Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

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Buy them up and shut them down.

The title of this post comes from the lyrics of a Fugazi song entitled, ‘Five Corporations‘. It’s a song that is very critical of corporate behaviour and seems apt for what I’m about to write. Actually, I’ve been ‘umming and aahing’ a bit regarding whether or not to write this post, but I figure my concerns are significant and legitimate enough to warrant raising and also, as an educator, my responsibilities lie first and foremost with my students, and not with any alliances to corporations (to which I take pride in having none).

You can say what you like about corporate interests in the education sector and whether or not you agree with them, but the fact is that they are there and are likely to remain. Where there’s money to be made (and with the purchase and use of educational technology there is), you are always going to see corporate interests. This is perhaps most obviously apparent with the presence in the Twittersphere of brand specific certified, distinguished and educational expert innovators. I have no problem with this per se, but I do think as educators with a duty of care to our students, we should be mindful of the intent behind such activity and critical enough to ensure we don’t ‘brandify’ our classrooms and encourage corporate allegiances among our students. I know that as a parent, I certainly wouldn’t appreciate my kids coming home with [insert brand name here] splattered across their school bags and hyper-present in their vernacular.

Now I’m not here to brand bash, and I consider myself to be relatively platform agnostic. I’m not loyal to any one brand in particular and use whatever form of technology I find works best for me to complete the tasks I need to complete. Furthermore, I believe that as educators it’s important for us to impart a similar approach to technology use in our students. Kids need to be flexible and familiar with as many forms of technology as possible in order to succeed in a world in which technology is increasingly omnipresent, and we certainly don’t encourage or promote this level of familiarity and flexibility by aligning ourselves with any one particular brand. A recent presentation made by some of my students shows just how I encourage this diversity of technological familiarity and flexibility.

However, in saying what I’ve just said, the reason I’ve been ‘umming and aahing’ a bit about posting this is because I’m about to be critical of one technological giant in particular. But as I’ve said above, this is not for the purpose of brand bashing, it’s to address what I consider to be significant and legitimate educational concerns which directly impact my educational practice and the students in my class. So here goes.

Recently Microsoft purchased MinecraftEdu, which is an awesome Minecraft mod, developed by teachers, for teachers, and which I’ve been using with my own class for the last couple of years. You can read an excellent post here by Wes Fryer, who raises quite a few concerns that I also agree with. In my opinion, Microsoft have, as my post title suggests, effectively bought up MinecraftEdu and shut it down. Whilst I agree with all of what Wes has written, I would like to also add some additional concerns to the discussion which weren’t raised in Wes’s post. I’m not quite sure where to begin, so I guess I’ll just list them as they come to mind.

Lack of support for mods

For those that don’t know, mods are modifications that users can make to the underlying structure and functionality of Minecraft to suit individual or community user needs. Mods can do anything from change the look and feel of the game to modifying how blocks function or behave as well as adding completely new items, creatures and other elements to the game. MinecraftEdu is itself, a Minecraft mod, and one of the beautiful things about it is that it is also compatible with various other mods that are available out there.

This is important from a teaching perspective because mods can be very useful. For example, my class recently completed a project on extreme environments (the project the above student presentation is about) and to enhance the look of the world for their screencasts we used a couple of mods which added animals to the world which resembled animals that would inhabit the environments they had researched. Last year my year 1 class built a city in MinecraftEdu and again, we added mods that added furniture for us to include in our city buildings.

Now, whilst these mods merely added extra creatures and blocks that changed the appearance of the game, there are other mods that change the functionality in important ways. A particular mod that I’ve enjoyed using in the last couple of years is ComputerCraftEdu. Also made by TeacherGaming (makers of MinecraftEdu) ComputerCraftEdu is a mod which adds programmable robot turtles and is great for teaching the students the basics of coding. I’ve used this in class, across the whole school as part of our weekly edVentureTime sessions, and as the basis of a weekly Coder Dojo that I’ve been running at school this past term. Mods have also allowed me to create VR content within the game (a work in progress) and I’ll be teaching my students how to do the same this term.

Unfortunately, with the lack of continued support for MinecraftEdu users, no further development of the game, and the recent development of Microsoft’s Minecraft Education Edition, mods like this are no longer supported. In fact, there is pretty much no support for mods with the new educational Minecraft software, and definitely no way to create awesome VR content.

Another downside to this is that children are often inspired to try developing their own mods when they come up with creative ideas for ways in which the game may be developed. I’ve seen students at my school working hard to change the appearance of the game to make a ‘texture pack’ of their own using Adobe Photoshop. Not only does this provide an opportunity for students to learn how to use some fairly technical software, by accessing the ‘back end’ of the game, students are also learning a lot about how computers and software are organised. In my opinion, taking away support for mods also robs children of some powerful learning experiences.

Equity issues

Currently Minecraft Education Edition only runs on either Windows 10 or Mac OSX El Capitan. Now most NSW Department schools are running Windows 7, and I have no idea when that’s going to change or how long that might take. This means that even if I wanted to run Education Edition, none of the laptops or PCs available to me at my school are capable of running it, and I see no change to this in the foreseeable future.

This means that I would have to rely on students to BYOD if we wanted to use the new software in class. Now I work at a school that’s classed as low SES, meaning that most kids couldn’t afford to BYOD, and those that can, are likely to bring bottom of the market range tablets that don’t run Win 10 or El Capitan which again renders them incapable of running the new software. So this means, coupled with the excessive licensing fees mentioned in Wes’s article, the fact that the new software only runs on Win 10 or El Capitan means (at least in my case) that in order for students to use the new software they have to:

A) be able to afford devices that run the compatible operating systems


B) attend a school which provides access to devices running wither Win 10 or El Capitan – i.e.  a private school.

For me, this is an equity issue which effectively prices my students out of the market when it comes to using the new software.

No server support

In addition to the cool teacher interface, MinecraftEdu has a really simple to use server interface which allows teachers to quickly and easily launch a class server for students to log in to. Again, this is not available with the new Education Edition software. While students can still play multiplayer and collaborate with their classmates via LAN, there is no hope of launching a server which can be shared with students from other schools.

This last term I have been lucky enough to share a global MinecraftEdu server with students from Melbourne, Wellington, Rome, New York and New Hampshire, and we hope to continue to expand upon this by getting more students and teachers involved. This has been made possible purely through the awesome server interface of MinecraftEdu. Another cool consequence of running a server that’s accessible to others is that students can also log in from home and access the world. Just yesterday I was on the server with a student who was coding at home during the school holidays. I was able to log in to the server and help her after receiving a Seesaw notification from her requesting some help with her code. Again, this is currently only possible with the server support provided by MinecraftEdu and another reason (in addition to those above) why I will continue to run with this software for now.

Now as I said above, I’m not here to brand bash, that’s totally not my thing. I’m just an educator who has been using this software effectively in my class for some time now and who is unhappy with some of the changes that have been made. I believe that as an educator it’s important to remain objective and independent from corporate influence and to be willing to critique educational software and provide an independent, non-corporate aligned opinion. Fundamentally, that’s all this is, my opinion as an educator who uses technology daily in my class.

I have friends and followers on social media who are aligned with and employed by Microsoft and and who may come on here and post in support of the new software, and of course, they’re welcome to. However, being aligned with a corporation of course means that you’re going to publicly support that particular company. As I’ve said before, I believe that as an educator it’s important for me to remain unaligned with any corporation and to encourage platform and device agnosticism in the sense that we should be flexible and familiar with whichever technology suits our current and particular needs and not to ‘brandify’ our classes. MinecraftEdu were essentially a DIY collective, just like Fugazi, and to be honest I really do think it’s a shame the way they were bought up and shut down.

There, I said it.

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My Giant, Arduino and Aurasma Enhanced Classroom Creeper!

So some time last year, as I was walking past a games store at a local shopping centre, I noticed a giant cardboard creeper placed in front of their reduced-price console games table. Inspired, and perhaps a little on the lazy side, I decided to walk in and ask if they would consider donating it to my classroom once they were finished.

I was somewhat surprised when the person I spoke to at the counter said, “Yeah, we’ve had a quite a few people ask about him, some guy has offered to pay us $50. Leave your name and number on this piece of paper and we’ll get back to you if and when he’s for sale.” <- Please note that these definitely were not the actual words he used but they were something along those lines, and you should get the gist.

I also put a photo of the creeper on Instagram, stating that I thought my year one class could probably make a better one, to which a colleague replied, “With their eyes closed!” Anyway, this was enough to get me started on making my own giant creeper.

To cut a long story short, it took way longer than expected, was really messy, at times complicated, and ended up involving more than the just the students in my class. You can see a whole bunch of photos of the creeper building process below; super fun!




A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on


Oh nothing, really. Just your stock-standard, boss level, creeper building shiz.

A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on


The epic of #AurasmaCreeper

A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on


Class visitor… #AurasmaCreeper

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A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on


We made a start on da chest and guts.

A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on



El complete. El comprende?

A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on



He’s done now, and I do reckon he’s heaps better than the one at the store, and as spawned out of the original plan, I’ve created some Aurasma triggers using screenshots of student work so that classroom visitors can use their devices to see some of the awesome stuff that students do in my class. Here is a shot of some principals using Aurasma to check out 1L’s work!

Finally, some randoms checking out #AurasmaCreeper. #MinecraftEdu Yeyeyeyeye!

A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on


I decided to keep going with it, and programmed an Arduino Uno Board with an attached Adafruit MP3 Shield, PIR sensor and 5V speaker to make the creeper ‘Hiss, boom!’ whenever somebody moves! I had to teach myself how to solder and all that type of stuff, but it was totally worth it, because I now have an interactive creeper in my classroom!




Creeper go boom. Now just gotta put it all inside his head.

A video posted by waginski (@waginski) on


#GiantCreeper brain assembly kit.

A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on



A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on



A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on



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A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on


Good Friday #giantCreeper brain cavity access door building.

A photo posted by waginski (@waginski) on



A video posted by waginski (@waginski) on

As you can see, it’s taken a long time, but he’s totally awesome! This term, I’m gonna start building a zombie with my year 4 class. The plan is to eventually have a whole bunch of mobs scattered around my room, all programmed to make their own individual noises whenever anybody moves, with Aurasma triggers of student Minecraft work stuck on all of their bodies. I envisage a visit to my classroom as being akin to stepping into a museum like the Powerhouse … in time!

I’m also starting an afternoon coding club this term, so hopefully #GiantCreeper will serve as inspiration for some of my students to learn more about coding and how to apply it in a fun and hands on way!

I just looked through the photos one last time, and realised this project has taken me about 9 months. When I started it, I thought it would only take a couple of weeks! To be fair, I didn’t originally plan all of the Aurasma and Arduino stuff, but hey, it happened.

If you’re interested in making your own, you can use the Arduino code pasted below (modified from this awesome Christmas wreath project) to program your own Arduino Minecraft mob. When motion is detected, it picks a track at random, most of which are the creeper “Hiss, boom!”, although there is an ‘Easter egg’ in there, a five second snippet of the Creeper Revenge song by Captainsparklez, which plays every once in a while and totally excites the 4H Creepers!

Happy makering!!!



This is an example for the Adafruit VS1053 Codec Breakout

Designed specifically to work with the Adafruit VS1053 Codec Breakout
—-> https://www.adafruit.com/products/1381

Adafruit invests time and resources providing this open source code,
please support Adafruit and open-source hardware by purchasing
products from Adafruit!

Written by Limor Fried/Ladyada for Adafruit Industries.
BSD license, all text above must be included in any redistribution
#include <MemoryFree.h>
// include SPI, MP3 and SD libraries
#include <SPI.h>
#include <Adafruit_VS1053.h>
#include <SD.h>

// These are the pins used for the breakout example
#define BREAKOUT_RESET 9 // VS1053 reset pin (output)
#define BREAKOUT_CS 10 // VS1053 chip select pin (output)
#define BREAKOUT_DCS 8 // VS1053 Data/command select pin (output)
// These are the pins used for the music maker shield
#define SHIELD_RESET -1 // VS1053 reset pin (unused!)
#define SHIELD_CS 7 // VS1053 chip select pin (output)
#define SHIELD_DCS 6 // VS1053 Data/command select pin (output)

// These are common pins between breakout and shield
#define CARDCS 4 // Card chip select pin
// DREQ should be an Int pin, see http://arduino.cc/en/Reference/attachInterrupt
#define DREQ 3 // VS1053 Data request, ideally an Interrupt pin

Adafruit_VS1053_FilePlayer musicPlayer =
// create breakout-example object!
// create shield-example object!

* PIR sensor tester

int ledPin = 13; // choose the pin for the LED
int inputPin = 2; // choose the input pin (for PIR sensor)
int pirState = LOW; // we start, assuming no motion detected
int val = 0; // variable for reading the pin status
unsigned long detectTime; //the time we started the app, compared ot millis
unsigned long resetTime;

//this array is initialized once, randomly selected in the loop
//Instead of using a random load of MP3s from the file system, I ran into problems after looping through the filesystem about 10 times the board would lock up
//I believe there was a problem opening the file system over and over again to query for random files
//secondly, I have files on the system that I dont want to play
char* myFiles[]={“track001.mp3”, “track002.mp3”, “track003.mp3”,
“track004.mp3”, “track005.mp3″,”track006.mp3″,”track007.mp3″,”track008.mp3″,”track009.mp3”,

int randFile; //random number variable
char MP3; //variable for MP3 filename

//the time we give the sensor to calibrate (10-60 secs according to the datasheet)
int calibrationTime = 15;

void setup() {

Serial.println(“Adafruit VS1053 Library Test”);

resetTime = millis(); //set reset time to millis and start counting

// initialise the music player
if (! musicPlayer.begin()) { // initialise the music player
Serial.println(F(“Couldn’t find VS1053, do you have the right pins defined?”));
while (1);
Serial.println(F(“VS1053 found”));
//musicPlayer.sineTest(0x44, 500); // Make a tone to indicate VS1053 is working at startup

pinMode(ledPin, OUTPUT); // declare LED as output
pinMode(inputPin, INPUT); // declare sensor as input

//give the sensor some time to calibrate
Serial.print(“calibrating sensor “);
for(int i = 0; i < calibrationTime; i++){
Serial.println(” done”);
Serial.println(“SENSOR ACTIVE”);

if (!SD.begin(CARDCS)) {
Serial.println(F(“SD failed, or not present”));
while (1); // don’t do anything more
//Serial.println(“SD OK!”);

// list files
printDirectory(SD.open(“/”), 0);

//show the array of mp3 files
int mp3ArrSize = 20; //get the array size
Serial.print(“MP3 Array Size: “);
for (int arrelement = 0; arrelement < mp3ArrSize; arrelement++) {
// turn the pin on:

// Set volume for left, right channels. lower numbers == louder volume!
/***** Two interrupt options! *******/
// This option uses timer0, this means timer1 & t2 are not required
// (so you can use ’em for Servos, etc) BUT millis() can lose time
// since we’re hitchhiking on top of the millis() tracker

// This option uses a pin interrupt. No timers required! But DREQ
// must be on an interrupt pin. For Uno/Duemilanove/Diecimilla
// that’s Digital #2 or #3
// See http://arduino.cc/en/Reference/attachInterrupt for other pins
// *** This method is preferred
if (! musicPlayer.useInterrupt(VS1053_FILEPLAYER_PIN_INT))
Serial.println(F(“DREQ pin is not an interrupt pin”));


void loop(){
val = digitalRead(inputPin); // read input value

randFile = random(20); //set random number value anything between 1 and 20 so we can select from our array of MP3s

//select the MP3 from our array of MP3s using the random number just generated
char* MP3 = myFiles[randFile]; //select one of the filenames from the array

Serial.println(MP3); //show us which MP3 we selected

if (val == HIGH) { // check if the input is HIGH
digitalWrite(ledPin, HIGH); // turn LED ON
digitalWrite(ledPin, HIGH);
digitalWrite(ledPin, HIGH);
// we have just turned on
Serial.println(“Motion detected!”);
detectTime = millis();

if (!musicPlayer.playingMusic==true){
if (! musicPlayer.playFullFile(“track002.mp3”)) {
Serial.print(“Could not open”);
while (1);
if (! musicPlayer.startPlayingFile(MP3)) {
Serial.print(“Could not open”);
while (1);
Serial.print(“Start Playing “);



//if its been more than 15 seconds since no movement checks about once each second, stop playing
if ( (millis() – detectTime) >= 15000){
Serial.println(“No motion for 15 seconds”);

val = 0; // we start, assuming no motion detected
detectTime = 0;
Serial.print(“******* freeMemory()=”);

//the following is used to reset the board every 30 minutes in case it got into a funky loop
//I don’t think it was useful but left it in
if ( (millis() – resetTime) >= 1800000){

void(* resetFunc)(void)=0; //declare reset function at address 0
if (!musicPlayer.playingMusic==true){
resetFunc(); //call reset


/// File listing helper
void printDirectory(File dir, int numTabs) {
while(true) {

File entry = dir.openNextFile();
if (! entry) {
// no more files
for (uint8_t i=0; i<numTabs; i++) {
if (entry.isDirectory()) {
printDirectory(entry, numTabs+1);
} else {
// files have sizes, directories do not
Serial.println(entry.size(), DEC);

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.41.36 am


Minecraft across the curriculum: K-6.

A few weeks ago I presented at a teachmeet at the the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, AKA the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. The topic was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) + X (STEM+X). The idea was to share some of the things you have done and/or are doing in your classroom or workplace around integrating STEM with other KLAs, for example, a STEM and PE project would be STEM + PE.

When I was asked to present, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share how I’ve been using Minecraft in my classroom over the last few years and how it really can be used across all subject areas. Just like the ‘play’ within the game itself, what you do with it in the classroom is only limited by your own creativity and that of your students. Below I will share some of the cool things that my students and i have done and how they link to KLAs across the curriculum.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 7.43.23 am


Above are some screenshots of some science projects that I have run with my students. Last year, my students completed a project with the driving question, “How can K/1L show their learning in Minecraft?” One of the groups made a representation of a silkworm life cycle by building the different stages and then sharing a screencast and overlaid audio to demonstrate what they’d learned.

Now, not only does this video demonstrate sound knowledge of stage 1 science outcomes, it also demonstrates how my students have achieved outcomes in the English syllabus by creating multimodal texts and reflecting on their own and others’ learning.

The other screenshots are of the seven buildings my year 1 class made during a science project in which they had to build a city in Minecraft. The driving question was, “Can mini MEPS people design a dream city?” Again, this crosses outcomes across both the science and English syllabuses. There was even a bit of stage 1 mathematics in there as we discussed the different areas and volumes of the buildings and had to count and measure distances between windows and doors with pinpoint accuracy. Plus it was loads of fun. My class still love visiting Lionfish City!

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 8.28.25 am

Technology and Engineering

Above are some screenshots of some work done in a Minecraft mod called Computer Craft. With this mod you program a little computerised turtle to build and dig for you. I made mine build a house for me and at the moment I have students from year 1 through to year 4 working regularly on Thursday mornings and within my year 1 class on a Friday to challenge themselves to do the same. Some of them are up to the point where they can get it to build four walls, and I will be teaching them how to write a ‘for’ loop in Lua so they can get the turtle to change inventory slots when it runs out of blocks.

It’s a really cool mod, because unlike more basic programming tools like Scratch, you can actually switch between  a visual, block style editor and a programming editor which allows the keener kids to get a sense of what’s going on with the actual language itself. If kids can understand that, then they are taken a decent step towards a proper understanding of programming.

Now, computer programming isn’t in the NSW primary curriculum yet but there is strong talk to suggest that it soon will be, and kids who are doing this kind of stuff in Minecraft are already ahead of the curve.

 Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 8.43.48 am


I have been using Minecraft a lot this year for extension in mathematics. For example, if a kid in my class totally nails what we are working on during our first lesson, there is no need for them to be sitting with the rest of the class who need further practise or additional (pardon the pun) help from me. In many cases I set them a Minecraft challenge, such as building a clock to show me a certain time to the half hour (as above) or showing me the difference between two numbers by building a series of towers and writing the number sentence on a sign (as above).

As with the videos shown above in the science section, last year my K/1 class made some maths themed Minecraft videos in order to demonstrate their learning. One group made houses out of 3D objects such as rectangular and triangular prisms, another shared knowledge of equal groups (multiplication), while another made a truly impressive and remarkable maths game in which are presented with a series of addition problems which increase in difficulty as the game progresses. Watch the video to see how it works. Again, these videos cross outcomes across several KLAs.

So, that’s the STEM stuff covered with Minecraft, how about the + ‘X’? Well, my friends, read on to find out!

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 9.09.16 am


I’ve already mentioned how making videos in Minecraft is great way to work with the English syllabus. There’s a lot of teaching and planning that goes into each video as kids storyboard and write scripts to plan for what they will be saying over each video. Of course, as they speak over each video, they have to make sure what tey are saying is clear and audible – hence, talking and listening!

Above are some screenshots of videos about Minecraft castles and dragons made by the K/1 Koalas last year. We read a bunch of stuff about castles and dragons and watched a whole bunch of videos to make sure we knew enough about each topic to speak over our videos. Again, it was loads of fun. Who wouldn’t want to learn about castles and dragons!?

My students also do a lot of writing about what they do in Minecraft. You see screenshots of a Minecraft story written by one of my students very early in the year using Storybird, as well as some great writing by another of my students using Kidblog. It’s a cute little Minecraft love story which she wrote at home and then brought in to school so she could type it up on her blog and search for digital images to add to it.

I also teach my kids to search for images that are ‘labelled for reuse’ so that they are aware that it’s inappropriate and illegal behaviour to go around breaking copyright laws. All this at age 6!

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 9.47.34 am

Visual arts

Now, there are any number of ways you can link art with Minecraft. You could get kids to do cool Minecraft paintings and artworks, or you could get them to make some interesting visual art themed builds based on their favourite artists. The limit is only placed by how creative you are in your thinking.

With my class, I decided to make an epically large, life sized gigantic creeper out of cardboard boxes and papier mâché. It took weeks and we had heaps of fun and made A LOT of mess. I still need to finish off the ‘pixels’ on top of his head and make it waterproof with some outdoor acrylic varnish. The kindy kids at school want to use it to post sight words on and do a weekly creeper hunt to find him located in random spots around the school. See, there’s that cross-curricular Minecraft stuff in action again – sight words!

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.00.01 am


Above you can see screenshots of a video I made for a year 3 class a few years ago, all about sun safety. It’s all about a zombie who sets off to go fishing with his friend, Ralph. He is a very sun smart zombie and before he leaves the house he makes sure to put on his sunscreen and a hat. When he meets Ralph, he discovers that he is not so sun smart and has forgotten to protect himself. He subsequently bursts into flames!

I made this as a lesson intro but you could quite easily get students to make similar videos about a range of health related issues, such as healthy eating and hygiene. Again, the only limit is your creativity.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.06.55 am


More videos made by me. One is of a cute little Japanese song called ‘The Frog Song‘ which I learned with the same year 3 class for whom I made the sun smart zombie video. I made the song by tuning note blocks in Minecraft and linking them to pressure plates to walk across. I then took a screencast of me walking across them to play the song. The other video is one I made of note blocks being linked to red stone circuits in order to play the intro Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’, I got the timing a bit wrong, but hey, it was my first attempt and red stone circuitry is tricky!

I am yet to do this with a class, but when I do, I would love to teach them the frog song and get them to go and build it Minecraft using red stone circuitry, maybe when I get a stage 2 class. It will be loads of fun.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.19.37 am

21st Century Skills

By now you would have heard a lot of talking about the need for kids to be equipped ’21st Century Skills’ such as communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital citizenship and ICT capability. How do we teach these skills? The ICT capability component is quite obvious with Minecraft, kids need to be able to navigate their way around a 3 dimensional computer world, using computer controls, while learning basic coding skills and knowledge of things like ip addresses in order to log on to your class server. However, what about some of those other skills?

There is a lot of ‘incidental learning’ which takes place on a Minecraft server. For example, in the screenshots above you can see a wither (a three headed Minecraft monster which flies around shooting flaming skulls at anything that moves). Now, obviously you don’t really want one of these flying around your server shooting at everyone and destroying all of your builds. Last year, however, one of my students purposely spawned one of these creatures in our class world, and it set about causing destruction. This prompted a server shut down and a lengthy class discussion around what it means to be a good digital citizen. How your online actions affect the online experience of those who share the same space. My students agreed that the wither spawning had not been a good idea and the student involved went on to write an apologetic blog post about what he had done and why it had been a bad idea. A blog post by a year one student regarding digital citizenship!

I also run a school Minecraft club on Wednesdays and Fridays in which I set club challenges using a Minecraft challenge generator. The amount of collaboration, communication and problem solving which goes on in these short meetings as students work together to meet these set challenges is amazing. Sometimes I jump in the world to help them solve these problems, but mostly I’m just there in the background watching as they work through the challenges together, all the while creatively mining and building away.

So there you have it, these are just some of the ways I have used Minecraft ‘gaming’ in my classroom and I’m sure I’ll find more awesome ways in future. You can see my presentation below if you’re interested, but I’ve basically just written you through it. Thanks for reading!


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Using @SeeSaw to engage kids and parents alike.

One of my PDP goals this year was to improve my documentation of non-written, or perhaps more fittingly, non-worksheet based assessment. I spoke to my friend Pip Cleaves about how I’d been using Evernote as part of this process to photograph and annotate student work and how I’d been finding it OK, albeit a bit time consuming. Pip mentioned the SeeSaw app and that Cheryl Roner had been using it over at Hilltop Road Public School and I said I’d consider giving it a go. I also mentioned the app to a parent and he seemed very enthusiastic, asking me about when I was going to get started whenever he saw me. I decided to set it up and I’m very glad that I did. I’ll explain a few reasons why.

From an assessment point of view:

Firstly, assessment is no good unless it is acted upon, which is part of the reason I dislike worksheets so badly. It’s very easy to get kids to complete a worksheet, mark it in their absence, document the sheet for your records and then move on without even saying anything to the student(s) about how they are going and discussing ways in which they can improve.

So how is SeeSaw different?

Well, kids get very excited about sharing their work with their parents. With SeeSaw you can tell them what you are looking for and ask them to go off and demonstrate in order for them to take a photo or video to share with their parents. They typically scurry off excitedly to complete their work, returning to have a discussion about what they have done. This opens up an opportunity for you to either confirm that they are on the right track, or explain to them what needs to be fixed up for them to be able to share their correct understanding with their parents via the app.

It also allows for assessment AS learning, where students can add corrections to their work (or explanations of their work) when sharing with parents. In the example below, one of my students has correctly shown time on the hour, as well as half past, however, when explaining it to her mum using an audio recording, she accidentally says the time is 7:30 rather than 8:00. She was able to assess that with my help and (logged in as me) write an audio comment addressing her mistake.


From a kids can learn anywhere point of view:

A few weeks ago one of my students was ill and away from work for the day. Whilst away, she wrote the following blog post from home. Yes, I know, it’s very short but she’s in year 1 and she was at home sick , so give her a break!


She logged into SeeSaw from home using her iPad and urged us to read her post by making some audio comments on a photo I’d posted of the class reading a big book together in the ampitheatre. As I was at assembly at the time, I was able to receive the notification on my phone that she had commented (I thought it was her mum making the comment). I thought her comments were hilarious and cute, so I read through her post with the class and we left a whole class audio comment in reply, explaining that we had read and enjoyed the post, very funny. My student replied from home and we listened to it as a class the next day. So, as you can see below, sickness is no barrier to learning when you can connect with your class from home!


From an engaging with parents point of view:

As a parent, I remember the sense of frustration I used to get when asking my kids when they were younger what they did at school during the day. You’d ask the question, “So, what did you get up to at school today?” only to receive a response like, “Nothing.” or “I don’t remember.” SeeSaw is good at removing this frustration for parents, as you can upload examples of what the kids are doing in class, and the parents receive a notification on their mobile device. They are able to see what is happening in your classroom in real time, no matter whether they are at work, at home, or even on the other side of the world. 

Although you cannot view it,, I particularly loved a conversation with a parent that I had in relation to the post below, in which a parent explained how much she enjoyed being able to discuss class activities with her child’s teacher and to see what has been happening in class.


So, as mentioned at the beginning, I initially intended to be used as a tool for assessment, however, it has become much more than that. It has become a powerful and enjoyable tool for connecting with parents, sharing with them the things we do in class and how wonderful it is to be lucky enough to work as an educator teaching their children.

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Hogs, cogs, logs and puggles: metaphors for teamwork.

A number of people have asked that I share these so I thought that I’d share them here.

In my classroom, I like to engage in project-based learning with my students as often as time allows. If you’ve ever looked into PBL, you’d know by now that one of the focusses of this form of pedagogy is developing competencies in what are sometimes termed ’21st Century Skills’, two of which are communication and collaboration. To help foster the latter of these skills, collaboration, most of my class projects in some way involve having students work together in teams.

Early last year I had my K/1 class come up with a few criteria regarding what constitutes a good team member, and using those criteria, I developed a teamwork rubric that I could use in order to assess my students on how well they were progressing and help boost their collaborative awesomeness. I blogged about it here, but neglected to add a link where you could download the rubric to either use with your own class or to develop your own with your students. I’m adding the link below in the hope that it might come in handy for anyone who reads this post.

It basically works like this. Everybody (including the teacher) begins as an egg (pretty good), as they get better at each of the criteria they are bumped along the scale to first become a puggle (juvenile echidna, getting better) before becoming a full grown echidna (completely awesome) in all their spiky collaborative team member glory. Of course, regular class discussions are had around teamwork and how being good at any of the criteria makes a good team member. Also, when the opportunities arise for ‘just in time’ learning outside of teamwork situations, discussions around collaboration often occur.

Another poster I like to use to frame the conversation around teamwork is the ‘Hogs, logs and cogs’ poster that I put below. This is cool for getting kids to think how working together is kind of like acting as one big machine where everybody has their own role to play. You all have to work together like separate, yet connected cogs of the one big machine. I sometimes talk about how the class itself is one big machine and that we all need to work together to help each other learn.

I learned about the three different types of team member after a conversation with a colleague late last year, thought it was hilarious and a great mnemonic for kids. They are as follows.

Hogs: take over and do not share

Logs: do nothing at all

Cogs: work together as part of the team

Kids understand the language well and for the most part would like to be a good team member. When I notice a particular team being awesome I give them a prize of some sort, a class award or merit certificate at assembly to publicly acknowledge that collaboration is awesome. I do have a recent photo somewhere of my students’ names all clustered around the puggle for working together, perhaps I’ll add it here later.

You can download the progress chart and teamwork poster by clicking on the images below.

Thanks for reading.

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Reading groups in a technology rich environment.

One of my PDP goals for this year is to improve my pedagogy around reading in my classroom, I guess this blog post will serve as evidence of my progress toward reaching this goal.

A little over a week ago I attended a NSW Teachers Federation Centre for Professional Learning course entitled ‘Teaching Reading and Writing K-6’. I’d like to document some of what I took from the course and how I’ve implemented it in my classroom to hopefully improve my practice and benefit my students.

Whilst at the course I was introduced to an activity aimed at having students demonstrate not only their comprehension of the texts they’ve been reading, but also discuss and share how and what they have been thinking whilst reading those texts. The activity is called ‘See, Think, Wonder’ and it is set out as follows.

1. Back to back: Ask students to choose an appropriate book and sit back-to-back with a member of their reading group whilst they each independently read either the whole book, or a section of the book.

2. Knee to knee: After students have read for around 10 – 15 minutes, ask them to sit knee-to-knee with their partner to discuss certain aspects of the book. To frame the conversation, students are directed to ask and answer the following questions.

When you read the book, what did you see?

When you read the book, what did you (or what did the book make you) think?

When you read the book, what did you (or what did the book make you) wonder?

3. Students need to document their answers to these questions in some way.

Now when I heard about this activity at the meeting and thought about it awhile, for some reason it resonated with me as something that I would like to implement in my classroom, and I’m so very glad that I did.

I’m lucky enough to have 1 to 1 XO laptops for the kids in my class, so I’d like to describe how this activity, coupled with the XO devices and other forms of technology has allowed me to effectively differentiate my reading groups and allow me to see how my students are thinking about their reading.

When I came back from being away for the aforementioned day of PD, I wanted to check that my students had read whilst I was away. I asked the group that I would have been reading with what they had read and was pleased to find that my students were able to tell me what they had been reading while I was away. One of my students told me that he had read the level 10 reader ‘The Silver Egg’ and was able to retell certain parts of the story.

Not only did this give me enough confidence that I could pick up my reading program as if I had never been away, it also satisfied me enough that I could introduce ‘See, Think, Wonder’ with the class so that they could document their thinking on the XOs. The following day, I modelled the process using Google slides, you can see the jointly constructed example on the presentation below. I used The Silver Egg as an example due to the class discussion we’d had involving that book the previous day.

After modelling the See, Think, Wonder process on the IWB, I explained the back-to-back, knee-to-knee activity and asked students in my more independent reading groups (The Grapes, Oranges and Blackberries) to complete back-to-back, knee-to-knee followed by See, Think, Wonder. I think the results are pretty cool and am very happy with how well my class have taken to it. See the student examples below.

The Three Little Pigs

Snake’s Sore Head

Some of my students have taken to the activity so well, that to extend them, I have asked them to blog about the activity. I asked one of them the other day to write to me as if I was someone who asked them what they do at school during reading. I asked her to explain the See, Think, Wonder activity to someone who didn’t know about it. Her draft post is below:

At school I bean thinking about our reading and I am in the Oranges.
Im in 1l I would like to show you what I have doing in class.
I have bean doing see think and wonder.
I writed about the three little pigs and my Other frend is writing about the three little Mice in trouble.
thire was a wolf and three little pigs and the wolf blowd two houses down and 1 did’nt blow down.

For the less independent groups, I have also started trialling some Android apps on the XOs for the days when I am reading with other groups. Some that I have tried in recent weeks are Phonics Awareness, Droid Spell Kids, Dolch Sight Words iStoryBooks.  They also like using the app Andy’s World which comes installed on the XO Android-2 update.

So what does reading groups look like in my technology rich environment?

I’ve posted some photos below, but let me just finish by providing you with an example from my classroom. At the moment we are making a video for a class at another school, so during reading groups I had one group writing transition slides for our video using my Macbook Pro, another groups searching Jamendo for royalty free music to add to our video using the IWB. I was sitting and reading with one group whilst others were using the XOs for blogging, Google Slides and learning new words using their newly installed Android apps.

So to answer the question above – you might see kids dancing to royalty free music in front of the IWB, you might see kids typing away on a laptop or XO, you might see kids being read stories out loud from their devices or writing out new words they have learned from their XO. I like to think that for the most part they are engaged and learning, and I hope that these examples support what I think.

The learning journey continues…

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3 awesome things about our latest class project.

This year I have an awesome class of year 1 students, and as we have a school wide commitment to project-based learning, I decided to get straight into it in term 1 with a project all about Australian insects. The basic idea was that students had to learn as much as they could about Australian insects and pokemon and then use their knowledge to create an insect based pokemon of their own by drawing a cartoon of it and writing a blog post about it. I think the project went well, you can see the final blog posts here. I was going to write this as a post reflecting on 3 things that went well and 3 things that could be improved, but it ended up being quite long based on what went well, so here it is:

The awesome

1. Kids (and some adults) like bugs.

To launch the project I bought a class terrarium as well as a tropical far-north Queensland Rainbow Stag Beetle to go in it. I passed it around the room and explained everything that we needed to do to look after it. I told the class what food it needed to eat, that we needed to spray water inside the terrarium every day and that, as the beetle was supposed to live in a rainforest, we needed to keep an eye on the humidity in the cage by checking the hydrometer regularly. We then put the bug back and went to play a game of Pokemon ‘ ‘ on the Nintendo Wii. We also tweeted out a poll to see what we should name the beetle, and he soon became known as Trevor the Beetle.

News of our class beetle quickly spread and pretty soon we had kids from random classes excitedly popping into our classroom unannounced with bugs they had found in their classrooms. They knew we were learning about bugs, so they thought they’d come and share their bugs with us! One day we had some visitors from year 2 come over with a daddy long legs spider they had found in their room. We thanked them and fed the spider to our pet praying mantis, Frances (but more about her later). Another day we had some kindy kids visit us with a rather sizeable bee that they had found buzzing around the classroom. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the visit we had from Mr. Nick, the school GA.

One day he rushed into the room very excited because he had found a praying mantis on one of the trees around the school. He showed it to all of the kids who were very interested to learn more about this strange looking insect. We decided to keep her in our terrarium along with Trevor. So we now have two bugs in a box named Trevor the Beetle and Frances the Mantis. We have managed to keep both of them alive for several months, and we love them. I also brought in some antlions, strange insects that, whilst in their larval stage, construct massive pits in which to trap ants and eat them with their huge jaws.

Now all bugs need to eat. In the case of our beetle, Trevor, it’s pretty easy, you just need to wait for him to climb out from the ground and then give him some banana. With antlions and mantids, however, you need to do some work. They eat other bugs, which means that you need to go and find them. I would occasionally head out at recess with a jar to capture ants for our antlions and bugs for our mantis. As you might expect, I had no trouble finding helpers to aid me in my quest! I could often be found in the playground being followed by a large group of kids enthusiastically yelling about the bugs they were finding. So yes, one of the awesome things about #ProjectPokemon was how excited everybody was getting about bugs!

2. Kids had voice and choice.

Kids had to choose their own favourite bug in order to create their own pokemon. This meant that at even in the early stages of the project we made the decision as a class to change the driving question. The original DQ was, ‘Which Australian insect would make the best pokemon?’ – we changed insect to minibeast because one of the students wanted to make a scorpion pokemon and we discussed how the scorpion wasn’t actually an insect but an arachnid. To allow students more voice and choice in the matter, and so that we could learn more about all types of little creatures, we decided to expand our line of inquiry by modifying the DQ.

Originally I had set up small groups of around 3 students to work as teams. As the project went on it became apparent that this wasn’t necessarily the best set up, so I got the students to group themselves, based largely on which minibeast they had chosen and if they demonstrated to me that they were going to be able to complete the project together. They did this by explaining to me the minibeast they had chosen, why it would make a good pokemon, and which two pokemon ‘powers’ it would have. They then had to write all of this down in their books as a draft blog post before using their XOs to practise drawing bug cartoons by accessing the tutorials on our class website.

In some cases, students decided that they would prefer to work alone, either because nobody else had chosen the same minibeast as them or because those who had were already partnered up. Not all projects need to be based around teamwork, and in this case it had become clear that this particular task was best approached either individually or in pairs. So yes, students very had voice and choice in the direction of the project, at the early stages by changing our line of inquiry based on their choice of minibeast, and at the later stages by choosing who (or not) they would be working with.

3. Kids were engaged and suitably challenged.

One of the things I really liked about this project was the fact that students would often come to class with minibeast/pokemon based work samples they had completed at home. Some of these included cartoons that they had practised by accessing our website from home, some included descriptions of insects and reflections on what we had been doing as part of the project, others had logged into their own personal Kidblog accounts and written draft posts on their parents’ tablets! I’ll post some of these work samples below, along with a lovely email I received from a parent, who wanted to tell me that they were happy with the project. I was so pleased to receive such a lovely email and to see one of my students applying what she had been doing in class in a different context. I think it’s very creative!

A blog post, drafted by one of my students at home, and edited and published at school with me.

Some work done at home by a student and brought into school.


I just briefly wanted to say something also about the students being challenged. As with all classes, my students have a range of abilities. Some of my year 1 kids need assistance with writing short segments of writing, whereas some can quite readily write longer pieces without need of much assistance. Some could be extended by being asked give reasons for their answer in their writing, for example, ‘Why would this minibeast make the best pokemon?’, ‘What can it do?’ I think this task allowed for students to be challenged with their writing. For some this meant working largely independently (or together) and getting help and suggestions from me at some later point, for others it meant sitting with me and working on it until they were able to finish the rest on their own. Every student or group, however, was able to complete the project and publish their work online. Yay.

Below is an email, written to me by a parent, showing some work that her daughter had done at home and telling me that she was happy with the project. As I said, I was very happy to receive this email and I think the work is great!🙂

Hello Mr Hewes,

I just wanted to say big thankyou to you and really appreciate all your hard work. Your thoughts and concept in regards to the Pokemon project has definitely contributed a very positive outcome.

You will be very happy and feel very proud of your student and your self to see attached _ _ _ _ _ _’s drawing and her thoughts on it. I was amazed to see what she came up with during weekend.


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