Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Mini Melbourne Step 2a - Getting the World Failed Attempts

Alright, so in the last post we talked about how we started looking at this project from the perspective of the 'Dig Experience' and that the building of the city was a secondary objective. These two 'projects' of course were in 'co-development' as the dig would be 'set' within the Mini Melbourne world. However, once we had nailed the basics of the dig, and determined that it was going to be possible, we looked at what portion of the city we were going to get into Minecraft. We knew we had 3D data of the entire city, but choosing a smaller section and testing out the process for getting that data in was important.

This map shows the initial planned data for import, and a small subset of that was given to me to do all sorts of testing and investigations on. The slab I was testing appears to be from St Paul's Cathedral along Flinders Street (north side) towards the east.


We were not in uncharted territory, and many people have their own unique workflows to bring data, big data, into Minecraft. So, I turned to the community and two of my favourite online Minecraft experts, Adam Clarke and Adrian Brightmore showed me how they get 3D data into Minecraft, in multiple ways. Without those two and their expertise, the project would have been a lot more difficult. So, I thanked them back then, and I am going to do it again right now. Now that the project has been released into the wild I am so pleased with how it turned out, and that we actually managed to get the project over the line.

Without the willingness of both of these amazing guys, I am not sure it would be as big as it currently is, and as easily expandable as I know it is currently. With all the sincerity I can muster, thanks guys, this project started with freely shared community knowledge, and ends with a freely available resource for the entire world to use and explore, create and share across all major Minecraft platforms.

So after my discussions with Adam and Adrian, I went back to the people that had the data, and we talked about what sort of format they had the data in, and what sort of format they could easily get it in. It took us quite a bit of time to nail it down, but in the end we now have a workflow from their data, into my hands, in such a way that I could easily bring it into Minecraft world, that was easily expandable for when we want to include more of the city in future updates.

So, how did we do it? In this post, as the title implies, I will share the explorations I started with, and what issues these workflows caused, and then in the next post we will talk about the actual workflow. All of this data was given to me in .obj format, exported from 3dsMax, the process of which is a 'black box' that I know very little about!

First attempt: TinkerCad; Freely available, and something I have used before, so of course I started here. Interesting how you always start from an area of most comfort! Unfortunately for my comfort levels, I very quickly found that TinkerCad was not all that great at dealing with 'large' or 'detailed' models, fantastic for the smaller stuff I have done in the past, but not a great prospect having to neaten all the holes and everything in the large detailed city models I had access to.


As you can see there are holes in the terrain, entire missing sections of roof and all kinds of things I would have to neaten up in 'post-processing', and given the scale of the data I was using, probably not going to be a great option moving forward in terms of scaling the project in future and ease of use. I also decided at this point, that we were going to have to 're-north' Melbourne before we brought it into Minecraft. As you can see, all the buildings are 'angled' and it just looks 'jagged' for lack of a better word.


This is the same Tinkercad import, only 're-northed' by around 21 degrees. It looks way, way nicer, but you can still see the missing parts are still very prevalent.


Next attempt: VoxtoSchematic; Adrian has a wealth of knowledge about MCEdit and a massive collection of filters for doing all sorts of crazy things with it. He pointed me in this direction: http://www.brightmoore.net/mcedit-filters-1/voxtoschematic so I began exploring. It required me to import the obj data into a voxel program, I used Magicavoxel (https://ephtracy.github.io/) to get started, because... free... and we were only exploring at this stage. This allowed me to 'paint' portions of the data a particular colour and then export for the VoxtoSchematic to work with and VoxtoSchematic would convert those colours to specific Minecraft blocks.

A truly brilliant piece of software by Adrian, and Magicavoxel is pretty darn cool as well, but the scale quickly became problematic, as I had no way to control what 'size' the model was converted to schematic at. This was the first point where we were seriously looking at how much data is too much. We really needed to find a balance between software limitations, and also time limitations. As in, we could easily export each building individually, but stitching that much data together at the other end would be way too time intensive to be sustainable. The great thing about this process is that the models imported quite well, neatly, with way less of the fidelity loss we saw in TinkerCad. However, the scale was all over the place and I couldn't easily find a way to manage that effectively.


It was about this point that I understood enough about MCEdit to realise that no matter which path I took, it was going to play a big part in the creation of the final world, so we started to look at converting the 3D data directly to schematic format. I investigated FME, and some neat posts detailing how that could easily translate big data into Minecraft directly, but the path was just not clear enough, and neither me, nor the data company had the software, or the time to learn it to the depth it appeared we would need to complete that workflow, so we continued looking.

That, very quickly, summarises a couple of weeks worth of testing, trialing, researching, testing some more, researching some more and testing even more. In the next post I will share the workflow that worked for us, and our data. As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Mini Melbourne Step 1 - Is it even possible?

This is the first in a series, of unknown length, of posts detailing, I hope, the process I went through, the people that helped, the software we tried, what failed and why, what we software used in the end, the game mechanics and the iterations of these that all came together to create both Mini Melbourne and Archaeology Adventure. If you haven't seen Mini Melbourne, or the Archaeology Adventure... I would ask what rock you have been living under, but that could be rude, so I suggest you check out this promo video showing what it is.




Funnily enough, even though the title of this post says Mini Melbourne Step 1, it didn't really start as a project to recreate such a large portion of a city in Minecraft. It started with a question, can we, two completely separate government departments, create a piece of content for Minecraft and make it really, solidly educational and suitable not only to both departments, but also to a wide range of schools, students and subject areas?

The idea for the project, out of the three that were coined in preliminary emails, that held the most interest of the team, but oddly enough my 'least favourite' was the idea of students performing an archaeological dig. If I am being honest, and I like to think I normally am, at the time I thought they were trying to make their ideas fit Minecraft, rather than making Minecraft fit their ideas, but as always, I went into the meeting with an open mind and, well.....

I was totally wrong of course... I had no idea prior to our initial face to face meeting that there were actual archaeological digs happening a block away from me right then, as we were in discussions about this project, and those archaeological digs would be the factual basis of this whole experience. Not only making this a highly immersive experience, but an authentic one, based on real events of real sites and real people and community from our city's history.

So, after our initial meeting, it was decided the first project we would work on would be what would become Archaeology Adventure, or the 'Dig Experience' as it was called for much of its development internally. So I took the idea and started playing around with the mechanics I knew of that might support this kind of thing. I also had to explore some mechanics and make them up as I went, which has been one amazing side effect of working on this project, I have learnt so much, and I hope to share as much of it as I can, by starting at the start and taking you on a journey to the finished product, both through this series of blog posts, but also through a YouTube video series that goes more in depth about each mechanic than I could possibly do here and keep your attention!

Anyway, back on topic! I created a quick and dirty mockup of how I expected a dig might work to show the team. That constituted the following basic mechanics;

A security pass, and check in system to actually get onto the site.



The raw and rough mechanics for randomly 'finding' items in a given area.


A way for students to choose how fast they would dig.


A way to 'uncover' what the found artefact was (analyse it) rather than just 'know' it straight away.


And, finally, a way to provide students with the information about each artefact that could support them in their goal of determining what the site was used for in the past.


Of course much of this, 'mechanically' speaking, has changed considerably over the development period, but the fundamental basis of it all is still there in some way, shape or form. I think the only things that have pretty much remained 'mechanically' the same is the security pass and check in and the analysis of items. But, this 'pre-alpha' demonstration set the scene (or at least the base of the possible scene) for what we could achieve in Minecraft for a room full of people who had never played before and really had no idea about what was possible.

With the 'raw' mechanics at least visible and planned out on a small scale, it was time to look at getting the data for Mini Melbourne itself, and that, my friends, is the topic of the Mini Melbourne Step 2 post. While you are waiting, I am sure with eager anticipation for that 'mouse scroller' (Is that the internet equivalent of a page turner?) to arrive, keep an eye on my YouTube channel for the video outlining each of these first mechanics, the reasoning and commands that make them work, and maybe even why I thought they were a good idea at the time.

As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, touch base on Twitter @EduElfie or even join our Discord: https://discord.gg/7fSQBdx.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Functions are Flipping Fun and Potently Powerful.

Firstly, let me apologise for the title of the post. I was feeling somewhat creative and flippant, and well.. unfortunately this is what happens.

To business, the latest update of Minecraft: Education Edition brings with it massive functionality that we can use to 'smooth the waters' and begin to develop really supportive 'things' for teachers (and students) to use in their classrooms. This functionality, with no pun intended, is actually the /function command.

Just the yesterday I released the first public version of my 'Classroom Management Pack' and while still under active development, it is very, very neat in my humble opinion. It takes all of the suggested 'fixes' for classroom management concerns from community members that I recorded and published in September last year, but it also adds in a freeze all players option as well as a few other new tweaks I learnt along the way. Check out the video here:

None of this would have been this 'easy' without functions being available. Essentially what a function is, in the simplest terms I can think of, is a series of Minecraft commands that are run 'all at once, but in order.' It is super simple to get started with, and I will have a tutorial and supportive documents to help you out in getting started yourself 'soon' but in the mean time, start thinking about all the things you could automate.

I know using these functions took my latest project from 1000+ command blocks down to maybe 300 or so. It also makes editing things much easier, as they are just plain old text documents where if you find a mistake, you don't need to edit it in every command block but 'find and replace' has become my new best friend. I even found a find and replace in all files option in Notepad++ that I used on a few occasions to do bulk changes across the entire map, saving me hours of command block editing, even if I were to do it in MCEdit.

But what I am really excited about, is that I think this functionality could really support teachers in a much more active way than classroom management, and that is in 'building' as ridiculous as that sounds. One of the biggest limitations I have had with M:EE as opposed to the old Java MinecraftEdu is the inability to have 'worldedit' functionality in-game. I much rather being in-game building things as it gives me a much better perspective. However I have been 'resorting' (sounds so bad, but really it isn't) to MCEdit, and while that is also super powerful, and has a place in my workflow for creating worlds, it would be awesome if I didn't have to export out of M:EE every time I wanted to do a simple import of a schematic.

Now I don't think I have the capability to do a complete 'worldedit' pack, but I am going to have a stab at it, but before that I do that, I am going to create a 'build pack' where there are some solid, functional builds ready to import to a world, while in world. This would not be a 'simple' thing to add to, the way I understand it right now, but I remember ages ago, that Shane used to have the same 'start layout' in each and every map he made. This could be a reality again, if you wrote the function to create that build, then you could just have the 'build pack' in each world, and type the command to build that start location almost instantly.

Imagine you could have a function to build the structure, prepare all the scoreboards for one of my complex scoreboard builds (ECAS or ECAAS) to do multiple choice answers in-game, and the teacher only needs to run the 'create' command and then copy/paste the appropriate commands into the appropriate command blocks. This removes, what I believe to be the biggest barrier to using these kinds of things in multiple lessons, and that is using MCEdit to import schematics into a world. Don't get me wrong, it is possible, it is just not something that teachers necessarily have the time, or inclination to learn.

Anyway, exciting times ahead, thanks as always for reading, if you want to follow the progress of the 'build pack' (I will try to update here as often as possible) follow me on Twitter @EduElfie. If you have any comments, or questions please leave them in the comments below, reach out on Twitter or ask in the Mentor Discord: https://discord.gg/7fSQBdx 

Monday, 8 April 2019

Playing Games as Opposed to Learning In Games

Back to normal broadcast this post, brain dump time! I have been grinding my brain over something that has been bothering these last couple of weeks, and I think I now have my mind ready to go and put my thoughts into some form of coherence here. The topic is, how is playing games while learning, different to learning while playing games, and which is best for classrooms. I have a summary right at the bottom, for those who are short on time, and don't want to read all the ramblings, but just want the essence of what I came to realise.

Might seem a curly topic, and I really should probably explain why this has come about. Recently I have come across resources that have students playing disconnected mini-games in Minecraft while looking at models, or trying to solve problems. The key point there is that the games are disconnected from the learning, they have no connection at all, and in some cases the game actually gets in the way of learning.

I am not trying to point fingers, or put down somebody's work, however I just cannot see how this is a positive thing to be available for community members to access, and I think it makes it even harder for teachers to get started, or even continue their journey.

So, I want to try and clarify my thinking about this. I am a big proponent of using the game to support teaching, in fact I think that is one of the best uses of Minecraft is to actually use the game mechanics to support the teaching focus or learning outcome. I think another key idea here is that learning can be fun, but having fun doesn't necessarily mean learning is taking place. A lot of people talk about engagement being a key factor in their decision to bring Minecraft into their classroom, and let's not beat around the bush here, it is a game, it is fun, and it is engaging, but none of those should get in the way of a good/better learning outcome for students.

So what is the difference between playing a game, and using the game mechanics to support learning? I am going to be honest, I just spent 20 minutes writing up some examples to try and clearly define my thinking here, and it just muddied it even further, as each time I thought I had a 'game' as opposed to 'mechanic supporting learning' I thought of a way to change the 'game' so it was supporting learning or a specific learning outcome where it would be relevant. So let's discuss fighting of mobs as this is something, in my experience, that some kids regularly request when they first get into Minecraft in a classroom.

I am not talking students in survival and writing a journal of their experiences, as the 'game' is leading to the writing and planning there. I am talking about kids being given 'time' to go and kill mobs in Minecraft, kitting themselves out in whatever gear they want and going out in the night(or day) with the goal of slaying as many bad guys as they can.

When would I use this in my classroom? Well, how about the learning context is probability, and students are tasked with trying to find out the difference between the levels of the looting enchants and what the likelihood of various monster drops are. Or students are collecting data on how many mobs they can kill with different types of sword, and comparing the durability or attack damage of each.

When wouldn't I? As a 'boss battle' at the end of the class or while students are trying to do some learning task within Minecraft. While students are building a model of a solar system, is not a good time to start a battle with mobs in Minecraft.

I think the key idea here, as I sit and write this, is that the game(the fun) doesn't get in the way of learning. It has to be connected to it in some way. That is using the mechanics in the game to support students to achieve a learning outcome. If I cannot clearly outline how the particular activity students are doing supports them in reaching the learning intention for the lesson.. then why am I doing it? This seems so simple, and I am not sure where this has been lost in some of these resources.

Engagement should never be the answer to the "Why am I doing this?" question. "We have done our learning in Minecraft, now lets fight some mobs." with the goal of trying to make sure students have fun is not the way to go in my opinion. It devalues the tool, and will make it more difficult to keep the learning happening without 'the fun' in future lessons. Learning can be fun in Minecraft, you don't have to 'add' fun games on top to try and make students enjoy it.

A well planned and executed lesson in Minecraft is engaging on its own merits. If students are asking to play games, or PvP, then perhaps the lesson is lacking something, but the answer is not to then disconnect from the learning and go do something 'fun.' The answer is to revisit the learning goal, think about how you would normally teach this without Minecraft, and critically reflect on what Minecraft can replace in this lesson, what it can add to, and what it may detract from. You can always stop the lesson, and talk to the kids about how they think Minecraft can help them with their learning if you don't know how it might apply better.

I guess this has all come about, because even though there are these resources out there, which I would be unable to suggest any teachers use, I am also working on a very 'game centric' lesson currently. I am trying to solidify why my 'game' based lesson is OK, while the others I am being critical of are not. I still think it comes down to the play is part of the learning, not disconnected. It is, I guess, a role play, where students take on the role of a particular profession, and do a whole heap of 'underlying' learning while completing the 'game' in Minecraft.

This is massively different to playing (mini)games with no connection to the learning focus or goal if that makes any sense. Well.... I am not sure I have actually achieved my goal of making my thinking clearer. It certainly isn't muddier, and only time will tell if I can clarify my thinking any further.

Here is a summary:There is now a big difference in my mind between playing 'while' learning and playing 'for' learning, and it comes down to whether the play is connected to the learning or disconnected from it.

Thanks as always for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below if you have an opinion you would like to share on this. I think with more thoughts and opinions this can only get clearer and easier to distinguish the 'good' learning while playing from the 'not so good' playing while learning.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Guide: 3D Printing from Minecraft: Education Edition

This post it more of a set of instructions for others to follow if they want to pursue this. Think of it as a guide, not a set of rules, but what I have found works.

There is an inbuilt way of getting 3D data out of Minecraft: Education Edition with structure blocks, and these work great, if the builds are smaller than 32 blocks cubed. This process is quite convoluted (and I don't fully understand it yet) however, because of the size restrictions on the structure block export, I choose to use a different method, and while it unfortunately still requires access to a windows machine to work it does provide unlimited sized exports for 3D printing. I am yet to find a mac/iPad workaround, but I continue to search and will update accordingly, or likely write a whole new guide if I manage to find it!

The first step is to have something built, I am not going to provide any guidelines here, go build something you want to 3D print, or grab a world that a student has built in and use that. Either way, you need to export the world from M:EE. To do this click the 'pencil'  beside the world name BEFORE you enter it. Scroll all the way to the bottom and there is an 'Export World' button.

Export the world somewhere useful, it defaults to documents normally on a Windows machine. Now browse to the exported file and rename it to .zip instead of .mcworld and extract the files. If you cannot see the file extensions, in the 'View' tab of Windows Explorer there is a 'File name extensions' tick box. Tick it, and you should then see the .mcworld file extension and be able to rename it to .zip.


Once you have the files extracted, you are now needing to use the first new piece of software, an external Minecraft map editor called MCEdit. Only you cannot use just any version, you need a special one to open M:EE worlds, and I recommend this particular one here: https://github.com/Podshot/MCEdit-Unified-Preview/releases/tag/MCEdit-Unified-1.6.0.52-testing

While it says it is a 'Preview' release, I have been using it for a while, and it is pretty stable. There is a release after this, 1.6.0.53, but it 'breaks NPCs' in any map opened in it. So I recommend not updating to that version, and sticking with this one. Download the release, unzip the files and run MCEdit.exe and it should look something like this:

Click on 'Open...' and browse to the extracted files from your exported world from before and choose the level.dat and then click open. If you get this error: 


I believe it is linked in some way to the 'Blocks of Grass' template exporting in an 'odd way' and I haven't figured out the fix yet. However, all is not lost, you just need to head back to Minecraft:EE and make a copy of the world, using the 'Copy World' button, and then export that copy instead. That has worked for me most of the time. If that also fails, reach out on Twitter @EduElfie, or join the mentor Discord https://dicord.gg/7fSQBdx and ask in there, and we will see if we can resolve the issue properly.

Hopefully once the world is open, it should look something like this:

OK, so your build might be a little more epic than my terrible, winking flower, but you get what I mean. Right?

Now for a little tutorial on moving around and navigating MCEdit. It is similar but also starkly different than Minecraft controls. WASD Space and Shift, still do similar things, but the mouse behaves completely different. Basically, the way I navigate is to hold down right click on the mouse, and that allows 'free' movement of the camera with the mouse, while moving around with WASD Space and Shift. Take a few minutes to try and have a go, and explore the movement, it is quite a jarring experience when it looks like Minecraft, but doesn't behave as Minecraft should! Once you are comfortable moving around, it is time to start selecting things.

To select something, it is a matter of getting your frame of view somewhere reasonable and left clicking on a block, and then left clicking another block to select a 3D rectangular prism. This was my first selection.

You can see that the entire flower is not within that selection area, and that is fine, we can 'pull' faces out to make sure we have everything selected. Below follows a 'snapshot' of each expansion I chose, and the frame of view I did it from. To expand the selection, hover your mouse over a face until the border of the face goes orange, then 'drag' it the direction you want it to be.

You can see in the image above, that I have moved my camera to be more side on, and pulled the front face out a bit so that it gets the face of the flower, instead of just the dark brown 'petals' of the flower. But you can see I am still missing a part of the 'orange wood' closest to my camera.

From this perspective, I now have everything selected, so time to move my camera (don't accidentally left click, it will undo your selection!). 

Moving my perspective around to the back of the build, you can see that I am missing the back part of the stem, and also the top part of the petals. Time to pull both the back and top faces of my selection so that I cover all of them.

Done! Now to check all sides again, just to make sure it is all within the selection box.

And it is, so now it is time to take this out of Minecraft and into something another program can read easily. Click the 'Copy' button on the left 'menu pane' and it will 'put' this copy in the top right corner of the screen.

You will notice a little 'Save' button up there, click that to save the copy as a .schematic file. Save it somewhere relevant, it defaults to /Documents/MCEdit/Schematics.

Now it is time to install the third, and final piece of software to make this process complete. This program reads Java Minecraft worlds, or .schematic files and can convert them to stl's for 3D printing. Mineways is a gem of a program, and entirely free, download it from here: http://www.realtimerendering.com/erich/minecraft/public/mineways/ 

When I open Mineways I get a whole heap of error codes, I believe this is because it is looking at my Java Minecraft saves, and it cannot open them because they are 'too new' a version of Minecraft. I hit 'OK' on all those errors until I come to this screen.

Now it is time to open our schematic file. Click on 'File' and then 'Open' (not 'Open World'), browse to your schematic that you saved before and press open. Because my build is so small, this is what it looks like on my screen.

Zoom in with the scroll wheel, pan by holding left click and dragging. My build is now centered in my viewing area. I should take the opportunity here to say that you don't have to export the entire schematic in the one stl file. You can get all students to build in the one area in the one world and export that entire area as a schematic, and then choose individual builds at this point for individual printing.

Now you need to select what you want to export for 3D printing. Right click and drag to select, it goes bright pink to show you where your selection is.


At this stage you can choose not to export all the way down or up from your schematic using the sliders at the top of the screen and changing the lower and upper bounds of the selection, but in this case, my schematic is only what I want to print anyway, so I can just press 'File', 'Export for 3D Printing'.

This brings up a 'where' dialogue box, so give your stl file a name, choose where you want to save it and MAKE SURE to change the save as type to a stl variety. 

I use ASCII text STL, but I was told " The other two binary STL file formats should also work, and are much more compact for transferring the data, so you may want to try them out instead." a while ago, but old dogs... new tricks.... you know rigt? You, however, may want to try the three different varieties (or any of the other file types if you want to delve into other uses) and see which works best for you. Once you hit save, a very, very scary window should appear.

While it looks scary, there is not a lot here that you need to mess about with, there are some key settings that you need to know about, but most can be left as they are. The three things to pay closest attention to are the 'Scale' in the top right corner of the window, The 'Delete floating objects' tick box in the middle of the right column, and the 'Weld all shared edges' tick box on the very right side of the window, again roughly in the middle.

Scale, you have a couple of options, you can either make the whole model a particular height, or make each block a particular physical dimension. Either works, and it is entirely at your discretion which you choose.

"Delete floating objects" - On export you'll be warned if there are "floating bits" such as disconnected tree leaves cut off by the volume selected. On by default, this option will get rid of these floating bits in the volume you're exporting. Turn it off if you're sure you want to export everything in your selection volume.

"Weld all shared edges" - Mineways will automatically add a block here and there if it sees parts that would be disconnected otherwise. However, by default it adds as few blocks as needed. Turning this option on ensures that all blocks that touch at only their edges will have additional blocks added to keep these blocks glued together. This makes the model stronger, but can change its look.

Once you have your setting correct hit that 'OK' button to save your stl file and then open that stl file in your 3D printing software. Hit print and enjoy your work!

That pretty much sums up all the steps. If you would rather see me blunder through this in a video, there is a tutorial video available here that steps through it all, however I need to update the links in the video description, as I haven't done that as of posting this guide: 

I hope you found this useful, if you need any more support, or anything doesn't make sense, please let me know in the comments below, via Twitter @EduElfie or on the mentor Discord https://dicord.gg/7fSQBdx Thanks for reading, and happy printing!!

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Minecraft Worksheets

So, I have been pondering something for a while and something came up today on social media that really brought some clarification to some thoughts for me, but also muddied the waters a bit on some ideas I had been working on. Here goes!

I have been pondering about 'recreating/remaking/tweaking' some very old 'joke problem solving' sheets from an old 8 Plus book, printed in 1986, that I used to use in my math classes for some "fun" practice/reinforcement of particular concepts. These sheets had a joke or riddle as the overarching question, multiple reinforcing problems for the students to find the answers to, and those answers were related to a letter, and when combined all together you came out with the answer to the riddle.

It has been stewing the back of my mind for quite some time, and I revisited it just the other day, mostly because I finally remembered where the book was, looking at some of the sheets in the book, and seeing if I could apply the 'concepts' to Minecraft, and how I could get the kids 'practicing' these concepts in the virtual world.

My original (a few years ago) plan was to recreate the worksheet almost as is, in Minecraft, but give them the virtual world to practice the problem with. Then I thought about copyright issues and such and thought it might be better to make the questions literally about Minecraft, and to get the students to actively create the solution in world, and then decode the answer to the problem. Then today, my eyes fell upon this;


It really, really made me think. I think I must have been borderline crazy to think about putting worksheets in Minecraft that have no relevance to the Minecraft world. Like the problem above, it is a great problem, and I can see exactly the learning demonstrated by students as they answer the question, but it has absolutely no relevance to the Minecraft world... There is no cheese, or mice in Minecraft. 

While I have no idea about how the students worked within Minecraft to complete this activity, I feel like this question could have been reworded to be more suitable to the medium. For example; 

"A rectangular structure of dirt, with a base area of 24 blocks and a height of 4 blocks was left out for a few nights, and some Endermen stole some blocks. After a few nights, there was a 4 block square base and height of only 1 block left. How many blocks did the Endermen steal?"

Does this rewording change the math? Possibly a little, but if you really wanted them working with 'standard' units, you could easily say that each block was a cm cube or such, but the actual concept itself, I don't think it does. So... that leads to yet another question, is my question 'better' than the one pictured? I honestly don't think it is, however it is definitely more 'relevant' to the platform students are learning in. Does that make it better inherently? I honestly don't know.

The more I reflect on this, and write this post, the more 'lost' I become. That question (and many more like it) have likely been on worksheets handed to students for more years than I have been a teacher. Second to that, since that is clearly in Information Block from the old MinecraftEdu which hasn't been 'available' for purchase for quite a few years now, it has probably been used quite a few times in that context too. The question would have no relevance to me at any time, because mice are not really a problem here where I live, and I never grew up with mice eating any of my food, particularly considering we kept our cheese in the fridge.

So, with multiple students having answered this question on paper and many others just like it, over the last however many years, who are likely no worse off for doing so, why do I think that making it relevant to the platform, when using Minecraft is so important? What has made that question feel so out of place for me within this context, and more so than in the context of a worksheet?

I think it is most likely because I don't want teachers to make Minecraft boring, or just drill and kill like activities because it is a massive missed opportunity. Minecraft is a game, if teachers are going to consistently make it 'just a worksheet' then, I am pretty sure I have said this in a previous post, we are going to lose the opportunity to keep engaging students in a new and much more fun type of learning. 

I don't want to rehash all the same discussion from a previous post, so I am going to leave this thought right here, and will now go and re-think, yet again, my idea of getting problem solving activities, where students can actively build, interact, and solve mathematical problems into Minecraft in a fun way, using the actual game to help reinforce the concepts. 

As always, thanks for reading, and if you would like to leave a comment below, please do. Otherwise, if you would like to have conversations like this in 'real time' join the Minecraft Mentor Discord here: https://discord.gg/7fSQBdx or, if you would like to become a Minecraft Mentor yourself, all the details on how to join and be a part of that community can be found here: http://aka.ms/joinmee

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Mini-games and Mechanics

So, I have been quiet again lately, not because I have nothing to share, unfortunately, it is mostly because I have been super busy. There are some things I am working on, which I am not allowed to share, but others, tied in, that I probably can. So I have decided to take the time (however long that is) to write this post detailing some of the work, and how I am pushing my own thinking, my practice, and making Minecraft do the work for me in some cases all the while making it easier for other teachers to pick up my worlds, and lessons, and run them in their own classroom.

Speaking of lessons, I have been working on this website here: https://fuse.education.vic.gov.au/pages/meeclassroomideas and being very clear on the curriculum links and instructions to try and help people get up and running. Whether you are in a Victorian government school or not, you are more than welcome to use any resources on that page in your own classroom.

Now to the 'fun' stuff, as you may, or may not know, with 1.7 Bedrock came scoreboard functionality, limited, but enough there for what I want to do, and used to do back in the MinecraftEdu days. So of course I have been exploring, dabbling, updating old builds and creating new ones for Minecraft: EE! But what exactly have you been doing you might ask....

Well, a mini-game, sort of. It is an archaeological dig experience, that will sit 'inside' a larger project (which is the one I am not allowed to share specifics of) and put students into the role of archaeologists, researching the history of a particular building site and coming up with some inferences about what the site was used for in the past. This has been months in development, and started with a rough sketch of disparate ideas and command block 'systems' into the massive conglomeration and automation of all of these mechanics and systems into one nice, not so neat, package.

The mechanics in this game are quite complex, and I am still in relatively early testing phases, particularly in terms of large student groups in the world. I need to make sure to get the right balance between students finding 'things' and not finding things, but the basic mechanics all appear to be working from my testing. Here are some screenshots of what the command block arrays look like, as well as some attempted explanations about what these actually 'do' to students in game.



These first 2 arrays control the 'display' space, and are set up (top image) to prevent students displaying non-artefacts, and (bottom) prevent the same artefact being displayed twice, as well as prepping the 'researcher' for the particular artefact displayed.


This whole array is a double up split in half, the left half allows students to 'find' artefacts at particular 'hotspots' in the dig site, while the right half is 'breaking' artefacts for students who dig too fast.


All the 'little bits' that control the dig speed, clone all the tools and other resources students need, as well as open and close the 'security' gate at the entry location.


This one is the 'array' of researchers, that get prepped and ready to 'drop' in on students and talk about the item on display. It ties in with the second picture, and knows which NPC to drop based on what artefact is put in the display frame.

There is an analysis array too, which consists of a hopper sorting system, and command block array, that takes a 'mystery' item that students find, and then analyses it for them.

The second project I have been working on just over the last couple of days is a completely automated question generator in Minecraft. Again using scoreboards. Instead of me coming up with a 'generic' list of set questions that students must answer to find out the slope of lines, or the y=mx+c equation of lines, getting Minecraft to generate random ones for students, based on the parameters I have set within the map.

Again, here are some screenshots of the arrays and what they do, but what I really like about this is the 'conversion' of scoreboard values, to text on signs. This has some pretty big implications for truly interactive and fluid world interactions based on students choices, answers, and overall progress 'through the quest line' of our learning tasks.


This array converts the score for 'building a' and 'building b' to text for the display.


There are 4 arrays like this, that convert from a score between 0 and 63 to the floor number on signs for both building a and building b and puts them on display for students.


This is the job-search mechanic, randomly assigns various scores and checks and balances all the scores to make sure that students get a 'reasonable' job to complete, lets them know when it is done searching.


This is the display for the job board, while not a command block array, this is the output of each of the other arrays shown above. Pressing the button to the left, starts the process, and populates a new job on the signs for students.

I have also been dabbling in some new 'future' opportunities available in Bedrock 1.8, which will hopefully soon be the base for M:EE. It allows us to add custom entities, with custom behaviours, textures and the works. Which means to create a bike, I don't need to take over the horse mob, I can literally create a mob that is a bike, make it rideable, with custom animations and everything!


Of course, having heard this, my own children have conspired to guilt me into making them a whole heap of animals for their own worlds, so I am in the process of creating, foxes, fairies, crocodiles, platypus and sharks, plus a few that I have likely forgotten, but surely will be reminded of. But it is all learning, and getting easier each time to get the base packs ready. The modelling and texturing are still my least favourite parts, but I am getting better at that too, when I have time to do it that is.

What really excites me about this is, firstly, the opportunity for students to create their own mobs or characters in their own worlds to support their demonstration of learning, but also it expands our opportunities as teacher content creators to create even more immersive environments for learning. As one example; trading could be done with any entity we create, fully customisable. Coupled with the scoreboard stuff already available I can see massive implications for 'automated' worlds and differentiation based on what students have, and have not done.

Well, that is a very broad update, there, of course, have been many other happenings, and things I should share, so I will try and take time and write them up as it happens, rather than sporadically as I have been. Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to leave a comment below.