Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Collaborative 'Live Tweeting'

I have had another post brewing for a while now, and I had to put that on hold, because these last 4 (or 5 depending on your timezone) days something has happened that is well and truly worth sharing, discussing and I think, promoting.

It started with this tweet from Simon Baddely:
Which of course he then replied to, stepping out each key point along the path of creating this resource. OK, so it took much longer than 12 hours, and more people than just Simon, but the end result got released just a couple of hours ago. If you don't want to read any more, at least head over to and check out "Pumpkin Town" and then come back and see my interpretation of the Twitter feed, and how I think this may be one of the greatest ways of sharing the work we do when creating lessons, I don't just mean Minecraft lessons either, but lessons in general!

Now to the debrief, if you want to see the whole Twitter 'stream' you can do that by heading here: and viewing the replies. I am going to pick out a few, and embed them in here and talk about the value of the tweet, in terms of the narrative being created around the lesson plan, but also about how this is a key step in supporting others to follow.
These two tweets are key to setting the whole scene for the lesson. Starting with an idea, and then straight away going directly to outcomes sets the right stage for learning to be the focus of the world and lesson, rather than something 'tacked' on at the end of a pretty build.
Now we get into the nitty gritty of bringing a 'theoretical build' to life, in the quickest, easiest way possible. Creating that world, block by block would take months of work, Simon achieved it within minutes. The fact that Simon has shared the tools required at each step is so important in building the grounding for others to be able to do the same. It also sets Simon up as someone willing to share his knowledge, and if someone comes across this thread in 6 months time, and wants to know how he went from Tinkercad to MCEdit, clearly Simon knows how to do that, there is visual evidence right there, and since he has begun sharing, chances are he is going to respond to a query just as willingly. There is nothing more maddening then teachers having to re-invent the wheel, over and over again because the process hasn't been shared, or people don't know who to ask for help.
I have skipped quite a few tweets from Simon, and come back to the thread here, because I think it important to highlight that everything before now has been done 'outside' of Minecraft itself, using external tools. Minecraft, up to this point has been a 'testing' tool in terms of sizing and proportions. Not only that, he has shared the direct link to the village he used as the basis of the world. Given the limited nature of tweets, in terms of characters, I am glad that Simon took the time and made the effort to credit the person who made the build available.
This is where I think things get awfully interesting. Simon has used his expertise to generate the base world, and hands it off to his colleague, Ben Spieldenner, to take up the next stage of creating this 'immersive experience'. Clearly in this partnership, each member knows their own expertise, is willing to share and support the other, but also knows when to back off and let someone else do the work in terms of expediting the end result. I think that is an important thing to reflect on, how often do we try to 'do everything for everyone' maybe not really recognising their own strengths, and allowing them to take ownership of their portion of a project. Thinking in terms of students here, how often do we as teachers, 'dictate' the lessons, disregarding student strengths and opinions in the effort to reach our 'assessment outcomes' rather than student 'learning outcomes.'
Ben, as Simon did, takes the very important step of sharing where to get the resources to follow along. He cannot possibly list 'every step' in a tweet, but there is enough there to get someone started, and exploring at least. Again, Ben has set himself up as someone willing to share the exact process, so if others want to follow, they can either try using the information in the tweets, or by contacting Ben directly for support.
Ben continues to share each step, the resources used, and even says in a 'sideways' thread that he will happily share his base template for others to use!
2 days later Ben comes back, and talks about how the narrative is built into the world, the sequence of events and the importance of the learning over the visuals. Both are important to an immersive experience, but immersion without learning is a waste of teachers, and more importantly students time.
I am not skipping many of Ben's tweets, and that is no criticism of what Simon did, it is just this is where I think the importance of learning has been really captured. The outline showed was collaboratively created by both Ben and Simon, and the narrative it creates has been carefully designed to ensure that students have access to just enough information to make their inferences.
Time, the ever present ruler of us all, prevented Ben from achieving all the the visual adjustments he wanted, but there are many other things that a supportive lesson for teachers of all ability levels needs. The world, and visuals are but a part of the package required for teachers to effectively run this in their own classrooms.
Now the madness truly ensues, the crazy guys gave me access to the world, to initiate the spawn location mechanics... Sound fancy? Well, in reality, if we want this map to be usable by teachers, we need to make it as supportive as possible, which means all the game settings dialed in automatically when a student joins the world.
First issue with any 'student loaded' pre-created map with NPCs is WorldBuilder. If you load a world, you have WorldBuilder rights automatically, which means you can destroy NPCs with an accidental left click, and there is no easy way to get them back other than deleting the world and starting again, a massive time waster. So, first task is to remove WorldBuilder from anyone joining the world. What I really valued here was the ability to share, in context, exactly the commands, their purpose and I think that makes it easier for others to see, and use it themselves in future if they need to.
Next was to make sure students have the items they need to engage with and collect evidence from the narrative, and then take information out of the game for their writing piece. The camera, portfolio and book are all given automatically, making a teachers, and students for that matter, job much easier.
I don't want to 'blow my own trumpet' here, but I had an inkling of an idea I wanted to try out, it would have been amazing, but upon reflection, it was just unsuited to the purpose here, and far too risky in terms of 'ruining' the experience for those coming in. So, back to the 'tried and true' rather than the innovative right now. I think highlighting the idea that 'shiny and new' isn't always the most appropriate aligns with the idea that we should be using the best tool for the job, not just the latest.
With my 'job' complete, I hand it back to Ben and Simon for their next steps. Again, using the expertise of those in the community is, I think, a key step to moving the whole community forward. I really appreciate Ben and Simon giving me the opportunity to not only help get the map ready, but engage in the 'live tweeting' of the progress along the way. It really made me think about what steps I was taking, and which are the key steps to share along the way to support others in their endeavours.
I went to bed, and while I slept, Simon and Ben had been working madly to ensure the map worked as intended, threw it to another mentor, Trish Cloud, for their feedback and ideas about how to make the map better. Again, involving members of the community, gathering feedback, ideas and a different perspectives is something that I think makes this whole process shine!
And then, they released it. With a lesson plan, student resources, world download and assessment support. From an idea, to a fully supported lesson in 4 (or 5) days. Just in time for Halloween.
After that, another mentor Ben Kelly picked it up, excitedly, after watching the whole thing unfold on twitter and recorded a short intro. This brings to light the idea that we are a big community, the fact that people were excited to see the process unfold on Twitter is great, amazing in fact. So, why do we not share our processes more often?

Well, the 2 or so hours I spent 'live' tweeting, in terms of Minecraft work, would have probably been about half that time if I hadn't been tweeting it. So an hours worth of work in Minecraft, and an hours worth of thinking and sharing on Twitter. Was it worth it? For me, in this case, yes, not a doubt in my mind. Will it always be worth it? I honestly don't know, I think this whole thing has highlighted some really good tools, thoughts, ideas and resources, but is it sustainable? It is certainly not an 'every day' activity that is for sure.

Well, thanks, as always for reading, I needed to get that off my brain, and now that is done, I will go back to writing my other post. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments below, or reach out to any of the mentors mentioned in this post on Twitter for their support if you want to access their expertise!

Friday, 19 October 2018

A Week of Implementation

I started writing this post started a week ago, but the week has just keep rolling and I have so much to share, so be prepared for another long post!

I love it how kids can break a 'planned' map within minutes! Admittedly it was party due to my own stupidity, and it took less than 5 minutes to fix, but I love how 'exploratory' they are when they get into any new Minecraft world, and how hard it is to 'cater' for all of those explorations! It is a challenge I always relish when creating a map, and seeing it happen in a classroom, how much can I prevent students 'breaking' what I have created, not truly with the view to limiting their potential, but making it easier for the teachers to manage their classes in an environment where students are normally way more comfortable than the teacher.

So, that paragraph above is in relation to me having my first opportunity to go to a school here on Friday, and watch another teacher run one of my lessons in their classroom. I tried to stay as hands off, and 'observer' as possible, but it is really not very easy! I think that is something I really need to work on, I love team teaching and collaborating, but there are times where I need to step back and let things happen.

Not that there was anything terrible happening in the classroom, but since the students 'subverted' my map within the starting minutes, I did step in and 'fix' the map and get them back on track for the teacher I was working with. Other than that minor mishap, the lesson ran very smoothly and the teacher used the lesson plan effectively to get the students to reach the learning outcomes of activity 1 of the Contour Maps lesson. I am also sad to say that I really didn't stay hands off throughout the lesson, so that is really, really something I need to manage better, and now one of my personal goals is to be able to observe a lesson in Minecraft without stepping in!

Jump over the weekend to Monday, I am back at the same school as Friday, but this time working with a teacher who has never used Minecraft in the classroom before. We were running the same Contour Maps lesson as I was supposed to be 'hands of' and observing on the Friday, but this time I was facilitating.

The great thing, my map fix worked, and I found some other 'alterations' that I could make, these are not as 'game breaking' as the initial issues on Friday, but if I get a chance I will probably go and address these issues.

I left after class on Monday with the teacher willing to continue the activity herself, and seeing how valuable Minecraft was to not only teach that particular session, but how valuable it could be across other lessons, classes and ideas.

A bit of sleep later and it is Tuesday, and I say a bit of sleep because I think I only slept for a total about 4 or so hours! Got up at 4:30am, and headed off to Melbourne to run a 'next steps' training day with 20 or so teachers from around the state that had already attended the day 1 training. This was so much fun, to take teachers from having heard about Minecraft: Education Edition, through the program I have designed, to by the end of day 2 being able to see, plan and have a clear vision of how Minecraft was relevant to one of their upcoming lessons or topics.

Each and every teacher left that day with a lesson plan underway that would support them and their students back in the classroom. One teacher has already shared their proposed plan with me, and I have provided feedback. The conversations in the room were absolutely fantastic, most of the afternoon was advising the teachers whether what they 'wanted' to do was actually possible in Minecraft;

Q:"Can I make the water poisonous?"
A:"Sure you can, here is how, but we will worry about the full mechanics later, keep planning along that path."

Q:"Can I give students a set amount of 'money'?"
A:"Yep, there are plenty of ways to do that, we'll figure out the best way once your plan is complete."

Q:"Can we swap from creative mode to survival mode half way through a project and make sure that kids don't 'carry' anything through that change?"
A: "For sure, we can do that! The /clear command will work for that."

It really got me reflecting on what it takes to support a teacher from knowing about Minecraft, dabbling either on their own or with students, and then implementing it into a classroom for learning. It is an iterative process, and one that takes time, and commitment of course. I really liked that teachers had the opportunity, even though not all had taken it, to explore and use Minecraft with their students between the day 1 training and this follow up one.

Wednesday was a bit of a quieter day, I was pretty wrecked from the 14 hours of high energy the day before, but had a few meetings about projects going on and generally caught up on my paperwork and emails from the previous days. Although I did spend the afternoon working on resources to take into a school the following day where I spent the entire day teaching primary students about fractions using Minecraft.

There were three different classes, a year 3-6 started me off, and we managed get everyone logged in for the first time, got them comfortable with the controls on PC, introduced the camera and portfolio, before getting into the fractions learning objectives.

Following that I went into a F-1 class, same deal, got them all logged in, 3 adults in the room supporting this whole process and it went remarkably well. I should note here that I am qualified 'secondary' teacher, which means I am 'trained' to teach from year 7-12, but being in a primary classroom with younger kids is definitely fun (for shorter periods, I don't know how these teachers make it through a 10 week term with the energy levels required day in and day out!) and a challenge for my teaching skills.

We started kids exploring whether they could halve all kinds of numbers, or only some. Investigative exploration by building in Minecraft, and the kids were showing different ways of 'working it out' which was absolutely everything I had hoped they would do.

After that I headed into a 1-3 class and boy was my 'target' for the learning well and truly off!! It was a massive challenge to try and get my own 'headspace' into the right location to support these students in their fraction learning. I learnt a lot, and I mean a LOT, about the 'actual' levels of students working knowledge and ability, throughout the whole day, having not taught these year levels before.

After all the classes were finished and the kids had gone home for the day, we had a staff debrief about what was seen throughout the day, and what the next steps were. I am very pleased to say, each of the teachers I worked with said it was awesome, and they could see how they could use it moving forward, and they also each felt comfortable enough to get students demonstrating their understanding of mathematical concepts in Minecraft.

So another huge day, but another massive success, since my 'task' from the principal was the following: "The purpose of your visit should be to make staff comfortable enough to go to Minecraft to complement their current maths programs when required and be given enough confidence to know how to control the Minecraft environment."

And that brings us to today, where I have spent the day going through the feedback from teachers at the training on Tuesday, about what their experiences were between day 1 and 2, and what they got out of the day 2 training, and what they would like next to support them. I am in the process of working towards their requests and figuring out how I can support teachers going from the day 2 training, into what I have planned for the day 3, advanced workshop.

Alongside all of this at some stage this week, I have arranged, what I hope to be, a collaborative livestream event with teachers from around the globe to share their skills and expertise at 'lesson design' with respect to moving students around their Minecraft worlds during lessons. I know there are so many different ways of actually doing it, and a few that I regularly use that might support other teachers to more effectively manage large distances between build locations and I am hoping a few others will come along and share their ways, and we will have a nice overview/tutorial type stream which will be edited for YouTube as well for teachers to access.

This event will be happening on the 24th of October at 9:30pm local time for me, that is GMT+11, if you want to get involved, join the Minecraft Mentor Discord for the full details, if you just want to watch, head over to at the appointed time!

OK, 'wall-o-text' done, I really need to get better at taking pictures of student work when in classrooms, or teachers work when in trainings, but I am just too darn busy to remember it seems. Oh well, yet another 'something' for me to work on in the future! Thanks for reading, if you have any comments, or something great to share from your recent past, feel free to drop it in the comments below.

Monday, 24 September 2018

The City of Melbourne in Minecraft

It has been a while since I have shared a project from the 'development' side. So, here you go!!

I am in the process of 're-creating' part of the Melbourne CBD in Minecraft as a base for one 'experience' for students across Victoria to participate in next year and beyond. This is a 'trial' run and we have at least one other 'experience' worked out ready to implement in this map if everything goes as well as I expect it will.

My long term plan is to actually 're-create' the entire CBD in Minecraft so that we can get rural and regional students planning trips and exploring the CBD before they come to Melbourne, or even international students to explore the city of Melbourne. But that is getting well ahead of myself.

So far I have spent a total of "a lot" of hours learning the process to get this to happen, and on multiple occasions I have had to throw away what I was working on, and start again because it just wasn't working right. The worst example was last week, I spent about 5 hours on stream testing out processes and getting everything made in Minecraft (Java version) and then I realised that the scale was wrong.... Yup, 5 hours work down the drain, but a great deal of learning happened.

I has taken quite a bit of back and forth to get the 3d files out of the people that hold the data in a format I can use. Originally I was going to go through Tinkercad as I have done that before, but I very quickly found that that process wasn't going to work for this, as it lost way too much 'fidelity' and we had missing 'faces' and holes in the terrain and 'post processing' this would take a very, very long time.

So I hunted out some other processes and spoke to some community experts (thanks Adam Clarke and Adrian Brightmoore!!!! No really.... THANKS!!!) and we have a neat little process. So today, there was even more learning, I spent the morning getting everything sorted and ready in Qubicle (a very neat little software package by the way) to find out that it was way, way easier to 'stitch' the pieces together in MCEdit.

Then after spending an hour or two stitching everything together, in the correct scale, I even saved it multiple times in separate locations along the way only to learn on a re-load that MCEdit cannot 'generate chunks' in PE/Bedrock worlds. Not only that, If the chunks are not generated properly, MCEdit still shows the entire world as if they did, but when you press save... it really doesn't save anything. So that was the entire mornings work thrown away for me, but again, Adrian Brightmoore to the rescue. He showed me a neat little schematic he created that 'generates' chunks in Minecraft by teleporting the player iteratively 'down and across' a Minecraft map.

So with all the learning that happened across the last few weeks and after I had the chunks generated properly it only took about an hour and a half to stitch the 28 different pieces of the below 'city' together. This is larger than the project brief called for, but I am not too sad about that. Next steps for me are 'painting' the city the 'mostly correct' colours in MCEdit, and then putting the finishing touches on the buildings.

The whole 'map' in MCEdit as it stands currently. There is on 'average' 40 blocks of ground underneath the city as I have been told, none of the 'underground buildings' are lower than that.

What the map looks like in Minecraft: Education Edition... currently.

I have a list of 20 or so 'key sites/buildings' that need different 'levels of rendering' so that is the next actual step for me. To pick an example of each 'level' and 'render' it at the appropriate quality. I am really excited by the prospects for this project, and look forward to continuing to share it as we go through the development process.

A future step is to 'liven' up the city somehow, pedestrians, bicycles, trams and the like to make the city as 'alive' as it is in the real world. I am not 100% sure I can do this the way I want, the 'trams' could be 'reskinned' Minecarts, but I also want trains as well, and I don' think I can have both. I am in the 'thinking' process around all of this right now, so early days in this part.

Thanks as always for reading, if you have any comments or feedback, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.

Friday, 14 September 2018

A Lesson Breakdown

So, I finally released my first Minecraft: Education Edition map on the website a week or two ago and I have been 'brewing' a reflective post on the lesson plan and the world in the light of my last two posts. Essentially in this post, I am going to break down the world and the teacher lesson plan and try to explain the reasoning behind each section and how I think it 'best' supports teachers to pick up my lesson and run it, regardless of their experience level. The direct link to the lesson is:

So let's start with the world. Each of the below are 'screenshots' of particular key sections or components of the world that I think support teachers to run this lesson. If you would like to download the world and have a look, you will need a M:EE account of course, but if you have that, feel free to grab the world and have a look here: If you don't have an EE account, feel free to reach out in the comments below or on Twitter @EduElfie, as I may be able to give you a non-EE, Bedrock or even possibly a Java version to explore, but of course you wont have the border blocks, or the NPCs.

An overview of the world. It is not as 'neat' as I would like it to be on the sides, but that is because I converted this over from an old MinecraftEdu world. Each section is surrounded in border blocks to prevent students crossing into areas that they are not supposed to go into. I have also put visual cues in for both the students and teachers to refer to for each of the 3 groups.

The 'tutorial' mound. This supports both teachers and students to 'see' what the task involves before being 'unleashed' onto the main task(s). There is a 'tutorial' section for both activity 1 (shown) and activity 2.

The grouping section. In the lesson plan, I have suggested that teachers can have up to 3 groups, and the colours associated with them. These border blocks are removed by a command block that the teacher hits when they are ready for students to start the first main task of the lesson. I think that is a key component, students are natively curious, and will head over to the NPCs and chat to them, and possibly miss the opportunity to complete the tutorial section. Students cannot interact with the NPC's while the border blocks are there. Each NPC is programmed to tell students what group they are part of and then teleport any player standing on the coloured carpet to the appropriate group location. There is one of these for both activity 1 and activity 2.

The teacher control panel. At the click of a button, with the appropriate instructions in the lesson plan, the teacher can choose the number of groups for activity 1, teleport all students to the tutorial area for activity 2, or choose the number of groups for activity 2. Teachers have the explicit /tp x y z command in the instructions to make it easier and quicker to get to this location.

So that probably wraps up the key parts of the map. Are there things that I could improve and make it easier for teachers to manage? Possibly, but I think each has enough 'cons' vs the 'pros' that I think it is as easy as I can make it currently. One concern is that once a student teleports to their 'mountain' there is no way back. This could be problematic if a student is standing on the wrong coloured carpet and someone else talks to the NPC, but there is no simple solution for this. My only 'easy' fix would be for the teacher to use either classroom mode, or explicit /tp commands to move students to the appropriate group, or put up with the change in circumstances.

Other options to resolve this would be to do a 'one at a time' teleport system, or to border block the NPC in a different way, and get the teacher to tell students to stand on the colour that signifies their group, and then hit the button to remove the border blocks, or finally set an 'automatic' teleport based on what block students are standing on once the teacher has 'opened' the option to teleport. All of these options are viable, but, in my opinion, not quite as straight forward for a teacher to use in a classroom.

Secondly, if the teacher decides to have multiple groups, and one group finishes activity 1 first, there is no easy way of getting just that group to the tutorial for activity 2, or all students to the tutorial activity 2 and those who haven't finished 'back' to activity 1 once the tutorial is completed. This is even trickier than the first problem, and I think my only solution would come from having access to scoreboards in M:EE, which will hopefully happen soon given tweets about scoreboards coming to Bedrock! It would essentially allow the teacher to 'tag' particular groups as having completed activity 1, and then teleporting based on that information. This would also mean a 'redesign' of the grouping mechanic and tagging students with their group colour as a piece of data as well, but all theoretically doable with scoreboards.

Actually, this thought process has given me a solution that would work right now. I was recently using xp levels as a mode of 'recognising' particular students, and in theory, I could re-set this map up to use that mechanic to signify what group students are in, and whether they have completed activity 1... hmmmmm.... possibly a job for a future Elfie, if he ever gets the time to revisit it before scoreboards!

Now to the lesson plan itself. I am going to screenshot sections of the document, as I did the map, and outline why I think these sections are valuable for teachers, but if you want the whole document itself, you can download that from:

I think this one speaks for itself, the target age group, and the links to curriculum. As mentioned in the previous post(s), these are in my local curriculum 'speak' and I would expect teachers from other states/countries to be able to 'convert' these to their own standards, although adding in the ages I think is something that supports globally.

While these "Learning Intentions" and "Success Criteria" headings are possibly local language here, essentially they are learning goals, and how students will know that they have been successful at meeting the learning goals. These can be used to explain to students what the task is, and how they will know if they have successfully completed the task. They are also very useful to explain to the teacher what to expect from their students through this activity.

I really like the idea of explaining clearly what it is the teacher needs to do before the lesson to prepare for the actual lesson. Running almost any Minecraft lesson is not a pick up an go kind of deal, there is preparation that needs to be done before hand. Be that learning the appropriate steps, or printing resources ready for the students to use during the class.

The introduction to students. I am not sure I 'nailed' this, and would be interested in feedback. I think being able to clearly explain to students what the task is, and what they will be doing is a key to any successful lesson, be it in Minecraft or not. I also think the explanation here has enough for any teacher to step up and explain to students the task that they will be completing in this lesson, be they 'geography' trained or not.

Step by step instructions for each activity. This is for the introductory/demonstration task. There is a sub section in the document for each task in the lesson. This particular one outlines exactly what to expect when students join the world, and explains what the task is in this location.

This is the start of explanation for activity 1, including the, hopefully clear, instructions for the teacher to get to the 'Teacher Control Platform" and what options are available for them there and how to 'implement' these changes. This section also explains what impact these selections will have on the world, and the students so that there is minimal surprise, and the teacher can also outline to the students what they can expect at each stage.

Skipping over a few sections to the instructions for activity 2. I have included (in activity 1 as well) suggested opportunities for the teacher to request that students gather evidence of their progress, work or learning as well as possible discussion points to take the students learning out of the game, and into the real world. Again supporting teachers to be able to clearly explain what it is they want students to 'produce' as evidence of their learning.

I think all of these sections are important, otherwise they wouldn't be in the document to begin with, but this is possibly one of the most important sections in the whole document. The review section provides suggestions and pointers for the teacher to be able to 'sum up' the learning that students did, and ensure that the learning they expected to happen through completing the task did in fact happen. I think one of the most important things we can do as teachers, in any lesson, but particularly when we are using games in the classroom, is make sure that students know that they actually learnt something. Not only that, but make sure that they are able to actually explain what it is they learnt in such a way that anyone listening can understand what happened.

This is the final section in the document, and is there to make sure that the teacher has a clear indication of the evidence they could collect from students about their learning. Whether these are collected and placed in a 'real world' portfolio of learning by students, or just 'sighted' by the teacher to ensure that the teacher is comfortable reporting that the student met this particular curriculum outcome.

I also really think the 'incidental' learning section is a nice touch, as it explains to teachers that it is not all about the 'curriculum', but that by completing this task students learnt things (possibly) about Minecraft: EE, in terms of the game itself, or the camera/portfolio, but more importantly that last point about Collaboration/Communication. While creating resources recently I have spent a lot of time going through our local curriculum documentation, and there are so many 'outcomes' that could be listed for any collaborative activity in Minecraft.

I have deliberately chosen not to list them all, in the interest of keeping the focus on the specific learning outcomes for this task, however I think it is important to call attention to the fact that there is a lot more learning going on any time something is collaborative. In our system over here, we have 4 'capabilities' which are supposed to be taught across all subject areas, and I think Minecraft is a great platform for actually being able to assess, and report on, many of these capabilities.

Alright, that is one very, very, very long post. If you made it all the way to the bottom, I thank you sincerely for sticking with me through it all. I also hope that by breaking down the world, and lesson plan that I have helped explain my thought process, and why I think these sorts of detailed lesson plans are important in supporting teachers new and old to run lessons that they have not designed in Minecraft.

I also hope it has helped you think about your own lessons, be they in Minecraft or not, and how you may be able to better share your thinking and reasoning when providing support to others around these lessons you have run in the past. As always, feel free to drop any comments or feedback below.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Let's Not Ruin Minecraft Huh?

I feel like all I am doing lately is complaining about the resources and information that is out there and available to teachers, and todays post is not feeling any different. It is however a core part of my job now, and I, more details further down, have finally realised why I am so darn passionate about not only my job but Minecraft in education globally.

I have, after the previous post had quite a few discussions around the traps with regards to the kinds of resources that teachers need to get started. I am going to try to summarise these conversations here, and then start a new discussion about what is possibly my biggest concern, fear, or worry about this whole Minecraft in education thing.

So, to the discussions about resourcing, some people had a very similar opinion to my own, and since I have already shared that I don't need to rehash it. I will say however that some of my 'key points' are, in reflection, not essential to each and every lesson. Some lessons don't need  maps, others do, some don't need associated worksheets, others do. So, if I think on the kinds of lessons I created, and create now, and that is what most of them need to actually be able to be run by others. Is that a good thing? Who knows, that may be a blog post for another day.

So the more interesting part is others' opinions. Those opinions ranged from, and I am seriously paraphrasing here for simplicity; "All they need is an idea to get started" through to "I provide my resources for free, so whatever I provide is better than nothing." Now these opinions I find very interesting. I understand that I am in a very unique position with the way my role is shaped right now, but I have always believed, to my core, that Minecraft has the possibility to really shift the way education happens around the world. 

I feel like I have always done my best to help teachers see that this is a true opportunity to change education. I always critically reflect on what happens in my class, and try to figure out what was working, and worthwhile, while at the same time, exploring what wasn't working, and what I could have done different (and would do different next time) to make the experience better for the students. I also feel like I have always shared my best work, again, because by sharing what is my best work, others can pick it up, and choose to do what they will with it. While sharing my best work for others to pick up and use, I also have shared the not so great work as examples of what not to do, to help others avoid the same traps, to show them that not everything is perfect, but it is all a part of a development, evolution or journey. This whole blog is a testament to that, raw, warts and all type posts about my lessons and thoughts while developing have been something that I have been, and continue to be, very proud to have my name on.

So while I value all of the discussion, I still think we should be sharing the best resources we can, be they lessons, guides, maps or whatever. At no point did anyone shake me from that belief. An experienced teacher can take a well thought out plan, run it as it is, or alter it to suit their needs. They could just possibly need the idea and no other resources, however, for a beginning teacher, I don't think an idea is enough, particularly for those that have no conceptual understanding of Minecraft. They have no basis to see the implementation in their classroom. I am still surprised that in a training group of 30 teachers, I may only have 1 or 2 that have ever even been 'in' Minecraft prior to coming to the training. A teacher of this experience level will surely benefit from having access to a well thought out lesson plan, and what ever associated resources are needed to make that lesson a success, but they will just as surely suffer if they only have access to ideas, and no idea how that idea works in this platform called Minecraft, let alone in a classroom full of students in Minecraft.

So, this leads onto my next train of thought to try and thrash around, and see what others feel or think about this particular curly problem. Taking it one step further from 'what do teachers need to get started' from a resource perspective, to now 'what sort of examples should be promoted, shared and put forward as great uses of this technology.' I think these are two separate things, but they are certainly not mutually exclusive. This is not from a 'selfish' I want to be noticed and 'patted on the head' for doing a great job perspective, I hope that is clear. This is purely from a 'what is best for the community' standpoint. I am sitting here thinking about the 60 odd thousand teachers I am supposed to support within my role, and let's be honest, I have no chance of getting to all 60k of them even if I had this job for 10 years. With multiple large districts around the world taking up Minecraft: Education Edition licenses with their Office 365 packages and the impending release of M:EE on iPads, there is going to be a massive 'influx' of inexperienced in Minecraft teachers.

So, what are they most likely to do? They are going to research, most likely on the web and social media, what others are doing. Now, this is a great thing, but also a very scary thing. As part of my role, I am producing resources to support teachers, and those resources are (soon to be) available on the web, but the teachers in my state will (and should mind you) cast a wider net, and leave the resources I have created and collated as examples I would say are supportive and easy for beginning and experienced teachers alike to run. 

So why is that scary? I do a lot of trawling on social media to see what is happening in the Minecraft in education community, I see what they are going to come across, and I don't think it is the 'right stuff' to get a teacher on the 'right track.' I had a random thought last night (3am'ish I think) about what it is I want to do, why is this whole Minecraft in education job so important to me. It may have taken me a few years to figure out why I am so darn passionate about it. It is something to the effect of "I don't want to change the way students learn, I want to change the way teachers teach." Kids learn so much through play, I have seen it with my own children, and I saw it happen in my classroom, both in Minecraft, and the other games I used after Minecraft opened my teaching practice to the power of games in classrooms.

So with that 'lens' on today while keeping up to date with the community, I saw so many shared lessons or activities that were, in my opinion, not all that great. It pains me to say that, it truly does, as I have always been of the opinion that everyone has to start somewhere, and that starting is better than not starting. I had so many loud voices when I was starting telling me I was 'doing it wrong' and I am very conscious that I don't want to do the same. This is more about those who are seen as experts sharing what are, in my opinion not great uses of this technology.

It brought this thought to mind; "Just because Minecraft is as flexible as a pencil and paper, doesn't mean we should use it as one." Which is nowhere near grammatically correct, but the concept is there. So, I threw some examples of what I had seen to a few mentors, and asked for their opinion. They replied with the SAMR model, and where those activities sat within that framework. Now this has value, in some respect, but I have also been working with people whose children, when they hear that their parents are going to do 'something' in Minecraft, respond with "You aren't going to ruin Minecraft are you?"

This is where my biggest concern lies, Minecraft has potential as a great teaching tool, platform, game... whatever you want to 'name' it, but only if we don't "break" it for the students. They all have fond memories of the game now, not like when I first started teaching in Minecraft, I didn't have 'players' in my classes in the early days, now everywhere I go, every lesson I teach has players, those that love the game, those that know the game, and those that have played, but don't anymore. There is a 'part' of most students now that has some 'connection' with Minecraft the game.

So how long is it going to take for teachers to "ruin" Minecraft because they are using the students memories, and a game in the classroom, to do activities where Minecraft holds no value over a pencil and paper? Where in some cases, Minecraft is actually worse than a pen and paper. I did it, make no mistake, there were activities that I ran, where the students would have been better off having been a part of a 'traditional' classroom, rather than what I did, but I never used those lessons in that same form again, and never will. I reflected on that lesson or activity, and I figured out what made it no better than a traditional lesson, and I adjusted, tweaked, modified until it aligned with the power that I knew Minecraft had for teaching my students. Over a fair bit of time, and experience in both the platform and the classroom, those lessons and activities didn't keep happening, the majority of my lessons, in my opinion, held value above a traditional classroom.

In light of that, I know everyone is at a different point on their own professional journey, but there is a sticking point for me here. That is, some of those activities I saw today were shared by Global Minecraft Mentors, they were the ones releasing these social posts of activities that they did in Minecraft, where Minecraft was used as a word processor, or a piece of graph paper, with no thought as to making the learning 'more' fun, or 'more' engaging by using Minecraft for what it does best, being a game. It is those whom Microsoft has promoted as mentors, who are using Minecraft as a pencil and paper, not pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Mentors should be pushing boundaries, supporting others to get started, yes, for sure, but themselves working at a level of pedagogy that utilises Minecraft for changing education, not substituting word processors and graph paper.

Alright, so that turned out to be a bit more of a rant than I wanted. If you would like try to thrash some ideas around with me about how we can support new, and experienced Minecraft teachers to not ruin Minecraft, and its potential to change the way education happens, please leave a comment below. Thanks as always for reading my brain dumps, and efforts to try and clarify my own thinking.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Minecraft Lessons and Supporting Teachers

Recently as part of my role, I have been scouring the internet and going through lessons in all subject areas across all year levels and trying to find high quality lessons that teachers can just pick up and run with. This is way harder than I would like it to be, many lessons available are just roughly sketched out ideas, without a great deal of support for teachers who are new, or even old hands at teaching in Minecraft.

That is not to say that these lessons are not valuable, I am sure they were fantastic when (if?) they were run in the teachers classroom that published that lesson online, however, in my opinion there is still a lot of key information missing that would support teachers both new and old to run these kinds of activities in their classroom. If I am going to re-scope or create resources for these published lessons to make them a viable option for new teachers here, I might as well design one from scratch and make it work for my teachers and our local curriculum as the amount of work for both options is pretty much the same.

So here is what I think every 'published' Minecraft lesson should have, in no particular order, to support teachers to run these lessons in their classroom, and by published I don't mean formally, I mean in any way accessible online as a 'lesson' and not an idea.

1) A script, seriously, a blow by blow introduction as to what should be said, what sorts of answers to expect from the students, and any key information that needs to be given. I have done this in the past for Sheep Probability, however, no matter how hard I look I cannot find that original script, but it is something that I am in the process of going through all of my own lessons and adding in before I make them public. It doesn't have to be word perfect and 'say this, then say that' kind of script, but should definitely include suggestions of discussion topics, expected answers and any verbal instructions for students to get started.

2) Outcomes, make it clear what outcomes you think this lesson should cover, it doesn't have to be set in stone, but at least suggest what it covered in your class when you taught it the way you designed it. It doesn't really matter what 'curriculum' you use to base your outcomes on, teachers are great at converting curriculum from around the world to their own. In all my lessons, before running them, I knew what outcomes I was expecting from the students, of course as it happened in the classroom there were some that surprised me, and I made sure to note down what students demonstrated for future reference. Remember, you designed the task and other people are not in your head, so the more information you can provide to support their understanding of your plan, the better.

3) A world, a well thought out, designed for students AND teachers, world. All game settings dialed in correctly, ready to just pick up and run. This takes time, testing and then more time, especially if your lesson has specific needs, but that is time you, the expert in your lesson, can put in and not every other teacher trying to run it has to. In all the lessons I currently have in development, I have been working on putting in "Teacher Control" platforms, where, alongside my teacher step by step instructions, they can just 'get things started' with the press of a button. Don't use 'seeds' to tell people what worlds to use, world generation changes sometimes, and doesn't carry between different platforms very well, which makes these seeds useless and confusing in the future.

4) Suggest the teacher run through it by themselves first, this is something you have no control over, but a suggestion from what they are perceiving as an expert (or at least expert enough to try your lesson) is valuable, and likely to be taken on board. When I tried this years ago with Shane, to pick up and run a lesson he created in my own classroom, without going through it before hand, it would have been an absolute disaster and turned me off using any others' lessons ever again if it wasn't for my own knowledge and experience in teaching in Minecraft. So take the opportunity, whether you are releasing, or exploring others' lessons, run through it as a teacher with no experience may, try to go back in time to when you just began, and see whether it would work for you back then or not and adjust accordingly.

5) A student worksheet, at an appropriate level. I have written worksheets for my own students level, and I am not thinking that you should do anything other than that, however that worksheet or student instructions are very important to a beginning teacher. They not only show the teacher the steps that students will go through during the lesson, but can also be used support the students to reach the outcomes. Students move through the lesson at different speeds, we all know that, and having instructions in game is great, but can sometimes be missed in the excitement of the moment. So having the instructions for each activity clear and accessible is a brilliant idea and supports the teacher with minimal stress of students being in multiple stages of the lesson at the same time.

6) Step by step instructions for the teacher explicitly outlining each activity you expect students to do in the classroom. This is kind of an extension to number 5, and the same instructions may be used in parts, but teacher comfort is a key here, make it specific to them, and provide tips and suggestions along the way about discussion points, or places where students may need extra support from your own experiences.

7) Have reflection ideas and suggestions built in. Minecraft does not teach, I still firmly believe this. Using Minecraft in a classroom does not change the role of the teacher, it is still their role to 'direct' the learning, assess the outcomes and discuss the learning with students and then of course plan the next steps. A big part of using Minecraft in my classroom was as a discussion starter, taking what students had done in the Minecraft activity and then talking about it, in depth, and reflecting on what they learned along the way, how it related to the real world, or what it meant for them in context. So make sure you include opportunities for the students to reflect, or the teacher to lead discussions to support students understanding, and explicitly list these for the teacher.

8) Make sure it has been play tested with students. This is perhaps the most important thing to have done. An idea is just an idea, until it becomes a reality by running it in a classroom. There is no value in putting a lesson out there as 'good to go' if it has never been tried in a classroom to see if it is viable. You may also find that your idea is much more powerful, or less, than you initially thought. Having students go through it, even if only informally at lunchtime, is a supremely rewarding experience, and also the ideal way to ensure your lesson is ready for other teachers and students.

So I guess one thing that needs to be discussed is, when does something stop being an idea and start being a lesson. I think it is at the point where the creator says it will support others to run this in their own classroom. So, if you release something and espouse how wonderful it is at supporting teachers to use Minecraft in their classroom, take that step back in time, to when you were just beginning, or go out and find someone to test it as it stands, then take another look before hitting 'publish' and making it a lesson, rather than an idea.

Why am I ranting about this now? There is a growing 'movement' in Minecraft and education, which means that there are many more teachers than ever before looking to get started. The last thing we want to do, is destroy their confidence, or give them a terrible experience in their classrooms. Those of us that are content creators, particularly for the education side of things, need to step up, and support these newcomers properly so that the whole community can move forward and push education and Minecraft beyond the current position it is in.

Thanks as always for reading, there may be some follow up posts with examples and more suggestions, as I feel this is an important enough topic to warrant more in-depth exploration. If you have any comments, please feel free to drop them below.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Assessment in Minecraft - Take 1 Million and ONE!

I am squarely placing the blame for this post on Neal Manegold! Well ok, so I cannot actually blame Neal for my thinking, but he prodded, and now I am going down a whole other thought process that requires a brain dump, so be prepared if you keep reading!
That tweet from Neal in response to my previous post is what prompted another look at my thinking, and what it was I was trying to get out through that last post. The idea proposed by Neal is awesome, and a great way of capturing student thinking while working in Minecraft. The initial issue from the previous post is still the same; How do I as a teacher get timely, and 'easy' access to this artifact of student thinking and progression?

It also prompts the following questions; If the artifact is in the game, and I still think feedback is important if we are looking at thinking processes, where should the feedback be? Should it be in game with the artifact, or is it OK that it is out of game and slightly removed? Is there any difference in the impact on students if the feedback is in the game and part of the artifact or out of game and slightly removed?

While stewing on those questions, and how we could try to resolve them or find some research (or do some research) to answer them, a new thought developed. When does something become a summative assessment rather than a formative assessment? Is it only when the learner is not provided with the feedback and opportunity to further develop and improve? If that is the case, then in theory, any reflection from a student on the thinking they went through, or learning they demonstrated is simply an opportunity for the teacher (and student) to go either the summative or formative path. This may well depend on the 'next task' or future opportunities and how the previous task, and any feedback impact on the path taken in the new task. Convoluted? Yup, welcome to my brain!

There are so many 'what if's' flying around in my head and yet again I feel like I am asking more questions than I am answering, but that is ok! I also know that what I am 'looking for' here is not a reality... YET! But I genuinely think it can be, I have seen what I valued from students in my own classroom, what I was using to assess them, and how I was actually assessing students all change just because I started using games in my classroom. It was not a small shift, but it was a very abrupt change, it didn't take years upon years to shift, it took possibly 1 year of really using games, and utilising them as a basis for student discussion so that I could 'hear' the students thinking and approaches, their understandings, 'aha' moments and stumbling blocks.

I am not sure I have said it in public(or writing) before, but I think Minecraft, as a 'gateway drug' for teachers (thanks go to Bron Stuckey for that simile) to using games in educational settings, has the potential to really disrupt and change the way the current education system works, at least here in Victoria. I also think it will likely be for the better. It will be far from easy, and I certainly don't think the path is clear, but the possibility is there! To shift the focus from a knowledge centric system of grading and assessment to something more relevant to the current, and possibly future, needs of our community.

Now by no means am I suggesting we throw everything out, there is a transition stage here, where we still need to look at competencies, and the current curriculum and assess 'Minecraft learning' against that. This will help grow, and support, the use of Minecraft (and hopefully other games) in classrooms, however I would hope for a gradual shift to the 'journey of learning' being the key focus, and the part we use to support and develop our students, not just the 'final product' of knowledge.

OK, enough brain dumping and rambling for now. As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any comments, leave them below, or reach out on other platforms, as Neal did!