Off to the Races!

Yep, school has begun already here at Chalone Peaks! I’ve got a bit more work to do before getting my students set up for blogging, but regular visitors here will notice that I have already made some changes to mrmillersblog.com. I have a new theme and layout and will be investing more time in collecting images and videos to share as well as weekly reflections on our learning.

Photography is a hobby of mine and I will be encouraging my students to try out their skills with their camera phones. Student teams will also be making documentary movies this year. I did a similar project about 10 years ago and have decided that it is time to bring it back. I hope to generate a student digital media festival this year at our school that showcases student artists across all forms of digital media. If any of you have thoughts, ideas, or experience with this concept, please share!

Before we begin any gameplay, we are drafting a Minecraft Bill of Rights for all players.

Before we begin any gameplay, we are drafting a Minecraft Bill of Rights for all players.

As if it were even possible, we will be delving deeper into Minecraft this year as I have spent a great deal of time exploring new ways to teach and learn along with my students in Minecraft. I will have an online server up and running soon and look forward to collaborating with other teachers and students around the world on Minecraft and history projects. I was even given a class called “Minecraft Academy” to teach this year. It will be fun exploring things like redstone, command blocks, civilization building, and computer coding with Minecraft every day. How lucky am I?

I participated in several Minecraft camps this summer. Sock day!

I participated in several Minecraft camps this summer. Sock day!

Class Project: Medieval English Villages

My students and I just recently completed another Minecraft project we would like to share. We recreated five English villages (Oxford, Winchester, Canterbury, York, and Norwich) and linked them together by road. Each student made their own building or developed a resource like a planted field or orchard.

They had to create a slideshow with a description of the villagers that would have lived there along with photos and a short video tour. They learned about what life was like during that time period by living it!

Minechat Episode #23

Last weekend I had the chance to record a video podcast with Colin Gallagher, the creator of Minechat. It is my favorite podcast because he interviews teachers that use Minecraft in their classrooms. The really cool thing is that his interviews take place IN MINECRAFT!

He asked me to share my student’s Tang Dynasty build so I gave him a tour. You can watch the video on YouTube below.

The Adventures of Kallista Jake

I received an email late one night last week that I had been waiting for for nearly three years. Back in 2010, I had an idea to do a geocaching project with my students. If you are not familiar with geocaching, the idea is to use a GPS device like your smartphone, to locate “caches” that other geocachers have hidden all over the world. Each cache contains assorted items that folks place inside. [Learn more HERE]

Jake had the opportunity to visit Shanghai during his adventures. Photo by rangerg75

Jake had the opportunity to visit Shanghai during his adventures. Photo by rangerg75

Occasionally, you might find what is called a “travel bug” inside. It’s a dog tag with a code on it that is attached to a trinket. By visiting geocaching.com and entering the code, you’ll discover what goal the owner of the object has for it. If you can help it on its way, take it with you and deposit it another cache as soon as possible.

My students thought it would be fun to send travel bugs to our blogging buddies around the world. We assembled a collection of items to attach the bugs to and I deposited them in some local caches. All but one experienced various adventures over the course of the school year. One of our bugs even made it to Ms. Smith’s class in Canada. We celebrated with a Skype call and they made a wonderful webpage to toast our dragon :-)

The message I received the other night notified me that the last active travel bug from that batch had reached its final destination – a cache located in a forest, near a school, north of Melbourne, Australia. Our bug, named Kallista Jake, travelled over 47,000 miles to reach its goal! It passed through the hands of dozens of geocachers along the way and got a very big boost in milage from a wonderful FedEx pilot named Frank.

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Jake has been around the world – twice!

I’m astonished. I’ve been sending bugs around the world for several years now, but nothing like this has ever happened. The school we sent it to is on summer holiday break now so no one is around to pick up Jake. Hopefully, it will remain safe in the cache until students return.

Kallista Jake!

Kallista Jake!

You can read the original blog post I wrote as we sent off our bugs here. Kallista Jake has his own page on geocaching.com so you can check out his travels. He is currently awaiting retrieval in this cache. If any readers of my blog know any geocachers near Melbourne, please notify me :-)

Do you have any experiences you would like to share about geocaching? It is a great family activity!

You can discover for yourself where Jake is by pasting these coordinates into a mapping website like Google MapsS 37° 54.460 E 145° 21.899

He is located somewhere near this trestle!

He is located somewhere near this trestle!

Class project: Tang Dynasty capital city in Minecraft


We finished our collaborative build of the Tang Dynasty capital city of Chang’an and thought it was time to share our work. There were 145 students that worked on recreating a model of the ancient city. We built the buildings over five days and then added “info blocks” that contained a detailed description of the city residents.

It took about two-weeks to completely finish the project. I’m very proud of the work my students did, especially since most had never played Minecraft before this school year. They worked in teams, with each team assigned a city block to complete. Some of the city blocks represented peasants, others merchants or aristocrats.

If you are a teacher or parent and would like to read about it in much more detail, you can visit my teacher blog.

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Guest Author Visit

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Today we got a special visit from an author, Dr. Steve Palumbi from Stanford a University. He has a new book coming out and decided to visit Chalone Peaks and talk about his favorite subject – marine biology. He spoke before a packed audience and shared his thoughts on sharks, coral reefs, “fast” fish and why fish don’t freeze in cold water and how that relates to the ice cream we all enjoy. Fascinating stuff!

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China Build Nearing Completion

We are almost finished with our collaborative build of the ancient Chinese city of Chang’an and I wanted to provide an update. Buildings are mostly finished and now students are working on writing their tales of the building occupants.

Each student will place an “info block” next to their building that will contain information about the building and/or the occupants. I’ve had my room open at lunch for the past few days and I’ve had a full house each day!

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Medieval China Build in Minecraft

Wow!  I can’t believe how time has flown by this school year. We have been VERY busy learning about Islam, Africa, and now China. I will be posting some projects we have completed and continue to work on starting today.

As a culminating lesson for China, my students and I are collaboratively building a model of the ancient Chinese capital city of Chang’an. The period we are studying is known as the Tang Dynasty and it is also known as a Golden Age for China. Culture, the Arts, and trade flourished during this time period. The capital city was immense in size and supported more than one million people.

Below is an image of how Chang’an was laid out into 110 massive city blocks.

changanmapI have 145 students working on this project and we are building it using MinecraftEdu. It is going really well. Most of my students have never played Minecraft before, but they are learning very fast. We are trying to make the buildings appear like they did 1,300 years ago. We have some farms, three parks, government administrative buildings, an Imperial Palace and garden, and two open air markets.

Each building will have an info block that will contain information about who lives or works in each building. We will also populate it with many non-player characters which will interact with student visitors to the city. Right now, we are not quite half way done, but we wanted to share a few images of the city so far. Enjoy!

One of our farms.

One of our farms.

Multi-family homes.

Multi-family homes.

Market stalls.

Market stalls.