Author Archives: Katherine Mihial

Does Technology Enhance Learning? Read to Learn More…

Today’s debate topic discussed whether or not technology enhances student learning. As a spectator of this discussion, I felt tugged back and forth for and against this debate. This topic was a great opening presentation for this class because it is the essence of educational technology in schools right now. Some may view this debate as simply black and white, however, I find this divide is very grey.

Here are a few of the notes I took from each side of the opening statements.

Agree: Technology DOES enhance learning.

  • Access to information that is up to date, relevant, and from multiple different perspectives.
  • The ability to facilitate learning by differentiating instruction, engaging students with hands-on learning and utilizing different programming.
  • Opportunity to connect with others that may be in remote or far away locations where in-person visits would not be possible.
  • Preparing students for the realities of life outside of the classroom. Using technology in everyday life and the workplace.
  • Technology is not only enhancing education, but it is enhancing every single sector that humans interact with daily. For example; health care. “If in 1970 you had knee surgery, you got a huge scar. Now, if you have knee surgery you have two little dots.” – Sarah Kessler 8 Ways Technology is Improving Education.
  • Supported by the provincial government as it promotes collaboration, teamwork, and increases individual tech skills.
  • Allows access to differentiated assessment, adaptations, modifications and assistive technology for students that required additional needs to be successful in the classroom.

Disagree: Technology DOES NOT enhance learning.

  • The largest complaint is that technology is a distraction to students and their learning. Students struggle to regain focus on the task at hand when being bombarded by the devices that they are using.
  • Students aren’t retaining information as well due to attempting to vigorously copy notes down verbatim, instead of handwriting shorthand notes while actively being engaged in the lecture or discussion. – Mueller and Oppenheimer
  • Students experience connection issues, failing devices, or extreme frustration when navigating so many different platforms and websites.
  • Real-life connections with other human beings have taken a back seat to artificial, online relationships. This has created extreme social challenges for all ages where students have difficulty communicating with others that are right in front of them.
  • Technology and social media have been keeping children and adults indoors more often than outside. This has had a direct effect on both mental and physical health with staggeringly high numbers of anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.

Like anything in our lives, a good rule of thumb is everything in moderation. Excessive amounts of television, video games, screen time, social media, anxiety, and work can be detrimental to all aspects of our health. On the flip side, excessive amounts of water, sunshine, exercise, and planning, (which are usually considered “good things”) can also have a negative impact as well. Extremes on both sides of the argument are never a good thing.

Our society has applauded those who can become “Master Multi-Taskers”, instead of rewarding those who focus on one task at a time and dedicate their full attention to it. We must be in three places at once, even if it is digitally, to be successful and please others. However, when we constantly multi-task, we essentially take longer to complete the tasks at hand due to distractions.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when I do have a specific reason to ask everyone to set aside their devices (“Lids down,” in the parlance of my department), it’s as if someone has let fresh air into the room. The conversation brightens, and more recently, there is a sense of relief from many of the students. Multi-tasking is cognitively exhausting; when we do it by choice, being asked to stop can come as a welcome change.

Clay Shirsky – NYU Graduate Interactive Tellecommunications Program

To build off of Nicole’s closing statement, technology in the classroom is not going away. We need to focus on teaching our students how to utilize technology in a way that actually does enhance their learning because it is interwoven into our daily lives. I strongly believe that the Saskatchewan curriculum requires a specific section on their website that address grade-appropriate outcomes for teaching digital students within the classroom. Just like we assess relationships in Phys. Ed, we can assess the ability to use tech tools in a responsible and effective way. We already are expected to teach digital citizenship within my division, however, it is not regulated and I have to find extra time to meet the needs.

All in all, technology does enhance learning opportunities for students when used effectively. The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education finds that technology can produce significant gains in student achievement and boost engagement, particularly among students most at risk. When teachers are given the proper training to be able to teach and continuously revisit digital citizenship and digital literacy with their students, they can use technology as an enhancement for learning, not a replacement for it.

A look into my daily use of Technology.

When I think about what a “day in the life” looks like for me regarding technology, the first thought to pop into my head was the 9 to 5 theme song (praise Dolly Parton). I use technology from the moment I wake up, until I go to sleep. The 9 to 5 workday has blurred the lines between our professional and personal lives thanks to having direct access to all of our files, contacts, conversations and information all in one place. The pandemic heightened the need to be able to connect digitally, however it became almost an expectation to have instant responses regardless of the time of day or day of the week.

I’d like to compare my use of technology to my husband’s because it is clear that opposites attract. When it comes to digital applications, I am someone who cannot have unread notifications on my phone for very long. My husband has over 2000 unread emails on his email app and it kills me slowly every time I see it. My hundreds of OneDrive files are neatly organized into subjects, units, assignments and so on, and my husband has 50 random documents on his desktop from 2011 to 2022. I believe that people who use technology in both their personal and professional lives have an advantage compared to those who don’t. This is simply because of exposure to multiple different applications and the time spend using the programs and devices.

Technology has completely embedded itself in my daily life. As a younger millennial born in 1995 I grew up with technology as it was evolving from the chunky, slow, desktop computer, to the state-of-the-art smartphones in our pockets. I also identify with a lot of “Zillennial” pop culture content a.k.a my love for Tiktok, but I still remember a time when technology did not rule our lives. I have learned and grown alongside technology. I have a decent understanding of utilizing technology both in my personal and professional life and I continually learn new tools and platforms as they become available.

A normal morning for me looks like this Monday-Friday.

6:30 AM – The alarm goes off on my iPhone sitting on my wireless charger stand with my iWatch and Airpods (Sorry to the androids users if you’re reading this)

7:00 AM – Listen to music through my iHome speaker while I get ready for the day and make breakfast (Big Swifty over here waiting for a double album drop on Friday the 13th…fingers crossed) During this time I have also checked numerous apps such as the weather, news, and apps with notifications and probably sent a message or two.

7:30 AM – Listen to a podcast through my apple car play on my 30-minute commute to the city from my home at Last Mountain Lake (Today explained, Papaya Podcast, Social Studies Podcast, Dear Hank & John, DST, Unlady Like just to name a few).

8:00 AM – Arrive at school, enter my classroom, turn on my projector, log in to my school device and open the numerous websites that I use on a daily basis as a teacher who has gone mostly paperless planning-wise.

  • Planboard (Online day planning website)
  • MSS for attendance
  • Seesaw (Student portfolio & digital assignments)
  • Outlook – Emails from staff and parents
  • Microsoft Teams for morning announcements
  • Powerpoint for Morning Meeting
  • Wordle & Canuckle for our daily word game

Before my students have even walked in the door I have set up my day utilizing technology and it doesn’t stop there. However, I still like to have a balance of both hands-on learning, physical copies, and digital learning within the classroom. Throughout the school year, my students have gained so many new digital skills, and my hope is that they transfer those abilities to their future classes.

I am consistently connecting with people in a digital way. My students and I connect digitally through Seesaw, and during the height of the pandemic, we connected in a way that we never thought possible. The skills I acquired during online teaching have been transferable to my online master’s classes such as this one. I connect with coworkers and parents digitally mostly through email. And, I connect with friends and family through various social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and Tiktok.

I know that for my own mental health, having some time away from my devices serves me very well. I often feel that I have so much screen time during the week at work and at home, that I really try to take advantage of the weekend and stay off of the computer, limit my scrolling time and enjoy a tv show or a movie distraction-free with my phone sitting in another room. I am starting to think that a scheduled digital detox would be something to consider when I am feeling at my lowest. I would love to hear if anyone has similar or different daily experiences than I do regarding technology use. Maybe it’s less, maybe it’s more. Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts!

OneNote, Canva & Minecraft EDU

Before I begin, I really have to thank my grade sixes for their incredible participation and enthusiasm when embarking on this journey of exploring OneNote, Canva and Minecraft EDU all within a matter of a few months. This group of students of mine are so excited when I introduce new digital projects and assessments that it makes it so easy to try new programs with them. Their ability to navigate new programs within a few classes is truly astonishing. I know that both myself and the teachers before me have provided them with adequate media literacy and digital citizenship education to make this possible.

OneNote

This semester I had my students work with OneNote for the first time. We worked on a digital novel study/read out loud instead of working traditionally with pencil and paper. We only have two more chapters left and then we will be finished with the book! The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau has been an engaging and thought-provoking dystopian novel to read with my students. We plan on watching the feature-length film next Thursday before the Easter break. Students completed weekly reflections about the novel and even engaged in using the collaboration space for online group work. Some of the challenges that we faced were accidentally deleting text boxes, images, and even whole pages. We learnt quickly how to lock items so that the students wouldn’t lose their work. Often time because our wifi can sometimes be poor from day to day, students would have to wait a very long time for all of their pages to load when I would distribute them out to the class. I found that I needed to distribute the pages at least an hour before we needed to access them as a class. I will continue to use OneNote with my students and in future years. I want to explore using it in multiple subjects and having them share more with their peers. To wrap up our read-out-loud, students will be creating a digital comic strip using StoryboardThat and then sharing it with our collaboration space within OneNote.

Canva

Canva has been a great tool for students to be able to showcase their creativity while still having that digital component be a part of the process. The eductor version of Canva allows teachers to review, comment and submit student work right within the website. I don’t have to sift through emails or search for documents because it is all in one convenient location. Students have created posters, infographics, and even videos that have been so fantastically done. They created posters about the 7 sacred teachings and infographics about infectious diseases. Once they grasped how the program worked, they were figuring it out quite quickly. Students have learnt what it means to download something as a PDF, PNG, JPEG or MP4. All of which can be very confusing when they don’t know why there are different file types. Most recently, I have a handful of students that are using Canva to create an informational video for their Saskatchewan Virtual Heritage Fair project. I am so proud of these students for choosing a project platform that was new and for taking the risk!

Minecraft EDU

Lastly, Minecraft EDU has been a top hit in the classroom as of late. When students hear that they get to complete an assignment or create a project using Minecraft EDU there is always a celebration. Students have also learnt valuable skills such as screen capturing and screen recording. We have been able to meet speaking outcomes without the intense pressure of a class presentation. Students have created an outdoor campsite for fire safety, a narrative comic strip, and explored a sustainable city. The most recent activity that the students were working on in Minecraft EDU is building their own Catholic church. Being that it is the season of lent, I wanted the students to focus on the actual building of the Catholic church since many of them have not been spending much time in the physical building due to the pandemic. We watched a few explainer videos about the differences between a chapel, church and cathedral, and what gothic and historic architecture has looked like over the past couple of thousands of years. The student’s church has some specific requirements, however, they also could add anything extra that they felt would go above and beyond the expectations.

Creating Beautiful Things with Canva

To complete my personal journey through media, my third digital platform that I wanted to investigate more thoroughly is Canva.com. I have personally been using Canva for about a year now. I have created both personal and professional projects for myself and have found it very user-friendly, full of great templates and inspires my creativity. I have created items such as wedding and shower invitations, seating arrangements, visual graphics for previous classes, classroom decor and posters, personal business advertisements, and a summary of learning video from ECI 831.

Personal Creations

Canva For Educators

Having much success on my own, I wanted to dive into the educational side of Canva that they recently released for educators. I applied for the educator version of Canva which allowed myself and my students access to all of the premium features on Canva for free. The educator version also allows the teacher to add all of their students to the class, and any project that they create they can share with you, receive feedback, and download files to share them on other platforms as well. I have my students download their projects and upload them to Seesaw activities for their parents to view and to include in their digital portfolios.

Project #1

The first project that I had my students create on Canva was creating their own 7 Sacred Teachings poster. Every month our administration focuses on one of the 7 sacred teachings during our morning assemblies (Love, courage, wisdom, truth, honesty, humility and respect). We often watch videos from the Grandfather teachings by Elder Hazel and discuss how we can incorporate these teachings into our daily lives. Each student chose which teaching they wanted to recreate for their own poster, and explain how they can demonstrate that teaching in their life. Here are some examples of their posters. Each teaching is represented by an animal. The students did a great job for this being their first experience with Canva.

Project #2

The next project that I had the students explore was creating an infographic. An infographic differs from a poster because the template is longer in size and allows for more space for information rather than just visuals. In health, we have been discussing infectious diseases. I had each student research an infectious disease, and then create an infographic explaining their infectious disease. This time around the students explored with more templates, graphics, text options and information. Again, the students really seemed to enjoy the process of creating a digital project just like I do.

Project #3

Lastly, my class will be participating in this year’s Saskatchewan Virtual Heritage Fair. The objective is for students to choose a topic related to Canadian heritage and complete a report on this topic and become an expert. Topics vary from the Canadian military to Tim Hortons, the Canadian Goose or even maple syrup. I gave my students the option of choosing a traditional poster, an essay, a PowerPoint or a video. Once students are complete, they will upload all of their files to the Heritage fair website and the committee will judge all of the projects. There is the potential for different age categories to win prizes and be recognized on a provincial level. For the students that choose the video option, I will have them use the video creator within Canva as I have previous experience with it. I showed my students my Summary of Learning video that I created in the fall of 2021 so that they could see what Canva is capable of for creating digital videos. Students will have to endure a bit of a learning curve to learn how to navigate the program however, I am willing to spend some extra time with those students that want the challenge of creating a video and stepping outside of their comfort zone. If you have any comments or questions regarding personal or professional use of Canva, please leave your thoughts below!

Using OneNote in the Classroom

During my personal journey into media, I chose to dive into the world of OneNote with my students. I had very briefly used OneNote with my staff members to book out rooms within my school building such as the library, mini gym and multipurpose room. However, I was merely just viewing and editing someone else’s notebook that they created. My goal for this project was to set up a class OneNote with my students and actively use it for a digital novel study.

Creating A Class Notebook

To begin, I first reached out to a colleague of mine to help create my classroom notebook. I had to go in and add all of my students using their school email and then choose some different settings such as having a collaboration space and creating a couple subject folders to get started. You can also add other teachers to your OneNote if you have prep teachers that wanted to utilize the same class notebook for your students. The nice thing about OneNote is that my students are already familiar with other Office 365 applications so they have some previous knowledge going into it. They can access it from any device both at school and at home which is helpful when students are away from school. Each student has their own space where only themselves and the teachers can see their work. I create lessons with the content library and then distribute the pages out to the students when I assign them.

Digital Read Aloud – City of Ember

For my next class read aloud I chose the novel “City of Ember” by Jeanne Duprau. This novel is dystopian fiction which is a different genre than the other books we have read this year already which have been historical fiction and realistic fiction. The story is about Ember, a post-apocalyptic underground city threatened by two-hundred-year-old aging infrastructure and corruption. The young protagonist, Lina Mayfleet, and her friend, Doon Harrow (the second protagonist), follow clues left behind by the original builders of the City of Ember, to safety in the outside world. I have been reading this novel to my class twice a week and on the days that we are not reading, they are completing their OneNote responses. We started out with book predictions and a class, and each week I distribute the two different chapters for them at a time.

This resource is from Tpt by “Nothing But Class” – https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/The-City-of-Ember-Novel-Study-Unit–4317953

While students were completing their weekly responses, they were learning valuable tech skills while using OneNote. I often spent the first few days helping students find different tools within the app and troubleshooting issues that they were having. Some common obstacles that the students faced were bringing their textboxes to the front and setting the picture as the background. Sometimes we had wifi troubles so then the students wouldn’t have to make sure they had a proper connection or else they would lose their work from the last sync. I also had students experiment with the drawing tool as some questions asked to draw a picture. If the drawing tool wasn’t for them, I also gave them the option of uploading images to their notebook as well.

This past week we got to the halfway point in the book. Now that the students have been practicing using OneNote for a few weeks I wanted them to try out the collaboration space by doing a small group assignment. I created a City of Ember Group Work folder within the collaboration space and assigned students to six different groups. Within these, each group had a different task that I wanted them to complete together. I did a class lesson explaining how the collaboration space works and that everyone in the class including myself, is able to see who typed what. I made it very clear that they weren’t to change or modify anyone’s work without their permission. I sent the students on their way to work together on their assignment and these were the results after about 30 minutes.

Obstacles

Some of the challenges that the students experienced were accidentally deleting content within the page. They knew to use the “undo” button however, sometimes they went into slight panic mode and they thought that it was gone forever. The students used different font colours for each member as a visual to see who answered which question. Each textbox leaves the student’s initials with it however, the colours are easier to identify. Another challenge we encountered was having OneNote “Conflicts”. This is when more than one person is altering a page at the same time and OneNote saves more than one copy of the original due to poor wifi connection. I had to go in on my end to fix this problem myself which had a simple fix once I found the solution. Overall, I was please with the online group work that my students were able to experience despite the challenges they had to overcome in the process. I will be using the collaboration space a couple more times within this novel study.

Once we finish our novel, which will be about a week before Easter break, I am wanting my students to do their final project using the website StoryboardThat which is a free online platform that allows students to create a digital comic strip using scenes, characters and objects that are all animated to tell a story. I will have my students choose a specific chapter from the book and have them recreate that chapter using this website. Then, I will have them upload their storyboards to the collaboration space on OneNote where we can share and view them with the class together. StoryboardThat has so many different tutorial videos as well that I plan on using to show my students what the program is capable of creating.

In conclusion, I will definitely plan on continuing the use of Class OneNote with my students. I hope to use it for some different subject areas and units before the school year is over. I know that the grade 7 and 8 teachers at my school also use OneNote, so I will be sending them students next year already having some understanding of how the program works. If you have any questions or comments about my experience with OneNote please feel free to leave a comment below!

Ethical & Moral Dilemmas in a Digital World

Navigating social media and social networks as an educator is to say the least…challenging for many. Whether it be managing your own personal accounts or integrating social media with your professional role, it can be difficult to understand where the lines are drawn and what is acceptable. This blog post will share my own personal journey with social media as an educator, while connecting to articles that share what information on policies, procedures and cautions that teachers should be taking.

Depending on who you speak with, views on social media in the classroom can vary from one extreme to the other. This is what can make an ethical dilemma such as this one complicated because our own personal morals can be tied to it. My goal has always been to fall somewhere within the middle. That middle has seemed to change even after taking a few different digital technology classes, as my digital presence as an educator has grown and changed over time. As discussed in a previous post of mine, when students Google my name, the main items to pop-up are my blog website and my educator Twitter account. Since recently changing my last name last summer, I almost reinvented my identity from my younger self. If you Google my maiden name, there are many others in the world with a similar name and not much is to be found regarding my digital identity. For others this is not always the case.

Throughout the teacher educator program that I attended, we were always made very aware that our social media accounts should be private to students, and if someone did happen to see your profile, it should be manicured in a way so that students, parents, and administrators wouldn’t be able to come across anything that they could hold against you. We were told that we should remove anything that shows the use of alcohol, drugs, texting and driving, provocative photos and even posts that reflect a strong political or ideological view. Teaches are curated to be seen as this neutral robot that don’t have lives outside of the classroom. It is unfortunate that we often feel like we have to walk on egg shells in fear of being ridiculed by the public. However, I’ve always erred on the side of caution and took these steps because I feared ever having to deal with an online issue. For most of my adult life I never had my last name on any of my profiles and have had a family friend feed. Social Networks can also bring up ethical issues for teachers who are ”friends” with their students. In the article, “Ethical Issues with Using Technology in the Classroom“, teachers may learn things about their students, like seeing posts about underage drinking. Student’s often don’t understand that they no longer have their right to privacy by posting online, even though they often feel anonymous because there is no face-to-face interaction.

Within my own classroom, I do not directly have my students using social media. In fact, I don’t allow any the use of personal devices during the school day as we are fortunate enough to have 2:1 laptop access. In grade 6, I have many students that do not have social media accounts or personal devices due to their parents own personal choices. I support the parents who want to delay the use of social media accounts at this age because they have they own views and experiences with social media. Even though I don’t specifically use social media with my students, I still incorporate it in the classroom. With this I also have to be cognoscente of my students who do not have certain media permissions. In Dylan’s article, “Beware: Be aware The Ethical Implication of Teachers using Who Use Social Networking sites To Communicate”, Henderson et al. (2014) point outs, “teachers should be aware that this consent might need to be renegotiated at regular intervals” (p. 3). Teachers have the responsibility to ensure that students (and parents) want their own virtual identities to be made public when using SNSs as a tool for communication.” We connect with our families on a regular basis using Seesaw and our school website. Students post pictures of their class work and assignments and I post classroom activities and memorable moments. Parents can only view and comment on their own children’s work which makes it a very private digital space for families to interact with the classroom and their teacher. Using tools like this can prepare students for the use of social networking sites in the future.

I share my personal TikTok, Twitter and blog information with my students because those are the platforms that I know can be viewed by my students. The content I share on them is educational, and to share my love of our dogs. Other platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are strictly for my personal use. If I come across an interesting TikTok video that is relevant to something we discussed in class or that I think they would enjoy, I will save it and show it together through the projector. Moving into the world of digital media classes has started to change my perspective on social media in the classroom. Since creating my blog and teacher twitter account, I have felt a bit more secure in my professional online presence. I share my Twitter handle and blog address with the parents and students so that they can see a positive example of me engaging with social networks. My believe my students connect with me on a deeper level when they see me positively engaged in the online world. It is important for teachers to choose what is most comfortable for them when navigating the ethical and moral dilemma of social media in the classroom and for their own professional and personal use.

Making Sense of Media

When I reflect on my own interpretations of information, media and the world around me, it is easy to forget how many years of learning and experience have gone into establishing the critical thinking skills I now have as an adult and professional educator. Growing up with the internet wasn’t always a walk in the park, as concepts such as digital privacy, security, and cyberbullying weren’t closely monitored. I relied on what I had learned from school, what my parents had taught me and what my friends perceived as right and wrong.

I very vividly remember sitting in my elementary school library at an Apple desktop computer (the orange, pink, green, purple and blue ones where you could see through the semi-transparent plastic- oh the nastalgia) and being taught how to enter keywords into a search engine and how it affected your searches. This simple, yet important lesson would expose me to the endless lists of results one can get when searching for information and how overwhelming it can be to decipher the grand amount of information. I remember thinking that this was such a basic concept, however little did I know that it would be just the beginning of my “Googling” journey that would set me up for the rest of my academic schooling.

Another memory that I have from this middle years time period is not understanding the ramifications of what “Copying & Pasting” meant. One of Shirsty’s articles that she shared “Ethical Issues with Using Technology in The Classroom“, discusses how students are confused that copying and pasting is plagiarism. My eleven-year-old self was absolutely guilty of this and it didn’t seem to be taken seriously by my institutions until my final years of high school and university years. I felt a rude awakening entering my first semester at the U of R and having no clue what is meant to create a citation in APA and MLA formatting. In part, this is largely due to the creation and utilization of online tools such as “Turnitin”, which allows educators to digitally screen for copyright and plagiarism within a student-created document. Now as a master’s student, I have an annual subscription to Grammarly which checks for plagiarism within your documents and also has the added benefit of grammar and spell checking my writing. This program alone has enhanced my academic writing and I learn more from it each and every time I use it.

Today, interpreting information and media has become a daily task of using critical thinking skills. One has to identify the source of the information, check the date of when the information was published, do background checks on authors and creators to see if they are a reliable source of information, compare facts and information, then make a decision on how to interpret it. It’s a lot! We are doing this at an alarmingly fast rate thanks to social media. It can be difficult to look through the lens of a critical thinker every time you open up a Facebook article or watch a Tiktok video. As a result, it is easy to fall victim to false information, and then share and pass on information that might not be entirely accurate, or even remotely true. We as both educators and parents have to teach children that just because they read or watch something online, doesn’t mean that they can always trust it. We have to teach these skills to them so that when they navigate the online world they can feel safe and make educated and responsible choices when consuming and creating content.

As a millennial, I was not only responsible for learning along the way when it came to my own personal journey with navigating the digital world and interpreting information and media, but I was also teaching the generations that came before me. My parents and grandparents relied on me to teach them how to use their first smartphones, laptops, Ipads and so many apps and programs. Yes, they had basic skills of typing, word processing and email, but that was the extent of it. I very often would get phone calls from my dad or my grandma because they needed help figuring something out on a device and I was always happy to help because it seemed to just come naturally to me.

Today as an educator, I often feel that because I grew up as technology was evolving, I just naturally learnt how to use these devices, navigate programs and decipher the information. But in reality, I was either taught formally or learned through trial and error. I have to remember that my students aren’t necessarily coming to school with a foundation of knowledge and skills that I expect for the classroom. I have to show them and guide them through the process of learning by experience. They will make mistakes along the way. That is inevitable. But, the more we can prepare them, the more successful they will be both at school and in their personal lives when making sense of this big complex world around them.

Progress With Minecraft EDU

Over the last couple of months, my students have been experimenting with Minecraft EDU in the classroom. I would say for the most part it has been a very positive experience. There will always be bumps in the road when navigating new digital platforms, but the most exciting part of this Minecraft journey is how engaged the students were throughout the entire process. To the point where it is the only activity they want to do if they have free time with technology at school.

The first activity that we did as a class was “Sustainability City”. I wrote about this in my previous blog post about Minecraft if you would like to check it out. This was a guided exploration through an already created world where students learnt about sustainable food production, water treatment, green buildings, and much more. This directly connected with our social studies unit at the time for grade 6 resources and wealth.

The second Minecraft Edu lesson that we explored was creating a campsite. In health, we learnt about outdoor safety and survival. To wrap up this unit I ask the students to create a campfire/campsite on Minecraft. This was their first time building within Minecraft and using the Screenshot feature within Minecraft Edu. They uploaded their project to Seesaw and included what was needed to create a successful campfire.

Lastly, to wrap up our comic book unit in English Language Arts, students were to create their own interactive comic strip using Minecraft. They screen-recorded using screencast-o-matic and explained their story, and then uploaded it to Seesaw. This was a great opportunity for students to practice their speaking skills and experiment with recording an audio project.  

Check out both of my videos to see the progress! I hope to continue using Minecraft EDU throughout the rest of the school year and see how we can utilize it in different ways and keep the students engaged in exciting lessons.

Literate Eh?

Oh boy. What does it mean to be literate? Well, the basic and straightforward definition traditionally means to be able to read and write. A more in-depth thought on someone who is literate can also be the ways in which we think about reading and writing. But there is so much more to it. In Canada, we take for granted that we have the charter of rights of freedom that states that students have the right to receive free quality education K-12. Most children on average learn to read and write in the primary grades and then continue to enhance and master their skills throughout their schooling. We have discussed in great detail already what it can mean to be digitally literate and media literate. I believe that one can be literate within any sector. Having a foundational understanding of writing, reading, math, science, media, physical activity, health, finances and so many others, creates well-rounded critical thinkers. This is our utlimate goal for our students in my opinion.

When I think of the word literate it brings me back to my undergraduate studies. I majored in Physical Education and Health Studies at the University of Regina and it felt like I spent five years studying what it meant to be physically literate. I even have a SPEA (Saskatchewan Physical Education Association) poster that says “You are not fully literate until you are physically literate” which many have probably seen in their gymnasiums in the past. I remember as a young grasshopper in my pre-internship feeling immense pressure to hit my essential learnings in my lesson plans that were tailored towards physical literacy. I really tried to teach physical education in a way that was not directly sport-dominated so that all students felt like it was a safe space where they could enjoy different curricular activities with their peers without being picked last for the dodge ball team. I always believed that you weren’t physically literate just because you were an athlete. There is so much more to physical literacy than being able to dribble a basketball or swing a bat. I had students that didn’t participate in any sort of organized sport, however, had a lot of experience in other aspects of physical education such as outdoor pursuits or promoting a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable for the long-term.

Another example of literacy that I have been diving into lately with my students is mathematic literacy. This year after our fall professional development institute, our school purchased a set of ten Wipebooks for each class that wanted them. These portable and lightweight flexible dry-erase sheets allow students to work collaboratively with others but more specifically, vertically instead of horizontally. The Thinking Classroom is a model of educational instruction created by Peter Liljedahl. The idea is that when students are standing up, working vertically, with partners, and with an erasable marker, they are more likely to try math problems without the fear of making mistakes or getting the answer wrong. The theory is based on ten steps. The steps that I try to always include are; random groups, vertical wipebooks (I have a ton of command hooks around my room and the students can set them up themselves), oral instructions only, defront the room (kids are on every wall in the classroom), lots of hints and extensions, and diagnostic/formative assessment. It is amazing to watch the most math-resistant kids writing on the boards and participating in the problems. All of a sudden the playing field feels more even and less intimidating. I have been using this as an introduction to new topics in math units, review for assessments and brain breaks. The units where I use wipebooks with the students, I see a positive influence on their workbook assignments and quizzes throughout the chapter.

When students first learn how to read and write, they are developing crucial building blocks for their personal literacy. Once students have the basic skills in reading, writing and math, the possibilities start to become endless for extending these literacies. When students are taught critical thinking skills when becoming literate in reading and writing, these skills transfer to everthing else they do. When it comes to digital literacy, students fall back on the skills they already have regarding reading and writing in the traditional sense. However digital literacy involes a host of other skills required to be successful and not fall victum to fake news and these days even some proganda.

Chris B’s article from this week describes to us that we often like to pinpoint our Fake News problem on technology, rather than our ability to teach and understand information literacy. Sure, technology can aid in helping sift through information that is clearly biased, but it can only do so much. Instead of investing in information literacy, technology giants are investing more into fact-checker programs, blacklist content and algorithms. “Why is it that a teenager in their parent’s basement halfway across the world can anonymously post a statement to social media falsely attributed to a head of state and have that commentary go viral, spread to the mainstream press and even influence international political debate without anyone stopping to ask whether there is a shred of truth to what they are reading?“.

This is where having a multitude of different literacy abilities helps us navigate the world we are in today and the one that we will be experiencing in the future. We can’t control everything that is put out onto the internet, but we can control how we interpret it and if we decide to share it. If Covid-19 taught us anything, it is to think before you share or tweet because Click-Bait headlines are there to trick us without reading the entire article first.