Monday, November 3, 2014

End of Module 1

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow
End of Module 1

“Can we get Minecraft at home, Ms. Chesbrough?”

I think I answered variations on this question about twenty times the last day of Module 1. Everyone was finishing up their monuments and big structures. Some students created pyramids, others an “epic mancave”, an “apartment” turned music studio, a massive indoor swimming pool in a cave, an underwater labyrinth secret lair, and even a huge statue of themselves. Students worked in pairs to collaborate and build “big”, getting out of their comfort zone and exploring how Minecraft can allow students to create on scales that are impossible or impractical to accomplish in the real world in a short amount of time. Keep in mind, students had only two hours total to build these massive structures in Minecraft, meaning they were on task and intensely focused in order to finish.

When the structures were complete (or when students had run out of time), we began our last closing circle. We reviewed our new vocabulary from the module (“three dimensional”, “technical drawing”, “stereotype”, “identity”, and “monument” were just a few of the words students learned). Then, we discussed how the class had developed. For some students, in just six total class hours they went from having never used Minecraft to building large-scale projects in Minecraft. Others had already used Minecraft, and for them, this class had been an opportunity for them to hone their creativity and building skills and to share their expertise with others. It was amazing to compare our first opening circle with this last closing circle. In the beginning of the module, only two students felt comfortable talking to the group, and some weren’t even comfortable sitting with the group, choosing to be on their own instead. By the end, everyone was contributing to class discussion, everyone wanted to show their work, and everyone felt included.

Our survey results showed students were overwhelmingly excited about this STEAM class. All students felt positive about STEAM fields at the end of the module, and six felt more excited about these fields than they had initially. While these results were fantastic, we were also proud of the individual growth our students made. One of our students was so shy on the first day that she wouldn’t speak to anyone, teacher or peer. She didn’t feel comfortable on the computers and felt this class would be “boring” and “hard”. By the end, not only was she working with a partner on her project and speaking up in discussion, but she said on her end of module survey that she was very excited about the same STEAM subjects she had disliked just six weeks ago. Stories like hers are the reasons I started this course. By bringing art into STEM, this student was able to harness her aptitude in other areas, to bring her passions into building and design. Instead of giving her STEM instruction that was dry, devoid of creativity, formulaic, and “boring”, to borrow her words, we gave her a place to explore and develop her own positive relationship with this content.

While Minecraft sounds like all fun and games, all students had issues to resolve throughout the design and implementation process. First, there were the distractions. Should I start building, or do I want to create 500 pigs? Do I start on my project, or do I critique my neighbor’s work? Minecraft gave us, the instructors, the chance to discuss the importance of self-regulation, knowing when you are on-task and when you are not. Moreover, students who were off-task quickly learned that they could not finish projects in time, and then they wouldn’t have their dream idea finished for the class to see. There’s no shame in being half-done, but often these students reflected that they wished they had something that really showed their friends how talented they were. This issue of time-management is a crucial life lesson, and this class offered a great opportunity to experience it.

Also, as any adult can confirm, working in pairs can be a challenge unto itself. Students had to negotiate with their partners on the design and come to consensus. How many beds should be in the building? What color should the walls be? Should we have a lava lake outside or a water lake? How many secret lairs do we want? These were just some of the debates going on throughout the module. As an instructor, my role was one of facilitating these discussions. I never made the final call; instead, I carefully led students through negotiating, talking about how one person can get one thing their way, but then the other person should have a turn doing something the way they want. Alternatively, both students could agree on an idea, or get rid of it. These discussions helped teach students lessons in collaboration and mediation.

Overall, from teaching STEAM to teaching personal and interpersonal skills, this module was an
overwhelming success. The students wanted to know when we’d be teaching this in their school, and
they wanted to keep designing on Minecraft “forever”. This course exceeded my wildest expectations, given it was the first time we had taught this curriculum. I am so excited to take this momentum from Module 1 and continue to Module 2. Next week, we will have ten new students and another opportunity to transform STEAM education.