How schools are using technology creatively: Minecraft, Digital Storytelling and MakeyMakey

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Martin Bazley

FullSizeRender (1)The Digital Learning Network and Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums jointly hosted a half day event on 14th November at the Great North Museum, to discuss all things digital learning and innovation.  The main focus was to look at how schools are using technology creatively and how cultural organisations can learn from and support the best of what is happening in their classrooms.  Many schools and museums in the North East are using technology in exciting and creative ways so it was a fantastic opportunity to share the best of what is happening with digital learning in classrooms and in museums.

Zoe Ross: Mapping Minecraft. How GeoCraft is using Ordnance Survey maps and Minecraft to engage pupils in their local area and beyond.


Unfortunately Zoe was poorly on Friday and was unable to attend the event, however, her colleague Steve Bunce, very kindly stepped into the breach and presented on Zoe’s behalf.  Steve discussed the use of Minecraft in the classroom.

Steve took us through the GeoCraft project, is an innovative project working in schools to increase pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the environment.  GeoCraft which uses Ordnance Survey’s OS OpenData within Minecraft to help students to learn about the environment.  Minecraft is a hugely popular game set in virtual 3D worlds made up of cubes of different materials.  As well as Minecraft, the GeoCraft project uses Ordnance Survey’s OS OpenData to introduce students to Ordnance Survey data as they navigate their way around the virtual worlds. Rather than creating new virtual worlds, using OS data enables towns and places in Great Britain to be recreated.   The main aim is to make worlds that are more relevant to children, teaching them about their local environment.   Pupils work through a number of environmental challenges using virtual worlds built in Minecraft. They then apply their knowledge and understanding to their school, helping it to become more environmentally friendly.

Steve discussed the importance of bridging the gap between children using Minecraft for fun at home, and using it for educational purposes at school.  Is it necessary to find a balance between scaffolding workshops and letting children explore the virtual world themselves.   It’s about facilitation rather than direction and using Minecraft as a sandpit for exploration.

The next step for GeoCraft, is to focus on Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the Northumberland Coast, almost like a virtual field trip.  This has huge possibilities for Museums.  Particularly with the recent announcement that the British Museum is currently being built in Minecraft.

Some useful  Minecraft links:

 Steve Boneham: Digital Storytelling – from sceptic to supporter (my reflections on digital storytelling with academics and educators)

Steve discussed the importance of giving people and voice and using technology as an enabler.   With main premise being to use digital tools to help people tell their own stories in a compelling and emotionally engaging form.  At a very basic level digital stories are multimedia movies that combine photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and often a narrative voice.    However, Technology is a facilitator it is the story and the content which is important.  Steve discussed the possibilities open to museums to connect deep and meaningful stories to collections.  Storytelling can be a powerful and effective tool.  Despite changes in technology and visitor behaviour, a core focus on great storytelling should serve as the critical element for museum communication as a way of connecting with their visitors. Steve focussed on the power of stories and gave a few example of simple to use web-based tools to create engaging messages through images and sounds.    The main being adobe voice, which is a free app which enables you to turn a story into an animated video quickly and easily.

One of the issues with digital storytelling is the time it takes to put together.  If you are going to implement digital storytelling it actually takes quite a lot of time at the beginning to enable people to be creative. But it is often worth the time investment.  A good example of museum using digital storytelling is the Culture Shock! Project which used museum collections as inspiration for individuals to create their own digital stories and then share them online.  

Steve Bunce (after doing a fantastic job filling in for Zoe) showed us a quick fire range of examples of how different primary and secondary schools are using technology and got us to think about how they could be enhanced, using museum collections.  Steve first started with some audience participation and handed around a few ipads and asked people to take a photo, he then went through the process of using Morfo, a free ipad app which animates a face.   It was a fantastic example of how museums could quickly and cheaply bring a museum object to life.

Steve then turned to the Horizon Report – Museum Edition which highlights six emerging technologies or practices that are going to have an impact on the museum sector and breaks them down into three distinct time frames or horizons.  Steve discussed the main areas and the digital tools which are available, and most are free.  Steve started with the near term horizon, the focus was on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and mainly focused on how schools are using ipads/tablets particularly looking at the computing curriculum, and the ideas behind merging digital literacy, computer science and information technology. 

  • Padlet: an online noticeboard or ideas wall.  A useful tool for crowdsourcing ideas.
  • Mozilla X-ray goggles: allows you to see the building blocks that make up websites and then adapt them to make something new.  A really useful tool for critical thinking.  Steve used the example of the BBC News website to get students to identify what is real and what is fake.  
  • Mozilla AppMaker: Appmaker is an free Webmaker tool for creating mobile app without learning to code.  Could be used for students to design a new museum app.
  • Mozilla popcorn: Popcorn Maker is a video editing platform to easily remix web video, audio and images to create a new online video.

Steve then moved onto the theme of Electronic publishing, identified in the Horizon report  as having an adoption horizon of Two to Three Years.


Finally Steve discussed the Natural user interfaces which the Horizon report believes to have a time to adoption horizon of four to five years.  The tool which captured the room’s imagination was Makey Makey.  

All in all, it was a really interesting afternoon, lots of food for thought!

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