Kiwi kids create global education resource for SPCA

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

SPCA organisations around the world are planning to roll out an animal welfare education resource created by a Christchurch School, using Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition (M:EE)

Every year thousands of abused, neglected and injured animals arrive in SPCA’s care. To stop this trend, they have developed a free education programme that aims to improve animal lives by engaging with and educating the next generation of Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Having helped 35,000 animals who are sick, injured, abused or abandoned throughout their animal centres, and needing around $47million to operate each year, community support is at the very heart of what they do.

With 72% of New Zealand households with children having pets, the SPCA education team play a very important role in teaching our tamariki.  The need for creative and engaging ways to educate the children through schools is high.

Looking for opportunities to engage with and educate more students throughout the country about looking after their pets, the SPCA team attended an educational expo, where they met Microsoft Global Training Partner, ImpactED.

Having recently ran a competition to design a ‘catio’, an enclosed, enriched patio for a cat, that meets all their welfare and safety needs, Nicole Peddie, SPCA National Education Manager described how the senior winner, Caitlin, used M:EE to build and develop her safe and secure catio, taking screenshots to showcase her design.

“This really got us thinking about how we could utilise a popular tool like Minecraft, to help educate our young Kiwis about animal welfare,” said Nicole.

A short time later, the SPCA were excited to connect with ImpactED and realised their values were aligned.

“We’re not experts in tech, so working with their knowledgeable team has meant that we’ve had support to design and create an exciting educational tool for our children to benefit from,” said Nicole.

ImpactED’s Professional Learning Facilitator, Wilj Dekkers, worked with the SPCA to create the overall concept about how M:EE could be used to aid their existing educational resources, and build a world that thousands of children would benefit from.  He connected them with Elmwood Normal School in Christchurch, where M:EE was already a popular educational tool being used.

Inspired by kids…. For kids

Dekkers explained how they built a giant blue paw, similar to that of the SPCA’s logo.  In each of the four toes of the paw, the students built a different room for their pets: a laundry, a kitchen, a patio and a fish tank.

Starting with drafting the building design using pen and paper, they then went on to build the foundations of these rooms using M:EE so students across New Zealand had a blank canvas to build upon in their animal welfare lessons in school.

“One of the biggest challenges we had was the concept of creating this for others,” said Dekkers.

“The children were so invested, they wanted to carry on designing past the foundation level.  Fortunately, the older kids jumped in reiterating that this “build” was not just about them, but explaining how others could learn from this and how they were giving back, by creating a world for thousands of kids to use.”

Providing instructional readers to schools throughout the country, for children to learn about animal welfare as they learn to read, one of the SPCA’s stories, ‘Rupert Purple Circles and the Bell,’ is about an unhappy goldfish living in a bowl that does not meet his welfare needs.  This inspired the children of Elmwood Normal School to build the aquarium room.

Using M:EE to take learning to the next level, students across Aotearoa were encouraged to think about important welfare features for their aquariums, such as places to hide, a filter for water quality and plants for enrichment.  At the same time, the children were also developing important social-emotional skills of empathy and digital citizenship as well as exploring real-life issues through immersive, imaginative worlds within the safety of the secure environment M:EE provides.

.Jo Mottram, the teacher leading the project at Elmwood Normal School, was blown away with how much the children benefited from the project.

“You don’t always see in adults what we saw happening in the classroom. Children that don’t usually work or play together were having really in-depth conversations, negotiating with each other and problem-solving on these builds. The soft skills that as educators we love to see, were coming out in conversation so naturally,” said Mottram.

As the children created the world, they had to not only consider practical factors such as what do animals need, where do they eat, and unit planning, but also use essential life skills of communication, critical thinking and negotiation. Using M:EE in the classroom allows children to reach new heights with creativity, problem solving and systems-thinking, whilst also nurturing a passion for play.

Thinking back on the term, the students felt like they had learned a lot from the project.

“There were a few issues when working in a big group, but it taught me to work with people that I wouldn’t usually choose to work with,” said class 6 student, Rose.

“My favourite thing about Minecraft is that it lets me express my creativity in the way that I want to.”

Children are the experts!

As we approach an increasingly digital future, using M:EE will help students prepare, by enabling them to develop their computational thinking through in-game coding. With 600 standards-aligned lessons across a range of curriculum subjects and accessibility features there really is something for all learners.

“What’s truly amazing is that a global company [Microsoft] and a large charitable organisation [SPCA] has entrusted a group of nine to eleven-year-old children to meet the requirements of the brief and put the responsibility of creating this resource in their hands,” added Dekkers.

Hoping to use what the children have achieved as a way to inspire other teachers to use M:EE and SPCA’s educational resources as a learning tool, Jo says that you don’t have to be an expert for children to experience these amazing lessons and that in fact, the children are the experts here!

Jo said that having people like Wilj and ImpactED to connect with and learn from has been invaluable and that educators can also access the teaching tools, including in-depth video tutorials to support their own learning.

Caroline Dowsett, SPCA Education Engagement Officer, agreed and said that what the kids have created is beyond what they could have ever imagined, which has led to SPCA organisations around the world, including Australia and the UK, looking to roll out these resources too.

“It’s so rewarding to see kids helping kids and developing key competencies along the way.  These tamariki have not only demonstrated the impressive digital skills they’ve learned, but have created a global resource for educating children around the world,” added Microsoft’s Education Industry Executive, Lydia Kronawetter.

Schools across Aotearoa can now download the blue-paw rooms for their students to pet-proof their homes via the SPCA Teacher Portal. The resource is free for everyone, and more information can be found at the M:EE site here. M:EE licensing is free to state, state-integrated and kura via Microsoft’s agreement with The Ministry of Education.