By Judy Van Alstyne ’88, Head Librarian
You never know what kinds of seeds are planted during May Term. Four years ago, Tony Tepedino and I offered a Middle School May Term called Getting Schooled the Minecraft Way. At that time, Mojang still owned Minecraft; MinecraftEDU was a separate installable modification (mod) which allowed teachers to host servers specifically for their students to engage in Minecraft activities designed for learning all kinds of concepts.
We had high expectations for the ten Middle School boys who signed up. They weren’t going to be students in a Minecraft activity designed by us grown-ups; they were going to have Lower School teachers as clients, designing educational activities for students in grades two, four, and five. For the second grade class, four boys (Dylan Reece, Ben Smoker, Jack Wheeler, and Garrett Wilson) designed “U.S. Landmarks” to teach about symbols of the United States. For the fourth graders, three boys (Marlin Bassett, Henry Grasman, and Cameron Perry) designed “Bomber Math” for practice in calculating area. For the fifth graders, three boys (Caden Kacprzynski, Peter Klem, and Kasi Natarajan) created “Island Adventure” to teach geometry, measurement, and economy. The boys worked hard and had fun, and when we concluded by inviting the Lower School students in, everyone had fun playing and learning. It was a success that we were sad to end.
But this past week, the Rumsey Library was alive again with students (this time in Upper School) busily playing and creating with Minecraft thanks to two of those former Middle School students, Caden Kacprzynski ‘20 and Cameron Perry ‘20, running a student-led May Term titled Experimenting with Architecture and Code in Minecraft: Education Edition. Now computer experts, they explained to me much that has changed in the Minecraft education world. Mojang was bought by Microsoft, which created a new product for teachers called Minecraft: Education Edition. Caden and Cameron explained how much easier it is (no need to create a local server, for example) and it has a coding curriculum already built in (in conjunction with Code.org). Learning how to code has the immediate benefit of allowing users to create more efficiently and with enhanced functions, for example, building a wall with one command rather than placing each block individually. There are also more possibilities for saving work to be shared with others in the future.
Caden and Cameron decided that for their May Term, they would keep the parameters somewhat loose, requiring only that students work solo or in groups to create worlds for others to play and explore, so long as they incorporated coding into each world’s creation. Each world provides challenges for players such as finding secret levers, parkour, and escape rooms. They reflected on how much noisier those ten Middle School boys were compared to this group of fifteen Upper School girls and boys. Also of note is how much more skilled older students are with group problem-solving. Although they were initially concerned that their peers might not follow their instructions or be engaged in the work, they were pleased to see everyone working very hard on their projects, even skipping breaks or parts of lunch in order to make more progress. Similar to what Mr. Tepedino and I discovered long ago, giving students autonomy to play and create keeps them very engaged!
In preparing for May Term Exhibition Night, I discovered the laminated Minecraft instructions from four years ago. While the Lower School players from the past are now in Middle School and probably don’t need them, we suspect some parents will find them very helpful! I also found the signs we had put up for each of the projects the Middle Schoolers had created. Cameron and Caden each took one as a souvenir; Caden remarked, “This is more meaningful to me than any certificate I could have gotten from a summer camp.” We are so proud that Caden and Cameron decided to share Minecraft with new learners, and we hope they are proud of themselves! And we hope you found a chance to play a little Minecraft on Exhibition Night, June 6th!
Judith Van AlstyneJudy worked as a reference librarian and children's librarian in several public libraries in the Rochester area before coming to Allendale Columbia in 1997. At AC, she serves as Head Librarian and teaches Digital Literacy, Information Literacy, and library classes for students in nursery through first grade. Judy holds a bachelor's degree from Tufts University, a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and a Master of Library Sciences Degree from Simmons College. Judy is leaving AC after the 2018-2019 school year to complete her PhD in Education (Teaching & Curriculum) with a focus on digital literacies and online learning.
Posted in: Authentic Learning, Centers for Impact, Eighth Grade, Eleventh Grade, Highlights, Invent, Lower School, Middle School, Ninth Grade, Seventh Grade, Sixth Grade, Tenth Grade, Twelfth Grade, Upper School