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Listerine Guy

“I love what I do.” This statement is made time and time again by individuals in respect to their professions. It is an important component of life health. Enjoying your work aids in mental health. Enjoyment can also result in the demonstration of enthusiasm for what we do. It is this overt enthusiasm for our subject matter and our jobs that is important in teaching. Students are very observant and when enthusiasm is demonstrated in your teaching practice they notice. A question our staff is asking is how to decrease the apathy that students are showing towards school. In an article by Murray Mitchell entitled Teacher Enthusiasm: Seeking Student Learning and Avoiding Apathy (2013), he forms a link between the enthusiasm demonstrated by the teacher and the excitement that results in the learning process by students within physical education classes. I find that when I am sick or tired and am unable to participate in classes (at all or on a limited basis) the energy in the class is significantly lower. Students who are less motivated to engage in the activity will use the opportunity to withdraw from the class. Individuals that are traditionally highly motivated to engage in the sport will be less excited to play. My enthusiasm has a direct consequence on the engagement of the learner.

Our school administration goes through a process of asking all teachers what they would like to teach. Although not every teacher ends up with exactly what they request, this process allows for the majority of our staff to teach courses they enjoy. The enjoyment of the subject matter is important. Equally important is the ability to demonstrate that enthusiasm to the students. Mitchell (2013) provides an assessment tool for enthusiasm in his paper that can be used to self-evaluate or be used by students to provide instructors with feedback regarding the perceived enthusiasm of instructors.

It may be hard at times to model enthusiasm due to a number of outside influences. One key aspect of demonstrating that Murray (2013) discussed was the importance of preparation. Teachers can show that they are excited about the topic or subject matter simply by demonstrating that they are prepared for the lesson. PE teachers who have equipment ready and in working order for the day show a higher level of readiness than those who ask class what they want to do and pull out equipment that may be in disrepair. Modelling effective preparation and continually striving to demonstrate an enthusiasm for your subject matter will lead to a decrease in student apathy and an increase in enjoyment by your students.

Mitchell, M. (2013). Teacher Enthusiasm: Seeking Student Learning and Avoiding Apathy. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance84(6), 19-24.

One of our cohort members (Keith) initiated a teacherless session with John Harris, an educator who has a rich history in engaging students in simulation activities. John began the session with a very important point: Taking students from consumers of simulations to creators of simulations and as a result displaying higher order thinking. He led us on a journey through some projects that he had students perform. All were very exciting, but here are three that I found to be of particular interest.

1. Lego Robotics Challenge – http://www.lego.com/en-us/mindstorms/learn-to-program

Lego provides you with free software that you can complete various missions for your robot to complete. It is an easy interface to understand and allows users to create simple or complex movements for the robots. A robot pack provides users with sensors (colour, touch, beacons) and motors along with various lego bricks to create pre-designed robots or using your imagination to create your own.

What is interesting about this is that you can simulate a real world problem and use the lego to program solutions into your robots. This allows students to experience the process of problem-based learning and integrates computer programming and robot design into the experience.

2. Flight Simulation Challenge

In this challenge, students were asked to create a plane from a pre-shaped styrofoam glider that would be capable of climbing to an altitude of 1km and maintain a level flight path. Students were provided a POV (point of view) HD camera, wireless transmission system, and various servos that the operator could use to navigate the plane using real time video. The important aspect of this simulation to me was the concept of linking the challenge to other areas of curriculum including math (hight of flight based on ground object size from video) and social studies (geography-mapping).

3. Minecraft Gold Rush SImulation

Students were presented with a scenario: create a working immersive setting in minecraft from research on the gold rush. Students created constraints within the game in order to simulate what happened in a town during that era. The constraints placed on the simulation were important for this reason: When students build in Minecraft with a purpose it results in a simulation experience, but when they deviate from the prescribed outcomes it just degrades into playing the game and the education outcomes are lost.

Reflections

This type of project-based experiential learning is very exciting. It allows students to interact with subject matter in a more meaningful way than typical classroom education has been. Simulations also allow for the expression of learning in a way that deviates from the teacher-centric model to a teacher or student supported model where individuals may become the expert in a given area. It also allows students the opportunity to own their own learning and demonstrate that learning to a general population group rather than a closed (school) environment, which has implications for accountability as well as student buy-in.

I have a few concerns with some of the simulation experiences John presented, but are primarily logistical in nature.

  1. This seems to be a cost-prohibitive program to run. With more research and understanding of the equipment I am sure it can done at a reasonable expense, but with shrinking funding at most public institutions I am hard pressed to see how a program like this will be established in such a fashion as presented in this session.
  2. It is an intimidating undertaking. The expertise to at least feel comfortable with some of the fundamental programs can be a challenge. I feel comfortable with technology, but still feel intimidated with the thought of beginning a program like this. You would need someone with the requisite knowledge to begin a program of this nature.

Summary

It is a very exciting prospect to engage students in simulations. I would like to see if it would be possible to implement on a very basic level as the problem-solving aspect of what was presented makes so much sense for student success. I would like to know more about the programming of restrictions within Minecraft in order to keep students on task as I have begun using Minecraft in class and experience issues with off-task behaviour (Simulation deteriorating into game behaviour).

During my current semester in my masters program our cohort has been using a google community to share work, upload screen captures of our weekly sessions, and communicate asynchronously around our shared learning. In using this platform for myself I began to see the merits for class. It would provide a space for students to review material presented in class and allow them to upload and share ideas and learning tools they have found. Google communities can be open (shared freely to anyone) or closed (shared only with those of the group). A discussion around the merits of open vs closed in class resulted in our biology 12 class preferring to have an open community to share the collective learning of our group with others. What follows here is a review of the initial startup and use of this space as a collaborative area to learn.

Initial Thoughts

When starting the group for my class I had visions that all students would actively use the space to contribute to the curation of learning resources for the class. It would be an area that students could go to if they were struggling on a concept and find extra resources to help them. Students could also ask questions of others, including myself, if they had found the day’s information confusing or difficult to understand.

Set-up and Beginnings

Google has made their community space very easy to use and creating the community was easy. All you require is a google+ account and you are set. Beyond the initial set-up of the site, attention to FOIPA details had to be worked out as well. A document modified from another school district outlining use of a website hosting data outside of BC (Canada) was created and returned by students that were going to use the site. A small bump in the road occurred during this stage as one student has not been granted access, but after a conversation with the parents a compromise has been worked out that will allow access through a moderated account by the parents.

I created categories that corresponded to the units of study and began to add video content to the site via YouTube links. This is all very easy to perform and takes little time to do. All that was left now was for students to begin adding to the community.

Reality Hits

No one is using it! I continued to go to the community daily to check in with the hopes that students were adding content or asking questions. Nothing showed up. I was sure this was going to be a useful tool for my class. To say I was disappointed would not be an understatement. I planned to ask the class why no one was using the community (well at least using it the way I had intended) when students began to ask if our presentations could be added there to review. I agreed and began to add slideshare presentations to the community. A few classes went by and I began to notice students were actually using these presentations in class to follow along on phones. They were still taking notes and drawing diagrams from the board, but were more effectively engaging in discussions in class because they did not feel as though they were going to “miss” anything during the presentation. Cool, an unexpected divergence from the initial reason I had set up the space.

Going Forward

I still hope to see more engagement on the site itself. Students are looking at the videos and using the resources I put on. One student explained that they had notifications turned on so they  would know if a new post had happened and found it useful to keep up to date. I hope that students begin to add their own materials so that the space can grow and be more useful in the future. I am debating whether or not to create a new community for every biology 12 class to see if other classes use it differently or if it needs to be left as a curation tool for other classes to add to. Having all the information already existing could be a positive for the new class, but also may be hindering new ways of thinking because they may rely on pre-existing ways of using the space.

A number of years ago I remember walking through our learning commons at lunch to see what the students were up to. On almost every computer that was being used I saw students playing a very pixilated online game. It looked like a very crude, early 80’s nintendo game and I wondered why it was so appealing. Having little time to put into finding out, I dismissed it as “just a game” at that point. Little did I know it was such a creative, educational and process based game called Minecraft.

Fast forward to my current masters cohort. Minecraft is discussed with great regularity and enthusiasm by many of the group members. At first I was somewhat dismissive, but as more time lapsed I became more intrigued with the idea of understanding the platform more. I currently teach a computers 8 class in our school and have focused on increasing the students’ capability to search google effectively using search operators, effective use of documents in google drive and microsoft suite, and introducing them to creative aspects of computing using garage band and video editing software. Although this is providing them with useful tools to aid in many other courses in their schooling, I was interested in learning more about how Minecraft works in order to see if I could integrate this into our learning.

I have a student in class that has shown a waining interest in what we are currently doing and one day in the hall I asked if he “played” Minecraft. “Like, yeah. Um, all the time” was his reply. I though I was going to get that response and asked if he would show me some basics about the platform in class next day. “Wow, a teacher wants me to play Minecraft in class?” he said. “No” I replied, “I want you to teach me how it works.” The following is a breakdown of what he presented to me in class. It is a very basic introduction to the program and I hope that with this beginner knowledge I can at least understand how to use it in class in a way that provides meaning to the students who all have much more knowledge than me.

Although Minecraft is an online world that can be interactive, you first begin by downloading the program onto your computer (www.minecraft.net). Once you have installed the program, you create an online profile. This takes very little time and you are now up and running. The start screen (shown Below) allows you to choose Single Player or Multi Player. I began using this in single user to adjust to a new game.

Minecraft Start Screen

The next screen allows you to create a new world. I kept my Game Mode:Creative (although there are more options) and clicked on More World Options… to create a world that was superflat (see image below) as it was in keeping with the town of Hope that I was going to build.

Create New World Screen

Once the world is created it is now time to build. Movement around the world is easy, with a(left), s(backwards), d(right), and w(forward) keys that are pretty generic to many first person type games. The e key accesses your inventory in order to create different blocks. You have a multitude of options here to create semi-realistic renditions of our world. The spacebar allows you to move upwards and a double-tap returns you to earth. Important for building tall objects.

I began to work on creating our town the next class and asked that any other student who was interested begin to help. I sat back and watched a number of interesting things happen:

  1. Students who had more knowledge of the game and building started to bark out ideas across the room to other students.
  2. Some students began to work in multi-player mode to work on buildings together.
  3. A number of students were struggling to get started. My tutorial student walked around the class to help out and log everyone in who was interested in participating. This was very unusual for this student as he is not generally interested in helping others much, but felt comfortable in his aptitude for the game that he was displaying much more confidence in himself than I had seen previously.
  4. Students who had rushed through projects or put less than ideal effort into them were suddenly working hard on this project. One student had, by the end of class, completed the skate park we have in town and the surrounding parking lot.

This was great! In just one class I had witnessed interactions between students that I was struggling to achieve during many other projects and even on a greater level than the video project we had done last term.

The next class continued like the first, with more students working on building our town. Bridges were constructed, roads emerged, and students had even completed components of our town at home. I have much to learn about the power of the game as an educational tool, but am so glad I took the time to be introduced to it by a student. A tutorial site by paulsoaresjr (https://www.youtube.com/user/paulsoaresjr) was introduced to me as well by my tutor and is a great resource as well.

I hope this helps any other newbie realize that the game is very useful, easy to use, and as complex and creative as the user can imagine.

During my last 8 years in the education industry the number of students that have been actively engaged in outdoor activities has declined. It is also a concern that time spent on sedentary activities have risen, leading to health problems in the population (Lou, D. 2014). Not only is sedentary behaviour affecting our health, but our country’s economic well being and the financial sustainability of our health care system (Bounajm, Dinh, & Theriault, 2014). While improved physical health is a very tangible and seemingly obvious benefit of outdoor activities, psychological health including stress reduction, improved concentration, and a more creative individual are also evident in children who spend more time in the outdoors (Novotney, A., 2008). With the growing urgency to improve youth activity levels and the percentage of time schools demand of students’ daily waking hours an important question arises: How do school systems increase student engagement in the outdoor environment?

A study by Sandra Hofferth (as cited in Novotney, 2008) showed that children ages 9-12 participated 50% less in outdoor activities from 1997-2003. Students are definitely moving in the opposite direction. A starting point for schools might be in the area of Adventure Learning. This are of education exposes students to individuals or groups actively engaging with the outdoors, coupled with interesting curriculum activities that support learning in the classroom. Can this educational technique actually increase student interest in outdoor activities? It may be a good first step in a continuum of learning experiences which in combination may begin a students’ excitement over the environment. What would this continuum look like? Here is a working example:

Get Outside FrameworkClick for larger image.

 

I will begin to look at each of these areas in more detail to develop a more detailed model based in research that teachers can easily implement at any stage where they find students in class.

Lou, D. (2014) Sedentary Behaviors and Youth: Current Trends and the Impact on Health. San Diego, CA: Active Living Research. http://activelivingresearch.org/sites/default/files/ALR_Brief_SedentaryBehaviors_Jan2014_0.pdf

Novotney, A. (2008) Getting back to the great outdoors. Monitor on Psychology. 39(3) pg52.

Bounajm, F., Dinh, T., & Theriault, L. (2014) Moving ahead: The economic impact of reducing physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour. The Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care. http://www.conferenceboard.ca/press/newsrelease/14-10-23/moving_a_little_more_goes_a_long_way_report_finds.aspx