Minecraft and Grade 2 Farm to Table Integration

Finally a tech-rich unit integration with Minecraft! I’ve been using Minecraft Edu for years but only have been able to use them for mini-projects and activities. Our Grade 2 students just finished their “Farm to Table” unit where Minecraft was essentially the main learning tool for 4 weeks!

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I wish I could take credit for this but in fact the catalyst came from a teacher who was passionate about trying this. Also, full credit for the ideas comes from Mike Hoffman who did this unit with Grade 2s at TAISM and he graciously shared his plans with me.

It was amazing to see the learning that came out of this unit. Students were actively engaged  and learned concepts of producers, consumers, goods, services, taxation which would have been difficult to teach without a concrete experience. Students learned the basics of Minecraft but also more important skills such as collaboration, reflection, creativity and problem-solving skills.

Tips and Challenges: 

  • Initial setup took a bit of time as we needed to install Minecraft Edu, mods, servers, etc
  • There was a learning curve for some students who had never used a laptop before so right clicking/left-clicking and general Minecraft navigation
  • Partnering up students helped a lot as we had 2 students on each laptop
  • Server-you need a designated computer (where the IP is static) where all the computers connect to
  • Reflection booklets-these were designed by teachers and were great
  • Having specific goals for each session was really important to keep students focussed (build a house, build a farm, etc)
  • You need at least 1 teacher who has a good working knowledge of Minecraft (or willing to learn) as students needed help teleporting to locations or gifting items

Overall, it was great and something that we can really build on. It’s also overflowed to other grades (all great ideas do this and a good way to judge success of new ideas). We are  now using it with Grade 3 in their Math units on Perimeter/Area and Fractions. We are also exploring the amazing coding mod you can add with a Turtle bot.

Let the good times roll!







Developing a Maker Program in schools


After a bit of a hiatus from this blog, I’m back! I recently had a baby so she’s taken up the majority of the time these days…

Anyway, back to tech stuff. One exciting initiative I’ve started at our school is creating a Maker Program in ES. It’s been an incredible journey so far and by no means, do I feel like we are there but we are well on our way.

maker preconf_Page_05

I recently co-led a “Making” preconference in November as our school hosted the Learning2africa conference. This workshop took a ton of work but thought it went very well and we had almost 25 participants. For those of you interested, here’s a link to the powerpoint. After some theory, we had a group challenge where participants had to create a device that would hover in a homemade wind tunnel and used the Design Cycle to create their devices. IMG_9966 IMG_9973

We also provided a number of breakout sessions on 3D printing, robotics, programming and arduinos.

This workshop was a nice way to share where we were as a school in terms of our Maker program journey but also to network with other colleagues from around the world.

maker preconf_Page_13

Things have actually progressed quite a bit since this.

A couple of updates:

  • Now have integrated design thinking Maker projects into 3 grade level units (Sound and Light, Forces and a KG Toys unit) and plans for several more
  • Got budget approval to completely redesign new innovative Maker Space room (photos to come…)
  • Leading staff PD workshops on Design Thinking and Maker spaces
  • Created a Grade 5 Tech Crew group which have been teaching other grade levels: 3D printing, robotics, circuit creation
  • Planned a Maker Family Saturday for later this year
  • Ordered tons of new resources to expand the program!

So what does design thinking look like in ES? Here’s a video I made from last year:


Design Thinking in ES from AISJ on Vimeo.

Continue reading Developing a Maker Program in schools

How to 3D print designs from Minecraft

So our school is buying two 3D Makerbot printers next year and we, as Technology Integration Coaches, are now trying to figure out how best to use them. Right now, we have a demo version of the Makerbot Replicator (5th generation) and we’ve been madly scrambling to figure it all out. Exciting times!

As an ES Tech Coach, I’m trying to find ways to use it next year as part of our Maker Space. It didn’t take long before I stumbled upon Printcraft, an amazing way to take your 3D designs and print replicas of them. I’ve been playing around with some different tools and really impressed with both Tinkercad and Sketchpad as possibilities for ES students.

Anyway, I found Printcraft and completely blown away that this is even possible. I’m a huge Minecraft fan and have been using it with students for the last 4 years or so. This just takes it to another level. I know, I know…printing is nothing new but there was something about designing my first structure and printing a living breathing 3D object that is powerful.

So here’s how you do it.

Step 1. Buy Minecraft and install

Step 2: Go to Multiplayer mode and type in the Printcraft server (eu1.printcraft.org)

Step 3: Explore the world (very cool world btw) and find an empty plot of land. Build something interesting. A quick note that you need to use solid blocks and wasn’t able to print flowers, doors, etc.

Screenshot (139)

Step 4: Go to the little panel beside your plot and click print.

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Step 5: Click the link (note that you need to be in chat mode..type /?)

Screenshot (144)

Step 6: It will take you to a link within printcraft. From here you can share to Thingiverse or download (Click the .stl file for Makerbots). From here you simply print from your 3D printing software. I printed mine quite small but you can scale it up on the 3D Printer. Easy huh?

Screenshot (140)

From here, I can think of so many applications. You could then take the 3D model and talk about scaling, area, perimeter and a host of other mathematical concepts.


Minecraft house

Galaxy Tabs in the classroom

I’ve been neglecting my blog for quite some time. Part of the reason was that we have recently moved from Asia to Africa so we had been pretty busy transitioning. I’m now working as the Elementary Technology Integration Coach at AISJ. It’s a great move for me and my family and some exciting challenges ahead.

intro tablet

At my school, we have purchased about 120 Samsung Galaxy tablets to be used in Grades K-3. This has been a great learning experience for me as I have only used iPads. I have kept an open mind and wanted to see what their capabilities are compared to iPads. Although I do like iPads, Apple has presented a number of logistical challenges at schools (think VPP).

Here are my takeaways:

  • Love the S pen (aka Stylus)-This is a great built in feature in which all Galaxy Tabs come with. It has hundreds of pressure points and is very responsive to pressure and touch. It has an air pen feature which I haven’t really used and fits in nicely along the side. For kids, this opens up so many educational advantages (drawing, brainstorming, math activities, writing, etc). Although you can buy these for the iPad, they can be expensive and there is no built in storage on the iPad for them.
  • Apps-Just like the iTunes store, the Google Play store has an abundance of educational apps available. I could find pretty much every app that I used on the iPad for the Galaxy Tab. 
  • Camera- The quality of the camera is very similar to the camera on the iPad. 
  • S Note- This is one app that I think beats any default app that is on the iPad. It has a number of excellent features including drawing, graphs, sound, video, photo, annotations, clip art. Although the notes are a bit tricky to export (only as an image file), this is useful for 
  • Voice Recognition This is a fabulous feature that is built into the Galaxy tabs. By bringing up the keyboard feature, on the bottom is a little icon that has a voice recognition feature. This is extremely handy in situations where you need to differentiation or support students with learning needs. It is also surprisingly accurate!
  • gnote-keyboard-switch


I will post a few in-depth tutorials shortly.

Integrating technology by using the TPAC model

Many teachers new to integrating technology into their classroom come to me with the question, “I am really excited to use technology in the classroom, how can I do it?” Well, this in itself, is pretty general question so I usually respond, “tell me about what you are doing in your classroom”

There is no point in using technology for the sake of using technology. That would be equivalent to getting out a hammer and simply banging away at nails without a clear goal.   It must be used purposely and through an authentic context. In other words, start with the end in mind. What are the specific learning goals you would like students to reach? With this in mind, we can then think about selecting the appropriate tool.

The TPAC model is a nice way to combine content, pedagogy and technology. Here’s a great video that summarizes it:

So the main point is, you need to balance technology carefully with pedagogy and content to find the “sweet spot” in learning.

More Connected but Disconnected than Ever?

I recently came across this video. A powerful message sits in it and for me, it resonated with some of the issues I have been noticing with technology.

As an advocate on the benefits of technology, I also feel that I need to balance this out with some of the disadvantages of technology. One that I certainly have noticed in the last 5 years or so is how many people opt to engage in virtual worlds rather than real-world experiences (I am guilty of this too). Let’s face it, with the lures of Facebook, games, emails, texts all at the tip of your fingers, it is all too easy to disengage in those few fleeting seconds of boredom. This comes at a price however. We are robbing ourselves and our loved ones of connecting with each other in real-life. All those special moments in your life with your friends or family that allow you to look back and smile.

As an educator, I am a big believe in developing social skills within the classroom. Yes technology has a place and can be a valuable tool but it certainly shouldn’t be used all the time. I recently was working with a teacher who used laptops constantly in class to the point that she didn’t know what to do with a new student who wouldn’t have a laptop for a week. Are we becoming too dependent on technology? I just never thought that part of my job as an IT Coach would be to convince teachers to use technology less in the classroom.

My message is simple, yes we need to use technology effectively in our lives but it certainly doesn’t mean use technology constantly.  Build time in the day for your students or family to unplug and connect with each other and build meaningful relationships and enjoy real-world interactions.

An easy way to cite Creative Commons Images

As we have been working on digital citizenship a lot with our students and teachers, we are teaching them to make sure that they either provide original content or use images with a creative commons license.

In practice, this can slow down the publishing process to ensure that you are citing things correctly. More info about this here in this blog post

I found a great site that speeds up this process if you are going to use images for your blog.

For example, say I want this really cute image of this dog to put on my blog. First go to www.compfight.com and search “cute dog”.


Photo Credit: saikiishiki via Compfight cc

See the credit is generated automatically above!

The iPad Mini-A Solution for K-2 students?

Since the release of Apple’s new iPad mini, there has been a bit of debate whether these have a place in the classroom. Right now, we are into budgeting time and just happened to be on a year of a cycle of retiring laptops for K-3 students. Currently at our school, we are 1:1 Apple Macbooks from Grades  4-12 and have a shared trolley of laptops for Grades 1-2. However, laptops present their own host of problems for younger students.

Here are some of the issues with laptops:

  • Heavy and clunky to carry around for little hands and bodies
  • Battery life is not long on older models
  • Software is expensive
  • Difficult saving/transferring files
  • Camera isn’t high quality

There of course many advantages as well but now we have the option of purchasing (roughly) 2 iPads or 2 iPad Minis for the same cost of one laptop (not including software). The question remains, should we purchase double the amount of devices making a true 1:1 digital environment?

I would argue that it is worth it, not only for the iPad but also specifically for the iPad Mini. Just from my experience working with iPads with this age group, they are heavy (can’t believe I just said that) for younger bodies but not only for transporting but for taking photos/videos. The iPad Minis are significantly lighter (50%). Some might argue that the screen size is a lot smaller but I have measured and the iPad screen size is only about 20% smaller but has a better resolution and camera. Finally, there a growing number of apps that allow for true content creation and transformational learning experiences that are not available on computers.

Whether the lightness and thinness actually turn out to be disadvantages, remains to be seen. I am willing to take a gamble and trial it out a year.

Your thoughts??