Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Minecraft 101

By John Miller

Minecraft is much more than a game. I’ve been using it as a teacher and player for the past five years and I’ve come to the realization that playing it is something to be experienced, especially with others.

When first logging into the game, players are “spawned” into a unique world, full of biomes like deserts, jungles, tundra, and grasslands where they will find useful objects around like cactus and trees, and animals such as chickens, rabbits, and horses.

There are two common modes to play in. In survival, players begin with nothing and must fend for themselves. They mine items like stone and cut down trees. Following strict recipes, they use these resources to craft items they need to survive, like tools and weapons. At night monsters (aka mobs) come out and attack unsheltered players.

In creative mode, players have unlimited access to all the blocks in the game and are free to fly around and cannot be hurt. This is the mode teams of players use to create astonishing projects found all over the internet. If you can dream it, you can probably build it in Minecraft.

Teachers are using the game to teach such topics as citizenship, math, science, history, and literacy. It’s also being used to teach computer science, art, and architecture and has been implemented in classes from kindergarten to university. It’s a brilliant tool for visualization of concepts and storytelling.

At home, informal lessons occur all the time. Kids are debating each other, developing original designs, learning geography and mapping skills, and are solving problems dealing with things like food shortages, climate, and electrical circuitry – known as redstone in the game.

Minecraft can be utterly confounding to parents, a world complete with its own vocabulary, a focused level of intensity, and legions of unbridled, enthusiastic supporters. It also is compulsive by nature. One of the game’s mottos after all is “just one more block.” As with any activity, we need to safeguard against excessive use and as parents, provide limits. 

In order to see what this is all about, I suggest that you see this as an opportunity to join your child in an activity they clearly love and ask a Minecraft player in your life to teach you the game.
Here are a couple of activities to get you started with Minecraft at home with your kids: 
  1. Survival mode challenge – have your child set up a survival world for you to play in. You’ll need to work together quickly to build a shelter and craft tools to survive that first night. Play together for an hour, save the game and return the following week. Play once a week over summer and experience the adventure of exploring and conquering a new world together. 
  2. Collaborative build – team up with other parents and their kids to complete a creative challenge together on a hot summer afternoon. Cooperate in the same world to build something original. How about a pirate base, a fleet of giant airships, or a zoo complete with Minecraft animals?
A Minecraft license is required for the version of the game you are playing. Your kids can likely help you get your username, or visit for help.

If you would like to explore more ideas and projects you can complete with your kids both in and outside of Minecraft, order a copy of my book, Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids.

John has been a middle school teacher in King City, California for over 20 years. He has experience teaching grades 6-8 in every content area. He was awarded an MA in Educational Technology and loves to dive deep into instructional design.
In April of 2016,  John (@johnmillerEDU) was recognized as Teacher of the Year for Monterey County. He is a Google Innovator and an internationally recognized leader in the Minecraft in Education community. John spends his free time with Audrey, his wife of nearly 30 years, rock climbing and traveling the world.
John is coauthor of the book, Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids (2016) from Quarry Books and is a contributor to An Educator’s Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom (2014) from Peachpit Press. He blogs about his classroom lessons at

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Not All Learning Happens Between The Pages Of A Book

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Passion Based Learning, also referred to as Passion Projects. You will always find a wealth of information here on the topic...just a short while ago Ms. Amber Chandler shared more on this; Thinking About What To Think About: Summer Passion Projects.

Last summer my two youngest completed their very own passion projects and this year is no different. 

Right here on the blog you'll notice that I created a page some time ago entitled 'My Equine World'...during the summer months my daughter writes about her passion; The Equine! And this year she's got a head start, we started looking into something that had interested her for some time; Music therapy for the equine. Please feel free to follow her passion project during the summer months at My Equine World. I will also be posting alongside her here and via my other social media networks on the learning outcomes and experiences each week. 

"Not all learning happens between the pages of a book."

- Dale

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Behavioral Responses Of a Horse To Music

By Victoria (My Equine World)

This topic has interested me for many years and now I finally get the chance to research it!

Some things I'm going to look at are: What are a horses' response to music, do they differ? How and why are they so in tune to music? And can music be used as therapy for horses?

Here is what I learnt...

When a horse is stressed does music help calm him down?
Yes, music can calm a stressed horse for example, a loud thunderstorm can cause a horse to stress. Certain music and sounds can mask the sounds and calm them down.

Can music be used as therapy for a horse?  How does it heal them?
Yes. It calms the horse in a stressful situation.  Some examples where a horse can get stressed and music can be used for therapy are: Vet visits, recovery from injury and trailer transport.

What are a horses' response to music, are they different?
All horses will have different responses to music, one can have a positive response and the other can have a negative response.
I proved this by carrying out my own experiments with the help of a couple of friends.  Watch the video of 'The Behavioural Responses of The Horse To Music', we used different genres of music.

Is there a certain genre of music horses respond to more?
"...classical or country music played at a low volume will have a positive effect and help calm horses while they're resting, eating and being groomed in the barn." - Janet Marlow.
Watch the video and see if you can identify any differences in their reactions to different genres.

Why are horses so in tune to music?
Because it is a language they use to communicate.

It was VERY interesting to see all the horses response to music. I learnt a lot and had tons of fun!!! I'll definitely continue research on this topic for the summer!

Thanks Carrie and Leroy!

- My Equine World

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Healthy Eating: Where to Start? 3 Simple Rules to Healthier Eating

By Deb Lowther

So you’ve decided to make some changes and eat healthier, but you just don’t know where to start. It can be confusing trying to weed through all the exaggerated marketing and fad diets to understand the facts about health and nutrition.

There are some simple rules that can make healthy eating a bit easier without the need for a strict diet, calorie counting or a degree in nutrition.

Rule No 1 – Limit Packaged Food
You can guarantee most prepared items you purchase – especially if packaged - will include added fat for flavour and sodium and preservatives to maintain its shelf life. Even the best sounding salad at the drive thru is hiding crazy amounts of unhealthy fats in the dressing. When you make it yourself, you can control what gets added and what doesn’t.
Try swapping your usual purchases for healthier versions of the same food – natural peanut butter vs regular, greek yogurt vs. regular and chedder cheese vs processed slices. 
If you have the option of fresh or canned – go for fresh (ie peaches in a can vs fresh peaches)
If you can make it yourself, you should – even a few nights a week will help. This goes for everything from lasagna to soup to salad dressings. Find a few easy recipes and make ahead meals or make batches to freeze and re-heat on busy weeknights. 
Bake not Buy – try to bake muffins, cookies, dessert breads and kids granola bars. Bake in batches and store in the freezer for easy school morning lunch making.

Rule No 2 – Balance Your Plate
An easy way to determine if a meal is on the healthier side is to ensure it has variety of foods and includes at least 4 of these 5 key components. Get away from the meat and potatoes mentality and think in terms of a balanced plate for all 3 meals of the day.

  1. Protein – lean meats baked or grilled, eggs, beans, fish, chicken
  2. Vegetable – salad greens like spinach, all root vegetables, beans, broccoli, eggplant. The list is endless.
  3. Fruit – in its true form (not a can or container) – berries, apples, grapes, bananas, melons.
  4. Calcium – include calcium at breakfast and lunch by including yogurt, milk, cheese, tofu.
  5. Fibre – include whole grains at every meal whether in the cereal at breakfast, home made muffins or baked oatmeal at snack to the whole grain bread at lunch and whole grain pasta, brown rice or quinoa at dinner.

Rule No 3 – Read Nutrition Facts
When you do have to buy packaged food, don’t depend on the front of the box or packaging to give you the straight facts – “low in fat’ hides that it contains artificial flavours, sugar and added sodium to enhance the flavour, “contains real fruit” is code for a tiny amount of added dried or pureed fruit is there in addition to the sugar, oil, salt and artificial colurs and flavours.  The nutrition facts are on the back –know what to look for when label reading.

When reading the nutrition facts look for the following:
  • Proteinprotein plays an important role in controlling hunger and increasing muscle and recovering from exercise – go for protein over empty calories every time. At least 10 grams of protein in snacks and 20 grams from meals is a good guideline.
  • Fiber – Go for fibre!  At least 3 grams is considered good, but more is great.
  • Fat – Healthy fats can be good for you but those are usually not found in packaged foods. Try for 0 g trans fat and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.
  • Sugar – when buying cereal, granola bars, crackers, cookies or muffins (which you should limit - see Rule #1!!)  look for those high in fibre and low in sugar. Less than 8 grams of sugar per serving is a good rule to live by.

Even making one small change is a change in the right direction. Try limiting morning muffins and go for a protein smoothie to hold you over until lunch. Have salad with chicken and home made dressing at lunch rather than take out and limit afternoon snacking on packaged foods.

Eating healthier just means eating more real food and ensuring you are getting enough fibre and protein to keep you full longer and avoid unnecessary snacking.


Deb Lowther is a writer, runner, wife and mom of 3. When not running after the kids, Deb is running in the trails and ensuring her own family has fun while eating healthy & staying active together. After selling their first company in 2015, the Lowthers' launched Element Nutrition and are now focused on creating nutritional products for the Boomer generation with Boomer Nutrition and healthier kids Snack Bars with IronKidsNutrition. Deb inspires healthy families through numerous articles in print and online, encouraging others to enjoy a healthy diet, stay active and not be afraid to try new things.