Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A Different Kind of Teaching

If you have been following recent posts, you would know that I am working with teachers from a couple of schools to build their capacity to run, and in one particular case yesterday, build their own lessons in Minecraft: Education Edition. I spent a couple of hours with this particular teacher yesterday, after last weeks class that I ran, he had some ideas of what he wanted to create and what he wanted students to be doing in their first lesson with him.

In that couple of hours we went through building by hand, and using commands like /fill and /clone to speed that process up. He used /setworldspawn to bring students into the world within his confined area, so that he could give them instructions before they started the task. I don't think he needed it for this lesson, but we also went through the various uses of the /tp command, to teleport all students to him, to teleport one student to him, and how to teleport one student to another student. I have to say his skills at movement and building/breaking blocks increased dramatically within just that short amount of time.

At the end of the time, he had a lesson that he was comfortable running, that he had created, and that he knew exactly what he wanted students to do in. So we want from a fairly fresh beginner to a self made, comfortable lesson in about 2 hours. Which may be more indicative of his willingness to persevere than anything else, but still that is a nice 'statistic' to have as I try to bring more teachers on board.

He was planning on running that lesson with his class earlier today, so I touched base with him to see how it went. It was certainly a positive experience for him, and I am very happy to know it went well. I put these out on twitter earlier today, but these two quotes stand out for me as significant things for a teacher to be saying after only a couple of hours in Minecraft with his students.

"It is offering great engagement and great discussion when we look through the world together."

"The creative aspect allows a lot of individuality, which I feel the students enjoy."

I was looking at the screenshots he sent me, and remarking at how individual the towers are already, let alone the symmetrical design that will come when they come back to the activity. To be honest, I am very surprised at the absolute differences in the designs of the towers, just the block choice alone is such an individual thing, follow that through to shape and other design characteristics, and this has opened a different perspective for me already on what it is to build a 'tower' in Minecraft.

I am regretting not being in the classroom today, but I am also very conscious of the fact that I cannot be in every lesson every time. So to say I am pleased with my first 'supported from afar' lesson designed and created by someone else.... actually can I even call it my lesson in this case?

Anyway, I am pretty darn happy that it all went well, and that the activity went as the teacher expected it to. Below are a few of the screenshots from the student work, and when completed, the plan is to put these in their maths book and digital portfolio later. In case you were interested, this lesson is about symmetry, and the students first had to create their tower, and then put a design on/in it that had at least 1 or 2 lines of symmetry. You can see some students have started their designs and hopefully you can also see the lines of symmetry in their design.

As always if you got to the end, thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Version Issues, Success Despite.

So, knowing the update was out, and that some schools set up auto update and others don't, given my experiences the other day, I contacted the teacher I was working with on Thursday afternoon to work out what version of M:EE she was running. Settling on the latest, I then updated my laptop again so I was in line with her version.

Fast forward about 18 hours, just as we are starting to get students into M:EE for the first time. Everyone is logging in with success, picking skins, and then I glance at the version numbers on a couple of machines; Uh Oh!

Some are running 1.4.0 and others are running 1.0.27, out the window goes the idea of having the whole class in the one world. Some students are working in groups, some are working individually, so with a quick (and stressful) check, there were only 2 groups where members had different versions. With a quick shuffle of computers we sorted out one group, and while we were shuffling the other group, one of those computers then magically updated between log ins.

We tried a couple of restarts and log ins on the other computer to see if that would auto update magically between times, but alas we had no luck, so that particular group had to separate and work individually. I cannot work out why some machines had updated, and updated so quickly, while others did not even look to start to update, let alone finish. I guess this is just the way that windows updates are handled in this school environment (and I am sure many others).

Needless to say, I have put in a request on the product feedback area for an 'Update Now' button to see if that would alleviate this issue in the future, but I am not sure how that would work with a windows store program, and also within a school network.

Now to the task students were working on, it was pretty straight forward, students had researched and planned out a build of an ancient building of their own choice, and were putting those plans into action. Like last time, there were a few standout builds, but everyone had success. All the students learned how to create their own world, join a hosted world, take selfies and pictures with the camera and caption them as well as export them for their teacher.

Given that students were working in a student hosted world, rather than a teacher hosted world, it was also important that they exported their world at the end of the class as well, since the worlds are not user specific, but computer specific, and these are not personal devices, in theory, anybody could come into those worlds in the future and destroy/modify those builds. So we had to teach them how to export their world, and import it again for next time so that they had it at exactly the same spot that they left it.

Unfortunately due to the multiple hosts and differing versions, the recording of students in-game was impossible, and since the students were sending their portfolios to the teacher, I didn't get any of them yet either. This means no pictures again today.

I leave in an hour to go back to the primary school I was at last week, to spend a couple of hours going through some world building tips and strategies with the teacher there, he is keen to get started building his own lessons, rather than relying on me, or others to build them for him. Which I think is a great idea, and I am really looking forward to seeing what he needs to create in his first map, and what kind of support/instructions I can provide to help get him there.

That's it for now, thanks as always for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Incomplete Success.

So, a lot of reflection to happen after todays lesson in the somewhat beginners map. It was great to realise that students still don't read instructions in game when they start learning in Minecraft and it is going to take some time to work them out of that habit. How did I forget this?!

The invisible maze, too hard. We only had around 35 minutes once everyone logged in and joined the world, and about 25 minutes after we got everyone sorted. Unfortunately the M:EE update that happened meant that the map was not completed, as I did the final couple of hours worth of work in 1.4.0, not realising that the school was not on auto-update and hence still running 1.2.7. So I had to wind back to a previous version that was incomplete in terms of teacher controls. This meant that I missed parts of the startup routine for the challenges. The boating towards the challenges was also probably a bit much, and too far. Many students did not know how to row their boats, and their render distance was too low to see the start of the challenges.

The jumping puzzle was also too hard for Pocket Edition players trying to move to a keyboard and mouse for almost the first time. The final thing that I feel quite stupid about, is that I gave students worldbuilder ability when they get to the third challenge so that they could create an NPC. However it also means that they can cross border blocks, ignore allow and deny blocks.

I found this out as a student finished the second challenge, and got to the third challenge, with all the permissions included, ignored all the instructions and flew over to 'help' their friends in the jumping challenge. I cannot believe I didn't realise that, I spent hours checking all the border blocks and allow and deny blocks to try and 'prevent' them from breaking eachothers NPCs and such... all that time wasted!

So all of that sort of reflection (and embarrassment) aside, students did learn how to use the camera and portfolio, exporting as well. They also know how the border blocks work, and some would also know how the allow and deny blocks work. One really great thing about today was that the teacher really wants to learn how to create maps, and he has ideas already about the first map he wants to create. So next week, instead of teaching students, I am going to work with the teacher to support their map creation skill acquisition.

Once that map is complete, we will run the world together, or at least with me in the room as well. I did record the lesson today, but I had not set up the recording software very well, and it is a bit frame dropish. I will still edit parts of it down and post it on my YouTube channel for anyone interested. I did spend the afternoon tweaking the recording software so I can hopefully record smoother tomorrow.

Tomorrow I go back to the same school as last week to support a somewhat Minecraft experienced teacher to run her first M:EE lesson. The students will be creating ancient buildings, they have done the research and the planning, and this time I am hoping to be able to record and grab screen shots to share the great work that these students create.

I also need to revamp the map I used today, but I am not quite sure how much to do so just yet, I would like to run it with another group, giving clearer instructions about the challenges before I do too much with it. I think the basics are solid, it is just a matter of a few (hopefully) minor tweaks.

A bit of a bland post today, hopefully there will be more images tomorrow. I am going to try getting back to sharing the images of what I am talking about more, I have been a bit slack at that lately. Thanks always for reading, feel free to leave a comment below. Hey, I will even give you a task; share your thoughts about how you might get students up to speed on the EE specific interactions you might like to use in your class.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Somewhat a Beginners Map

I have been working on a new map, to introduce Minecraft 'players' to the EE specific blocks and items, how to interact with them and what impacts they can have on their experience. This map was supposed to take only a couple of hours to make after the initial planning, and in normal me form, I need it by Thursday this week.

So I spent about 4 hours streaming the planning, throwing ideas around and initial building. By the time I had thrown all my ideas around, I had some pretty straight forward ideas about how I wanted it to work in a classroom. Starting with some open exploration early in the class, to make sure the teacher has enough time to go around and make sure that everyone knows the basics of movement in Minecraft, or for students to help each other out, whichever way it goes.

After this open exploration, there would be a series of 3 challenges, these challenges explain, in an interactive way, what the M:EE specific blocks do, the first is an 'invisible' maze. The maze is made with border blocks below the platform and the border block particles show the paths you can and cannot take. I play tested it myself and it was really tricky, so I put in some 'sign post' blocks to help students find their way. It is not supposed to be impossible, but it is not supposed to be a straight shot either.
The invisible border maze.

Once they get to the end of the maze, students are supposed to use the camera to take a photo, or selfie with the NPC, then head down into the staging area for the next challenge. The second challenge is a mix a parkour/jumping puzzle and building puzzle, designed to show how the allow and deny blocks work.

The start of the allow/deny jump and build puzzle.

Once they get to the end of this, they head to the third challenge, which is not really a 'challenge' I guess, in the 'problem' sense, but more a task to show students how to work with NPCs when they have the /worldbuilder ability. At the conclusion of the lesson, students are to export their portfolio showing their achievements throughout the lesson for the teacher. Plus, as a bonus, since I think I am working with these students that I am meeting on Thursday a fair bit over the next little while, I will have some information about the students from the NPC "zoo".
The 30 challenge 2 platforms.

So, simple right? Wrong! Parallel play for the challenges meant that I needed to create 30 copies of challenge 2, 30 'pens' for the NPC "zoo" and work out some way to prevent, or at the very least minimise the risk of two students ending up in the same location for either challenge 2 or 3. This meant that I spent approximately 8 hours today working on commands and setting everything up so that teleporting works to the appropriate location and the appropriate abilities are afforded at each.

The NPC zoo.

I also learned today that you can easily adjust the direction that a person faces when you teleport them, through any of the 360 degrees, not just the cardinal directions. While I was messing about with that, I also learned that you can teleport 'only' people who are looking in a certain direction, which I have a feeling may mean something for future maps. I am not sure what yet, but there is an inkling of an idea that may yet prove to be quite useful.

One 'cell' in the NPC zoo.

Now all I have left is to create the 'teacher staging area' whereby any teacher can start the challenges, without my input, this should only take a couple of hours...... Oh the irony! I want to share this map on the EE site, but also with all kinds of teachers as I move forward in the rollout and support across the state. I think this map/lesson has a lot of merit, and is much more targeted at comfortable players, rather than those who have never played before.

This has been on my mind, since now the statistics in my very small sample have shifted from 1 or 2 in a class having played before, to 1 or 2 in a class not having played before. The old 'tutorial world' or the other activities I have run in the past to support students to learn how to move around in Minecraft just are not needed any more. But I don't think this means that students will automatically know about all the EE specific blocks and items that can change their experience in a classroom setting.

So, by going through these 3 challenges, what do students learn? If they didn't already know, they learn how to move in Minecraft. They learn what border, allow and deny blocks do. They learn how to interact with NPCs with and without /worldbuilder ability and they learn how to take pictures, and selfies and then caption and export these for their teachers. While not explicitly in the challenges, students are also exposed to all three sizes of boards, and now that I think on it, I think I might request they use at least one in their zoo decoration.

It is certainly not the prettiest build, and I am sure with some more time I could make a story to flow through it, but first I want to see how it runs as an activity in a classroom. Luckily I will be able to see how it runs in a classroom tomorrow. I have spoken to the teacher I am working with, and I am going to try and be 'hands off' observer rather than the facilitator of this lesson. I am also hoping to record some footage of the students going through the challenges for reflection

Monday, 4 June 2018

Minecraft... in a classroom... It is GREAT to be BACK!

Today marks the first day I have used Minecraft: Education Edition in a classroom... and the first day in a few years that I have used any Minecraft version in a formal Australian classroom, and let me tell you, for me, it is still as thrilling and enjoyable as it always was. The version may have changed, the process for getting started is also quite different, but the core basics in the classroom are still exactly the same.

I knew this on an intellectual level, don't get me wrong, but there was that little niggling part of me that was worried it would all be different and the 'spark' would not be there. I am very glad to say that the spark has not gone, and the kids I worked with today in Minecraft, were absolutely amazing, focused and creative, and I very much look forward to continuing to work with them in future.

There were of course technical issues, there always is on the first attempt, but these did not dampen the overall experience for the students. There were a few computers around the room that just would not either install or run M:EE, and I have left that little problem in the very capable hands of the local technician to try and solve. Students who could not log on themselves, sat beside someone who could and they worked together, which was a very pleasing aspect of this particular class today.

One part of the narrative of the lesson that stands out for me, was one student was building in black concrete, and since they were supposed to be building ancient Egyptian obelisks, pyramids or temples, I queried her on what she was building, and why in black. She merrily pipes up with, "I'm building a statue of Anubis, and he is black!" so, having been put back in my box, I kept wandering the room admiring their creativity, and the learning they had shown through their respective builds.

Also, in reflection, it is amazing what 'comfort' with the environment does, this is the first group of students I have worked with where they were already Minecraft players, all but 2 had played before in some way shape or form, only about half on PC though, so we ran through the controls quickly for those PE players. The amount that they built in the time they had was significantly more than the last time I ran this project with students a few years ago when the students were not comfortable Minecraft players.

There were plenty of pyramids, quite a few neat obelisks and a few pretty good looking temples, or at least the beginnings of them plus a couple of amazing statues (one being Anubis of course). I will request a few screenshots from the teachers and see if I am able to share them when next I post. What is great is that, while there was plenty of summative assessment material today, there was also a lot of non-curriculum learning. Students learned how to log into M:EE, how to use the camera and portfolio, and also how to 'behave' in Minecraft in school and these non-curricular skills will stand them in good stead to continue to gain benefit when next they join a Minecraft class. It was great to see that there were very few behavioural issues with students today, whether that continues in future classes remains to be seen, but I believe if the lessons continue to be engaging and worthwhile for the students, then it will.

Today's session went for about 90 minutes, and, after the 'first logon' time and introduction we probably had about 60 or so minutes of build time before we started taking pictures using the camera, and teaching students how to export their portfolio for the teacher to view. Teaching students how to take "selfies" in Minecraft was not something I had ever done before, and I must admit it was quite an enjoyable lesson to teach.

Another interesting thing I learned was that if the teachers laptop goes to sleep while hosting the world for the class, the program shuts down and all students get disconnected. It was really nice to be able to say to the students, that if they didn't want that to happen again, they had to convince their teacher to play with them, and help them out. Of course they did this in all kinds of ways, one students even promised a large sum of cash, but all students definitely supported her in joining, and those sitting next to her were super helpful in helping her navigate. All in all, I think it was a great first experience for the students, and probably, in reflection just as great for me and the other teachers involved.

One of the teachers involved today was already a Minecraft convert, but had only ever used MinecraftEdu, hence the reason I had been requested to go to the school today to support her to get started with M:EE. Together we have begun planning some humanities lessons/projects from year 7 to 10 that they (we) could possibly run. However the other teacher involved today is now completely sold, and is looking at how she may be able to use Minecraft in her junior Science classes next term.

In the space of less than 2 hours, she had gone from never playing Minecraft before, to seeing how valuable it could be for her teaching, and is already exploring possibilities for future classrooms. I think she was amazed at the creativity the students showed, and the depth of learning they were able to get into their blocky creation.

I call that a win, and for my first 'in school' coaching day I can only hope the wins keep coming. Thanks, as always, for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Animal Cell Map Is So Close to Done.

I am getting very close to a release for the Animal Cell map for Minecraft: Education Edition, there have been some tests run by other mentors, and most of the map seems solid so far. I just spent about an hour making it a void world, which makes it look a whole heap better than the surrounds that used to be there and has bugged me for years!

The outside is pretty much as it always was, except for the void bit, the real work has been done on the inside. There is now a secret code to get flight capabilities.

Custom NPC skins and models, they were supposed to look like lab technicians in the colours of the organelles, but they appear to be more like ninjas, I am yet to decide whether to rename them or not.

The teleportation mechanic is quite neat, and the visual experience is every bit as good as it used to be in the older version of the map.

Now I just have to finalise the external links to videos I want, and then re-write the 'real life' companion booklet and get it live on the lesson site. It is so exciting to be able to spend the time on these forgotten children of mine and get them available to the community in a working fashion again.

Very quick visual update today, thanks for reading, as always feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

New Role, New Exciting Times!

I have been sitting on this for a couple of months now, for various reasons, but as of Monday this week I have officially started in my new role, and it no longer has to be kept a secret.

The Victorian Department of Education has provided Minecraft: Education Edition for free to all schools, students and staff at government schools across the whole state. Which is a huge win, and a very exciting project to be involved in. We are talking over 1500 school sites, 600,000 students and 44,000 teachers all now with access. The potential for innovation, and new exciting lessons in Minecraft is huge.

So what is my role in this. I am supporting the implementation across the state. So currently I am looking at providing PD opportunities for those just beginning, those who have dabbled, and those who are experts. I am also running specific projects within schools, with what I hope to be somewhat intensive coaching and support so that these teachers are able to continue to grow their practice.

We are also building a state-wide team of educators using Minecraft in their classrooms, so that we can all support each other, kind of like what the Global Mentor program is, but more tailored to our teachers and using local expertise.

So what does all of this mean? It means, that post a few months back where I said I was back, well, I am. Minecraft: Education Edition is now my '9 til 5' job, so producing content is well and truly back on the cards, pushing the boundaries of what we can do and teach in Minecraft is back on the cards. I have a lot of work to do building and collating resources to support our teachers in their journey, no matter where they are along it.

So, what maps are on the go I hear you asking? OK, so I didn't hear you asking, but I still want to share and feel that I haven't been able to share, because I was bound to secrecy on the new role and roll out of M:EE across the state.

The Animal Cell map is nearly complete and ready for M:EE, the teleport mechanics have all been sorted out as have the textures, the only thing I have left to do is decide on the best method for providing the 'text' in game for students to explore and reflect upon, and then of course getting the information in there. Although I have all the text from the old map, sorted and ready so that shouldn't be too onerous once I get the basics sorted.

Energy Transfer, was always a 'gonna do when I got time' map, and I am excited to say that is certainly getting there, streaming that live on Twitch from start to finish is a side goal, so work is somewhat slower than if I wasn't doing that, but I am really enjoying sharing my process, experimentation and building it live online. Even if very few people watch it :D.

The command block mechanics and such in this map are very intense, and exciting to incorporate to create what will be a 'game' where students have to try and manage the energy and molecule flow throughout a cell and try to keep everything running. From DNA synthesis, through RNA synthesis and protein production, as well as exporting enzymes and breaking down sugars.

Contour Maps, again is just about ready to go, there are a few 'starting' things to be worked out, and formal lesson plans to write ready for release on the education.minecraft.net site but the basics are all there. This will be run in a school hopefully this term with a couple of groups, so stay tuned for updates on that.

Maths in Space, is a new take on an old map/concept. A few years back I used Minecraft to help students learn percentages in the "Path to Percentage Perfection" and this newer version of that is actually an adventure type map, based in a choose your own adventure style and is actually more of an assessment of knowledge than an acquisition of knowledge map, which is something new for me and an exciting project.

Also, for the base of this map, I was able to design in a 3D design package (123d design) export that to stl, and then get it into a void world in M:EE. Which is HUGE! It also means that we now have a way of working backwards too, build in EE and export to stl for 3D printing, that is not restricted at 32x32x32 blocks. Which is also HUGE and very exciting. Speaking of which, I really should do the long promised tutorial on this.

There are a heap of mechanics I need to sort out, so this map is likely a couple of months away from being anywhere near ready for a classroom, so think 'early planning' of the story and mechanics I need to use to keep the story relevant and in the game.

Transcription and Translation, will be released for M:EE at some stage, I have to rebuild it from scratch, using the new game mechanics rather than the old CCEdu mod. The lag issues that abounded from using 300 turtles to keep an eye out for block updates should be resolved with observer blocks. I plan on building on the Resource Pack for the Animal Cell, one pack for all 3 current cell maps, and possibly more in the future as I have the ideas and time to build them.

I am also writing a 'random chance and choose your own adventure' story for my daughter. I hope to release that to the public at some stage, but that all came about because I burrowed further and further into a rabbit hole of choose your own adventure, and what that might mean for interactive maps. Getting students responding to questions in, and out of the game, while having an impact on how the story plays out, and having the Minecraft world change accordingly.

So this is a huge area of interest for me, and once I get settled into the role, and have some more time, I hope to explore this and create some highly interactive maps in this style. Think about having a companion world to a choose your own adventure book, where both work together to create a learning experience for students. A place that reading, as well as experience in the virtual world support each other and neither is fully complete without the other, and neither can you complete it fully without using both and your brains.

OK, apparently not posting for a while leads to blabbering, apologies. Hopefully I will share more on each map as I move forward, as well as sharing the progress and uptake of M:EE across the state. As always it will be a 'warts and all' approach to sharing, so keep an eye out for the successes, and the not so successes in future. Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.