Day 139 (of 187) #BlockBreaker – a great book by Brian Aspinall aka @mraspinall
A great book looking at some differentiated approaches to rethink our classrooms and schools in a way to be responsive to our learners and also raise value of subject such as math and coding.
I will freely admit that I love that @mathgarden Sunil Singh opens the book expressing a love of maths and how disconnected and boring the maths too often can be. Changing mindsets so that students can play with primes the same way we encourage learners to play with letters and vowels! We have great success with reading and writing because we allow play and experimentation – we want learners to be creative! but in math too? We should be! And this is the foundation of Block Breaker
After all, if we are ever afraid to share ideas and think untraditionally, we just need to remember that someone once said in a meeting “lets make a film with a tornado full of sharks!”
Classroom rule structures have evolved in Brians classroom – from lists of “thou shalt nots” to “Lets….” <– the mindset shift of rules of what not to do to descriptors showing “In gym we…. In the hallway we….” definitely shifts the learners to focus on the hear or now – we should not just be preparing students for “what’s next” – because so often when we think we are preparing students for the next grade, the next school, the high school, the university….we end up missing.
I love that in Block Breaker, similar to @willrich45 Why School? there is an affirmation that there is a lot of education that can be learned form minecraft (and this is just meant to be an example, not that everyone “has” to explore minecraft – as a spoiler, Brian confesses to have spent less than an hour playing minecraft…he just has a lot more time seeing how it has positively effected learning and how students can show what they know.
As a sidebar: I also love that ht delinks to blogs, lessons, interviews et al continue from Code Breaker. A variety of “starting points” because it is okay to be where you are, it is not okay to stay there.
There are some great shares including embedding minecraft into an IEP, using it to personalize learning journeys. But I really like the mindset reminder that playing games like tetris are great (good for brain plasticity) but building a tetris type game using scratch…may be better –> this connects with my own C rules with technology: consuming vs creating (and my new one… vs connecting). Tools will change – its what you do with the tools that matters! Because event hough I’ve been told “the tool shouldn’t matter” (usually when someone else is justifying why a ‘single platform’ is “easier”…it never is – and it never ends up being more cost effective either) But, in my opinion the right tool for the right user does matter. Minecraft may not last forever…but it just might… the iPad may be superseded but it is still the best tool for differentiation that has ever invaded education… but it is still good to explore and see what might be next…!
A historical connection
The ” father of computing”, Alan Turing, cracked codes and helped shorten WWII by an estimated three years, but mostly he excelled because he had an interesting and authentic problem to solve. I love this strategy reflection. I have been inspired by people like Trevor Calkins in math and shared authentically tough challenges – and even left them unsolved….because literally nobody has solved them yet. But you never know what brain mindset will crack certain codes….it sometimes depends how you look at problems!
- I don’t rescue during GarageBand challenges
- coding rarely works the first time
- how do we react when we encounter problems
As Brian points out, and I will echo my own experiences and celebrations with this: it is fabulous when the shift moves from “What grade did I get” to ” what happens if I ____ next?” changing the traditional rules to the “game of school”. Along with this the book shares some great examples to support my own ongoing belief that mobile tech is the greatest differentiation tool on the pathway to personalized learning that has ever impacted education. I like Mr Aspinalls mindset and the direction he is pushing our thinking!
Brian points out that immersion always helps break stereotypes (which may have helped my own hatred of learning different languages….) and this is still true with computational thinking. Many will think that for digital natives coding and tech use come naturally, but it is not an instinct. It is just a tech immersive environment they/we are growing up in. As it is such an integral part of life, of course our learners want to know it inside and out as well as how to manipulate and create within it! But what does computational involve? A great summary is on page 32 (limited spoilers here!!)
Brian ponders two main questions though:
- What problems are we trying to solve?
- What is the best way to solve these problems?
As I will push, techies like me are lazy – but we will work very hard to create the conditions for lazy:
So there are questions to explore around the timetables we use. Schedules of the day…of the block. Benefits of genius hour. Support for play-based learning such as (some spoilers here!)
- children must have some control over the direction of their learning
- children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening and observing
- Children have a relationship with other children and with material items int he world that must be allowed to be explored
- Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express ourselves
(this is where my own exploring of “deep play” start connections: https://technolandy.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/day-176-of-184-free-deep-play/
I like that Brian talks about how often students will say “All we do is play in Mr A’s class” ~ differentiating play and work. And I’ll confess to also loving my class when the bell rings and surprises us all – or have some kids looking for their lunch mistaking the final bell for an earlier break…. or one of my favourite (mirroring Brians) “comments”: ‘are we supposed to be having this much fun in school? And I liken it to the old Tom Sawyer story (which due to the colloquial language should now be reserved to be read by more mature readers) where Tom convinces others that whitewashing a fence is a fun activity that he would really not like to share with others, but gosh darn it…he’ll give them a turn. Mindsets matter. And I like that Brian reinforces that “fun” is not always the same as “easy” – heck, when having fun we will often work much harder than is necessary (the joy of intrinsic rewards!)
I appreciate the connection to the ideation of “hard fun” and how nicely it synchs with Design Thinking https://technolandy.wordpress.com/coding/design-thinking/ The best memorization is when it is meaningful. Brian wasn’t told to memorize syntax, but wanted to as it would be useful in his work. I had a girl who memorized the names of all 206 bones because she felt it would be useful as a doctor. My daughter memorized well over 60 decimals of pi….for fun…..
And my own wonder: why does a ‘fail’ impact those “all important grades” if we want learners to take chances – in the game of school, students recognize that risk taking will lead to mistakes and mistakes will then have a negative impact on the %. We need to change the script and acknowledge that there is value in “playing with our learning”
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. – Mr Rogers
In Block Breaker, Brian reinforces some good thinking around badgification/gamification as an à la carte selection of learning – which connects so well with SBL/G (Standards Based Learning/Grading) where there is a goal to reach, and when you reach it, you “win”! Much less subjective than distractions like neatness, behaviours, etc etc
And linking the long standing ntoion/understanding that grades are not as effective as constructive feedback (as Aspinall says it) or Formative Descriptive Feedback Loops (as I refer to them!). And then another re-connection to memorization – as a wonder: why is it that in games, cheat codes et al are things ‘easier’ to memorize than spelling words and times tables? They are made up of similar things (letters and digits) yet relevance makes memorizing one more meaningful than the other….how do we provide meaning…?
When students think/know/learn a teacher is looking for “a” right answer, that is all they will look for and give. My own sons brain (as he reflects) provides multiple answers but his anxiety wound enable them to synthesize and select a single answer that the teacher most likely would want – and as risks and errors are punished (marks, xs, etc) in the game of school, sometimes nothing is better than something. This is what Brian wants us to change!
The range of answers in my sons brain when a question is asked:
Brian does a lot of sharing in Block Breaker. One of these is when a parent asked: ” Why do you focus on his (a son) weaknesses when he will pursue his strengths in life?”
Great food for thought.
The message of Block Breaker is simple in its complexity: with a fair chance, all students can experience success. And for the adults, a reminder: it is okay to be where you are, it is not okay to stay there.
Block Breaker is a great book that teases that Minecraft may be the right tool to engage learners- but really it remains the bait-and-switch that is more our mindsets and how we use the right tool for the right learner that helps everyone achieve success. A great book and I am looking forward to his next book!