John Miller’s new Minecraft unit set in Medieval England opens that time and that culture to his 7th grade students – amazingly so! They took the knowledge they acquired and rebuilt 14th Century Birmingham in Minecraft. They then used story-starters that I supplied to create detailed and coherent narratives about the most terrible problem people of that time faced: the Black Death. John’s work is beyond cutting edge. Please take a look at the unit here: http://minecraft.edtecworks.com/2016/05/08/recreating-medieval-birmingham-in-minecraft/
Friend and Colleague John Miller recruited me to contribute to his teaching unit on Medieval Japan a couple of years ago. Some of the tanka I wrote turned out pretty well and one just got published in the Tanka Journal # 3. Here’s a link to the online journal:
and here’s one to the book:
The era of Viking raids and invasions that began in the 9th Century is among the least understood and most neglected periods of history. John Miller and I wanted to open this period for 7th grade students by engaging them in narratives drawn from primary source documents. Here’s a link to John’s completed Minecraft unit:
Please have a look at the writing prompt for the unit’s ending assignments:
A Viking’s Funeral
Gofraid moved out of shadow and stood in silence before a half circle of faces. Every person in the Viking town waited for his words. A low fire flickered behind him. He turned his head slowly and his long hair shone flame-gold.
At last, he spoke, “We drove our longships onto pale sand at low tide. The town was close, but a rampart of sand and logs blocked our path. Bowmen manned the rampart and fired into our rush. Fafnir fell with an arrow through his throat and Knutr took an arrow in his right eye. Ragnar – ” Gofraid turned and gestured to the tall pile of oil-soaked logs to his side on which Ragnar’s body now lay. “A war arrow bit deep into Ragnar’s thigh. He staggered, but he broke the arrow off short and ran on. He leapt atop the rampart and sliced his blood-drinker through the throat of the bowman who’d shot him. Then his sword drank the lives of two more bowmen, one to either side. We caught him then and swarmed over the rampart into the town.” Gofraid paused.
Only crackling flames broke the silence around the fire. Gofraid’s mouth was a grim line. He made a fist of his right hand. “We gathered rich loot, but we had no need of slaves from this place. All died. The town is ashes.”
The crowd roared and beat sticks on the ground. Some shouted “Ragnar!”; some shouted “Wodin!”; some just screamed.
Gofraid plucked a torch from the fire behind him and stepped to the tall funeral pyre. He raised the torch high. “A Viking carries his sword to Valhalla this night!” He thrust the torch deep among the logs. Flames leapt up.
Ragnar, sword upon his breast, lay at the center of the swelling, red-gold flames. Sparks rose past him to the stars.
The era of Viking raids and invasions that began in the 9th Century is among the least understood and most neglected periods of history. John Miller and I are taking a shot at opening this period for 7th grade students through another Minecraft unit. I’ll add a link when we have one, but here’s a writing prompt to sample until then.
The spear’s tip glinted in sunlight as it flew toward me and I entered battle time – every second became a minute and each minute, an hour. I stepped left as the bright point neared me. I let it pass my head and snatched the shaft with my right hand.
The man who’d thrown it turned and ran. I twirled the spear, reversed it and threw it one motion. It sped true and plunged into the back of the fleeing man’s right let. He screamed and fell.
I walked to him. He wore a steel cap and a leather jerkin. He whimpered in pain and reached behind him to touch the spear’s shaft. He whimpered again, trying to decide if he should try to pull the spear free.
I saved him the trouble. He screamed when I jerked it out. He rolled onto his back and held his hands out to me. I pulled Leg-biter from its sheath. The cowardly soldier opened his mouth to beg for his life, but I acted before he could speak. I plunged my father’s father’s sword through his heart.
I am Ragnar, Viking. I am sword-thegn to Gofraid and sail in his longship Barden. We raid with Ivar the Boneless. Loot and slaves will be mine after Gofraid declares a sharing. Land is promised to me after we reach the English city of York. Something moved beneath a bush to my left. I whirled and faced the threat.
A pale girl with dark hair recoiled beneath branches covered with red berries. She was a child, nine or ten. Her thin limbs trembled when I took a step toward her. I stared into her eyes – black eyes, not blue like mine. I pointed my sword at her. Blood dripped from its tip.
Mansa Musa is still considered to be one of the wealthiest men in history. He was a great King, but his accomplishments and times are far from current popular awareness. I wrote “Jerboa’s Beautiful Tail” to introduce Mansa Musa and Western African History to young people. Because folk tales are so central to African cultures, I’ve used one for the structure of my story. Every good folk tale has a lesson and so does mine.
Master teacher John Miller and I have worked together creating teaching units for twenty-five years. He liked “Jerboa’s Beautiful Tail” and had his students at Chalone Peaks Middle School create a Minecraft movie of the story. I think they did a great job! Here’s the movie link:
All teachers who are interested in Minecraft will want to see how Mr. Miller created his lesson! Here’s a link to his plan: http://minecraft.edtecworks.com/2014/11/16/lesson-plan-making-a-movie-in-minecraft/
I posted the actual story and some reading comprehension activities for it on TPT. Both story and activities are free. The link is below.
“Chaos Gate” readers at Chalone Peaks Middle School!
John’s sixth grade class read “Chaos Gate” as their ending work of literature. They invited me to come and read a few chapters aloud on May 31st and June 1st. I did so and had a great time, even though it was a little scary. Nothing can make you nervous like reading your own words to smart sixth graders. It turns out I didn’t do such a bad job of writing, after all. They liked it!