Messy Learning

The following presentation by Nathaniel Bott speaking on gamification in education (TedX, 2013) is a must watch for any educator currently on a journey to adapt to 21st Century education.

Which brings me to my day yesterday with a class of Year 8 students. This class has a bunch of characters with learning behaviours that Nathaniel describes in his TedX talk.  It was one of those exhausting days where you perhaps feign classroom control and expend a lot of energy guiding the cohort with heaps of encouragement.

On these days I always see myself as a pirate on a pirate ship, me the captain . We work together collaboratively but the weather is choppy and the crew unruly. Mutiny is in the air. 🙂

Student work

Student work

In the last session for the day when all can deteriorate very quickly,  I guided the students towards an activity that could link into a Humanities unit of Geography. Students were to choose a country of their choice and with a few guiding question communicate to me why they would want to travel there.

I love it when you stand back and all goes well.

The little glimmer of success in this busy day was a handful of curated and published content from my students.   Some  chose to use Pic Collage to communicate their research, an example of which is the above page on Canada.



The real glimmer was four boys using Minecraft to create a scene from the U.S.A.  This group of four worked beautifully together to build a replica of the Statue of Liberty. They found an image of the statue and to the best of their artistic ability build a virtual copy.  At the feet of their Minecraft constructed statue sat a plaque that presented in text form, some interesting information about the U.S.A.

As is mentioned in the above clip, we need to Think Big and look for ways to allow students to explore as they choose, to be creative. If we as educators do not allow this, then students will choose that path anyway, following their own passions and  pathways.

If you want to explore further, this classroom experience also illustrates the thinking of Helen Haste (Harvard Education, 2009) who describes the human being as “tool user”.


“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read and write, but those that cannot learn, unlearn and relearn” Alvin Toffler

The above TedxTalk mentions:

Gamification: ”The use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non game context to engage users and solve problems”




Harvard Education (2009 Jun 26). Technology and Youth: Problem Solver vs Tool User (Part 1 of 4) Retrieved from

Tedx Talks (2013 Dec 5). 21st century learning: Nathaniel Bott at Tedx Launceston. Retrieved from






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  1. Love your reference to the classroom as a pirate ship. Perhaps I should call you Captain Abdul from now on?! See
    Students as unruly crew definitely takes me back to some year 10 IT classes I’ve taught.
    It’s fabulous when an unruly crew has the opportunity and motivation to work together like yours did in Minecraft – must have been fabulous to see – well done for letting the messy learning happen.

  2. Good stuff and lovely post! Here’s a trap though, which our young man fell into in the video and which you’ve commented on. That quote from Alvin Toffler as stated does not actually exist in any of his own writing or works. I discovered this a few years ago when I was going to use it in a book. But everyone has been quoting it! So it’s gone into history 🙂 It’s a perfect demonstration of how a statement can appear to be ‘truth’ by playing ‘Chinese whispers’. Doesn’t detract from the post though…love what you are writing. Just had to smile when I saw the quote, and heard it in the video. I almost didn’t include it in the subject material…then though…well, a ‘teaching point’ perhaps. or not. It’s all a bit complex.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this! It gives some context to what we are trying to get students to do – make connections, take risks, explore – and how we can get them there. I bet your Minecraft boys were thrilled at being able to learn their own way!

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