Slice of Life: No, Virginia, Minecraft is NOT Shutting Down

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

This year, Minecraft players in my classroom suddenly became a ‘thing’ again after a few quiet years. I have clusters of sixth graders talking about building, playing, exploring, and as we are in our Video Game Design unit, there’s plenty of chatter about how Minecraft is different from other games they play.

There’s also been a lot of conversation about Minecraft shutting down. A lot of worry and concern. Questions. Some heard it here. Some heard it there.

This news of Minecraft closing up by the end of the year is false, just so you know, but the fact that so many of my students have heard it and passed it along to each other in our classroom space — never mind across whatever apps they are using — gives me a chance to revisit with them a Digital Life lesson from earlier this year about false information and the viral nature of social media sharing.

And how to debunk fake news.

Last night, I did a little investigative work. I was already wary of the reports because of the “this doesn’t make sense” common sense test — Minecraft, owned by Microsoft, has more than 100 million users who pay a pretty hefty fee for the game. If Microsoft were truly closing it up, it would be more than a ripple. It would be an uproar.

I searched “Minecraft Closing” and saw a slew of articles, including the one I was really looking for at Snopes (don’t know Snopes? It’s a site dedicated to researching news items for veracity).

Snopes clearly labels the news of Minecraft’s demise as “FALSE” and then goes into the back story. It all began with a prank that went viral when an openly prank news site first published it as a joke (sort of like The Onion does) and Google’s algorithm temporarily grabbed it for a news item. Oops.

You know the rest: prank becomes news, becomes shared.

Here’s a Minecraft Vlogger, explaining all this, too (while wandering Minecraft world)

I’ll be going through this thread of discovery with all of my classes today, to remind them of techniques for investigating fake news and to ease the minds of my Minecrafters.

And it looks like I need to add a new slide about this into my Fake News presentation …

Peace (true and truth),
Kevin

Celebrating Storyboarding for Video Game Design

Hero's Journey Video Game StoryboardsWe’re in the starting phases of our Hero’s Journey Video Game Design Project right now, and as students hash out the story they are going to tell in the form of a video game, they have to brainstorm the “story-frame” and sketch out the levels of their games. The storyboards will become maps for the design, done in Gamestar Mechanic.

I love this part of the project because their thinking becomes most visible to me, and allows us to have conversations about story and game play, and how those might intersect.

Hero's Journey Story-frame

Peace (map it out),
Kevin

 

The Meanest Place on the Internet (YouTube’s Toxicity Problem)

Whenever I talk to my sixth graders about decorum and trolling in online spaces, one platform consistently rises to the surface as their prime example of the “meanest place on the Internet”: YouTube video channels and, more specifically, the comment section of videos. No other platform even comes close for them. Year after year, YouTube is the place most kids point to as the meanest, nastiest place on the Internet. They share their surprise and disgust at what people will write, and get away with, and how commenters will openly attack others, including the most vulnerable video makers.

As YouTube is the place my young students spend the most amount of their online time — for some, the time spent can be a few hours a day — it always strikes me as frustrating that they are both exposed to potentially great videos (and there certainly are great videos on YouTube, for any kind of interest and topic and niche learning) in combination with humanity acting so plainly bad, it makes me embarrassed on our collective behalf.

Maybe YouTube (aka Google) is finally understanding this.

Along with the changes to its platform to make it in federal compliance for young viewers (all YouTube channel operations must now designate their channel for an audience of children or not, which mandates certain settings for video uploads), YouTube seems to be making more visible its efforts to root out the negativity.

We know that the comment section is an important place for fans to engage with creators and each other. At the same time, we heard feedback that comments are often where creators and viewers encounter harassment. – from YouTube Blog

YouTube folks claim in a new post that they are now beefing up the way comments are filtered and giving more flexibility to YouTube creators, as well as setting forth more algorithms to catch toxic comments before they even reach the comment bin. (See Comment Settings for YouTube, too)

There is a link to a Transparency Report, that shows how many videos have been removed and some other data, too, that is sort of fascinating to look at. For example, it seems to indicate that 500 million comments have been removed from July through September alone. Sheesh.

Well, we’ll see if it all works to make YouTube a more positive place while still protecting free speech (I acknowledge this is a juggling act, but, figure it out, people). My students will tell me if it’s working or not, I am sure.

Peace (everywhere),
Kevin

Independent Book-Based Board Game Design Activity

Book Board Game DesignTwo main activities are taking place in my classroom right now — we’re in the midst of a unit of independent reading (choice books with plenty of quiet reading time) and the start of our Game Design Unit. Merging those two ideas together (along with a much larger Video Game Design project), students are in the midst of designing a board game based on the book they are reading.

They won’t be building the actual game (I’ve framed it as they have been hired as game designer and someone else would be building the game itself) but are working on how a story might unfold as a game (this is how their video game project is situated — story as game/game as story). The requirements are the visuals of a game board, directions on how to play and instructions on how the game is either won or completed.

Already, some interesting projects are trickling with, with some neat ideas about how characters or plot or setting might become the central focus of a game that honors the story and maybe riffs off it in another direction. In the collage, the upper left is my mentor text — using a story I am nearly finishing, titled A Drop of Hope, which I have been thoroughly enjoying.

While every game is different, the mechanics of game design — strategy, game play, visual design — all will be central to our larger game project based off the Hero’s Journey template.

Peace (roll the dice and make your move),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: A Moment Too Late To Forget

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

It was only as I was watching it on the screen that I suddenly remember why we watched only PART of this video last year. At the reference to Whale penises, I was up and at the computer.

Let me explain …

We are working on a lesson around Fake News, and hoaxes, and one of the earliest hoaxes that used the aspect of global news to its advantage was the Nantucket Island Serpent Hoax of 1937, in which a local puppeteer maker teamed up with the local newspaper to report on sightings of a serpent off the coast of the island. It was a publicity stunt for tourism, but the newspaper’s role and its connection to wire services made the story go viral.

That part of the video is fine. Interesting. Nicely paced. Funny, at the right moment of the reveal.

Then the video shifts into a wider discussion of other fictional serpents, in places like Loch Ness and Lake Champlain, etc. Still, fine, and the kids are tuned in. They are curious.

Suddenly, the video takes a shift into explaining what people might have seen and thought were mythical creatures. Thus, not only a reference to the, um, whale’s large body part, but also a flash of pictures to, well, prove the video’s point about said whale body part. By then, I was at the computer, moving things along to the next slide in my presentation in front of a now rather-silent classroom of sixth graders.

Funny, but not one of them asked me about it, although I heard some surprised mutterings at the video references, and they didn’t blink an eye as I kept the lesson rolling.

Me? I was all professional on the outside, just moving things along, folks, just moving things along. Nothing to see here. Inside, though, I was kicking myself for not taking the time to watch the whole video in the morning. I had relied on my using the video last year for using it this year … but I didn’t leave a note for myself from last year. (Self, leave a note for yourself … Self, just did that … thank you … you’re welcome … now, remember … Ok).

Note: feel free to watch the video yourself

Peace (some days),
Kevin

Changes Afoot for YouTube (What Kids Can and Cannot See)

If you are a teacher or school that oversees its own YouTube channel (like I do), you need to know that changes are coming for how YouTube deals with videos and children. This comes after YouTube and Google were at the center of legal action around children’s access to videos, and I think the changes will be helpful.

Read more – Jeff Bradbury does a good job of explaining these changes for educators (thanks to Sheri, for sharing Jeff’s post)

There’s been a bunch of pushback by YouTube content creators — those who make their money off advertising inside videos — about the changes, which are part of COPPA (the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requirements, but I am all for deeper protections for those viewers under the age of 13. If that’s going to be your main audience, then you better be doing your job on protecting those viewers.

The Federal Trade Commission has released some information about what kind of material is “made for kids” or not.

Peace (what we see is what we do),
Kevin

Internet Mapping Project: 2019

Internet Mapping collage2

This is the third year I have brought Kevin Kelly’s Internet Mapping Project into my sixth grade classroom as part of the start of our Digital Life unit. I love how the artistic invitation — to capture yourself in relation to the Internet and technology — opens up a discussion about the intrusion of technology and the way it has woven into our lives.

Internet Mapping collage1

If you don’t know about Kelly’s project, it was an attempt to humanize our interactions with the Internet and to visualize the ways we see “home” in online spaces. I de-emphasize the “home” aspect a bit with my students, and focus on themselves as the central anchoring point.

The internet is vast. Bigger than a city, bigger than a country, maybe as big as the universe. It’s expanding by the second. No one has seen its borders.

And the internet is intangible, like spirits and angels. The web is an immense ghost land of disembodied places. Who knows if you are even there, there.

Yet everyday we navigate through this ethereal realm for hours on end and return alive. We must have some map in our head.

I’ve become very curious about the maps people have in their minds when they enter the internet. So I’ve been asking people to draw me a map of the internet as they see it. That’s all.  — Kevin Kelly

Peace (webbed),
Kevin

My Students and How They Use Technology: Survey Results

tech survey collage

Each year, for the past eight or nine years, I have given my sixth grade students a survey at the start of our Digital Life unit — as much to inform our discussions as to give me some insight into trends over time with an 11 year old audience.

This year, for example it’s a growing TikTok trend and a further devaluing of Facebook, with Instagram’s popularity also on the decline. Also, there are fewer reported negative experiences even as more students report adults talking to them about how best to use technology and digital media.

All this also helps me send forward resources to families and parents, as an encouragement to talk about and monitor technology use with their children.

This leads us to the first activity — The Internet Mapping Project by Kevin Kelly– and students are planning to share out today their artistic interpretations of how they envision their interaction with technology. I am always curious to see how they approach this prompt. Some go literal. Others, symbolic.

Internet Mapping Project template

Peace (becoming aware),
Kevin

Peace Posters: Journeys to Peace

Peace Posters 2019

These works of wonderful art are hanging on the walls of our schools, created by our sixth graders for our art teacher’s annual Peace Poster project. The theme this year was Journey to Peace (this is all part of a Lions Club project). Students have to use only art and design, not writing, in their posters. I love the connection to art and peace and the larger world, and I help them in our writing class to write their Artist Statements which will get placed alongside each poster in the coming days.

 

Peace (the journey),
Kevin