Principal Matt Renwick is sharing weekly reflections about an afternoon computer club he and a teacher are sponsoring as an enrichment activity. (Here are the links to this eight-part series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7 and Part 8.)

In our first post about passion-based learning, we connected the three tenets of motivation from Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink with why Minecraft might be so engaging. But as we have found out, our students haven’t reached beyond the expected. There seems to be a lack of purpose in their pursuits, which led us to try out Lego Education kits for a while.

So, how are other classrooms able to make Minecraft work in their classroom environments?

Access, Purpose, Audience

coverIn June, my first book will be published through Powerful Learning Press. Titled Digital Student Portfolios: A Whole School Approach to Connected Learning and Continuous Assessment, I describe our school’s three-year journey in embedding digital tools into our instruction in authentic and meaningful ways.

The theory of action subscribed to in this eBook is that audience, gained through our access to technology, can enhance and sometimes even create a purpose to our learning. Without an authentic audience – whether that be global, local community, family, or even oneself – a learner’s sense of purpose can decrease. Lacking that ability to connect and grow, our new knowledge is gained within a vacuum, instead of for others to witness. See the diagram for a visual of this concept.

This purpose that Daniel Pink describes as a powerful motivator is, I believe, often dependent on who is seeing our work and how an audience might respond. Having someone to appreciate, assess, and provide feedback on what we create is powerful.

circles-3bWith an audience, students see their learning as both a social act and an opportunity to teach. It benefits the creator as well as the consumer. Access to technology alone is not enough.

Check out out three examples of how our Computer Club students found more purpose in their work with the help of an authentic audience.

Passion Profile #1: Maria and Alicia

These two students discovered a new digital tool, called Floor Planner. Their passion: To design the perfect home. As their work progressed, Maria and Alicia realized that they wanted to share their creations with their parents. We introduced them to Audioboo as a way to accomplish this. Using my iPhone, we recorded their quick explanation. Click here to listen to their presentation.

On one of our last days of Computer Club, I pulled up the “Boo” when Alicia’s and Maria’s parents came to pick them up. They were impressed with their ideas (and possibly a little worried about what their dreams might cost!). Both girls wanted to keep working on their plans at home, so they copied the URL down in a notebook. We also posted it on Edmodo.

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Passion Profile #2: Evan

A number of our students were sticking with their Legos. Evan was one of our more motivated learners. Like Cole from a previous post, Evan was consistent in coming up to us, seeking feedback and support. We amply supplied words of encouragement and wisdom. When his car was finally ready, Evan sought us out to videotape his final product.

We promptly posted this video on Edmodo as well. Evan was very proud of his work; he quickly checked the uploaded video and played it back several times.

Passion Profile #3: Gage

Gage was also very interested in Legos, but did not have the dedication yet to see a project through. He was also not terribly motivated by what a digital audience could provide. Many of Gage’s inventions were excellent starts, but failed to reach the finish line.

Our school is fortunate to be able to partner with secondary students at a neighboring junior high school. These 8th and 9th graders need volunteer hours, plus they like to work with kids. Kao Sheng, a freshman, was willing to sit down with Gage and “play” Legos with him during one session. Not a lot of words were exchanged between the two, but I had never before seen Gage stay with something for that length of time. Sometimes the best audience is the one right next to us.

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Where to Next?

As I write this post, I am thinking about our last computer club session tomorrow. We are moving our last session from after school to lunch time. (I owe the students pizza; I had promised to bring more batteries for their Lego cars one night but forgot.) While they enjoy lunch on me, we are also having them complete a survey of this experience.

We explained that the information we gather from them will be used as an artifact in our application to continue receiving the Spotlight School grant funds through our state department of education. I am sure they will work diligently between bites, to provide strong reasons for continue this programming. Not just because they liked Computer Club, but because someone values what they have to say.

About the author
Matt Renwick is a 15-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he did time as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example, tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book about digital portfolios will be published by Powerful Learning Press this spring.