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Why I was sad & scared on CBC’s Metro Morning

Why I was sad & scared on CBC’s Metro Morning

Last Friday morning, I took a detour on my way to school to the CBC building downtown.

I wasn’t lost. I had been invited to chat with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning to discuss, you guessed it, Minecraft.

The game has been in the news recently, with the impending Microsoft purchase. That’s what brought me in the door, but I mostly spoke about how I use Minecraft to engage my students with reading, writing and much more.

I also admitted to being very sad and a little bit scared about the future of my favourite game.

Listen to the podcast below to find out why (I come on at around the 9:15 minute mark.)

Not working? Listen to the podcast here.

It was a lot of fun and over before I knew it.  But I’m still sad and scared. Feel free to cheer me up in the comments.

How those Minecraft books got my students reading . . .


The three most coveted books on our Grade 1 class library. Are you surprised?

[This post originally appeared on GamingEdus.org, but I figured folks dropping by here might like to read it too!]

If you’ve been near a young Minecraft fan lately, you’ll know that this year’s must-have items aren’t the creeper hoodies or pink piggie stuffies. It’s books. Minecraft books.

They invaded my Grade 1 classroom and help turn some of my reluctant readers to word decoding ninjas. I’m talking about the books pictured above, Beginner’s Handbook, The Redstone Handbook, the Combat Handbook and more.

They quickly became part of my classroom library and my daily reading program for my Grade 1 students. In this post, I’ll show you how I use them with young readers and why I recommend them for any teacher with reluctant-reading Minecraft fans.

The Long Wait

Before we even got our hands on these books, some of my students had a very long wait in front of them. They first showed up at our school during the Scholastic Book Fair in January. Our amazing librarian ordered six copies of the Beginner’s Handbook. They sold out in the first 10 minutes. A few of my Grade 1s, ordered a copy anyway with the hope it would arrive at school ‘soon’.

A few days later, instead of the ordered books, our librarian received this note from Scholastic:


Scholastic’s note to anyone foolish enough to order the Minecraft books.


I guess this Minecraft thing is kind of popular? This was February. I now had to tell a group of 6 year olds that they had to wait three months for a book they already paid for. They were confused. We hadn’t even done time yet in math and three months was an unbelievably long time to ask them to wait. At the time, we were buried under miles of snow in an endless winter. So, I explained to them that when the snow melts and flowers appear, so will the Minecraft books. That helped. A little.

It was a long, cold winter.

Avid Gamers = Engaged Readers

When finally spring did arrive, the books finally arrived and also began to appear in bookstores across town (the ones still around.) My students brought them to class by the armload.

I bought a few for my class, slapped my name on them (things go missing fast in my classroom!) and they quickly became the go-to item during our morning reading time.

Once these books made an appearance my students who would normally wander the classroom spending 10 minutes “looking for a book” were reading right away. The text is written at a higher reading level than Grade 1 but their engagement with the subject, in this case Minecraft, pushed many readers to try bigger words or run to the dictionary to find the meanings of unfamiliar words.

I also did impromptu shared reading activities with some of the kids. We read passages together with me filling in the larger words. Suddenly I was having quick reading sessions with some of my most reluctant readers. Our work at decoding a paragraph about mining for coal, often led to connections with lessons we had done previously – recognizing ‘ing’ at the end of some words, or identifying the ‘ch’ sound in others.

These on the spot phonics lessons arose naturally, connected to the students’ real world experiences and made the learning much more meaningful. I find this is often missing when I sit students down as a group and do some straight phonics work. It’s hard to keep that stuff engaging.

Non-Fiction Studies Through Lava Pit Traps

The books also made great subjects for our investigations into non-fiction texts.

The books have all the elements of a good non-fiction book, including an easy to read table of contents and plenty of labels on pictures and diagrams. While we had already studied non-fiction texts through our science unit on living things, the students were thrilled to see the same text features in a book about other subjects.


The Redstone Handbook is packed with non-fiction text features and procedural writing examples.

The Redstone Handbook was particularly useful for our work around procedural writing. The students noticed many of the features of good “How-To” books in the redstone guide. Elements like step-by-step instructions and “you will need” list of ingredients were all quickly spotted by the students. Many went on to create their Minecraft How-To books, with guides on how to build your first shelter and more.

As the year wound up and my classroom books were packed away, these three titles were the ones my kids were still asking for on the last day. To me, that’s the sign of engagement and growing readers. Over the summer, I’m going to pick up the rest of the books and see where they can take our learning.

What about you? What Minecraft or video game books have you used in your classroom? Tell us about it in the comments below!

I addition to writing kids books and teaching Grade 1, I share resources for teachers and parents to get their reluctant readers reading through my regular newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then subscribe to Reading Change. You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.



How my talk on comics got hijacked (and then saved) by that blocky game

So, here’s the scene:

It’s a busy Saturday at the Toronto Public Library’s Book Bash children’s festival. There’s kids running around everywhere in the TPL’s Northern Branch. There’s stacks of books (obviously). There’s busy balloon-animal maker.  And then there’s me talking comics to a room full of kids.

I have a lot of fun giving my Panel Power presentation to libraries and school groups around Canada and last Saturday’s Book Bash talk was no different. I was about halfway through the talk, showing kids how I come up with my ideas when disaster struck.

The Power Point presentation on my laptop crashed.

I’m talking one of those, crash-so-you-can’t-click-anything kind of crashes. It just froze. And to be honest, so did I.

I made a few uncomfortable jokes, which the adults in the crowd laughed at politely. I clicked a few buttons and generally tried to look like I was in control.

I wasn’t.

One of my clicks must have gotten through because suddenly Power Point closed and my desktop wallpaper was projected on the large screen behind me for all to see.

This is what they saw:


This is what I heard:


Instantly, the frozen laptop was forgotten. Many of the kids in the audience were suddenly sitting up in their seats, eyes wide and ready to talk. And talk we did. Ender Dragons, Withers, World Edit plug-ins and more.

For a few minutes, we chatted back and forth excitedly about video games, that other alternative literacy that, like comics, is big with reluctant readers everywhere.

While my laptop sorted itself out and I chatted to the kids, I was struck (once again) with just how important these other forms of literacy are to young readers. Parents might roll their eyes, librarians and teachers might scoff (but many don’t!) at the mention of video games in general and Minecraft in particular.

I remember when the same could be said of comics in the classroom and the library. And I’m happy to see this attitude changing.

I’m also happy in my choice of computer wallpaper.

As a gamer-geek and  elementary school teacher, I often have Tech Teaching ideas to share with fellow educators, librarians, homeschoolers and parents/guardians. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my monthly e-newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then subscribe to Reading Change. You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.




Minecraft Students are evolving. They’ll pwn teachers (and servers). And that’s awesome.

“You’ll never know more than your students. And that’s okay.”

I find myself saying that a lot to teachers looking to bring Minecraft into their classrooms. Any adult who’s been within a block’s throw of a Minecraft kid knows what I’m talking about.

I’ve written about the encyclopedic knowledge of some Minecraft students around upcoming patches, crafting recipes or the latest must have modpack.

It wasn’t always like this. The knowledge of kids playing Minecraft has increased exponentially every year I’ve used the game in my classroom.

And Teachers should be afraid. Very afraid.

They should also be excited.

Before I tell you why, here’s a look at the Evolution of the Minecraft-Playing Student (as seen by me.)

2011: Mine-what?

In the spring of 2011, I brought Minecraft into the classroom for my first time, after playing it myself for about six months.  I had a small group of students,  six who came to me for reading and writing support. I asked them if they had ever heard of Minecraft. None of them had, but when I showed them this trailer, they were all into it.

They were clueless n00bs, the morning was chaotic and there was so much learning to be had.

2012: Minecraft? Yeah I heard of it.

The next year with a new group at a new school, the reaction a vague knowledge around the game. The kids had heard of it but none had played it. Our early sessions were messy and loud, which was expected. What was a surprise was how quickly these students found the growing catalogue of resources online, from Minepedia, to Yogscast videos and more.

By the end of this year, the students were Minecraft pros and a few had got the game and were now playing at home.

2013: Minecraft? Yeah my brother plays it. I hate it.

My third year using Minecraft was the first year I got push-back from a student about using it. Her brother played it, so she officially hated it. But she gave it a go and was the first one in the group to figure out how to chat in game. From there, she was hooked.

The others in the group had also played Minecraft, either at home or at a friends. They knew the commands, how to build and were off.

The first day wasn’t as messy, but it was still fun.

2014: Minecraft? Yeah, I play and I’m gonna hack your server!

This year is the year I’m seeing things really change. Each student had played Minecraft before.

Two ran their own servers at home and immediately set to work trying to crash the server. They ran World Edit commands, they tried to get Command Blocks, the whole bit.

I was thrilled.

They were poking at the edges of this play space we’d created for them. They were testing the boundaries, trying out their theories and seeing if they could get under the hood of the game. These students felt powerful. They felt in charge.

To them, Minecraft wasn’t a video game you just consume. It was a form of media to be manipulated, hacked and reshaped into their own thing (e.g. a broken server!)

The Many Ways to “Play” Minecraft

I can’t say that’s how these students saw themselves or their attempts to OP themselves, make //sphere TNT 1000 or anything else that would have brought down our GamingEdus server (running on some high end university equipment). They were just testing boundaries, pushing limits and playing Minecraft the way any 11 year old with his own server would play.

They were playing the way a server admin would play. And that shouldn’t be surprising or shocking.

Because outside of the physical building known as “school” and after 3:30 pm, that is who they are. And I’m honoured to have them as builders in our lunch time Minecraft club.

The kids will always know more about Minecraft, or whatever game comes next into your classroom. And that is fine. As teachers, hopefully that doesn’t scare you. Hopefully that gets you charged up (as it does me) to have these student push their learning, and your server into uncharted territory.

How many times can you say that about something you’re doing in your classroom?



Bringing the Minecraft to ECOO 2013

mutli-sign-shoreham2013I’ll be yammering on about Minecraft a lot this October at the upcoming ECOO 2013 conference, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Last year’s ECOO Minecraft Madness was a lot of fun and this year promises to be bigger, better and blockier than ever before.

Read on to find out why.


Cube World: the next video game your students will be talking about

Cube World This coming school year, teachers and parents could be hearing talk of a brand new game inspired by Minecraft, but adding role-playing game (RPG) elements that so many kids (and adults!) love.

That game is Cube World.

It’s currently in Alpha mode and not officially released yet but, like Minecraft before it, it’s available for curious gamers to explore.

I did just that. After running around, fighting monsters and generally having a blast, I’m confident the name “Cube World” will make its way through school playgrounds and become a household name very soon.

So what is Cube World?

Watch the video below and join me (as my alter ego Praxismaxis) as I explore the world, meet a sheep and get totally ganked by an ogre. Good times.

Curious to learn more?

Buy Cube World at picroma.com

Play on the GamingEdus Cube World server by visiting gamingedus.org.

What do you think of Cube World? Is it something you’d bring into your classroom? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

As an award-winning children’s author, gamer-geek and elementary school teacher, I often have Tech Teaching ideas and project news to share with fellow educators. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my e-newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then subscribe to Reading Change.

You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.