Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

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Virtual Reality Showcase at the Young Creators Conference

Last week I was interviewed by some film students from Macquarie University for an upcoming conference on technology and education soon to be held at their institution. Among the many questions they asked me was, “What’s one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in technology and its use in education in recent years?” My answer was the swift advances in Virtual Reality technologies and how they can be implemented effectively within a classroom setting. I don’t know whether or not this is true, but it’s certainly been noticeable from where I’m sitting in my little blip on the edusphere.

Last year this video of Mark Zuckerberg speaking about the potential of Virtual Reality technology to impact our daily lives was released, and back then, it still seemed like this impact was some way off. I now, however, don’t think it’s that far away.

We have, for instance, Google’s endeavours into the Virtual Reality in education realm with Google Expeditions. The idea is that students get to go on virtual field trips to far away and difficult to reach places while remaining in the relative comfort and safety of their classrooms by strapping on a Google Cardboard headset and going on a VR mission.

Aside from consuming VR content, my class has recently created a series of 360º VR videos and uploaded them to our class’ YouTube account. This project saw us put on a 360º VR Cinema Day to raise awareness and a small amount of charity funds for WWF Australia to help the plight of the endangered species they were researching. This brings us to the Young Creators Conference at the MAAS.

On Friday some of my students and I visited the MAAS to share our project with a large crowd of other students and teachers who are also making some interesting moves forward in STEM/STEAM education. We brought along a handful of computers and cardboard headsets so that visitors to our area could explore our server and view our videos in VR. Interestingly, the headsets we used were donated to our school by the Commonwealth Bank, who also have taken to VR to educate children about financial literacy in new and interesting ways.

What was new here for us was the use of the Vive. We’ve recently figured out that our MinecraftEdu world can be ported over to regular Minecraft and that through the installation of the ViveCraft mod, we’re able to share our world by strapping an HTC Vive headset on those interested and walking them through it as they experience it in VR! This adds a whole new level to how students engage with and articulate their learning. Below I’ll share some photos from the day.


It really was a great opportunity for students from all sectors to share their learning experiences and some of the great things happening in NSW schools. Particularly great for my students as some of them may not get out to places like the MAAS very often, and wonderful to see them as facilitators and exhibitors.

Here’s a video of one of my students experiencing our class work in VR for the first time. So cool!

Exploring our Minecraft world in VR! #MAASYCC

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We’ve been extremely lucky to have been loaned a Vive setup from the awesome peeps over at Coder Academy and can’t wait to start pushing things further.

We do quite a lot of our work in Minecraft and we’re currently looking to move away from the ‘edu’ versions so that we can do some more with VR. The original MinecraftEdu is still cool, but it’s stuck back in 1.7.10 and it won’t be too long until it starts looking a bit outdated. Also, it’s not compatible with Vivecraft. Furthermore, Minecraft ‘Education Edition’ doesn’t support any mods whatsoever, so trying anything like this won’t happen for quite some time on that platform. We need mods. For example, how cool would it be to walk through a tiger enclosure in VR with mods like Mo’ Creatures, Animals Plus or Lots of Mobs installed? Not gonna happen with MEE. We need to keep moving forward, but the removal of the ability to mod is a serious step back.

We’re currently running the necessary tests to get regular Minecraft running at school and all is looking quite well. Pretty soon we plan to be collaborating in VR with our friends down in Wooranna Park and pushing things forward on their vanilla server. The idea is that school visitors can experience virtual reality tours of our builds while our students explain what they’ve been learning and making.

Anyway, the conference was great, and I’m looking forward to our further forays into VR. 🙂


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#ProjectDreamtime: connecting with Arnhem Land and learning about culture.

On a recent summer road trip, up through Uluru, Darwin, over to Cairns and back down to Sydney, I became inspired. Inspired by the landscape, inspired by the epic wet season weather, inspired by the stories and culture of the Indigenous people of northern Australia. I got to see Uluru in a once in 50 year downpour, with waterfalls streaming down its ancient surface, after sheltering with my family and some local children from the rain in a cave covered in 30,000 years worth of rock paintings. I was lucky enough to see the Todd River in Alice Springs flowing with recent wet season runoff, an event which is apparently also a once in a lifetime opportunity. I learned about Lightning Man in Kakadu National Park, and how his children, ‘Alyurr‘ bring the wet season when they arrive to the desert. I learned of the evil spirit, Narbulwinjbulwinj, and many other dreamtime stories. I was interviewed on SBS and became famous, lol. True story.

All of these experiences got me thinking about the ways I could use them to teach my students about Indigenous culture and the dreamtime stories. I think it’s important that when our students learn about Australian history, they start with a solid foundation of and respect for the first Australians and the culture which was established tens of thousands of years before any Europeans had ever laid eyes on the beautiful country we now know as Australia. After learning about the awesome ‘Momotaro the Peach Boy’ project by John Miller’s students, where they worked as a build team to recreate the story in Minecraft, I thought that it’d be an awesome idea for my class to do the same with some Aboriginal dreamtime stories.

So over the last couple of weeks of the summer holidays, I designed the project outline, which is guided by the driving question, ‘How could new technologies be used to tell traditional stories?’, and set about trying to connect my class with some schools from remote Indigenous communities. In fact, I emailed probably around 50 schools from remote NSW, QLD, WA and the NT, trying to establish connections. I finally managed to secure a connection with an awesome school from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, which I’ll write a little more about later. I also contacted the AECG and organised for a visitor to come to our school with some Aboriginal artefacts and to introduce the students to Indigenous culture.

His name is Des, and he came and spoke to the students, showing them his boomerangs, which were handed to him by his father and grandfather, a kangaroo skin and some other artefacts. He played the didjeridoo, and explained how it was only the boys and men who were allowed to play. The boys had a go at playing and we all laughed along as they made ridiculous noises. Des explained the concept of totem animals and performed the creation dance taught to him by his father and grandfather, which explains how Baiame came down and created all of the geographical features and the creatures of the land.  It was a great visit and we hope to be getting him back at the end of the project to show him what we have learned and made. Photos below.

We have also been speaking with some students in Arnhem Land via Skype. The students in 5L and 4/5H came up with some questions to ask the students from Arnhem Land. Things like, “What is your favourite sport?”, “Have you ever been out of Arnhem Land?”, “What do you like to do for fun?”, and all the other sorts of things that kids are interested in learning about from other kids. They also asked if the Arnhem Land students had ever seen a crocodile, to which we got the awesome answer, “We HUNT and EAT crocodile!” It was a real eye opener for the Merrylands East students to hear and learn about a traditional way of life that is still being lived today. They told us that crocodile tastes “sweet” and “a bit like chicken.” They also told us of the other animals they hunt, such as the long-neck turtle and sting ray. They told us of their totem animals and which belonged to their families.

Interestingly, one of the Merrylands East students asked if the Arnhem Land school was K-6 or K-12, and they told us that the school is more like ‘birth to adulthood’, with the mothers bringing their children to the school a few weeks after birth and continuing to visit and attend right through until they’ve finished high school and moved on to employment. They explained how children are taught their home language in conjunction with English, with two teachers working alongside each other, and that the elders also take the students to teach them their stories. A really interesting place, and a cool school setup with wonderful people. They have sent us some questions for our students and we will be contacting them again via Skype this coming Thursday to answer them. Such a cool connection to have.

As well as this, students in 5L and 4/5H have been using the class website PBL page to research dreamtime stories from around Australia. Working in groups of 3-4, they have now chosen a dreamtime story to build using Minecraft for the purpose of making a screencast retelling of the story. Their builds will be confined to a Minecraft ‘shoebox’ with dimensions ‘100*80*60’. These are the same dimensions of the shoeboxes used by John Miller in the Momotaro video linked to above, and I thank John for his friendly correspondence in passing on this information. The shoeboxes have been aligned in an 8*8 array, on a specially dedicated and purpose built superflat area on the MEPS-Wooranna Minecraft server. Some photos below, I can’t wait to see the wonderful creations that are soon to fill these boxes.

8 of the groups had all decided that they wanted to build the same story. It’s a story called ‘The Curse’, which they found on the Dust Echoes website, via the class weebly. It tells the story of a jealous witch doctor who sings a song around the a campfire in order to make another man sick. He summons the Namorrodor, and evil, dragon-like creature that eats the hearts of babies and preys on the sick and the elderly. The namorrodor possesses a baby in the sick man’s family and it attempts to kill the sick man before being sent off by the man’s wife, who is a also capable of magic. The lady becomes furious, turns into a crow and flies to the witchdoctor’s cave to kill him.

I’ve set a requirement that each group must explain the moral of their stories in their screencasts. We discussed that the main moral from The Curse is to ensure that we care for our young, sick and elderly, as we have been looked after when we were young, cared for when we were sick, and that when we become old, we will also need to be cared for. So 8 groups will be working as a build team to build that story. We have separated it into 8 different scenes, and each group is now responsible for a different scene.

Other groups in 5L have chosen to build Tiddalick the Frog as well as Mirram The Kangaroo and Warreen The Wombat. There are also 10 groups in 4/5H working on other stories. It’ll be great to see them all finished and for students to share their stories with each other and learn from the videos made. We will also be sharing the videos on our class YouTube channel so the students in Arnhem Land can view them, as well as some of our friends in America, New Zealand and Canada.

I mentioned earlier how I was interviewed in Alice Springs about my lucky monsoonal encounter at Uluru, instantly becoming a worldwide media sensation. The journalist from SBS World News who interviewed me came to the school to run a feature story on the project. It really is a positive story about public education in NSW, the power of connected Project Based Learning and some of the awesome things happening at Merrylands East Public School. I’ve embedded the YouTube link below for you to view, it’s good to see something positive being said about teaching and learning, and not just coverage of NAPLAN, etc. I’ll post the videos once they’re finished, and perhaps get the kids to do a video tour of all the builds in 360º VR, just for something epic and different. Thanks for reading. =]

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Creating Virtual Reality Content in Minecraft with Year 4.

I started using Minecraft within a Project Based Learning pedagogical approach whilst on my second practicum up at North Star Public school back in 2013. A group of year 3 kids used it to build various life events in order to tell the viewers their life stories via screencasts. Since then, I’ve used it in various projects, spanning across the K-6 curriculum, ranging from maths games and life cycle screencasts, to building a city with year 1, some extreme environment bases with year 4, and sharing a class server with kids from Wooranna Park Primary School, Newlands Intermediate School in Wellington, New Zealand, as well Lake Shore Tundra up in New York and Marco in Rome. I have also used the game as part of an after school Coder Dojo to help teach kids from year 2 and year 4 the basics of coding. My latest class project, which we have just finished and I am about to describe, is perhaps the project that has challenged me the most, both as a player of Minecraft, and from a classroom perspective. It was also, however, way cool!

The project, which was guided by the driving question, “How can we use Minecraft to help endangered animals?” was focussed on having kids learn about human impact on the environment, sustainable living practices and animal conservation. It started with a hook lesson which took the format of an excursion to Taronga Zoo, where kids learned about the legacy species of endangered animals that this organisation is hoping to raise money for as part of their centenary year celebrations and beyond. We didn’t go into great detail here, because hook lessons are meant to be fun. We simply noted the fact that the zoo was 100, and there were animals that needed our help.

We then arranged a video conference with an expert from the zoo, who told my class all about the animals, showed us some cute little critters and fielded some questions from the kids. The class were then given one of the legacy species to collaborate together and research in groups of 3 to learn about the following in order to present to the class:

Their animal’s habitat.
Their animal’s diet.
The threats to their animal.
Ways in which we can help.

We also did quite a lot of explicit teaching around global warming, deforestation, ocean pollution, and other threats to these animals (such as chytrid fungus and how humans might spread it), sustainable living practices and other environmental stuffs.

Students were also given a plot of land on our shared Minecraft server, on one of two islands which were directly adjacent to the MEPS Book Review Zone on the server where my class has recently written in-game book reviews and character descriptions as part of a global book review project they were working on just prior to this one.

Anyway, on these plots of land, students built enclosures for their endangered animals and used the above-mentioned research as the basis of scripts which they later narrated over some screencasts. Pretty much business as usual, right?

Yes, except that their screencasts were recorded in 360º, so that when they were uploaded to YouTube they’d be viewable from all angles with virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard. This is where things got a bit complicated.

To make our Minecraft worlds compatible with vanilla Minecraft, we had to use version 1.8. We also had to run with Forge Mod Loader 1450 so that we could run the Replay Mod in order to record the 360º VR content. The editing of the videos, which is the relatively simple part was done in Adobe Premiere Pro, which I had pushed through on several of my class PCs during the holidays. To learn how all of this stuff worked, I was guided by the awesome Nick Patsianas, who basically sat with me in Google Hangouts and TeamViewer for about four hours for a holiday PD session and made sure we had everything installed and running properly and that I knew how it all worked, lol.

Let me just say that the process of recording is quite tricky. The kids took a while to master it, but they totally got it and the videos look and sound completely awesome. I’ll post them below, but I’ll just explain the recording process as quickly as I can.

You basically record the screencasts using the Replay mod in first person and then record a recording of your recording in third person by hovering within the recording on an invisible Minecraft camera dolly. I’ll add a photo below, in the hope of making this easier to understand.

You also have two timelines for recording; the first person timeline and the third person timeline. You play the first person timeline ahead of the third person timeline to some degree before adding a ‘time zero’ position and time keyframe and then catching up to the other timeline and adding new position and time key frames at different points in time along the third person timeline which creates camera pathways between different times and positions. This is all recorded in 360º via a setting on the Replay mod.

If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is a bit at first, but with a bit of practise, it all becomes a lot clearer and easier. I must admit, I think my class got it more quickly than I did.

The mod is also quite CPU intensive and only three of the computers I put the software on ended up being up to the task. This made the recording sessions quite hectic as we all had to negotiate sharing the limited computers within a short period of time (we had a deadline to share the videos with Taronga Zoo by Week 5, which I had miscalculated as week 6, whoops!). Technology fails are great. Check the photo of the recording process below. The top timeline is the first person timeline and the bottom is the third person timeline.



OK, so we made our videos and we have shared them with the zoo. We were hoping on getting to and end of year event at the zoo called ‘Kids Teaching Kids’, where kids show other school kids at the zoo some of the stuff they’ve made after learning about these animals. I’d be tipping that none of them have made 360º VR content, lol, I am pretty crazy.

We didn’t make it to ‘Kids Teaching Kids’, but to finish off the year, we’re going to hold a 360º VR Cinema Day where all of the classes get to come to the library and watch our videos. The Commonwealth Bank recently visited our school and left a bunch of Google Cardboard style headsets, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I have 7 cardboard headsets set up like the one pictured below, so kids will get a chance to strap them on and view our videos in VR. I can’t wait to see their reactions!



We’re going to sell a little bit of popcorn, fruit skewers and stuff and have the option for kids to leave a single/silver coin donation which we will fling to the zoo as part of their legacy campaign. The class is heaps excited about putting on the event and recently taught them how to use Canva to make posters advertising the event and invitations for the other classes. You can see some of them below. They are screenshots of .pdfs, so they may look a bit pooey.




If you would like to view our videos, they are embedded below. If you have headsets like the ones above, you can totally experience them in VR. Thanks for watching!

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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!




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

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The epic of #AurasmaCreeper

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Class visitor… #AurasmaCreeper

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We made a start on da chest and guts.

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El complete. El comprende?

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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!

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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.

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#GiantCreeper brain assembly kit.

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Good Friday #giantCreeper brain cavity access door building.

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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);


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.