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3D Modelling Minecraft Style – without Minecraft – for FREE!

A user generated model built in cubical

This week I came across the most incredible tool: cubical.xyz

It is brand new and is basically a Minecraft world build editor that is entirely online and ENTIRELY free. The interface is a little tricky at first, particularly if you don’t have a mouse. The audience is not education, it is made for Minecrafters, but it basically emulates the fun of building 3D models in Minecraft, without the distraction of mobs, explosives and other elements.

If you like the idea of trying a minecraft project in your room but don’t like the gaming element of it then this is perfect.

In addition, this has so many great tools that when mastered, could help create some pretty incredible models. In fact in some ways it is better than Minecraft

Just a few cool features include:

The Tools: You can quickly cover an area in grass, trees, water or whatever block you need in just a few clicks using the brush tool:

The Generators: Play around with different styles of topology, great for geography and humanities projects.

The editing features: You can copy and paste selections! Like a house you’ve built? Copy and paste it all over your map to make a village. It also includes an UNDO button, something I wish existed in the real Minecraft!

The blocks: Most of the Minecraft blocks for building are in there and a new update is coming with even more!

Sharing worlds: A fantastic feature for education is the way worlds are set up. The interface is set to be improved, but as of writing, each world comes with it’s own URL. You can also set a template for the class to use, so they all start from the same point. The BRILLIANT part to this is that as soon as they open a web URL template – it automatically creates their own copy and then when they save their version it has its own URL ready to be shared to the teacher.

To see this in action, my colleague created a Google sheet for his class to open the template and then save and post their variations on it for anyone else to see.

I’ve not had an opportunity to use it yet in lesson, but have watched a Y4 year group use it to build some models of the starting of an ancient civilisation. I can imagine this can be used for sustainability projects, learning about volcanoes, 3D modelling, and much more. The world can be exported and used in Minecraft (though that requires some knowhow) or as an image.

I’m excited to see what educators and students can do with this fabulous online tool. To see more watch the video below:

Follow @cubical_xyz for more updates and information

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Multimedia – Audio – Chromebook Tools – Audio Capture

As part of our Year 5 unit “Breaking News. Spread the Word” we spend time looking at how digital technology can help create different elements of Multimedia. We recently looked at audio, and whilst we could spend months on just this one topic, we tried to pullout some quick tools that would empower students to create. I shared WeVideo as our go to tool for podcasting, but I’ve also used Synth as well. I’ll share how these lessons went another time.

Below is a few tools we used and most importantly our way of being able to save and record these using Chrome Audio Capture and the fantastic digital citizenship discussions that follow.

We wanted to create some digital audio and quickly. The most fun way to do this is by using Chrome Music Lab, which is part of the growing number of Experiments by Google.

There is so much to explore here – and a really easy way to create simple audio. My favourites are the Kandinsky tool. The Voice Spinner (great for distorting voice) and the Melody Maker. Our students spend twenty minutes exploring and creating the website to get an idea of what is available.

Then there is the fabulous Plink! by Dinahmoe Labs. Your students will love this great music making tool and it is brilliant for students with educational needs. We had one of our students with CP being able to use his eyes only to make music and join in with the rest of his class.

Whilst Plink! creates a bunch of similar sounding tracks, thanks to the same beat that runs behind it, it does have another feature that the kids go mad for. Anything that can be ‘multiplayer’ always encourages enthusiasm, but here they can join each others Plink! sessions and create music together – this works well because the more users, the better the production sounds. You can either try and use the original version and jump on at the same time, or try the new Plink app, which allows you to invite people via a link to your own private session.

Dinahmoe Labs have some amazing tools for music creation and they are all super easy to use – The Rick Astley remix tool is great fun, and students love ToneCraft (for obvious reasons). I really like the Exquisite Theme music maker, which is great when discussing with students about choosing the right type of music for a project.

Recording and Saving the Music

A fantastic way to save the audio that the students create is to use the free Chrome Audio Capture extension:

It is SO EASY to use – and only records audio from the chrome tab – not the microphone – meaning you can have a full blown riot in the classroom and the recording will still just be the audio you want.

You simply click on the extension, start capture and then when finished, click to stop the capture. Then once it is loaded, click Save.

There is no editing feature, no paid features (there is a limit of 20 minutes, but for students that probably isn’t an issue) and it creates an Mp3 which you can share or add into other projects.

Digital Citizenship

A lesson on multimedia and audio then quickly descends into a fantastic opportunity to talk about copyright and fair use. Here I discussed what we can and cannot record from the internet. We talk about giving credit to DinahMoe and Google, about the wonderfully ambiguous meaning of “For educational purposes only” and what that means for us in school. I go on to talk about original content creators and how if you plan to make money then the rules change dramatically. It links so well with ISTE Standard, and is an important reflection on how we must not abuse other people’s creations and use things in an appropriate and legal way.

Further Ideas:

Use Chrome Lab to create a soundtrack to a scratch game or animation

Use for intro to a podcast

Create sound for a live performance

Learn how music affects mood and create music for different audiences, like Horror, or Comedy.

ISTE Standards covered:

2c Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.

6.a. Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.

6. b. Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

7a Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.

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Supporting Parents during School Closure

It’s tough teaching remotely, it’s also tough on the parents too. So managing both, for me, has been a downright disaster. We are getting better, but it did give me a chance to reflect on how parenting is being affected. A close Brazilian friend recently told me in no uncertain terms, “You know, what you are doing now, it is destroying families.” He jokes, I assume, but we need to be mindful of the strain at home.

Keeping Positive

I’ve learnt a lot about keeping positive, I’ve been over critical about work that has been presented to my two young children, but I noticed when I’m negative, the kids reciprocate. When I say things like, “Why do we have to submit this work here, there isn’t an explanation on how to do this, why is this spelt wrong,” It’s easy to notice the children reacting in a similar way and not as fully engaged. So I tested myself – full positivity – and on the whole it worked for them, they were more passionate about their tasks. And I hid myself away in the bathroom when necessary and grumbled into the mirror.

Time Limits

From a school point of view, this should be essential communication. Each lesson activity should be completed in a normal lesson time. As teachers, we want to see the capabilities of these students. I get it though, a parent wants to see their child succeed, and some will not allow their kids to hand in work half done. Yet, in school we are faced with mountains of not quite done work. And what do we do – if it’s one or two kids, we may ask them to finish up in a break, if it’s a large number then, guess we need another lesson on it. But the feedback loop in online teaching is delayed. Teachers are setting work before the current work is even completed by the whole class, they don’t know if it has taken 30 minutes or two hours. Teachers could offer more time for the next day to finish, but only if parents are honest enough to allow their younger ones to hand in half finished work.

For example, who did better in maths – a child who did 8 questions correctly in 40 minutes, or one who did 10 questions in 90 minutes? Teachers don’t know how long was spent on it from home, so the second kid comes out with a better grade. By focusing on time for at least some of the daily activities, this would certainly help parents manage their day.

The Ability Bombshell

Equally, parents feel overwhelmed when lots of work is provided (as of course do the children) and perhaps a breakdown of an online timetable may ease their concerns. For me, we should be stripping timetables back to at max 4 hours a day of online learning for primary and 5 hours for secondary. A comparison of normal to home learning will help parents understand the requirements

The parents learn two important things in home learning and teachers need to be prepared for this. 1. The quality of the teachers 2. The ability of their children.

It is no surprise that the majority of complaints I’ve come across are from parents with children who historically struggle in achieving lesson objectives. Makes sense, we are skilled at painting a positive picture about children that some parents never really realise that their child is struggling in some areas. It becomes plainly obvious though when your child is with you all day completing their work, without any support. So be conscious of this – differentiate often – and be mindful again of that moment when parents realise their wonderful children aren’t quite at the same level as the parents imagined.

Freedom

One final thing that empowered me as a parent. After weeks of getting my children to complete certain activities, it dawned on me that I had other resources in my home that I could use to support the learning process. We made Mocktail drinks, did home made science experiments and caught snails and made them a habitat. Lots of fun things that understandably cannot be set as mandatory by teachers. As teachers we have to keep the objectives and task simple and about as free as possible. It is hard to set lessons when you don’t know what resources families have, but don’t be afraid to empower the parents to try something different, let them be creative, let them collaborate on projects, let them do whatever it takes for that child to continue to enjoy learning. Anything to stop the destruction of families.