Research: Minecraft Supports Social & Emotional Learning For Students

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A selection of quotes from teachers that have been using Minecraft Education Edition with their students.

The team at Getting Smart have released a new post showing research into game based learning and how this can promote social and emotional development among students, in this instance, through Minecraft Education Edition.

Download The Full Report Here

The researchers pulled information from a number of listed sources:

  • A global online teacher survey
  • Several onsite observation and evaluation sessions of educators using Minecraft: Education Edition in classrooms
  • Existing SEL literature reviews
  • Phone interviews with experts in K–12 education
  • Informal data gathering via several popular social media channels such as
    Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

The concept of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) was new to me, but the report does give a definition up front about what it is:

In the context of K–12 education, SEL is the process through which students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

From my perspective, this is really interesting as I would previously have associated some of the attributes around gaming as isolationist and less focused on the “soft skills” in life such as those involved in collaboration, participating and contributing and emotional resilience and empathy. It’s fascinating to me that research is showing that some game based learning can actually support the development of these critical skills in students.

The report indicates that the benefits of actively teaching SEL to students can include:

  • Increasingly positive attitudes toward self, others and tasks including enhanced self-efficacy, confidence, persistence, empathy, connection and commitment to school, and a sense of purpose
  • More positive social behaviors and relationships with both peers and adults
  • A reduction in conduct problems and risk taking behavior
  • Decreased emotional distress
  • Better test scores, grades and attendance

Unsurprisingly, the report clearly states that unless SEL is implemented with clear, robust learning goals then it is likely to be ineffectual. This, of course, is true of most initiatives and serves as a reminder that the integration of technology into curriculum must always be well planned and thought through. Technology is a great servant of pedagogy, but when implemented poorly, can be a hindrance and distraction.

Comprehensive SEL goals include developmental benchmarks across five key social and emotional competency domains, encompassing: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making skills.

How Does Gaming Boost SEL In Education?

The report has some extensive quotes from various educators and again, I encourage you to read the original report here, as I will only be pulling a few of the quotes that really stuck out to me to include below.

In New Zealand’s Curriculum there are five “Key Competencies” and it’s interesting to see how these align with the SEL concept. One of those KC’s is “Relating To Others” and the quote below shows how Minecraft can support this:

Cultivating empathy through gaming isn’t a given; rather, it occurs as part of a guided experience.
“As educators, we have the opportunity to help students develop empathy through gaming and imagine how they’d like to be treated, talk through scenarios in gaming and in their personal lives, and discuss how they would do something differently (or have wanted to be treated differently), then practice those skills.”

Another of the Key Competencies is “Participating & Contributing” and this quote shows just how much inter-dependency and co-operating is required to succeed in Minecraft:

“It isn’t a secret that games are popular and engage students. They’re able to fail forward in a risk-free environment. When playing Minecraft, students must have a level of coordination and cooperation in order to accomplish shared objectives. They’re  negotiating with one another, strategizing about resources and next moves, and delegating responsibilities. It’s really quite remarkable to see.”

Research Findings:

Research Findings.PNG

School Case Studies:

The report finishes with three case studies from schools of different ages:

  • International School Bellevue School District
    • Years 6-12
  • Bryant Montessori
    • Years Pre-school to Yr8
  • Renton Prep Christian School
    • Years 1-10

I am thrilled there continues to be significant research into the ongoing benefits of eLearning and effective and purposeful integration of technology into education. If you’ve not seen it, I suggest you check the NZCER Research into eLearning use in New Zealand primary schools that I posted about recently.

Aotearoa Awaits – Māori In Minecraft

The following Minecraft content has been posted with the permission of it’s creator Lt_Peanut.

It seems almost every day I’m having conversations with schools or education partners about Minecraft and how this can be creatively used to teach students across a wide range of curriculum areas.

Today I was super excited when my colleague pointed out to me this story on the Minecraft.net website showcasing the work of Minecraft & Twitter user Lt_Peanut:

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Lt_Peanut explained their creation in Minecraft on this Minecraft Forum posting in both Te Reo Māori and English:

Maori:

Kia Ora, Ko Taylor toku ingoa, i kore anake toku tamataraa mo Octovon engari ahau hanga ano hoki tenei hanga te reira rite te kanohi o te tikanga Māori. Tatou Maori, ko te iwi Kiwa taketake o Aotearoa. hiahia ahau ki te tohu Aotearoa ki tenei whakairo i roto i tūmanako o te faaururaa iwi ki te ako e pā ana ki to tatou tikanga. Tenei hanga whakaatu he rangatira Māori, mau ana Korowai me te piupiu me te hapai i te taiaha i roto i te ngahere tikitu Aotearoa. Kua tamata ahau ki te waihanga i tētahi tikitu waho te whakamahi o te rakau kia rite ki e haere ki tua atu i te rangi i nga rakau, pera hei utu kua hanga e ahau te manu taketake o Aotearoa, te Kiwi, me te ponga, to tatou whakato tino tohu, e hua te koru.

Te ti’aturi nei e ahau ki a koutou katoa oaoa i.

English:

Hello, my name is Taylor, this build was not only my trial for Octovon but I also created it as a representation of the Maori culture. We Maori, are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. I wanted to represent New Zealand with this build in hopes of inspiring people to learn about our culture, as recent studies have shown that fewer than one million Maori people are on our earth today. This build showcases a Maori chief, wearing his Korowai, piupiu and wielding his Taiaha in a New Zealand rainforest. I have tried to create a rainforest without the use of trees as the trees would go beyond the build limit, so instead I have created the native bird of New Zealand, the Kiwi, and the silver fern, our most symbolic plant, that produces the koru. To represent a New Zealand rainforest instead.

I hope you all enjoy the build. 🙂

In my mind, this is a classic example of how students can connect their passion for their heritage and culture with their creative passion in Minecraft and then share this with their community online (both school and wider users). Providing an explanation of the motivation such as Lt_Peanut did above deepens the learning and allows for cross-subject applicability and even potential assessment opportunities.

Tino pai rawa atu Taylor!

Digital Technologies For Learning – What The Research Says

The New Zealand Council for Education Research (NZCER) has released a report on the role of Digital Technologies in the primary and intermediate years of schooling in New Zealand, drawing on data obtained from a survey of schools conducted in August/September 2016. This provides some really valuable insights into the situation in schools (for a direct link to the Key Findings click here), neatly summarized in the following infographic:

NCZER Infographic.png

Licensed under Creative Commons – see here for full report.

Having read the Key Findings from the report and the three blog posts from the report’s author Rachel Bolstad, here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Teachers indicated that student use of technology was still focused around a few key things e.g. practicing skills (think Mathletics and skills repetition/speed work) researching (the ever present “google search”) or creating presentations in documents / slide shows
  • Other uses of technology were less common e.g. game based learning (Minecraft Education Edition is a good example of how to do this successfully), programming and genuine multi-media work.
  • Many teachers did indicate they wanted to harness technology to enable their students to collaborate with students/schools/others outside of their own school but were struggling to make this happen. It was unclear why this did not happen, but one way to forge these relationships is with activities like Mystery Skype, which can then lead to truly Global Citizens connected with fellow learners around the world.
  • Whilst most teachers thought Digital Technologies provided positive gains in the classroom, 10% (still quite high in my view) thought the negatives/frustrations outweighed the positives.
  • Principals identified the obvious challenges to deeper integration of Digital Technologies into the primary curriculum, including issues around equity of access, funding challenges and costs around professional development of teaching staff.
  • I was surprised that so few teachers have built their own online Professional Learning Network (PLN). This was quite prevalent in the previous school I worked in, and there seems to be a wide range of networks utilizing social media to connect teachers with teach other to share ideas, resources, best practice or just some much-needed encouragement!

Whilst the above came from the data surveying primary and intermediate aged schools, in her first blog post Rachel Bolstad did share data from the 2015 NZCER study of secondary schools with some interesting data showing how digital technologies were being used in secondary classrooms:

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Credit: Rachel Bolstad, blog post here

It’s a similar trend perhaps – many teachers saying they don’t use technology for a range of more innovative uses (game based learning, distance learning, coding etc) but would like to. The aspirations are there – identifying the blockers is the next step!

Back the 2016 Primary/Intermediate data on programming:

  • Only 19% of teachers said their students were using digital technologies for coding or programming (15% “sometimes”, 4% “often”).
  • A further 43% said they would like this to be happening in their classrooms.

In her third blog post, Bolstad identified a key point: a lot of the coding and makerspace programmes happening in school are, to all intents and purposes, extra-curricular ones, occurring at lunch times, after school and usually because an enthusiastic teacher (or parent!) is helping to drive it. This is an important point to acknowledge, as it highlights the fact that many schools still struggle to “find time” or integrate this into their core curriculum programmes. This will change, of course, with the NZ Government announcement about new Digital Curriculum Standards and subsequent investment to make this happen.

Another fascinating point to emerge from the research, perhaps lending some weight to the challenges of equity, were found in the answers to the questions around what sort of opportunities students had to access coding, gaming or makerspace activities in schools:

  • 41% of teachers said their students DID have access
  • 41% of teachers said their student did NOT have access
  • 17% were not sure…..
  • BUT in Decile 9-10 schools this was 49% said yes students did have access compared to just 26% in Decile 1-2 schools.

Overall, it seems that activities like coding and gaming still remain less common in schools and a marginal activity that majority of students do not participate in:

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Credit: Rachel Bolstad blog post here

It is fantastic to have this level of research and analysis based off recent survey data and I do encourage you to read the entire findings by clicking the link below:

NZCER Digital Technologies Survey

Harvest: Making Marking Easy in OneNote Class Notebooks

Harvest2OneNote Class Notebooks remain one of the most popular features in the Microsoft Office365 Education offerings and teachers love the simplicity of seeing all of their students’ work in one place. This is especially important when it comes to quickly and efficiently marking the work of students and providing feedback.

The One Education team, creators of the Infinity One laptop for students, recognised the power and popularity of OneNote and created a brand new product called Harvest to supercharge marking and sharing of student work for teachers. This is hosted entirely in the Azure cloud and harnesses all the power of Office365 API and OneNote Class Notebooks, demonstrating innovative thinking by helping teachers reduce the time consuming work of marking and collating student work.

I’ve created a quick six minute introduction to the product where I walk through some of the key features and you can see this below:

As you will have seen in the video, teachers can install the plugin into OneNote Online (note that for now OneNote desktop does not support the addition of third party extensions, so Harvest only works in the browser version of OneNote Online) and can get started marking student work immediately:

Harvest1

Currently, Harvest supports a database of both New Zealand and Australian curriculum standards/strands meaning teachers can easily search for the standard they wish to mark student work against. This, in itself, streamlines the marking process for teachers as they do not need to manually enter the curriculum details that the student is studying.

Here is a simple example of marking a student’s Year 13 Calculus work:

On the left you can see the student’s Maths–>Calculus section in the OneNote Class Notebook has been selected and on the right the teacher has clicked “Browse” to identify the curriculum strand they’re assessing against. Mathematics and Statistics is selected.

Harvest Maths1

The teacher selects the curriculum level / year level to narrow down the selection of curriculum strands to choose from:

Harvest Maths2

The teacher then selects the most appropriate curriculum strand(s) they are assessing against:

Harvest Maths3

The teacher can now see the curriculum strand, give it a grade of “Below / At / Above Level” and can even add a comment of up to 255 characters (visible only to the teacher currently)

Harvest Maths4

Harvest Dashboard

Harvest Dashboard Link

What really sets Harvest apart is the use of existing API within OneNote to collate all of this work (essentially, these grades are Tags within OneNote) and then display them in a “single pane of glass” interface. This assists the teacher to get an overview of either a single student or an entire class based off the marking they have completed. To view this dashboard the teacher simply clicks the “Harvest” menu item and then “Dashboard” and it loads for them in a new tab in their browser:

Harvest Dashboard1

Some things to note in the above screenshot:

  • Teachers can select from multiple different OneNote Class Notebooks on the left hand menu
  • Teachers can also select from multiple curriculum areas within the same Class NoteBook which obviously makes a lot of sense for primary school teachers, or cross-curricular class environments.
  • Students are all listed in a grid (the columns), with a colour coded system showing whether they are Below / At / Above The Level based on each curriculum strand marked (the rows in the grid). Where a student does not have work marked against a particular curriculum strand it is grey indicating “No Rating”
  • Harvest will also generate a thumbnail of the student work when hovering over the grade in the grid – note at this stage thumbnails of digital inking is not available.

It’s not hard to imagine how beneficial the above view would be for a teacher when it comes to writing school reports or preparing for parent/teacher interviews – they would literally have ALL graded work collated into one place and able to show the parent at the click of a button. This is harnessing all the power of OneNote Class Notebooks, the associated API’s and the Azure cloud to streamline marking and reporting for teachers.

Harvest Dashboard2

Viewing larger thumbnails of student work in Harvest Feed, where the various grades are easily recognizable through consistent colour coding.

To top it off, teachers can choose to share selected student work directly to parents with a shortened URL (something Microsoft recently added to Class Notebooks):

Harvest Share

A teacher must first select “Student Feedback” along the top to make it publicly visible, and then simply copy the link to share with a parent.

I am really excited by the prospects of Harvest because it seems like a product that understands the challenges teachers have managing large amounts of assessment and aims to simplify the reporting process. With many schools moving to increasingly digital and paperless environments, leveraging the existing power within OneNote to support assessment and reporting is a smart move and something I’d imagine many schools will be very interested in.

For schools that are wanting to get started with Harvest straight away, check out these comprehensive set up instructions.

Driving Transformation In Education

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Anthony Salcito, VP Worldwide Education, presenting at BETT Asia

On the back of the BETT Asia 2016 conference, Microsoft released the results from over 1000 respondents across APAC surveyed on the topic of what challenges/opportunities they have identified in optimizing technology for the classroom, along with what are the key skills students need to develop.

I’m always interested in the results of these types of surveys as they tend to be quite candid coming from teachers with strong opinions about what works and what does not work in their classrooms, especially when it comes to technology. NZ’s own www.educators.co.nz website picked up the results of this survey and published an article on it here.

The key findings identified included:

  • The biggest factor needed to successfully transform teaching and learning experiences was educator skill sets – particularly being trained to optimise tech in the classroom
  • 1 in 3 respondents believed that they are currently unable to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in the future workplace within their current school curriculum and ways of teaching
  • The most important skills that educators rank as required for students included problem solving (71%), skilled communication (68%), collaboration with others (61%), digital media literacy (57%) and data analytics & visualisation (56%)
  • 91% of respondents believe students will not be able to adopt to the changing workforce requirements and skills with low digital literacy

The last one is particularly challenging for schools and led to the release of a whitepaper in NZ by Microsoft’s Managing Director Barry Sheers entitled Youth, Technology & Disruption. This is a great read and lays out the key things for schools and teacher training institutes to be considering when it comes to equipping educators to be effective in the teaching of digital literacy/fluency skills.

In the original Microsoft press release, Don Carlson (Director of Educataion APAC) said:

“Technology cannot replace great teaching but it can make great teachers even better. We are inspired to work with educators, with students, with school leaders, on their journey to redefine learning in and out of the classroom.”

From my perspective, when you look at the key skills identified above from the respondents, they tie in very nicely with the Key Competencies from the NZ Curriculum. In my former role as Director of ICT at St Andrew’s College I wrote a lengthy blog post on examining successful eLearning examples through the lens of the Key Competencies. For NZ educators at least, I believe there is wide scope to integrate technology into the teaching and learning and through this, to allow students to develop the identified skills they will need in future employment.

Youth, Technology & Disruption

cover-imageThis week, Microsoft New Zealand released a whitepaper entitled Youth, Technology & Disruption that examines the situation young  people face in New Zealand when it comes to education and future work opportunities.

There are a number of points in the whitepaper and you can read the original copy by clicking here, with Managing Director of Microsoft NZ Barrie Sheers drawing attention to the following three:

  1. Microsoft believes all students must be taught tech skills and have an opportunity to learn computational thinking.
  2. Microsoft have called on the government to urgently make the necessary investments to achieve this – and to ensure that no students are left behind.
  3. Microsoft also want to see greater industry involvement with government officials to ensure what students are taught reflects what the industry needs.

Whilst I work for Microsoft now, my previous role was as the Director of ICT at an Independent School in New Zealand so I was very interested to read this paper in detail. I went over it and made a number of highlighter marks and you can see my own take on what stood out by  clicking here.

The paper rightly touched on the teacher shortage in the area of Digital Technologies curriculum in New Zealand, but also the need to up-skill existing teachers in other curriculum areas to be able to teach computational thinking skills. In my visits to schools over the last two weeks I’ve already come across two secondary schools that were either already teaching this, or had firm plans to have a course on computational thinking for 2017. The whitepaper defines computational thinking as:

Computational thinking is about looking at a problem and knowing how to utilise a computer help solve it. It is a two step process:

  1. First, we think about the steps needed to solve the a problem
  2. Second, we use technical skills to get the computer working on the problem
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Image taken from the whitepaper – see the original link above

The whitepaper highlights the role that technology is playing as a disruptive influence in all areas of life, accelerating the pace of change like never before. I know a number of schools invested significantly in the cost of sending staff to the Singularity University NZ Summit held in Christchurch in November 2016 . Continue reading