It doesn’t happen very often that an idea for an elective class drops fully developed into your head like Athena springing from Zeus full grown and wearing armor, no less. When it does happen, of course you expect that such a precocious brainchild will flow smoothly and go well all the time. You know, raise itself. Just work, because it was such a great idea.
So, when I heard that my Stage III colleagues (2nd-3rd grade) were studying Ancient Rome starting in January, I caught my breath because I KNEW what elective I was going to offer. Here’s the course description, in all its glory:
Minecraft for Romans
Recreate a historically accurate ancient Roman town using MinecraftEdu. We will research the buildings and layout found in Roman towns, and collaborate to build it in Minecraft. Students will use screencasting to film guided tours of the town and buildings to share on Family Night. No previous Minecraft experience is needed to take this class.
Easy, I thought. I’ll make a wiki so all the sections can collaborate with ideas and information. (I’d never created a wiki before.) The kids will be so excited to have the opportunity to play Minecraft in school that they will be eager, focused and super cooperative.
The funny thing is, I run a Minecraft Club after school, so I should have known that when kids are excited, it’s because they think they are going to be able to do what they want to do, which I have now learned includes running off in a random direction until they can’t see you or anyone else anymore, digging holes just because, pretending to mine another player’s face, and casually destroying anything that someone else built because they have a better idea.
And I’m a tech teacher, which means I should know by now that when it comes to learning a new technology “just-in-time” to use it in an actual class, the learning curve is high and under a ton of time pressure because, well, it has to work tomorrow when the kids show up. So of course I launched into Wikispaces and made about a hundred pages I didn’t need because I hadn’t thought through the whole process and because I didn’t really know exactly what I did need until the kids showed up. (Okay, maybe I exaggerated. Probably only 15 or 20 pages. It just felt like a hundred.)
Kids approached this class like they would a playdate, and it took a lot of time and constant redirection to move their thinking into school mode. But I can say (looking back now) that they figured out how to collaborate by doing it. And by messing up. And by getting upset at a friend who messed up their house, who only did it because theirs got messed up. And by slowly seeing that as cool as doing your own thing is, it’s actually cooler to see what you can do together.
We are still in the midst of our growing pains, but I’m seeing progress. And isn’t that the point? I’m learning, the kids are learning, and together we are starting to make that idea look potentially pretty good after all.