Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Can't School be More Like Minecraft?

I was reading Dan Willingham's book Why Don't Students Like School the other day when my 6th grade daughter saw the title and said, "I'll tell you why, because it's BORING!!!" That led to a discussion on my daughter's problems with school and a comparison with an activity that she truly enjoys doing anytime anywhere - that's right Minecraft.

In Minecraft my daughter has learned how to gather resources in a sometimes hostile environment so that she can build shelter, create roller coasters, design buildings, etc.  She learns how to do this by failing miserably, then looking for videos from the Minecraft community that explain how to avoid the dreaded nighttime zombie raids.  My daughter is learning tons of skills and strategies for solving problems.  She is learning how to analyze resources for effectiveness by trying out advice from various sources and sticking with those that work.  She is learning to be resilient in times of difficulty.  It broke my heart to see her inconsolable tears one night because she had been killed in one of the Minecraft games.  Clearly her level of engagement was high, and she was determined to find out how to better prepare herself for the next assault.

Minecraft has its pitfalls and is not a panacea by any stretch of the imagination.  However, there are lessons to learn here for schools if want to keep our students' attention and see them invest time, energy, and emotion, we need to consider how we can make the school day a little more like Minecraft.  Here are some things to get started:

Remind students that all learning is like a great story.  There are problems, characters, conflict, solutions, resolution, and an ever changing environment.

Allow students to work together and share what they are learning to the larger community.

Put students in environments where they get immediate feedback on their attempts so that they know right away if they are succeeding ... or not.

Give students the opportunity to create and apply what they are learning in novel situations.
 Minecraft and many other games have our kids riveted to screens for hours on end.  School, on the other hand, has many students bored, disengaged, passive, and near comatose.  For those of us who believe education has tremendous potential to transform individuals and communities, we owe it to our students to apply our best thinking to the design of the school day.  We must do better than what normally passes as school today.  Your kids and my kids deserve better.

What do you think?

Learning Comes in All Sizes

Photo Credit Six El Sid

I was sitting in an IEP meeting this week with our team discussing a young man.  Let's call him James.  James is a 5th grader reading and performing academically at about a 3rd grade level.  He has a pretty positive attitude, but school is definitely a struggle for him all day every day and he's showing signs of frustration and lack of motivation from time to time.  In the course of our meeting, we asked the same question we always ask parents, "So, what is James good at?  What are his strengths?"  Well, it turns out James can fix remote control off-road vehicles.  He asks questions from salesman at the store or uses videos on the Internet to figure out what needs to be done to fix these machines.  Turns out our 3rd grade reader is great with his hands.  What this tells me, is that James can learn!  So, how do we capitalize on this fantastic strength of James?  Here are a few things that we are planning to try with James to transfer this interest and skill into the classroom.

1.  Invite James to bring his car to school and teach his classmates how they work and how he fixes them.
2. Ask James to keep a journal of the modifications that he is making to his cars including explanations of what the problem is, how he found solutions, and what he did to fix the problem.
3. Create a video of his own to upload to YouTube explaining how he fixed problems that he came across.

Shouldn't school support James in this area of high interest and, at the same time, help him see how the world of literacy (digital included) can further help him in all areas of life?  
Shouldn't James be acknowledged and recognized for his skill, determination, and ingenuity? 
Can't we come up with a way to make sure every student is getting support at school to pursue their areas of interest and connecting those interests to literacy development?

I think we should.