Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

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Celebration of learning: #Davo2MEPS.

This year my class has been collaborating with Bianca’s class of year 7 kids from Davidson High School. During term 1 and 2, @Beyond57, as they call themselves on Twitter, would pick the images for our 20/30/50 word challenges, read our responses and choose a ‘writer of the week’ to whom I would would give a book reward in order to encourage reading and writing.

In term 3 they collaborated with my class on a picture book project by choosing digital images for the stories we had written, embellishing the narratives in some cases and transforming our stories into awesome picture books using a variety of tools such as Word, Powerpoint and Storybird. We published these books by ordering softcover copies of those made in Storybird, or simply colour printing and binding the other ones at Officeworks.

The culmination of this year of learning together came last Thursday when my wife, along with her lovely class of year 7 students travelled by bus over to Merrylands to read the picture books to my class, watch our Minecraft movies, eat lunch and play games together. It was great.

We started the day by getting together in my classroom and listening to my students present their Minecraft projects to year 7. They did so well and I was so happy to see how confident these little K/1 kidz were presenting their work in front of a whole bunch of ‘scary’ big kids. I got all emotional and honestly almost teared up while I was watching them present, like a big wuss!

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Students then got into groups and the Davo kids read the picture books to the MEPS kids. They planned short plays in which they reenacted the stories for the rest of the class in the MEPS ‘amphitheatre’! Some of my students’ parents had visited for the event and they were very happy to see their children read their stories and act out the narratives.

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Following this we watched some stop motion animations that were made by @Beyond57, had some lunch together, and said goodbye. My students had such a wonderful time, they told me that they wished the older kids didn’t have to leave. Again, I almost teared up as they left. What an awesome way to end a cool year of PBL.

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Project-based learning and #Minecraft mayhem: 5 epic videos made by my K/1 class.

So the year is coming to a close and I find myself madly trying to get everything done before I say goodbye to my wonderful K/1 class. This term we’ve been working on a couple of really cool projects; one on collecting data on the amount of waste around the school each week, and another about how kids can demonstrate their learning in the sandbox game, Minecraft. I think they’ve both gone really well, but I’ll tell you about the Minecraft project now.

The driving question for this project is, “How can K/1L show their learning in Minecraft?” and the project outline is below.

The idea is that students think about what they’ve been learning in class, either recently, or at any other time throughout the year, and build a representation of what they have learned. If you think about that, it might seem to some 5-6 year old kids like a tricky thing to do. In order to be successful, students have to know enough about a particular topic in order to write about it, build something in an abstract, 3D environment in order to represent it, and to plan, script and narrate a video walkthrough of their build in order to demonstrate what they have learned and made.

For this reason, it doesn’t seem that surprising to me now that when I first introduced the project many of the kids in my class looked at me like, “WTF – I don’t get it.”

This situation was easily rectified, however, by watching a whole bunch of YouTube videos together as a class, showing how other students had done similar things in Minecraft at school. With a bit of discussion, think, pair, sharing, it wasn’t long until all of my class had decided on something that they felt confident in building. Below I’m going to post the videos that my class have made with a brief description of what you will see in each clip.

Just briefly, could I please say that, in my understanding, an important component of project-based learning is supposed to be getting students to create a product of ‘real world value’, for a public audience outside of the school classroom. Now you might ask what sort of  ‘real world value’ a video about Minecraft could possibly have. I urge you to scrape even just a little under the surface where you will find a whole world of massively popular YouTubers (such as YOGSCAST, Captain Sparkles and  Tobuscus) who have made a name for themselves doing exactly that.

Anyway, here are their awesome videos.

Minecraft Maths Game

Now, I put that video up first because there is actually quite a lot to discuss. My students describe how the game works in the video, so I’ll let you watch that to find out, but here’s some stuff that we had to figure out together.

  • How do we make the game challenging? The questions get harder as you get through.
  • How do we put in aspects of chance and consequence? If you get a right answer, you get a new question. If you get a wrong answer, you go into a room with a horrible monster.
  • Why would you want to complete the game? You get a chest filled with goodies at the end.
  • How do we stop evil mobs from destroying the house? Set to /MobGriefing False
  • How do we stop players from escaping the house by breaking it? Switch to /gamemode 2

And many more. Problem solving central!

Equal Groups

For this video students really had to know their number of groups VS number in each group distinction. I think we got there. I love the excitement in their voices when they finish the video and the collaboration and support for each other you can hear in the group narration – beautiful.

3D Shapes Houses

This group had a pretty cool team leader who really supported the rest of her team get through. Originally they had decided to build 2D shapes but we realised that they had actually built 3D shapes with their houses and discussed what shapes they had built, revising space and geometry from earlier lessons throughout the year.


Another important aspect of project-based learning is student ‘voice and choice’. Now during the class discussions I mentioned earlier, one of the groups said, “We can teach people about dragons!” We hadn’t actually been learning about dragons in class but I didn’t want to crush their freedom of choice. We went on to learn about dragons, particularly the difference between traditional Eastern Vs Western depictions in mythical literature. They tell you in the clip.

Also, this team worked fantastically well together and were first to finish at every stage of the project. I attribute this to a number of things, such as joint interest in the project, task complexity and limited parameters around what they had to build – but also to extensive discussion around what makes a good team member, referring to the class poster below!


Silkworm Life Cycle

Early in the term I brought a bunch of silkworms into the classroom and we did the standard lessons around life cycles and tried to keep them alive. They died, but I like to think that they live on forever in this video and it’s great to see that my students have totally nailed the concept whilst being creative at the same time.

Anyway, that’s some of what my class has been doing this term with their project-based learning. We do have one more video to upload, I’ll update the post as soon as we can get it done.

Thanks for reading!


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My class is digging Minecraft. I’m digging ‘stealth assessment’.

Ever since my kids started playing Minecraft a few years ago, and beginning my teaching degree, I’ve been wanting to use Minecraft in the classroom. Way back in 2011, when my son was in his final term of year 1, he made this epic video on how to make a cannon in Minecraft.

For me, this clearly demonstrates how Minecraft can be used in and outside of the classroom for kids to meet a wide range of syllabus outcomes and, more importantly, demonstrate their learning in a way that’s clearly engaging and enjoyable for them. I wrote a blog post about this some time ago, and looking back at it, there is so much more that this game allows students to do that I didn’t even go into in that post. Anyway, like I say, I’ve been thinking about Minecraft in the class for a while and, luckily for me, I was given a folder towards the middle of last term which allowed me to get Minecraft up and running on the school computers.

At first I just kinda used it in a carrot on a stick fashion to motivate student writing. I set up a K/1L Minecraft world in which students were able to begin building their own houses, all linked to each other along a K/1L world cobblestone pathway. Students had to write blog posts for me, telling me what they were planning to build in our world, drafting them in their books for me to mark before posting them on their individual KidBlogs. This was fun and was quite effective in getting them to write and in increasing the volume and quality of their writing, but this term I wanted to do a little more group work with Minecraft by including it in this term’s project-based learning.

Some of my students are also in their final term of year 1, just like my son was when he made a screencast of his Minecraft work back in 2011, so I know that they’re capable of doing something similar. They’ve been doing #PBL for a while now, so their teamwork is pretty good, and I’m confident that my year 1s can help their kindy peers do what they need to do in order to get through what they need to do for the project, too. The project outline is below.

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Initially when I floated the idea of ‘sharing their learning’ in Minecraft with them, they all kinda looked at me with blank faces like, “What?” I tried speaking with them about what we’d been learning in class and all of the stuff we’d been doing in Minecraft. We spoke about what some of the other classes we have connected with have been doing and they were still like, “What?”

The thing that finally made it click for my students was sitting together as a class and watching a whole bunch of Youtube videos of kids that had used Minecraft in school and what they had done. I don’t have the links handy, but if you have a bit of a search around, you can find some cool stuff. We then had another discussion about what we had been learning and I asked my class if they now thought they might be able to think of something they could build.

Immediately one of my students said, “I could probably build equal groups”. Great! She is now in the Equal Groups team building stuff with her peers. At the moment I have 6 teams for this project, and the things they are building are 2D and 3D shapes, the silkworm life cycle, dragons, castles, the equal groups I just mentioned along with something that I think is really abstract and awesome – a maths game.

The game goes like this. You walk into a house and you are met with a series of signs telling you the instructions for the game. You walk on and find another sign with a maths problem. Behind the sign are 3 doors, each with a sign above them displaying a potential answer to the problem. If you choose the door with the right answer, you are allowed to pass through into another room in which you are met with another maths problem. The questions get harder as the game progresses. If you choose any of the doors with the wrong answer, you are locked inside a room in which you get attacked and killed by Minecraft nasties! It’s evil, sadistic and I love it!

So far this project has been really fun, and as an added bonus, it’s allowed me to formatively assess the kids on a range of topics in a non-obtrusive and engaging manner, without them really even being aware that I’m testing them. For example, with the maths game group, one of the students said, “At first the questions will be easy like 1 + 1 and then they’ll get tricky like 20 + 20″. I explained to the student that people should be able to answer that easily just by counting by tens and that so should he and he was like, “Oh yeah!” and we decided to come up with questions that would challenge students of his age at maths. Now I have a really good idea of where he is at with addition and subtraction and how to extend him.

This is called ‘Stealth Assessment’ in the research literature – the notion of embedding good assessment within video games. You can read about here and here, I think it’s great.

Below are some screenshots of some of our builds, including our developing dragons and maths game! I can’t wait wait to get started on the screencasts and uploading them to Youtube. A cool way to end the year.

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Planning for project-based learning in primary school

Below I am going to post a .pdf of one of my typical programs for a primary school #PBL project. I’ve been asked to share this before and have previously given this link to Drew Perkins from the BIE, but I thought I’d also post it up here so that I can more readily look back on my awesome in years to come – lulz.







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You should be able to download the .pdf from the link above the photo, but failing that, you can get it via the link to the google doc here.

You will see that up the top, along with the project outline showing the DQ, need to knows, product and audience are a bunch of syllabus outcomes. These are here because, as a responsible teacher, I like to plan with the curriculum in mind. In actuality, not all of this content was explored as well as I would perhaps have liked, but it’s good to aim high! Also, as is always the case with #PBL, there is content that unexpectedly sneaks its way into the project, leaving you surprised and stoked with what has naturally and authentically been ‘covered’, with purpose.

I also like to plan for proper project-based learning, so you will see that I have outlined how the 8 essentials will be given the respect and consideration they deserve. As Bianca and I have said on numerous occasions, if you’re not including ALL of the 8 essentials, you’re not doing PBL. You might be doing elements of, but not the actual ‘thing’, ugh.

You will see that I have also attempted to give a weekly run down of what the class is expected to be doing. This is, of course, fairly vague and open ended because project-based learning is considerably less teacher driven and students are expected to have greater ownership over the learning process. If the program had a massive chart of explicit lessons, it would look like a traditional unit of work, not PBL.

To give an example of what I’m on about, I’ll briefly explain what’s happening with my current K/1 project which has unexpectedly become bigger than Ben Hur.

Last term we were working on some imaginative stories for a class of students in Wagga Wagga, NSW. I went overseas, the class over in Wagga were very slow in communications, and the project kinda went downhill. When I returned I started thinking about how I could ‘rescue’ the project and still keep it PBL. I decided to share the stories with Bianca’s year 7 class and we are going to publish them as a compilation of short stories with illustrations made by her class. We’ll be sharing them with our local libraries.

As we’ve an assembly item approaching, I thought it would be nice to perform one of the stories for the school. We have chosen our story and started practising and making costumes and props. I have had close to zero creative control over the process of costume and prop creation, aside from making a couple of templates for dragon wings and some of the complex Sellotape engineering required in order to keep them intact. You can see some of the works in progress below. What my little 5 and 6 year old students have done has truly astounded me. Powerful, student-driven #PBL #FTW.

No amount of lessons plans could have predicted that this!

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What’s the best design for a dragon trap? Introduction to PBL.

Today, Bianca and I went out to the Novotel at Rooty Hill to run a couple of workshops on project-based learning for the staff at Model Farms High School. We got there about an hour late due to a mix up with the directions, so the two workshops actually ended up being one massive workshop with around 50 attendees, lulz, but this is how it went.

As usual, we wanted the session to be hands on and to engage the learners in the process of PBL. This time, however, rather than getting teachers to see PBL through the eyes of a teacher by designing a hypothetical project for their students as we might usually do, we decided to have our learners see PBL through the eyes of a student. We did this by giving those present a Driving Question to guide their inquiry and having them design, create and pitch a product in order for them to demonstrate their learning  in response to that DQ – just like students do in PBL.

Of course, we ran through what project-based learning actually is, and Bianca gave her characteristically awesome presentation running through the 8 essentials from BIE, some tried and tested of our project outlines and examples of student work. We also ran through our preferred Discover, Create, Share model, pioneered by Jimbo and tested in primary school by myself and others. But what did exactly did we get attendees to do? Design a dragon trap, of course!

To complete the task, teachers had to pitch their design to Bianca and I at the end of the session. To facilitate and authenticity and significance of the task, we reluctantly assumed the roles of CEOs for Dragon Keepers Inc. We also generously provided a cheque for $1,000,000 to be awarded to the team with the best design – lulz.

The project outline for the day is posted below, along with some examples of the wonderful work of our magnificent students. We were honestly blown away by the creativity and ingenuity that came out in the designs, and by the collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills that were displayed throughout the whole process. People really were researching and discussing dragons and how to catch them, keep them alive (or kill them) and how best to pitch their finally decided upon best design!

We both walked away feeling that most present were thoroughly engaged and enthusiastic about their learning, walked away with a greater understanding of project-based learning and, perhaps just as importantly, definitely came out with some sticky learning about dragons and how to trap them. Well done, #FutureLearningTeam!

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Minecraft mobs and digital citizenship

Last week, I (at last) got around to working in Minecraft with my class. It really is an exciting milestone for me as it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Also, it’s related to a writing project (The #20WC/#30WC/#50WC) that I started with my class, and which has grown over the course of the year. You can check out what my class has done here.

Basically, kids write about the stuff we are doing in class, share it with an audience, and we get feedback from there to help guide us in what we should do next. I try to give my students a writing focus, but mostly this focus is to be interested in learning and writing. The kids have their own blogs, and these are commented on by kids from all over the country and around the world.

I love them all, but am particularly stoked on this one by a visiting kinder kid who came to my class this week for just two sessions.

The way it works is that students tell me what they plan to be building in Minecraft, they write it down in their books, I help them edit it, then they draft a post before checking it, correcting it and publishing it. After they have done this they get some time to work on their builds in Minecraft before coming back and writing another post about what they have been doing.

It’s been very engaging for both myself and the kids as I like to be in Minecraft building with them also. For instance, the kids kept getting lost when going between each others buildings, so I built a cobblestone pathway between them all and placed signs displaying who was building where – scaffolding at its best! You can see some screenshots of our fledgling K/1L World below.

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Something quite amusing happened this week, which was actually also quite serious form a six year old’s (or a teacher who knows anything about Minecraft) point of view – one of my students decided to spawn a wither! For anyone who doesn’t know what a wither is, it’s basically a three-headed skeleton boss mob which floats around shooting exploding skulls at anything it sees. They actually take a bit of effort to spawn – you need to find soul sand, place it in an upstanding ‘T’ and then place a wither skull on top. This kid knew what he was doing!

You can see the destruction they are capable of below. I spawned one in my own personal world and it went around shooting at all of the NPCs and other mobs that were hanging around. I tried to kill it with a diamond sword and the fight went on well into the Minecraft night – lulz.

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The incident in which one of my students spawned a wither actually provided an opportune ‘teaching moment’ in regards to digital citizenship and the effects that your personal online/virtual behaviours can have on the others with whom you are sharing that space. Immediately upon hearing, “Mr. Hewes! Student A has spawned a wither!”, I rushed over to the computer, shut Minecraft down and gathered students together to have a class discussion on digital citizenship.

I explained that withers are very destructive and that spawning one introduced the possibility that all of our hard work building could go to waste. I explained that no one would be allowed to reenter K/1L World until we figured out how to get rid of it, knowing fully that all I had to do was switch Minecraft over to peaceful mode and then back again. We discussed how what we do within K/1L World has effects on everybody else in the class and that we have to act responsibly. We discussed how the wither had already caused damage to another student’s home.

The kid who spawned the wither apologised to the class and we told him that we forgave him. He agreed to write a blog post explaining what had happened, that he realised it was a bad idea and to write what he had learned from the experience. In his post he is going to explain:

What happened.

Why it was not the best idea.

What I have learned.

The beginnings of that post is below:

I spawned a wither and it killed T’s home.

The wither destroyed some of the world. 

I learned…

I am currently about to start pushing kids a little bit harder for a greater quantity of writing. So I might get him to write at least 3 sentences for each section to make it his most epic blog post yet (I’m a meanie). Then he can get back in and play!


Project walls in the #PBL classroom.

Anyone who reads any of the stuff I post online would probably be aware by now that I’ve been getting into project-based learning for quite some time. One of things that I’ve found useful on this journey is having an active project wall for each of my class projects. I’ve found that project walls are a valuable reflective tool that increase engagement in the learning process for both students and teachers alike, and something that we constantly refer back to, even when the project has finished. As it’s something I like to do, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on how I go about this process.

Initially, obviously, you need a bare wall. It should be completely empty at the start of a project IMO because at this stage no inquiry has taken place and everything is new. From here I like to put up the project outline and the driving question. It needs to be as colourful and visually appealing as possible in the primary classroom cos let’s face it, no one wants to look at a boring wall.

Early last year, in Michael’s classroom, I had a little tiny project wall happening. Here are some photos. I’ve lost access to later ones which show the final thing (perhaps there are some on Instagram) but this is how we started.

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In the photo above you can see an example of the interactive project wall with the KWL I put up with Michael’s class to help us decide where to head with the project.

Later last year, when I moved over to MEPS to work with Ashleigh, we had a larger wall and really began to use it more interactively. We put up the project outline, as mentioned above, and would constantly refer back to it as a means of formative assessment, looking at which stage of the project we were at, which of our inquiry questions had been answered, which might need to be revisited, and from there, where to go next. We’d cross off (or circle) what we had done and use that information to decide where we were headed.

For this project, we also started using a collaboration rubric which was also posted on the project wall and referred to when were engaged in team work or collaborative activities. I’ve posted about this before, so if interested, you can dig back through earlier posts to see how that went. Sadly, the photos of this wall are saved on an external hard drive in an iPhoto library which lags terribly when I try to access the photos. I can now understand why some have significant gripes with storing images in this type of library and must look into alternative storage.

Anyway, I feel that this year my walls have really taken on a life of their own. Below is a photo of the project wall for my term 1 ‘Awesome Aussie Animals’ project. I’m particularly proud of it, and we still actively use it in class.


This is the finished product, but as you can see from the photos of Michael’s wall, the whole thing starts off bare, and grows as the project progresses from start to finish. On the wall above you can see the project outline on the left, the Driving Question down the bottom, and a whole bunch of student work everywhere else. The little words posted everywhere are a bunch of student generated nouns, verbs and adjectives that we learned throughout the project and we still refer to them as we revise these grammatical features for use in our other writing. The laminated pictures on the right of the wall are the slides we used for our final product, a series of paper slide videos made for a kindy class over in Indiana.

There is also a teamwork rubric on this wall, with student developed criteria, that we still actively use in class, so yeah, some things move from class to class, year group to year group.

At the moment I’m in the process of rescuing a creative writing project that went awry last term as I left to go overseas about halfway through. This is a wall still in development.



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