If you build it: a documentary review

I discovered the documentary If You Build It while researching makerspaces for an annotated bibliography project.  The film caught my attention because it is about reinventing a high school “shop class,” turning it into an endeavor that can benefit an entire community.

If you build it movie

Designers, architects, and activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller make their way to Windsor, a poor rural community in North Carolina.  Pilloton and Miller approach the local school board, asking if they can reinvent a high school shop class in an attempt to change the economic outlook for Windsor.  The school board reluctantly agrees and Pilloton and Miller, living on grant money and credit, create a program that ultimately benefits both the students and the community.

Design. Build. Transform.

Pilloton and Miller take a ragtag group of high school juniors and, over the course of a school year, turn them into designers and builders.  They begin with what may seem like simple projects, yet some of the students have never held a tool in their hands.  The projects gradually get more complex as the students are asked to design a state-of-the art chicken coop and eventually a building that will house Windsor’s summer farmers’ market.  With Pilloton and Miller’s encouragement and unique approach to teaching, the students rise to the occasion.  Challenges mount, yet the students persevere.  In the end, they create something that each of them and the Windsor community can be proud of.

This film struck a chord with me.  Under financial duress, schools are abandoning their technical and vocational programs to detriment of both students and communities.  Students, like those featured in the documentary, that aren’t bound for college are leaving high school with few skills and even fewer job prospects.  They simply aren’t equipped to compete in the 21st century workforce.  Programs like Pilloton’s and Miller’s teach students the skills they need to compete in the workforce.  Vocational programs can incite change in communities, just as it did in Windsor, North Carolina.

If you have any interest in saving or reinstating vocational and technical programs in your community, I encourage you to watch If You Build It.   It is available for streaming on Netflix.  Share this program with educators, administrators, and even state law makers.


Minecraft–A Multiuser virtual environment

Today I am giving an overview of Minecraft Pocket Edition (MCPE).  This is an electronic game that my daughter Grace has been playing for a few years now on her iPod and iPad.  In this game, users build and create virtual environments out of 3-dimensional building blocks, or cubes.  Users have the ability to design their own players, allowing their individuality to shine through in their characters.  In MCPE, there are 2 player modes–creative and survival.

Creative mode

In the creative mode, users have access to all the blocks they desire and can build whatever they wish.  There are two types of land in creative mode–there is a flat environment with no hills or trees.  This type of land is great for building large structures, such as castles.  Below you will see that Grace has created an entire town in this mode.  Her town is complete with a church, movie theater, roller dome, library, bakery, bank, and dance studio.

Grace's MCPE town

 The other type of land in creative mode is similar to a natural environment, with grass, trees, hills, and even different types of weather.  Users can choose which environment they want to build their world in.  Below is an example of a village in a MCPE natural environment.

MCPE village in a natural environment

Survival mode

In survival mode, users automatically spawn into a natural environment where they have to find food, build shelter, and scavenge materials to survive.  Over time, users collect tools like the ones below that help them survive.  Pick axes can be used to mine blocks so that users can build new structures.

MCPE survival tools

A fun feature of MCPE is that if another device is near, players have the ability to interact with one another, turning it into a social game.  Users can play in each other’s worlds as long as their devices are in close proximity.

There are other apps that interact with Minecraft, such as Minecraft Maps.  This app allows users to visit environments created by other players across the globe. There is also an option to add other environments or to play in other user’s worlds by logging in to different servers.

Of Minecraft Pocket Edition, Grace says, “I really like that you can change your worlds and customize them to be whatever you want.”  Unlike a typical video game where the backgrounds and worlds are programmed into the game, users get to create their own playing environments in MCPE.  There are an infinite amount of ways that you can play and create in Minecraft Pocket Edition.

Libraries can offer programming to children and teens that feature multi-user virtual environment games like Minecraft.  Minecraft clubs can meet on a regular basis at the library, allowing players to interact with each other in their building block worlds.  Library staff can create their own libraries within the game.  They could also build environments made famous in popular literature. Picture the haunting moors in Wuthering Heights or the stark and barren landscape of Mars as found in The Martian.  Again, the possibilities seem endless.  If they aren’t already, young adult librarians should be tapping into the Minecraft sensation in order to reach this often overlooked population of teens.