feeding change — blogging learning & creativity for young minds

feeding change

blogging learning & creativity for young minds

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

February 18, 2014

“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?



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Why I’m changing the way I talk about writing to students

February 16, 2014

When I visit schools or run writing workshops for kids (which I’m doing this spring at the Toronto Public Library), I’m often asked how to get started as a writer.

It used to go something like this:

1. Write a great story.

2. Send it to Publisher.

3. Wait for 1 year.

4. Got published? Yes: go to 5. No go to 1.

5. Hold up Finished Book proudly.

6. Go back to 1.

That’s how it works with my books from traditional publishers, like Tank and Fizz from Orca Book Publishers.


I followed the traditional publishing path with Tank and Fizz.

The New Writer’s Typical Day

But now there’s another way. Next time I talk to kids (or teachers!) about what a writer does all day, it’ll be something like this:

1. Write a great story.

2. Hire an editor.

3. Hire a cover designer.

4. Approve the cover and the final manuscript.

5. Jam manuscript into varying formats (epub, mobi, pdf) so it all looks nice.

6. Upload it.

7. Price it.

8. Market it.

9 Go back to 1.

This is what I did this weekend when I published Pixelhead, the latest story in my Tech Tales series for Middle Grade readers.


I wrote it, created the cover and formatted Pixelhead across a range of platforms.

The second list is definitely longer. It also requires a range of diverse skill sets that go far beyond writing. As I’ve moved into self-publishing books like Ganked and my Tech Tales short stories, I’ve used skills I never knew I had.

New Writing = New Skills

Hiring editors, deciding on covers, wrangling text to look nice are all the domain of the publisher and their army of editors, artists and designers. And while you could argue that the writer becomes the publisher when they self-publish, I still approach this as a writer.

The modern writer needs above all to write a great story (something I hope I do.) But they also, if they wish, have the power to get that story directly to readers.

If they wish to take the path of independent publishing, then the definition of a “writer” changes and so does the job description and the skills needed.

Now, when students ask me about how to get started writing, I tell them about their self-publishing options and writing communities like Wattpad. While I stress the importance of Step 1, I also emphasize that things are changing. The path of tomorrow’s great writers will definitely be different from those writing super stars of today.

Teaching Modern Writing

As an educator, I try to ensure students see themselves and their world in the stuff we learn. Peddling out the myths of a writer’s life does them an injustice. And besides they won’t buy it.

In a tech-filled world of uploads, remixes and user generated content, why should publishing stories be any different?

What do you think? How do you teach your students about being a writer? Let me know 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.

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Pixelhead: my latest mind-bending Tech Tales story coming soon

February 6, 2014
» by in: writing news

pixelhead-drop-250H Pixelhead

Tech Tales #3

“I knew I was in trouble when I deleted my breakfast.”

When Nathan wakes up with the head of a video game villain on his shoulders, he knows he’s in for a world of trouble. The question is, which world?

Award-winning children’s author, Liam O’Donnell mashes reality with the pixelated world of video games in this latest Tech Tale short story for Middle Grade reluctant readers.

The third short story in the Tech Tales series, this DRM-free ebook includes a Teachers Guide and rights for classroom distribution and photocopying.

Available soon for all e-readers, tablets and computers. Read and share Pixelhead on your Kobo, Kindle, Ipad or computer of your choice. Each story also comes with a link to a pdf version for easy printing. Learn more about Tech Tales.

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How my words become amazing illustrations with Tank and Fizz

February 2, 2014

mike-working01One of the best things about writing graphic novels for kids is watching my ideas take on a life of their own. And that’s exactly what’s happening with Tank & Fizz, my new mystery series coming soon from Orca Book Publishers.

Mike Deas, the man behind the monstrous illustrations recently posted some behind-the-scenes images of how he turns my words into pictures.  Check them out at: tankandfizz.com.

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How an old idea is kickstarting my new year

January 14, 2014

Meet Fizz! The goblin who lived in my notebook for a decade (drawn by Mike Deas)

I have a lot of story ideas.

It comes with the territory. Some are good. Some should be taken down to the lake and, y’know . . .

Others should be left to simmer in one of my many, many notebooks. While they simmer, they evolve. Sometimes they evolve into something usable.

I’m bouncing my way into 2014 because one of my oldest ideas has evolved into something kinda cool.

It involves a goblin. His name is Fizz and he’s knocked around my notebooks for many years, always evolving and never being satisfied to stay quiet for long.  You haven’t met him yet, but you will.

Fizz is one half of my newest detective duo in my latest series Tank & Fizzforthcoming from the amazing Orca Publishers.

He wasn’t always a detective and he taught me a valuable lesson that all writers, from kids in school to old-timers like me can benefit from.

Humble Goblin-y Beginnings

There’s no hiding that I’m a bit of a D&D geek, as readers of my last YA novel Ganked will attest to. As a kid, I poured over the Monster Manual any minute I could. I stared at the black and white pencil drawings. I memorized their stats from Armor Class to Hit Dice, I’ve always been fascinated by the monsters I faced in all those deep dark dungeons.

Back in 2000, I decided I wanted to write about one monster. A goblin living under a vast mountain. At first, I went for the low-hanging fruit ideas: the goblin is a wizard, the answer to the prophecies of legend, blah, blah. blah. Thankfully, those ideas got quickly shelved.

The Goblin Who Wouldn’t Go Away

But the idea of a goblin as a main character kept cropping up. Around 2006, I was thinking about becoming a teacher. So I volunteered in a local school. It was there I met a kid who insisted we call him Fizz. That was his nickname and the only thing he answered to.

Immediately, I liked the name Fizz. Somewhere in my writer’s brain, it latched onto that goblin wizard hiding out in a notebook from way back.  With a new name, Fizz the goblin was determined to have a story written about him.

Fizzin’ and Popping through Genres

So, now the goblin had a name. Now all he needed was a story to go with it. I tried him in space. I tried him in modern times. I tried him as a computer-hacking, junk-food-eating time traveller. But nothing stuck. The lake was calling for Fizz the Goblin, but I wasn’t ready to take him there yet.

Enter the Tank

There was still one story genre I didn’t try and it’s the one I write the most: mysteries. I put a pair of gumshoes on my goblin and sent him off to solve crimes.

And that’s when things took off.


Fizz with his detective partner Tank and their first client, Mr. Snag the school caretaker (drawn by Mike Deas).

Fizz suddenly got a partner called Tank (more on her very soon) and place to do the detecting: a normal, average, run of the mill, school. A school run my an eight-legged principal in the heart of a monster-filled city run by a crooked mayor and hooked on a goopy, stinky, substance sucked from the ground.

Around this very old character, I created the world of Rockfall Mountain and the metropolis of Slick City. Within that city, I buried mysteries as old as the rock itself, added in a touch of technology and created my new series for young readers: Tank & Fizz.

Letting Old Ideas Simmer and New

With this new year taking shape, I’m very excited to be returning to an old friend. That goblin from many years and many notebooks ago will finally have a chance to shine. Tank & Fizz is for younger readers (Grades 1 – 3) and it’s illustrated by the monstrously talented Mike Deas and published by the fantastic folks at Orca Book Publishers.

I guess the moral of this post to all writers, teachers and readers is: Don’t give up on an old idea. Let it simmer and see what becomes of it. You might be surprised.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be publishing more stuff about the characters and the series over at: tankandfizz.tumblr.com. Follow us on tumblr, subscribe to this blog or tag along in the twitter, where I’m @liamodonnell.

I’m hoping you’ll come along for the monster-filled journey.

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Early holiday present brings new mystery series!

December 24, 2013

With Christmas only a day away, I wanted to share with you a present from my creative pal, the amazing Mike Deas.

Introducing Tank & Fizz, monster detectives extraordinaire:


Tank & Fizz monster detectives and their pals.

They are also stars of Tank & Fizz Mysteries my brand new series, illustrated by Mike Deas and forthcoming from the amazing Orca Publishers.

This series has been in development for a while, but I’ve kept quiet about around here.  With these rough character sketches from Mike, the series is officially underway!

If I had to describe the series in one (really long) sentence, this would be it:

Tank and Fizz Mysteries is a monster and magic-filled dieselpunk-fantasy-noir mystery series for young readers gaining confidence with chapter books.

Think Max Finder Mystery meets Monster Manual for readers in Grade 1 – 3 and you’re getting there.

Expect to hear a lot more about this new series and these characters from Mike and I in the coming months.

In the meantime, here are a few more beasties young readers will get to know very well:


The rest of the monstrous characters.


Big thanks to Mike Deas for sharing the illustrations, Orca Publishers for agreeing that a detective series starring a troll and a goblin would be a good idea.

So, what do you think? Do you see giving Tank & Fizz Mysteries to a young reader in your life? Let me know in the comments below!

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Giving Away My Books Makes Me Want to Write More

December 21, 2013

Ganked giveaway goodies almost ready to be mailed.

With Christmas around the corner, the season for giving is definitely here. While I do like the whole receiving side of gifts, this year I’m especially excited for a couple of packages I’m giving away.

Last week, my Ganked Ten Day Giveaway ended and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it all turned out and who won.

Great Response from Goodreads

When I put Ganked up as a giveaway for ten days earlier this month, I had no idea what to expect. I figured a few people would enter and that’d be that.

A few turned into 681 people entering with close to 300 adding it to their “To Read” shelves.  For a new book with zero reviews on the site, I was very happy to have people take notice.

And I’m even more happy to send two copies out to the winners Gail and Marisa (along with some bookmarks and stuff.)

Overall, I’m very pleased with how the giveaway went and will definitely run another in the new year.

But mostly, giving books away makes me want to write more.

Familiar Process with New Results

I’ve written over 30 books for kids for numerous publishers, so this “after publishing publicity push” isn’t anything new for me. Once a book is available, my publisher sends it out to the usual places for reviews and sometimes even places an ad or two in a trade magazine. All amazing stuff that I love them for.

With Ganked, I’m the publisher. I’m the one doing this sort of stuff. I’m directly involved in every step along the way. I get a new thrill when I see readers respond in a positive way. From the emails of support from the amazing people subscribing to my newsletter to “to read” tagging, each is a direct connection to my writing.

That feels new for me. And it makes me want to create more and more and more.

So, I’m doing just that. The sequel to Ganked is taking shape and I’m putting the finishing touches the first in a new series of books for a totally awesome Canadian publisher, who I’ll name very, very soon.

And then there’s the Pixelhead, the new Tech Tales short story about a kid who wakes up looking like a video game character.

Oh, and there’s also that other one  .  .  . you get the idea.

I’d be honoured if joined me on this journey into new writing. You can do that by subscribing to my Reading Change newsletter. It lands in your inbox every month and comes with a new Tech Teaching resource you can use with the young learners in your life.

In the meantime, happy reading!


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