Friday, October 24, 2014

Two Heads are Better than One:
Building Big

            In this week’s class, our students were taking their Minecraft building to the next level. They had completed their houses; now it was time to go bigger.
            The theme of the last two lessons is Building Big. The students examine examples of ancient and modern large scale architecture from all over the world, from the pyramids of Egypt and Cambodia to the buildings of Antoni Gaudi and Frank Lloyd Wright. Then, working in partners or independently, students build a structure designed to stand the test of time, something that represents who they are for posterity to remember.
            We saw some great collaborative work on these structures. Nicholas and Charles created a “massive mancave” with Nicholas using the keyboard while Charles used the mouse. Yating and Winnie made a two-level music studio with bright colored walls. Jason and Jason made a large diamond structure. Hayden and Wilson created their own version of a pyramid, experimenting with TNT to clear the environment for building. Matilda and Alda worked independently, with Alda digging a massive trench in the ground for her structure, and Matilda building an enormous temple with Dubai-esque proportions.
            Perhaps the best part of this Minecraft project is how collaborative it becomes. Even those working independently are bouncing ideas off each other. They’re breaking things down and iterating through their designs seamlessly. All the lessons of the past four weeks have led to this moment, where the group can work in teams.
Collaborative activities require the highest level of culture and team building to be successful. The fact that students feel comfortable working in teams shows how far we’ve come from day one, when we could only get two kids to talk!
            We’re looking forward to our grand finale for Module 1. Then on to Module 2 and a new set of students!

            We are so thrilled to have this new partnership with BCNC and its Red Oak After School program that brings us back to ARCK’s roots in the Josiah Quincy Elementary School.



Monday, October 20, 2014

STEAM and our Students' Goals

The New Year’s Resolution

“It was my New Years’ Resolution to do Minecraft this year. Now I can fulfill it!”
-Matilda, 4th-Grader, Josiah Quincy Elementary School
            Matilda is one of the fourth graders in my STEAM class, which ARCK is currently running at Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown in partnership with Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center’s Red Oak After School program.
An outspoken girl, Matilda told me during our second class that she was so excited to use Minecraft finally, because it was her New Year’s Resolution to learn to use this building platform. Her statement really spoke to me, because it articulates how much students want to have STEAM (adding Art to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) experiences, whether they call it “STEAM” or call it fun. At the same time, the fact that Matilda thought it could take an entire year to reach this experience shows how few opportunities some students have to really engage with meaningful STEAM experiences. This is the reality for many students in the Boston Public Schools, whose families cannot go out and buy every new product or afford technology summer camps.
            Minecraft may seem to be simply a game to many people, but that’s sort of like saying that fire is good for light. It’s true, but that’s not the whole story. Minecraft was modeled after LEGO. Its creator imagined a world of infinite LEGO blocks, available at your fingertips, on your computer, for pennies compared to the cost of that many LEGO blocks. No issues of storing physical blocks, no stepping on painful cubes on the carpet -- just pure, unadulterated creation. If you can imagine how LEGOs could be used to engage students in engineering, science, technology, art, and math, then you can extend those same principles to Minecraft, and then some.
            Similar to LEGO, Minecraft has the kid “cool” factor. I somehow doubt that if I sat a group of fourth graders in front of CAD software that a student would remark that it was her dream to plug vectors into a program. Fourth grade students aren’t ready to jump to that level of complexity without some intermediary steps. Minecraft allows students to model designs in 3-D without having to use formulas beyond their current math knowledge. I have taught Minecraft to 5-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 50-year-olds, and everyone in between. It’s versatile, it’s adaptable, it’s open-ended, and it’s easy to learn. Students think it’s cool because they can make and control their own world. What student doesn’t want to be ruler of their own fiefdom they designed themselves?
            From Minecraft “cool” comes passion for making ideas become reality. STEAM is fueled by this passion. Some might question the pedagogical decision to start with a game to teach STEAM instead of using beakers and lab coats or something more stereotypical of the field. By starting with Minecraft, students can lower their affective filter, and foreign concepts can become concrete.
Here’s an example: As we explore technical drawings, students can better understand that “bird’s eye view” by flying above their house in Minecraft. Students can see how three dimensions are so different from a flat piece of paper. Students can set up chain reactions to demolish their buildings! All of these concepts in engineering come alive in Minecraft.
After playing Minecraft, I see students becoming more able to engage with these concepts in their drawn art. Their technical drawings improve. Overall art quality goes up. And, of course, with art and STEM blending together, we’re bringing in multiple modalities to accommodate all types of learners.

            In our second lesson with Red Oak, we made one girl’s goal for the year come true. We can’t wait to see who else is inspired by our STEAM module in the coming weeks!





Thursday, October 9, 2014

ARCK and STEAM with Red Oaks and the Quincy School!

ARCK is offering a free pilot STEAM program to the Josiah Quincy Elementary School 4th grade students in collaboration with the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center in the Red Oaks after school program:

We had our first day of classes at the Red Oaks after-school program on September 18th! Our lead teaching artist Ms. Chesbrough and our in-class mentor Mr. Case met our new group of 4th grade students from the Josiah Quincy School and kicked off our pilot STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) program. This is the first time that ARCK has partnered with the Red Oaks after school program and we have been working hard leading up to this first day to create an exciting and engaging program. At the start of class, we got to know one another, discussed our community standards and the goals of the day. We talked about Minecraft and the overview of the class and students shared their personal connections to Minecraft.

As a group, we watched a portion of the TedTalk, “The Danger of a Single Story” by Chimamanda Adichie. We talked about identity and assumptions that people can make about others. As a way to further consider these ideas of identity and personal feelings, we created self-portraits and showed things we cared about and hoped other people would see about us. At the end of class, students shared their work and practiced our reflection and group feedback protocol.

Through 2 sessions, each 6 weeks long, this free pilot program will teach STEAM principles, including iterative design process, through imaging, designs in Minecraft, technical drawings and other engineering principles. Using Minecraft as the medium for the digital component of the program, students will use iterative design principles to create their own work, revise it based on personal critiques, and remake their projects. Minecraft is a sandbox (open learning environment) game where students have their own world with trees, hills, desert, water, etc. They can modify this world however they choose, building houses, temples, castles, skyscrapers, tree houses, the possibilities are limitless. Over the six weeks, students will develop foundational skills through activities designed to support sequential learning. Students will create and design on the computers with the Minecraft program as well as with drawing materials and sketch pads/paper. By incorporating such a wide range of skills, media and materials, the lessons will be accessible to a wide range of learners.

To keep this STEAM program in line with the core values and mission of ARCK, each lesson will be focusing on student identities, backgrounds and perspectives in various ways. Examples of culturally appropriate and poignant images, architecture and stories will help drive and inspire the design process. By creating a safe space for student collaboration, reflection and sharing we create opportunities for students to share their cultural perspectives and to authentically connect with the content and each other.


This program furthers students’ leadership skills. Each student is a leader of their own project and must explain how their project meets the challenges of the lessons/activities and the objectives of each class. In addition, students have the chance to collaborate on their projects and take on leadership roles within team interactions. Given the small class size, students have the opportunity to make their voices heard and share their perspectives on the design process and their artistic choices. Through design, public speaking and culturally sensitive critique, students learn critical 21st century leadership skills. The lessons presented through this STEAM program ask students to consider their views and thoughts about the world and their community. By asking students to think about and design structures that could live in their community and influence those around them, we are building on students’ understandings of civic engagement and active citizenship. By presenting students with opportunities to dream big about the influence and change they could create among their community, we are encouraging young people to view themselves as active agents of change in their communities.