Colin's Sandbox

Demonstrating student achievement with Minecraft

by on Apr.18, 2013, under #diffimooc

I’ve definitely been struggling with the great god Rubric as of late, as I am of any attempt to define Quality.

Yup. That old argument again.

I bring that picture up because not only have I actually read that book (twice!), but have also had the pleasure of owning two old Japanese motorcycles, one for each reading.  Since I therefore like to at least think that I have given the concept some thought, I’ve always hated trying to categorize quality into neat little buckets like “High”, “Moderate”, and “Needs Improvement”.  I spent some amount of time better suited for oh, say, doing the laundry, cooking, or working on any number of more productive things tracking down people that had a beef with rubrics too.  The phrase “some amount of time” in this case means about an hour, but any time trying to slay the rubric beast in this context is wasted time anyhow.

A Wise Person told me about 4 days ago, “#thisistheworldwelivein”.  In that spirit I’ve since resigned myself to quit whining about it and to “just get over it”, which is what I think that Wise Person really meant.  In addition to indeed being wise, the “Wise Person” in question also happens to be the person who hands out the grade at the end of class, so that’s another reason to pay double attention to the subject.

When I finally put away all the hoighty-toity armchair philosophy posturing I decided that the best way to measure the success of the people that I’m working with in this Minecraft lesson was to simply ask them.  They’re all volunteers, the experienced they gain is strictly an add-on enrichment exercise.  A self assessment on their part seems like the way to go here – not so much a pre- and post- test but more of a before and after knowledge survey.  In that light I crafted my questions in a way to accomplish two goals: background information and project planning.   Background information: their level of comfort when using computers, do they consider themselves savvy with gaming.  Project planning: what types of machines they have at their disposal, how much of an issue is classroom management, how they may continue to communicate with students outside the class environment (if at all).   The big one though is “What is an example of an interesting design or engineering problem in your community that is in the public spotlight currently?”.  I envision that as being key to starting a creative dialog back and forth between the participant.  How can we open that problem up to students?

When some finish line or milestone of some sort in our collaboration has been reached, I intend to send an updated form back out, this time trying to gauge how far we’ve come along in meeting things highlighted by the standards I just happened to pick out that in their turn best met what I had in mind for a unit.

So when you look back at all of this, what is the direction of the unit design thus far?  I like to think of it as an iterative process, meaning “messy”.  Ideally, backwards design starts with some essential question, picking out standards we’re trying to meet, finding assessments to adhere to those standards, and then coming up with your instruction to fit that.  Instead, here we’ve started off by thinking what sort of neat things we could do with a certain tool (instruction) to demonstrate solutions to a problem (our essential question), then going back and working on the standards that we could hit, and then on to the assessments piece.  I’m sure since this is all very exploratory we’ll learn a lot about what is achievable, where the pitfalls of time are, other ideas for problems to take on, different tools to use, etc., and therefore head back often to different steps in the process.  I have a suspicion too #thisistheworldwelivein – it’s a lot easier for me to start in this fashion and work hard at something. I can choose to be OK with it and use the standards that are met as an accounting tool to help guide future choices, and not stress out too much about it.

It has occurred to me, of course, that I should have sent this survey out about 2 months ago.  Along the same vein, now that I’ve gone through this course, it has also occurred to me that I could have done a lot of things differently.  Then, a more comforting thought, well if you can’t say that about a course, why go through with it at all?  Otherwise you’re just reinforcing skills you already know and behaviors you already are comfortable with.

This past couple of weeks I’ve been exchanging quite a few emails and IMs with Anne and Nathan in support of classroom instruction with Minecraft.  I also visited another middle school classroom here in Juneau along with Anne and Chip and we walked through a Minecraft unit with the kids there.  I was there for two consecutive classes; the first in which I actively stepped back during the presentation and watched how the students came up with such interesting questions and ideas.  The second I took a little more of an active role in and I had a few moments where their eyes really did seem to light up.  I couldn’t believe, for instance, that this one student _really_ wanted to know how I did the Google Earth -> Minecraft world thing.  And I boiled it down for him – I went to a presentation where someone showed me it was possible, they posted their sources, and I just extended that just a little bit —->||<—- to work up in the interior of Alaska.  Hopefully highlighting how when we communicate our work with others, everyone can benefit.


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