Thursday, May 9, 2019

This is so fun

Challenged to "create something wonderful" in Minecraft, most of my nearly 200 students grades 5-8 students have worked hard to have fun and make something they can share with the world. I'll be compiling a collection of that work (it won't be everyone but it will be quite a few!) over the next two last weeks of class and will share it here. Meanwhile, 7th grader Charlie shared this with me today. Watch:

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Looking Toward the Final Days of 2018-2019

It has been a wild couple of weeks. I've more or less stopped numbering the weeks, since this quarter was laid out differently to allow for two weeks of mandated State testing. I have my opinion about the efficacy of that process, but I'll keep it to myself excepting to say each child's performance on the battery of tests is the measurement of one child's effort, on one one-size-fits-all test, on one day of his or her life. I don't know about you, but there are a lot of things going on in my life and though I try, some days my efforts are better than others.

All that said, these final days of the school year always bring with them distractions, schedule changes, and disruptions that make learning a challenge even for the best of us. Yesterday, for example, we already were on Activity Schedule, a shortened class schedule tailored to allow for an extra school activity block at the beginning or end. In yesterday's case it was auditions for the school talent show. The organizers had to take kids in three separate time slots since "McMurray's Got Talent" drew around 100 aspiring performers. See some of the auditions on Instagram at Coach O.

Early in the morning, before morning cafeteria duty, I logged into my teacher laptop to discover that the connection to the internet was down. I quick-checked the wirelessly connected student desktop computers to discover the issue was universal. I decided to do a short lesson on the brain-stretching benefits of playing Microsoft Solitaire card games on the computer, and my first class, the 6th graders were able to login to their computers at least, to play for themselves as I completed my game of Klondike in competitive spirit. I won. I handed out Uno cards and playing cards and we completed the already short period playing games. My 5th graders could not even login to their computers--"We cannot log you in because your domain cannot be found bladdidey bladdiddy bladdiddy..." So I demonstrated the games up front for them and the remaining classes then passed out my cards. Here are a couple pics of what the action in the room looked like:

I love my students! After two years of flexing to the intense remodelling/construction environment at their school, they are both flexible and caring. And smart. Some of the Uno conversations about rules and those around strategies for card games were convincingly thought-out.

Beyond that, the next couple of weeks will require more flexibility. As of this writing there are 13 and 1/2 school days before us. Then we'll be off into our summers (which used to be 3 months but now shake out to more like 2 months and a week) and gliding ineluctably toward the 2019-2020 school year.

We will mostly be creating in Minecraft toward preparing ourselves for some more structured work in that platform next school year. Did you know that if you have a computer you can download Minecraft Education Version for your child to exercise creative muscles over the summer? Just click here. Download for your computer (Windows10, iOS, or iPad). Play away!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Week 5, sort of, and into Testing Season

Hello, all,

Last week we did indeed finish (for the most part) our Scratch games and we moved on  into Minecraft in all classes. Much of the initial effort is along the lines of troubleshooting. Some odd tech issues arose which took some time to work out, and they are mostly ironed out now. Once we get past the sc;;attered schedules dictated by testing, when we Related Arts classes mostly use our short afternoon periods to provide the students with outdoor time when the weather cooperates and "brain break" time when it does not, we will go into Minecraft Education Version with gusto.

I've been asked to create a little PSA for the May 9 "STEAM Night" event here at school, and I'm planning to do some machinima in our saved Forest world, where a few students in each grade level have already been doing some building. Machinima, for those who are wondering, is film-making using video games or virtual worlds as the set(s). I'll post that video here once I get it, but to start, here are a couple of screenshots. That's it for now! More later!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Week 3, Check and Check

We are knee deep into Scratch in all classes as I write during Club Day planning time in the computer lab. We have spent 3 sessions in each class section on computer coding so far. The first was at Minecraft Hour of Code, in the new experience, "Voyage Aquatic."

Students begin to grasp and understand very fundamental concepts of coding, particularly commands, loops, and conditionals. We move on into Scratch and make sure all students know their teacher-created username and password. Scratch is very insistent we not use any login information that would personally identify a student, so the process is a bit laborious on the teacher's end, but it's worth it, especially when in these early days a 5th grader from the day before's section runs up to me in the hall and excitedly tells me he finished the "chase game" project we started in class on his own outside of class. If I can pass along to even one student how fun this can be (and how well-paying the jobs of the future will be if they acquire the skills), I'll echo this episode's title: "Check!"

The first part of next week we'll finish the chase game, then we'll start us some Minecraft. Two weeks of testing will interrupt our learning, but we'll be back at it following that demanding process! All best,

Mr. Merrick

Saturday, March 23, 2019

First week of the final quarter!

Hello parents, guardians, siblings, students, and other interested parties.

Quarter 4 (commonly referred to as Q4) started off quite well, with only a few glitches. Mainly, the initial rosters for grades 5 and 6 included quite a few students who had only just completed a quarter of Computer Lab, and some of those students were scheduled into more than one A or B Related Arts class's roster--while one of them showed up on the student's printed schedules, they also showed up on the other teacher's roster. I believe most of that confusion has been cleared up and we're moving on into week 2 with all confidence.

Week 1, of course, is always "the first week of school," with the first session being introduction of class expectations, a preview of content, and some teacher self-disclosure about my own learning path which led me to be here with these students, on this day. I want to learn more about my students as human beings, and I begin that process sharing about my path in a brief powerpoint presentation. The second class session students are assigned to computers (1-30), demonstrate they can login or get help logging into a computer for the first time, open Microsoft Edge, navigate to our start page at
and explore one or more of the 37 options available to them for Keyboarding practice bell work. Session 3 the students do their bell work, practicing that work which they will do every computer class for 10 or 15 minutes. Then they complete an online Google survey which informs me on a number of data points I need in order to individualize instruction--native language, self-assessment of language support needs, technology interests, whether they have had computer class this year (remember that I have ~200 new students every 9 weeks, and as hard as I try I do not always get to know them as well as I would like).

Next week we will be working to cement the habit of keyboarding practice in all grade levels. Everyone comes into a quarter in computer lab with a 100% in the Keyboarding Bell Work ongoing assignment, and all he or she has to do to keep that A is to choose to practice from any of those 37 games!

Later, all students will begin their journeys into computer coding, learning how to login to Scratch, and complete one or more tutorials toward introduction into that fantastic graphical coding platform. I am working this weekend to enroll all students into Scratch--it takes some time on the front end but the benefits to being able to set up my own students in my own classes are huge.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Weeks 7 and 8 Q3

Ah, so I missed week 7 altogether, with bronchitis and a running fever keeping me home. At this mid-to-late era of my existence I know better than to push it at all when I'm seriously ill. I came back in on Presidents Day to the Professional Development still sporting a cough but fever free, then during the week we completed Scratch tutorials and did some Brainpop work. Let's move on to Minecraft, which we spent Friday whole periods in, with a loose assignment to "build something wonderful."

Watch what one student shared with me during a classroom build session (video).

For the four days we spent together week 9, it was wall-to-wall Minecraft EDU!  Students logged into their own class section's Falconstech Creative World and were instructed to "build something wonderful." This time we had some ground rules that included reporting when students outside the class had entered the world. This is important because (rarely but sometimes) the intention of students who may be on computers in other classrooms is nothing but destruction. I have had students, "just for fun," come into a starter world and flood it, laying out water generator blocks in devious ways that make it difficult to clean up. Oddly, my control commands like /remove and /ability, do not work over our wireless connection. I have a call into Microsoft to see what I can do about that and I will get it fixed. NEWSFLASH: I have discovered I can make the classroom's world invisible on the network and only available to students who can discover it via an IP address that I will issue.

Over Spring Break, I put together a brief tour of some of the creations a few of the class sections managed to put together our final few sessions together. Though unfortunately many beautiful builds were lost, some great efforts were captured on video and here, dear reader, they are: