To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days–are tech thrillers so fit well into my geeky tech-teacher world. The rest deal with how man survived the traumas of prehistoric times.

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I feature my fiction writing over at WordDreams.

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If you are a teacher who also writes fiction, I’d love to feature your book on WordDreams. I have a good readership with lots of interest in Indie authors. I’m opening up comments so you can add a note there. If you’d prefer, contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com.

Talk soon!

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national poetry month

Why Teach Poetry?

April is National Poetry Month. For thirty days, we celebrate the value and joy that poetry brings to our world.  According to the Academy of American Poets, the goals are:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry

All across the nation, school, teachers, students, libraries, and families celebrate by reading, writing, and sharing poetry. Here are websites that do all that and more. Share them with students on a class page, Symbaloo, or another method you’ve chosen to share groups of websites with students.

When I was in high school, I was forced to learn poetry. I didn’t want to, saw no benefit to it, and unfortunately, the teacher didn’t change my mind. All that analyzing meaning and deconstructing stanzas went right over my head. Worse, selections such as Beowulf and anything by Elizabeth Barrett Browning seemed unrelated to my life and goals. Poems I loved like “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, “The Raven”, and “The Road Not Taken” were rare. It wasn’t until University, where I discovered that poetry speaks the language of dreams, that I fell in love with it.

Thankfully, today’s teachers communicate poetry’s essence much better than what I experienced.

What is poetry?

When many people think of poetry, they visualize flowing groupings of soulful words as pithy and dense as a fruitcake and for some, just as (un)appealing. I’ll get back to that in a minute, but first, here’s a definition (from Wikipedia):

an art form in which human language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to, or instead of, its notional and semantic content.

You are most likely to recognize a poem by its truncated lines that rarely end in a period (though this isn’t always true), the rhythm created when reading it, the liberal use of literary devices such as alliteration and similes, and its ability to tell an entire story in a very (very) few stanzas. A good poem not only communicates with words but with emotion, senses, and memories, it gives a reader permission to interpret the content in ways that speak to his/her dreams. It may ask a question or answer one but always, it encourages the reader to think.

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Teacher-Author? Me too! Let’s talk

This week, my wonderful efriends and fellow teacher-authors are helping me launch my latest prehistoric fiction novel, The Quest for Home.

Driven from her home. Stalked by enemies. Now her closest ally may be a traitor.

An early review…

“I can’t begin to imagine the hours of research, not to mention the actual writing time, that went into this wonderful gem of a story. I highly recommend this book. It’s a must read for those who love prehistoric fiction.” —Sandra Cox, author of ThunderTree

I know–this isn’t about education. In fact, the excitement is happening over on my writer’s blog where I am not only a teacher but an author. Today, I’m here on Ask a Tech Teacher, asking my fellow teacher-authors to help me kick start this launch.

My promise to you: Leave a comment below. I’ll follow up and make you part of my writing community. There’s nothing more powerful than us supporting each other!

I’ll be visiting efriends’ blogs between September 16th-30th to chat about The Quest for Home. Some of the questions we’ll cover:

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5 digital tools to enhance the writing skills of your students

Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Linda Cartwright, has a great list of basic writing apps to get your students started with the new year. A few–like Hemingway and Kaizena–I’ve used successfully in my classes. A few others are new to me. Let me know what you think:

In the digital age, teachers are concerned with the literacy of their students. With video calls and voice recognition technology, young people might lose the ability to express themselves in writing simply because they don’t see the necessity of acquiring the skill.

However, the school must prepare students for college and professional life and that means they have to master writing in a variety of formats. Leaving out the question of actual handwriting, let me focus on digital tools that will help your students to enhance their skill of written communication.

Kaizena

Kaizena is meant to be paired with Google Docs and its purpose is to provide feedback… with a twist. Admit it, no matter how hard you try to be encouraging and constructive, the format of short notes robs your comments of their warmth and student feels disappointed and frustrated – they only get the message that their work is not good enough! They lose their confidence and look for additional essay help online, instead of working on their skills.

With Kaizena, teachers can record voice notes, which are much more encouraging, since they preserve your tone of voice. Instead of simply getting marks on margins telling them what is wrong with their writing, students will get meaningful feedback.

No Red Ink

No Red Ink is another tool to promote constructive and actionable feedback instead of frustrating notes in here’s-what-you-did-wrong style and red ink. Instead, students get adaptive practice, track their progress, independently identify their stronger and weaker sides, and decide which skills they need to improve. No Red Ink empowers students, gives them back ownership of their learning, and helps to build confident writers who enjoy expressing themselves with words.

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