winterim_screenshotThe middle school at Porter-Gaud always starts the second semester with a great program called Winterim. It’s three days of programs that the students choose. Some are out of town, like going to Costa Rica, and some are in town. Several have a service component (mission trips, helping out at a local daycare or animal rescue). Several are just for fun (ropes courses, etc.). The last two years I have offered a 3-day intensive tech “camp” that I call TechFrenzy (shameless plug: that’s also the name of my YT channel.

Seventeen students signed up (14 boys and 3 girls, which is 3 more girls than I had last year). I’ve divided it up into one activity per day. Day 1 is NXT robots, culminating in The Grand Intergalactic Sumobot Challenge. Day 2 is Game Design. Day 3 is Minecraft. Here’s how it turned out….

Robots — those of us who teach robotics know the allure of making and programming your own robot. It’s the Secret Sauce! I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now. One of my fellow teachers, when he heard this (he teaches Latin) said, “Dude, you’re cutting edge!” I’d never thought of it like that….

But students love it! And when you combine that with The Grand Intergalactic Sumobot Challenge, well, you’ve got yourself some serious fun. I had a teacher who was down the hall tell me that the sounds coming out of my classroom were about the happiest sounds she’d ever heard! Aww….

Game Design — With a range of grades 6-8, and several levels of experience with creating games, I opened this up to student choice for the program they chose. Several used Scratch, quite a few used Kodu, a couple used GameMaker, and some used the PixelPress app on their iPads. Several students experimented with multiple environments. We finished the day with everyone sharing what they had learned, and then we played each other’s games. Who says learning can’t be fun?

Minecraft —  saved the best for last, of course. Again, we had a range of Minecraft experience from beginners to ultra hardcore types. It’s sometimes difficult to please everyone, but I decided to start out with a creative world in MinecraftEdu. The older laptops we were using were fairly laggy (4 fps!), and there were the usual requests for TNT, lava, monsters, PvP, etc. However, we stuck with that world and by lunchtime, no one wanted to go eat! They had created all kinds of amazing stuff, including some beautiful houses, a town hall, some beautiful pixel art (see above), and some redstone trickery.  For the last two hours, we moved to my lab with my more modern computers and I allowed them to check out Hypixel and Mineplex.  This made for some loud and raucous competition, and I think everyone left satisfied. And I felt even more convinced that my approach of “stealth teaching” really does work.

Now back to “real school” on Monday!

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