Monthly Archives: July 2016

Minecraft in the Classroom?

With the huge popularity of Minecraft with elementary-age students many teachers are exploring ways to incorporate this building game in the classroom. Minecraft is basically about placing and mining blocks of different types of materials to build just about anything the user can imagine. The game world consists of 3D objects—mainly cubes—that represent materials such as dirt, stone, various ores and woods. Players gather these material blocks and use them to form various constructions. (Drzewiecki, 2016). Using Minecraft in the classroom is an intriguing way to engage students and help bring a topic alive through hands-on experience. The students can work in teams to create a Minecraft project, exploring and comparing solutions to a specific school assignment. This addresses the fourth component of ISTE Standard 4: Explore and compare solutions with various technology tools.

Minecraft

Allowing students to work on Minecraft projects in the classroom can be beneficial to their life-long learning skills. Minecraft gives students the freedom to create and push their imaginations to the limit, it helps students work on their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and it helps students work together in a positive classroom environment (Drzewiecki, 2016). One example of using Minecraft in the classroom is with a social studies project. A social studies teacher can assign a project where students have to create a community similar to one they are studying about in their current history unit. In a recent Edutopia article about gaming and coding, the author reviews a 5th grade social studies project where the students work as a team to create a Minecraft community and they face many of the same issues as the Pilgrims coming to the new world. Minecraft is more than a game to these fifth graders. It is a simulation, a learning environment and a morality play all wrapped up in one incredibly engaging, shared experience. It makes a powerful impression (Kiang, 2014).

 In addition, there are several programs that teach students the basics of coding using a Minecraft model. My 5th grade son’s elementary school class used a program like this and my son raved about it. He would come home from school talking about the Minecraft game he created and couldn’t wait to get back to school to work more on his project. The beauty of using a fun tool like Minecraft in the classroom is that the students are having so much fun they don’t even realize their learning!

Unfortunately, with the limited time and resources available it would be difficult to incorporate Minecraft into an elementary school physical education setting. This type of technology tool is definitely best left in a regular classroom environment.

References

Drzewiecki, J (2016). Why Educators Should Use Minecraft in the Classroom. Education World. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/benefits-minecraft-classroom-students.shtml.

Kiang, D. (2014). 3 ways coding and gaming can enhance learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/coding-and-gaming-enhance-learning-Douglas-kiang.

 

Technology for Student Fitness Testing Scores

Every physical education teacher regularly tests their students for their fitness levels. Many elementary school physical education teachers utilize the President’s Youth Fitness Program, which includes a variety of fitness tests designed to measure a child’s overall health-related fitness. One of the technology components of the President’s Youth Fitness Program is called FitnessGram, which is an online assessment resource that evaluates the five components of health-related fitness: aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition (Cooper Institute, 2016).

I talked with several current elementary school teachers about how they kept track of their student’s fitness score results and none of them used FitnessGram. One of them reported that she had thought about using it, but had heard it was too time-consuming and over-complicated. Only subscribers can directly access the FitnessGram program, so I was unable to find out for myself what the program was really like. After reviewing the different sections of the FitnessGram information web site, and the FitnessGram manual, this program does seem like it’s overly-complicated and not very practical. The manual was more than 150 pages long! Unfortunately, this seems like another online tool that is just “technology for technologies sake.”

Technology can still be used to keep track of and organize student’s fitness score results, but it does not need to be very complicated or intricate. A simple data spreadsheet program like Excel would be an effective way to manage the fitness score results. The teacher can have the students help with entering their data in the teacher’s laptop, as well as showing the students how to organize and keep track of their individual data as the year progresses. The teacher can then email this data to the student’s parents with a short note on the student’s progress and if there are any areas where they need to improve. This addresses the fifth component of ISTE Standard 3: explain how technology can be used to help process data and report results.

Learning how technology skills such as spreadsheets and databases can be applied in areas outside of a traditional classroom environment is an important skill for elementary-age students to begin acquiring. Such skills are essential for individuals in K-12, post-secondary and workplace environments (Huggins, 2014).

References

Cooper Institute (2016). What is FitnessGram? Retrieved from http://www.fitnessgram.net/parents-students.asp.

Huggins, A. C., Ritzhaupt, A. D., & Dawson, K. (2014). Measuring information and communication technology literacy using a performance assessment: Validation of the Student Tool for Technology Literacy (ST2L). Computers & Education, 77(C), 1–12.

Elementary School Blogging

Blogging has become a growing trend in schools, even in elementary schools. Today’s students — and, increasingly, teachers — are tech-savvy, and they want an interactive and engaging classroom experience (Wong, 2014). Many elementary school teachers are finding that blogging is an effective way for students to use technology to communicate with their classmates and their teachers. Blogging addresses the first component of ISTE Standard 2: Identify digital tools that can be used to help students interact, collaborate, and publish.

Blogging is essentially just online journaling and is a simple way for students to communicate new information, news, ideas, comments or opinions to their teacher and their classmates. Teachers will need to give their students some basic structure and directions for their blog assignments of course, but letting students show their creativity in their blogs is also important.

Blogging is also an effective way to help students improve their writing. Blogs, because of their ease of use, and because of the context of news and editorial column writing, have become a highly effective way to help students to become better writers. Research has long shown that students write more, write in greater detail, and take greater care with spelling, grammar, and punctuation, when they are writing to an authentic audience over the Internet (Jackson, 2012).

There are many web-based blogging programs available for teachers to use, but two programs in particular seem well-suited for elementary school students. The Blogmeister program is free, easy to use and gives the teacher control of publishing the student entries. Another easy alternative is KidzBlog, an affordable, secure, and simple solution for the elementary teacher wanting to blog on just one classroom computer (Jackson, 2012).

The ongoing issue with incorporating digital technology like blogging in an elementary school physical education class, however, is where and when will the students have access to computers with the limited time available in a physical education class? One way a physical education teacher could get around this issue is to work with the students’ classroom teacher to incorporate a physical education post with a regular classroom blogging assignment. For example, the physical education teacher can have the students write about their favorite physical education class game or activity. Or their favorite sport or exercise. A blog post like this would allow the students to use technology to communicate with their physical education teacher and their physical education classmates.

References

Jackson, L (2012), Blogging? It’s Elementary Dear Watson! Educationworld.com. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech/tech217.shtml.

Wong, W. (2014). How technology enables blended learning. EdTech Focus on K-12. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2014/04.

 

Technology in Elementary School Physical Education

There are many ways that teachers can incorporate technology in an elementary school physical education class. Some good examples include, pedometers, heart rate monitors, health tracking programs, and video resources. The first three examples are wonderful ways for elementary-age students to learn about the importance of exercise and good health, but with limited class time available (typically only 30 minutes) these are probably better suited for secondary-age students. Limited budget is also an issue for this type of technology, although teachers can find creative funding methods though options such as grants. Showing students short animated videos for warm-ups or You Tube videos of a specific sport or fitness skill are both effective visual learning aids. Keeping these videos short, however, is important due to the limited class time.

It will be difficult, however, to use technology that will help students express their creativity in an elementary school physical education class. One of the few ways that some physical education teachers are helping students express their creativity with technology is through “exergaming.” Exergaming is where students play movement video games, such as Wii Sports and Dance Dance Revolution. The teacher projects the video from the game on a wall or screen and has the students rotate the video game controllers while the rest of the class follows along with what activity they are doing (http://www.spark.com. 2016). Exergaming would provide a way for students to express their own creativity through individual body movements and which games they would choose to play. This addresses the second component of ISTE Standard 1: create original works as a means of personal or group expression.

exergaming 1

There are many issues, however, around the use of exergaming in a physical education class. The biggest issue is that while it encourages movement (and at home decreases sedentary television watching), it can be a poor substitute for actual physical activity and sports play. The movements used for many of these types of games is not conducive to the actual psycho-motor skill needed for a particular sport or fitness activity. It also can create a negative, chaotic classroom environment where students are not fully participating and equal time at the video game controllers will be difficult to manage. In addition, many of the parents will probably dislike the fact that their children are playing video games at school. In short, the negatives of exergaming outweigh any perceived positives.

Physical education teachers need to be careful that they are not just doing “technology for technology sake.” It needs to have a practical application or benefit for their student’s learning. The noise of this digital information can be overwhelming. It can create a numbness to the outside world and limit the ability to retain and reflect on essential learning (Dillon, 2014). In an elementary school physical education setting a limited amount of technology has its place, but the majority of the class time should be focused on movement and the development of the student’s fundamental psycho-motor skills.

References

Dillon, B. (2014). The Age of the Digital Story, Edutopia.com. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-power-of-digital-story-bob-dillon.

www.spark.com (2016). Using Technology in Physical Education. Retrieved from http://www.sparkpe.org/blog/using-technology-in-physical-education/.