Minecraft? or Crafting Minds?
Several days ago, I found this (what I’d consider to be fairly old now) YouTube video called “What Does It Mean To Teach In The 21st Century?” While I plan to critique part of it in this blog, I like some parts of it and plan to use it with our teachers on Monday’s workday to spark conversation. Take 9 minutes to watch it, or this blog post won’t make as much sense as I intend, I don’t think.
First, let me say that my definition of engagement is based on Phil Schlechty’s work and that of our adaptations through our learning walks. Our administrators, as they do learning walks in our classrooms, look for what we’ve defined (with John Antonetti) as the 8 engaging qualities. These include:
clear and modeled expectations
learning with others
sense of audience
novelty and variety
These are derived from Schlechty’s work by John Antonetti, who has worked extensively with our district in the past. So, as we design classroom work, or look at what we’re doing, we look for those qualities.
And, as a mathematical thinker, as a logical person, as someone who appreciates comparing and contrasting, I generally like dichotomies–but pairing entertainment and engagement doesn’t work in this video.
I don’t know about you, but the work I do–as an adult–is pretty enjoyable to me if it encompasses those traits. And, so I have to disagree with some of the dichotomies set up in that video.
First, entertainment is passive and engagement is active. What? Some of the things I do for entertainment include reading, solving a puzzle, playing a game, playing jeopardy, hanging out with my grandkids (and that is NOT passive, believe me!), camping, storytelling and I’ve spent years waterskiing! I don’t think it’s an either/or situation.
Secondly, entertainment is enjoyment and engagement is learning???? When I’m learning I’m not entertained, and I can’t enjoy learning? That’s simply crazy!
And look at the other dichotomies set up–
entertainment=short lived, engagement =long term
entertainment=not relevant, engagement =meaningful, applicable
entertainment=allowing escape from reality, engagement =solving problems
entertainment=using creativity of others, engagement =using your own creativity, fun, exciting
Again, it’s not an either/or situation in any of those cases in my mind…
But let’s look at some of the movements abroad in schools today…Minecraft for education, the maker movement, coding of all kinds, problem/project/passion-based learning, connected educators and kids, flipped classrooms, etc., etc., etc. Are those things either entertainment or engagement? Doesn’t engagement entertain us? And doesn’t entertainment engage us?
And what does that have to do with Minecraft? Is school all about entertainment and engagement? Do our kids have to be entertained to be engaged? Do they have to always be engaged? And why am I concerned so much with these two words?
Well, my room is where kids come to play Minecraft. My room is where they explain it to one another , set up mods, visit each others’ worlds, and can chase and kill zombies (or be killed by them.) They tell me they’re building and making, and honestly, I don’t know if they’re just feeding me a line of bull. So I wonder about their engagement. I wonder about their learning, and I wonder about their time. I wonder about their interactions with others (both online and off) and I wonder about wasted opportunities to do other stuff.
So I think about engagement and entertainment and wonder if Minecraft is really worth my kids’ time. They used to interact with one another face to face, playing strategy games. They used to cooperatively build structures and towns and communities with our digital fabrication tools. They used to be into exploring our 3-D printer. And, I know they’re doing all of those skills (sort of) when they get into Minecraft. But is it what they should be spending their time doing in school while they are face to face?
It’s an “and,” not an “or”–but kids have to find the balance for themselves. The “and” begs for balance–I play a handheld Othello game each morning…and play Qwirkle with my friends in the evening. Those entertain me–as does the soap opera I have watched since I was in middle school. But those things are important to my refreshing who I am–they engage me, in various ways, but they also invigorate me, as they allow me to reflect, rejuvenate myself and energize myself through down time. Finding the balance for myself between the down time I need and the time I use for growing and learning is MY choice–it’s MY decision to spend time online interacting with new acquaintances and friends (some of whom have become real f2f friends) or with my nearby friends that I live around every day.
So how do we, as teachers, help our students find their personal balance? How do we encourage them to explore online avenues of growth, but also realize the importance of face to face interactions? How do we allow them to make their own choices, and not judge them as they make different choices from what we might make? This is their youth–and while it is different from ours, the values I value are still the values I can teach–and I believe, values that matter. While technology enhances and enables our students of today to learn in ways I never imagined as a youth, the choices I make as a teacher need to enhance and enable them to make good decisions as they become adults–because they are MY future as well. We need to help students, as always, learn balance between being responsible and having fun; we need to help them learn from life experiences while demonstrating good sense; and we, as teachers need to help themselves craft their minds. We need to make sure, as they use the technologies available to them, that they are not simply using games like Minecraft and other online diversions to avoid growing and learning, but instead learning through them and with them and finding the balance they need to become the best they can be.