Josh teaches 1-8 Core French for our school board. Josh brought much expertise to our group as he is a Master Builder in his own right. Last year he dabbled in Minecraft in the classroom, trying it out with a group of students, however this year he dove right in implementing it with his grades 4/5s, 5/6s and 7/8s.
Setting the Stage for the Project
Starting out I was not entirely sure how I was going to use Minecraft as a learning tool in my classroom. I am very familiar with the game but to me in the beginning it was just that, a game. But with every path forward there is a journey. I decided to choose to do our students’ first projects about themselves and their family. The outline of the project would be that they would have to create a structure that represented something in their life that they were passionate about. For example, a lot of my students play hockey so their main building was an arena. Inside they had to include five different rooms with one being about their family.
Before introducing the project we talked about digital citizenship and proper use of Minecraft. The students then collaborated and wrote down rules they would like to see around using Minecraft properly in class. I feel that this was one of the most important discussions we had in preparing for the project, as talking with some of the other teachers who did not establish these rules in advance expressed that it was hard to go back and fix afterwards. Most students’ typical use of Minecraft is to create a destroy much like many of us used to do with lego back in the day. They need to know that this cannot be the case with their projects. I always tried to reinforce that this project is about the interactions with myself and others more than it is about the Minecraft. We are trying to create an environment with opportunities to use the French language and hopefully have some fun along the way.
I used the gradual release of responsibility to help students learn the vocabulary for this project. The vocabulary was introduced as whole class activities and they were given reference sheets with phrases and vocabulary that they could use during our project time. While working on the project, the expectation was that students would only speak French.
Eventually as the students became more comfortable with the vocabulary, the whole class activities progressed to small group, partner and individual activities using various different applications eg. quizlet, kahoot, Photo Dice.
During project time the sessions started out extremely quiet with little French being spoken but the more they used the language, the more confident students became and the more French I heard during ‘French Only Time’. I use this time to circulate around the class and ask students about their projects using the words & expressions that we have been working on. Students can refer to their reference sheets if needed. At the end of every week students are asked to upload a quick audio update in French to Google classroom on what they have accomplished that week (see example below). Being open-ended like this allowed students to show what they could really express in the language.
At the end of the project they were required to upload a shadow puppet recording, explaining their building using screen shots of their work.
Students were also given the option of completing this work using an alternative to Minecraft if they felt that Minecraft was not something they wanted to use. In the following example, you can see this student chose to draw and talk about herself and her family.
As we worked through this project our group encountered a few stumbling blocks along the way but surprisingly they were mostly technical issues and not project based. Our board uses a system that manages our iPads centrally from the board office which made it cumbersome at first to get Minecraft on all the devices as there was a time lag, as a request has to be put in and then it gets put in a queue until they push it to the devices.
The second issue with this is the app doesn’t update on its own and needs to be manually updated using the board’s web application. Updates need to be a priority as the app crashed a lot on old updates and different versions of the updates wouldn’t allow users to connect and work together in one world. One other issue is that all users working together in a world need to be on the same network. In our classrooms school computers are hooked to the main network and personal devices are hooked into the guest network. We had a few minor issues with students destroying other students’ work but I quickly reminded them that the project is about the conversations we are having with one another, more than the final buildings we produce. (See our previous reflections on challenges and possible solutions here.)
Overall I believe that this project has brought new life into the classroom. It provides an engaging environment for my students to have authentic conversations about something that they are interested in. The amount of French being spoken in class has been increased dramatically. The technology is versatile and allows them a forum where they can challenge themselves in a fun and engaging way and I will keep finding new ways to use it in the classroom.