We’ve discussed flattening the world and reaching across the miles for collaborative learning experiences. I am asking a different question today. Can we bring the classroom into the cloud?? Instead of going in a horizontal direction, can we go vertically straight into the sky? I don’t mean into the digital “cloud”. I mean literally into the clouds!
As I am writing this, I’m aboard Air Canada, literally in the clouds and homeward bound to spend the Easter holidays. I’ve not seen a Canadian spring nor my tulips for 8 years! Oh my, I’m feeling homesick just thinking about it and I’m just hours away from being home.
My 8 year old son has been studying Fair Trade as part of his Y4 UOI. Fair Trade is a humanities-based unit focussing on social, environmental, and economic justice in regards to food production and supply. His classroom novel for this unit is Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. To my dismay, I believe they will use poor Wilbur as a discussion-point over whether they should “kill the pig”.
My son was reading through Charlotte’s Web last summer when we were in Canada. I really try to expose my children to the novel before they get to the movie. I don’t want the movie to spoil the joy of reading the novel. Unfortunately, he did not finish the novel that summer and we left the book behind in order to leave luggage space for other things. So, I was delighted to learn that he would be reading the novel with his class this year.
We had a discussion a few months ago whether he should read, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He said to me, “Ah Ma! I’ve already watched the movie!” He thought he could persuade me to let him off the hook regarding reading the novel.
“No way,” I told him, “the book is not the same and the book is better!” (Yes, my prejudice is coming out. I think the original version is always better than the copy. It works both ways. If the original is a movie, then the print version can’t be better…) We had a big debate whether I was correct or not.
We got the answer while flying thousands of feet above the ground in an airplane.
So, back to Wilbur. We got onboard the plane and he was thrilled to see that on offer as one of his entertainment choices was the movie, Charlotte’s Web. I was pleased to see him so excited to see the movie but I also felt a little worried as I didn’t think he knew what was going to happen to Charlotte at the end…
He was very captivated by the movie but he kept on interrupting my iPod listening (strains of Shania Twain or Celine Dion to celebrate going home) to tell me in shocked tones the differences between the movie and the novel. He obviously wasn’t happy with the differences and felt that the movie was vastly inferior. After about the tenth interruption, I pulled out my earbuds and said to him, “Kid, don’t you know you are on SPRING BREAK?!” The nerve of him! Doing comparative literature out of school hours and interrupting my iPod time!
Near the end of the movie, he got this weird look and I knew he was getting to the part where Charlotte was getting weak. He told me in worried tones that he heard his classmates whispering awhile back that something was going to happen to Charlotte. I could see that he was getting upset as the realization that Charlotte was probably going to die was dawning on him. I told him he could switch off the movie if he wanted to and he did. He never saw the ending but I think he knows.
Seeing his worries brought back memories of when I was 9 and my grade 4 teacher read Charlotte’s Web to my class. I remember how my world completely shifted when I realized that a good story can have a sad ending. The memory brings tears to my eyes as I think about it. Everything about novel-reading changed after that point. I was (still am) an avid reader but everything was different after that. I would forever from that day-on approach a book cautiously, worried if it was going to make me cry at the end. Charlotte’s Web was my rite of passage from childhood innocence to childhood understanding that not everything will have a fairy-tale ending. How many other children go through that same rite of passage because of Wilbur?
Is there any link to Technology in this blog post? First, let me hand you a tissue (Kleenex for my Canadian readers) <sniff, wipe, blow>
“Do you feel better? Are you ready to continue the story?”
So, with the movie switched-off, my son fell upon my Macbook and asked to play Minecraft!
“Oh terrible day! I loathe the day that I first heard the name, Minecraft!” says I, to myself.
I replied back to him, “But there’s no internet on the plane!” hoping that I could keep my laptop all to myself. He then told me that you don’t need to be online if you play single player.
“Darn, foiled again!”. So, I gave him my Macbook and settled back to my iPod music.
My kids have been obsessing over Minecraft since last September when I finally caved-in and bought it for them so they could connect with their friends at school who were talking about it daily. (I hear that they drive poor Mr. H (his teacher) crazy talking about Minecraft all day at school.) My boys would spend all their waking hours on Minecraft, if they could. It’s scary how engrossed they are in the game. I’ve never taken any serious time to watch them play the game but I have refereed many a dispute that has arisen between them over their Minecraft playing! The disputes are usually over the fact they always think the other brother got MORE time. We all know how fast time flies when we’re doing something really fun.
While on the airplane, I became his
captive captured-audience to watch him play. I couldn’t run away to clean house or to start cooking or to do anything but watch him play a video game. I’d rather cook than watch kids play videos games and that is saying a lot since cooking is NOT one of my strengths!
True to the Coetail Effect, I started looking for credible evidence of knowledge, learning, and authority in him from his Minecraft playing. I know that teachers are bringing Minecraft into the classroom, but I wanted to see why for myself.
To my delight, my son decided completely on his own that he wanted to build the world of Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web on Minecraft. Within a few minutes, he had spawned a number of Wilburs running around the screen. Then, he was building the pig-pen. It wasn’t a simple square he built either. It was a full-blown, 3D, pig CORRAL. It would make any cattle ranger from the Canadian prairies proud. He then went on to build the fairgrounds. He then added the rest of the characters: Charlotte, Templeton, Fern, Mr & Mrs Arable, the cows, the chickens, and the horses. While he was doing this, he was telling me about the story and how his creation linked up to the story. He then added in a dog and felt like he had to justify why he needed a dog in this Minecraft World since there was not a dog in the novel. He then added a “Portal” that went to some dark, burning Netherland. So, this was a slight twist to the Charlotte’s Web story with added undertones of the Damnation of Faust. Nevertheless, I was VERY impressed regarding everything I saw. He was obviously enjoying the novel/movie again but this time through what he was building on the computer screen. It dawned on me that this isn’t really a game. It’s a resource for creation and expression– two things very dear to my heart– personally, as a parent, and as a teacher.
Lickety-Split, he had this extremely complex 3D world built based on his recall of the story. I was really happy when he said to me, “Mom, how do you spell ‘Terrific’?” He then made a couple of cobwebs in Wilbur’s barn and named them “Terrific” (as in the novel). He can hard-code in Minecraft but needed help to spell “Terrific”. I bet he’ll remember to spell ‘Terrific’ for life, now. There’s nothing that beats context for children to learn spelling.
By that time, the Coetail Effect was in full-gear. I knew I had blog material happening right in front of me. I took out my iPod (necessary Coetail Effect curation-tool) and started taking some pics and some video.
I realized that here we were on an airplane, thousands of miles above ground, and my 8 year old son was integrating technology and extending his UOI learning from school. Mr. H would be so proud! Yes, Jeff would be proud of him, too. He was showing me evidence of self-acquired knowledge, skills; and authority in his learning. (The authority comes in because I have no clue how to work Minecraft to build virtual worlds.)
Years ago, I remember reading stories with my students and giving them a blank piece of paper. I would ask them to illustrate a favorite part of the story and to write a few sentences about their illustration. Wow! Things have moved on from those days! He wasn’t writing a story but he was doing some serious programming to get his world working. He may not be able to spell “Terrific” but he could write in a computer language that looked like gibberish to me. This has to be a form of algebra, using symbols to represent complex operations.
The cherry that topped it all was when he turned to me in the middle of it and said to me with his cherub face, “You know Mom, some schools use Minecraft as a tool…” He expected me to return a shocked face but I already knew that (Thank YOU Coetail!).
I said to him nonchalantly, “Did you hear that from YouTube?”
“Yeah,” he said to me.
Darn that YouTube teaching my kids things before I get around to teaching them first! The next thing I know, YouTube will be teaching my kids that there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny.
Anyway, I did step-back and marvelled at how the learning continuum was extending itself right before my eyes. He had moved from Fair Trade UOI to Novel Reading to Critical Video Watching to Comparing Forms of Media to Response to Literature to Coding & Algebraic Skills! We’ve not even begun to begin the discussion regarding Design and Spatial-Skills.
Looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy, we’ve addressed:
Creation: Charlotte & Wilbur’s Minecraft World, as another way of enjoying the story
Evaluation: Deciding whether the novel or the movie was better and why. Deciding what tools in Minecraft would be the most effective to replicate Wilbur’s world. Trying out various choices he had.
Analyzing: Picking out the differences between the novel and the movie. Comparing the various tools and materials available to him in Minecraft to build Wilbur’s world.
Applying: Making the virtual counterparts of the setting and characters through the Minecraft software. Using the Minecraft coding language to execute different actions.
Understanding: Comprehending the direction of where the movie was heading (foreshadowing the death of Charlotte).
Remembering: Recalling the setting, characters, and story-line from the novel or movie.
OK, Coetail Effect, you’re making me work and study over-time. I’m supposed to be on my holidays, you know! I’m even spending my plane ride writing this blog and (dare I say it aloud?) enjoying it!
Wow, I think I like you Minecraft now. You made Wilbur look so adorable. I forgive you everything.
Air Canada, I
forgive you everything too begrudge you less, today.
I have two secondary school kids learning to use Google Sketch-Up and commercial grade CAD software in their Design & Technology classes. Couldn’t Minecraft be a parallel tool to commercial CAD products but completely suited for primary school students, given the right guidance from a school teacher? Beyond just Design & Technology, here is an authentic example of a student responding to literature with this resource and making a personal connection with the story through this activity (Coetail Effect: noticing Self-Directed Learning).
He could take this a step further and screencast it to share with his classmates. My boys have already asked for screencasting software to try this with Minecraft, inspired by screencasting examples of Minecraft from YouTube. (Be warned that the Minecraft tutorials on YouTube use pretty appalling language.)
So, I have answered my own question. Yes, we CAN bring the classroom into the CLOUD–even when it’s flying through the clouds. I learned a lot that flight!
The next time you hear “Classroom in the Cloud”, don’t think DIGITAL cloud. Think AIRPLANE.
Have you taken any time to watch a child play Minecraft? What did you think?
Happy Easter and Happy Springbreak, by the way!
Afterword: So, we’re jet-lagged and napping trying to turn our clocks around. Jet-lag is great for catching up with my work. I’m finishing up this blog and realized I needed a few more screen-shots for it. I just woke up my 8 year old, “Hey! Wake-up! I need you to play some MINECRAFT!” He looked at me strangely while rubbing his eyes awake, “Who’s this and what did you do with my Mother?!”
If you’re inspired to take on Minecraft, check out Minecraft Teacher which is a blog chronicling a teacher’s journey with the resource.