Sunday, 9 December 2012

DNA Update.

Well after having a new addition to the family and my older daughter with a broken leg, time has been a commodity that I have been very short on, but I finally found some time to get some more work done on my DNA model as well as the collaboration with Jonas in Sweden.

Prototype 2 (is what I am calling this current version) looks amazing, unfortunately in my messing around I have messed up the nucleotide base pairs up, they no longer join the way they should. I think because each Minecraft block in the current model is 0.2mm in real life you can barely tell it was designed in Minecraft (except for the bits that I left blocky deliberately).

The connection between the nucleotide and the 'backbone' is much better than I imagined, however the connection between the backbone pieces needs a bit of work. I printed this in red ABS because that is what I had in the printer last night, however once I have the final model the way I want it I think I will print the backbone pieces in black and each of the nucleotides in a different colour (blue, red, green and yellow) which should make for a very striking model.

These photos do not do the real thing justice, I cannot get a fine enough focus on my phone camera to show the detail. Needless to say I am loving having my own printer to prototype with and I am also sharing these models with the world on if you are interested, although the DNA model is not there yet, I want to make it a working model before sharing.

Now to the collaboration with Jonas, his students are in the process of exploring forces in Minecraft, I sent off my Gravity Lab map last night as well as a link to the introductory video. He is going to get a website happening where his students can respond to the activity in the map and share their thoughts with my students (next year).

That pretty much sums up the last couple of weeks, hopefully things will calm down a bit now and I will be able to design and print more educational models in MinecraftEdu ready to go for next year as I will not be returning to classes this year. I will also be trying to find some more time to edit down some of the remaining Gravity Lab footage to share with you. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Print 2 - Bacteriophage

Well I printed my MinecraftEdu bacteriophage model today, it took about 3 hours to do, and came out pretty cool. I did manage to break it while taking off the support material around the 'stem' however a bit of acetone and it 'never happened'.

For some reason the model is hollow, I am not sure whether that was a print setting or the actual model itself, more investigation required. I recorded the print and sped the footage up 500X, that is shown below.

The next thing to print is my DNA model, but I am having a bit of trouble adjusting the model using WorldEdit. I have managed to make it 5 times larger in both the x and z axis, but I cannot seem to get it to do it in the y direction (up). I have asked for some help, so hopefully someone will have an idea of how I can get it to do what I want. This will allow me to make each Minecraft block the equivalent of 0.2mm in real life, which should make a pretty cool looking model. It will also allow me to have 0.2mm gaps in between the parts that need gluing.

That is all, more updates coming as I get further along.

Friday, 23 November 2012

First Print.

My printer finally arrived today, so I spent a nervous 30 minutes or so setting it up, getting my head around what I was doing and then printed off the 'recommended' first print from, a rabbit. Below is a slideshow of the pictures I took while I printed it. Since then I have tried printing a glider from thingiverse, unfortunately I broke the glider as I pulled it off the build platform, so I am reprinting it right now.

The rabbit was about 70g of plastic, I think I made the mistake of printing it without support, but I am getting my head around the settings of the software more as I use it. It took about 2 hours and 30 minutes to print and there are some slight malformations in the overhangs of the tail, chin and ears. I am not entirely sure who was more enthused about the printer and the rabbit coming off it, me or my 2 year old daughter. I think unfortunately almost everything I print while she is around will be hers, not mine.

I have been messing around with some other models I have downloaded from thingiverse and the maximum print time I have managed to come across is over 9 hours, and I am not quite comfortable leaving my printer running over night just yet, so another time.

My next job is to redesign my DNA model to take advantage of my new printer, the different coloured plastics and when I print I will take video footage and do a timelapse of the print process.

That is all for now, thanks very much for reading.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Plague Inc Reviewed.

Well today, after a week of 'playing' Plague Inc in class, most students had 2-3 periods of gametime and had enough of an understanding of the concept behind the game to have the discussion I have been heading for since we began.

Below is the audio recording of the lesson (it goes for just over 30mins), slightly edited to remove silences and interruptions but here is a quick summary for those who don't have the time to listen to the whole thing.

- Students could see the connection between the 'strategy' they used, the selective pressures and therefore evolution.

- Students didn't 'learn' anything new, but it did help reinforce what we had already talked about and improved their understanding.

- Students felt that the time spent was worthwhile in terms of their learning.

- Being a 'real' game made it more interesting than a 'learning environment' like my cell map in MinecraftEdu.

- Coming soon to my Biology class: Pocket Frogs to discuss inheritance.

Feel free to comment below, I would be very interested in any feedback on the lesson audio and 'teachable moments' I may have missed.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Plague Inc Evolution.

Well I am sitting in my Biology class again and today I have 6 of the 7 students that were here on Friday, the others are sitting another Maths exam. Of the 7 students that were here 5 went home and bought the game and have been playing it over the weekend. As I write this they are trying to kill the world with their various plagues on 3 different devices.

We had a brief discussion about the selection pressures on their plagues and decided that there were 3. The pressure to spread, the pressure to kill and the pressure of cure. If any of these imbalances the whole thing can collapse. So over time as the plague you need to evolve to stay on top of these changing pressures. This is evolution, now the timeline on this simulation is small in terms of evolutionary time scale, but when you compare the reproductive rates it make sense in terms of human evolution.

And so they began, they are trying to compete with eachother to see who can kill the most and the quickest. 1 group has already been discovered, while the others are trying to hide as much as possible before getting spotted.

So by then end of todays lesson I am going to get the students to write a small report on what they learned by playing this game, no matter how minor. I am wondering how easy it would be to 'script' simulations and also whether there would be benefit in that, or whether the idea of justifying each decision in terms of evolution and selective pressures would be best.

Still in class, and each group has completed one game, only 1 group was successful in eradicating humanity. For the second game I am making them write a justification for each decision they make in the game so that we can tie it to the selective pressure they are responding to.

Class is coming to an end, and I have got to say I would do this again. Getting the students to justify their strategies and what decisions they make has been very powerful, and I think that the discussions that are going to come from the notes they took are going to allow the students to build a great understanding of the theory of evolution.

One very scary quote to finish from a young lady in my class. "It's too late, you're already dead"

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Different Game.

Well I had a class of 7 students today as many of my Biology class were sitting their final exams for another subject. We are currently studying DNA, mutations and evolution all in a combined sort of way. So instead of 'wasting' this time today I thought I would try something a bit different.

I have been playing Plague Inc from Ndemic Creations on my iPad lately, and I think it has some decent potential to help me teach some of the concepts behind mutations/DNA and how these impact the process of evolution. So I gave the group my iPad and let them have a go at playing the game. For those of you who don't know the game the idea behind it is you are an infectious disease and to win you need to wipe out the entire world population.

So I told them they were a fungus and their job was to survive and destroy humanity despite their best attempts to cure the disease. You can choose where to start, so pick a country but you need to talk with eachother and come to an agreement. This started a pretty interesting discussion about where the best place to start was. In the end they decided on southern Asia because of high population density and a wet climate.

Then we discussed the options they had to mutate their fungus, including special abilities, symptoms and transmission characteristics. I left them discussing what they needed to do to effectively infect more people in Asia and then move into other countries.

One student wanted to give those infected the nausea symptom, another student responded with "No, that will probably make us discovered" and another with "Yeah I think we want to spread first then". Now mutations happen randomly throughout the game that gives the disease various symptoms.

At some stage either the students or the game mutated the symptom pneumonia, this allowed them to be discovered by the humans and they started working on a cure, very slowly of course. So I 'paused' the game and had a bit of a discussion about whether that mutation was a good thing or a bad thing, was it going to help them survive? The response was "It helped us spread faster, but got us discovered, so probably more con than pro."

The game continued, they infected almost the entire population and started evolving ever more deadly symptoms. This prompted humans to speed up the research to try and cure the disease. The game ended with the humans finding a cure, after the fungus had wiped out about half the worlds population.

So to wrap it up I asked them what they would do differently next time (and many said they were going to go home and buy it) here are their responses.

"Pump up the stuff that makes it spread"

"More symptoms made them try to cure us more"

"Infect the whole population, then kill them all"

"Make the disease like a dormant one, get everyone infected, then start killing"

So in one lesson I think the students have a very good base for me to discuss selection pressure and evolution. Thanks to Ndemic Creations for actually making the game. As always thanks for reading and please feel free to comment below, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this one.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Gravity Lab 2.0

Well the Gravity Lab activity has been begun with all classes now, I started it with my second class yesterday, tweaked my introduction a bit so that they had a bit more direction at the start. My colleague also began it with her class directly after I started it with mine. So we had a bit of a discussion about what issues she came across and what we would need to change before doing this again. Following is the ideas we shared.

The introductory video is great, students really focus and get into it, but some tweaks should be made, we should have video footage of the scientists performing the experiments so that students have a clearer picture of the task they need to replicate.

The learning intention is not 'clear' enough for students to get on their own. ie, their task is to perform experiments on Minecraft gravity, but the outcome is that they need to be able to work out how Minecraft 'lies' about gravity, this must be clearer to the students so that the focus (at least towards the end) is on the outcome, not just the task.

There should be clearer instructions around the research journal, and an emphasis on how important it is that they fill it out in the prescribed way. There should also be a clear indication at each research point as to the height of the test, I tried to make it necessary for them to read the backstory at each research location by putting that information in there, but it seems that it is still a bit tricky for them to work out what height the station they are testing at is.

So with some tweaks (and some more recording with my student actors) we should have a lesson/activity that anyone can pick up and run with, in theory.

My colleague also came up with a possible re-write of the backstory, whereby the 'trainee scientists' (students) are touring a research site when EvilSteve destroys the research and accidentally kills the scientists, and then at the end of the video a simple statement about how it is now up to them to complete the research. A good idea I think, but I wonder how difficult it would be to do that, or whether I would still have to do an introductory video, and then take the students to the briefing room for the final instructions prior to completing their research. One advantage to this is that it would be quite simple to include footage of the experiments the scientists are performing.

Now for the bugs from my class. I think these are Minecraft related, not MinecraftEdu but have not had the opportunity to check for sure, but the good old 'sticky' button bug reared its head again, only replacing the button didn't fix it, which means that the dispenser was stuck, so I think I will probably need to replace that and refill it.

An interesting issue that I had never come across before was that gravel would not fall any more from a particular place. I destroyed all surrounding blocks to try and force a block update, but it still wouldn't fall. So next thought was there was something below it like an invisible ladder or something. So I put some sand there, and it fell straight away. Great, fixed it right? Nope, put gravel there again and it still wouldn't fall. So I am at a loss for that one so I just destroyed some of the ladder up and put a sign saying OUT OF ORDER.

One issue my colleague came across was one that I dealt with in my own classes, but as I am proficient at both Minecraft and the teacher additions in MinecraftEdu it was not a concern for me, was that students can fall down the safe drop for villagers or sheep, despite me putting a border block there. So I need to tweak the map setup slightly so they can either get themselves out or cannot fall down there in the first place.

That is all for now, the second class is going through their second research session this afternoon, and I did a much better job of staying in character yesterday (although I did lost it at one point due to student misbehaviour in the classroom). I think this was easier because I was doing research with a student as he did not have a partner. So hopefully today will be the same without the losing of character. Thanks for reading, feel free to comment below.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Great news, MinecraftEdu is finally getting its own momentum, and by that I mean a project is beginning that I did not start. I had a couple of students approach me on Friday requesting access to a MinecraftEdu server to create a 'game' for an assessment piece in Music. So I sat with them, discussed their plan, shared some ideas and now I need to update all our MinecraftEdu computers to the latest pre-release so that all computers are at the same software version.

This means that these students have come up with a way to produce their assessment item in the virtual world, approached their classroom teacher for permission and received it, and then approached me to get the server running. BRILLIANT!! This is exactly what I want, students driving the creativity available in MinecraftEdu to other teachers, showing them the possibilities as part of their normal assessment which will hopefully allow the other teachers to see how powerful this is as an engagement tool, but also how it can be used by students to create learning tasks for others.

Having just discussed with the teacher involved how excited I am by this project and what it means for MinecraftEdu in our school I would like to share a quote.

"I could tell Student A just was not motivated by the task, until he and his partner decided they could probably do it in MinecraftEdu."


I will share more details of the project as it progresses. Thanks for reading, feel free to comment below.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Expand the Story?

Well it has been the prescribed week that we had to do the research before the Minecraft public was going to riot and the results we have are not giving us a clear picture. So there will be a discussion about good scientific practice in today's lesson, we will have a look at the data we have got and hopefully decide that we do not have any idea what the other scientists had found before their accident and this should lead to more research.

I must say the results do show an interesting trend (read completely not what I expected :D) it appears that the higher you drop something in Minecraft the faster it falls, that is the number of blocks travelled per second increases. So perhaps we need to go even higher to see if we can hit 'terminal velocity' in Minecraft. Perhaps not in this story, maybe another research project later on.

So anyway about expanding the story, I am thinking that since we are out of time and still do not have a clear picture as we have not got enough raw data, some experiments were only completed by one group of students while others were completed by 3, and there are some odd data values also (all of which will be discussed at our scientific meeting this afternoon). Perhaps I can let the Minecraft public riot (read set fires in the world, maybe half destroy some buildings with tnt possibly while they are in the game researching) and put the pressure on to complete all the research as quick as possible so that the entire population doesn't riot.

This would, after our discussion, hopefully let them carry through with the rest of the research, get a clear picture of Minecraft gravity and how it does not relate to 'real' gravity through everyone completing each experiment and allowing a much larger repetition and therefore a better scientific method prior to delivering our results to the public.

(Insert teaching for an hour here) :D

And 1 hour later I am back to write some more, and have, after discussions with another member of staff that will be beginning this on Monday, decided to just run with the results we have, talk about the scientific method, not allow them the extra time, as they can 'find' the information in the results we have got I have decided after a closer look.

So now the new plan is to get the students to graph the results I have collated (as my role as lead scientist I collated the results for them) and then write up a formal report to the Minecraft government so that they can explain to the public what the results mean.

Thanks for reading, this has been a pretty 'messy' post, my ideas are all over the place, so feel free to comment below and put some more ideas out there and more updates to come soon.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Interesting Part 2.

After receiving the tidbit of feedback and quote from a student yesterday I felt much better heading into class today, and much more comfortable that I would be able to stay in my role a bit easier.

I have got to say, taking the time to be able to sit back and play my role, perhaps because the students mostly understood the task by now, and the issues with teleport blocks were addressed, was great. Being able to wander around the room, providing support and listening to conversations instead of having students try to get me to tell them the answer was a refreshing change.

So the students by the end of the lesson (due to the fact that we miss our lesson on Thursday to sporting commitments) were to finish their research, so 5 minutes prior to the end of the lesson, all researchers were required to 'sign' their journal. Which in the world if MinecraftEdu means that the book is no longer able to be edited and then place their research journal in the research archive back at the initial underground bunker.

I am unsure whether this was a great idea, however the initial brief did say that we only had a week to complete our research and I do not want to drag it on too much more. So from here I need to collate their research (which is my role as the 'leader' of the research team) and then we will discuss our findings to try to produce a final report to the Minecraft public on Friday. Fingers crossed we can get all the learning outcomes I want.

As always thanks for reading and feel free to comment below. Footage of the lesson will be uploaded to Youtube soon, so keep an eye on my channel if interested.

Monday, 15 October 2012

New Articles, Models and Feedback.

There is so much to share in this post. A new article was published over the weekend, this article is a very well written summary of Minecraft, MinecraftEdu and what sort of learning can come out of playing a game like Minecraft. The link to the text from the article is here, please go and read it and give your support to Andrew.

I also received my new DNA models on Friday, below are some images of how it looked to begin with and how it turned out in the end.


 2 hours of cleaning later I got all the parts I needed cleaned and ready to go.

 After about 30 minutes more tweaking trying to get the 'joins' right I finally got it together, no glue required.

 This it all of the support material.

Needless to say, I am very impressed, although I am already planning ways to improve the model. I am hoping to redesign it so that instead of each block being 1mm each block will be 0.25mm and then I can leave a 0.25mm gap where I want joins, hopefully this will prevent the 30mins trying to clean out the joins.

Also to try and minimise the support material, as well as the time take to remove and clean each piece, I am thinking of making the sugar-phosphate backbone and the nitrogenous base separate, this would mean I could print the backbone in 1 colour, with a spot for the nitrogenous base to 'clip' in and then print each different nitrogenous base in a different colour with minimal support.

This should not only make the whole model easier to print, clean and assemble, but also provide a great visual of the base pairing rule. I should mention that the print above took 3 hours to print with a total cost of about $3.00 in materials.

Now for the feedback part, as you may know if you have read earlier posts from this year, we have 3 year 7 classes, I currently teach 2 of them, and only 1 class has been introduced to the gravity experimentation map. I asked the teacher of the other class if they were interested in doing the map, she was interested, but wanted a bit more of an idea as to what it was. That was until today...

Today she was chatting to her maths class (which is the class that has begun the map), and one of the students was raving about the activity and was quite proud to "be a scientist" so perhaps the engagement is there and I was just too stressed about the lesson the other day to see it happening properly. I think the quote was something like "It is awesome, we ARE scientists" I have got to say that brought a pretty big smile to my face.

The great thing is that we have found out what caused the teleport blocks to stop working and it is now fixed in the latest pre-release of MinecraftEdu, so maybe I will be able to 'play my role' again next lesson and be the scientific supervisor that I should be.

Enough sharing for now, thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


I am not quite sure how I feel about the lesson that just occurred, so I will ramble on here to get my thoughts in order.

My introduction was lacking, I didn't stay in my role and I think the students capitalised on that. They 'used' me as a crutch instead of trying to work out the problem on their own. It is unsurprising however, as I quickly had to revert to 'teacher' to move students around the world. The pre-release appears to have an issue when it comes to teleport blocks and students, that being said, a hectic start and a loss of role was well worth the in-game journal, portable text is something that I have been waiting a long time for in Minecraft. I also was using the pre-release because it needs classroom testing, there is no test like putting 15-20 students in a world and seeing what issues they come across.

It took a lot longer than I thought it would, I originally thought that students would be able to complete most of the experiments in a lesson, when in fact most students did not quite finish one research station (3 experiments, each repeated 3 times). I even went to the class early and logged all the computers in and opened MinecraftEdu for them in the hopes of saving some time. Reflecting on the timing, I probably spent 10-15 minutes on the intro and then trying to fix the teleport blocks, giving up and moving students around myself. My thought about how much time each experiment and therefore each research station would take was well out. It will probably take the students at least another lesson to complete the research. After that we will need to reflect on our results and discuss them, and then write a report on our findings to the 'Minecraft government'.

All in all I think it is going to take 2-3 times longer than I wanted so I really need to make sure the 'learning' that we are getting out of this activity is worth the time so here is what I am hoping to achieve.

  • They will understand the main misconception about gravity, that "heavier things fall faster than lighter things" is false. 
  • They will inadvertently learn about the scientific method, why accurate recording is important. 
  • They will need to learn how to write a report discussing findings from experiments. 
  • We will definitely be discussing the need for control and keeping each test fair and consistent. 
  • By the end of all our experiments and discussions I am hoping that some students will design their own experiments in Minecraft to confirm their findings and share these with the whole class, which means they are learning good experimental design.
With this kind of list I think it is still workable for a few more lessons, so I will persist with the task with both of my classes and see what happens further down the track.

Now for what I would change about the map itself, the starting location is not quite 'right'. It needs some tweaking. It either needs to be more linear to 'force' students in the right direction or I need to direct them (in my role) better. If teleplort blocks work the rest is pretty good, there is still the old 'sticky' button issue sometimes with some of the tests, but that is an easy fix (if the students read the text explaining what to do in the case of experimental equipment failure).

I think the information blocks have too much text although if I want them to be self sufficient, and keep the story going I already have the minimum amount, so I am not sure how to go about fixing this. The reason I made the introductory video was to avoid a 15 page book reading by each student, perhaps some small 'scientific journal videos' from the previous (and now deceased) scientists at each station would be the way forward (that really relies on link blocks, hopefully something that will be included in MinecraftEdu in the future, but until then I think we are stuck with the 2-3 pages of text in info blocks).

The experiments themselves seem to be fine, and the results students are getting are well and truly workable in terms of the activities I want to do with them, so on the whole there is very little to change with the map, and it is most certainly workable right now.

For those of you who want to read the backstory to get an idea of, if not what the students are doing, at least the why they are performing gravity experiments, here is a link to the script I used for the introductory video. I will upload the video itself to my youtube channel once I correctly credit the students that helped me create it.

Well that is an honest, and probably not very well written summary so far, more updates will come the more I work with this activity, but for now, thanks for reading and please feel free to leave some comments below.

Telling A Story.

I had an idea for experimenting with Minecraft gravity with students in my Year 7 Science classes. I knew exactly how I wanted the experiments to work, and I even have a pretty good idea of the results I expect the students to get. What I didn't count on was that I would come up with something that I have never really done before, but that 'something' makes this lesson more like a learning game than anything I have done so far, at least I think it does anyway.

Normally I will set up a map, throw the students into it and get them to do the activities I set up. The whole reason the students are completing the task is because I have asked them to, which is fine, that is my job. However, I think this is where those discussions many moons ago with @adriancamm, @vormamin and @chadsansing about what it is to be 'doing' game based learning were leading. It may have taken me a while, but I think I am one step closer to where I 'think' I want to be, or at least where I 'think' their idea behind GBL is.

Now the map I have created now is the same, in terms of the experiments included in it, however I have designed a backstory, recorded some footage (with students from other year levels to help) and I plan on 'playing a role' this lesson, we are going to tell a story, follow through and complete the tasks, not because it is the activity I have set (I think) but because that is what the 'game' is requesting us to do. Is there a difference between the teacher saying "do these activities" and a game saying "do these activities" especially if I am the 'designer' of said game?

I guess I will find out in an hour or two when my lesson is complete. I just thought I should clarify where my head is at now, with the aim of recording for reflection and sharing with you perhaps a giant leap in my game based learning teaching practice.

I will most likely be writing another post in a couple of hours reflecting in the lesson, trying to work out if there is a difference between the game requesting tasks to be done and the teacher requesting them to be done. I think in terms of education there will be little difference, but in terms of engagement with the task I am hoping to see something, something that those twitter people above were trying to get me to see earlier but clearly I was not ready for.

For the first time in a while I am actually nervous before a MinecraftEdu lesson. Which I think means that this lesson means something to me, I have put in a fair amount of work, included students in a small way (something I hope to expand in future) and made a lesson in which I, in theory, can be the 'game master' not the teacher, and maybe not even that, perhaps all I need to do is supervise the students in the room and offer advice on completing the tasks.

That is all for now, feel free to comment below and thanks for reading.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Prototyping in MinecraftEdu.

Well I have been building more DNA models in MinecraftEdu, this one has taken me about 3-4 hours and a pretty big brain strain. Worldedit can do many things, but I don't know how to effectively flip things around and move them like you can in real life to make sure things connect the way they should, which is why I need to convince my wife that having one of these printers at home is necessary.

My new prototype has more learning involved in the creation of the model than the previous one, as it relies on students having to put it together. It has 4 different nucleic acids, A, C, T and G and when you try to put the model together, it must follow the base pairing rule, that is A will only link correctly with T and C with G. There are also 3 distinct parts to each nucleic acid, the sugar (orange) the phosphate (blue) and the nitrogenous base (green/purple/yellow/pink). Of course these will all come out the same colour in the print, but I still think visually they will be pretty distinct and we can discuss them as we build our models.

I have sent the 3d file off to the printers to see what issues they are going to come across while printing. My first thought is that they are going to want each nucleic acid individually. Other than that I hope I have made the model simple enough for the printer to print without too much trouble, or cost, as I would like to be able to print off a heap of these to allow students to create models.

EDIT[As I was reading this post after publishing I had a horrible thought, and I wish even more that I had a printer to test these models on, I don't think it is going to work exactly the way I expect. I don't think the nitrogenous base is 'centered' vertically, which means the model may not line up the way I expect, however I still think it might create a great model, now with even more learning due to the 3' and 5' ends of DNA.]

As the students are building them we could discuss DNA structure and function, and because each student could, in theory, create an individual model with a different sequence of nucleic acids we could very easily discuss how only 4 bases can create such a complex code when read in groups of 3.

I think one of the best things about this model is that it is expandable, meaning that you can print off just 4 of the units, or print off 100 of the units and they will link together fine, but I will not know this for sure until I can get it printed, or get my hands on a printer and print it myself. If it works the way I am hoping I will also have to design a base for the model to stand on, build a big one, paint it up and put it in my classroom. I am pretty sure each nucleic acid is about 4 cm high and the blue phosphate is about 15mm in diameter, so the models could become quite large.

I am seriously thinking about crowdfunding for some of these printers for school, I am very impressed with the print quality of the sun flower I received, and from my reading on rep-raps I am concerned that if I build my own and save a few dollars the quality will not be anywhere near as good as the Up Mini. But like so many things I am not entirely sure how to get started or whether I am allowed.

I still think the power of being able to design and build something like this model in MinecraftEdu, which is easy when compared to trying to create a similar model in a CAD program (at least in my experience) is huge. Especially in classrooms, students could progress from building things in MinecraftEdu in younger years to building things in CAD programs if they needed something 'not blocky' but there is no reason that models like my DNA one shown above could not be built in MinecraftEdu by senior students to show their understanding of a concept or topic.

My plan for this model is to use it in senior Biology to give the students a 'hands-on' experience with DNA, and its structure, something which so far in my teaching has only been done with pieces of paper bought and designed to create a spiral staircase, that are already coloured and in my experience the students don't really feel like they 'own' them and they get left in the room when the class ends.

I think if a class were discussing the structure of DNA and each student got to build a physical model of DNA and paint it while the discussion was going on then the model would be 'owned' by the students, they might feel some pride in their creation and in future think about ways that they too could create models of something they learn about to build a better understanding.

Enough of my high horse about where I want to take my teaching, thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

First Print!!!!

Hi all, my first print arrived in the post last week, and it turned out brilliant!!! See the pictures comparing the print with the MinecraftEdu build below, each block in game is equal to approximately 1mm in real life.


As you can see it is pretty awesome. Now, there are a couple of little tweaks I would make if I were to reprint it, one being the stem is too skinny, I would bulk that up a bit, I would also probably make the base a bit smaller, or perhaps more square.

Do you want to know the best thing about this model? It only cost $1.30 in materials to print, yes, that is right $1.30!!!! So if I wanted to tweak it and reprint it, it is really costing nothing, and isn't that what rapid prototyping is all about,
x+1)print final product.

So there you have it folks, Minecraft can be used as a design tool, think of all the cool things you could build and print in an open world in which the blocks can be as small as 0.25mm in real life.

Now to find the $1000 to buy the printer and start messing with it myself. As always thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Minecraft as a Design Tool?

While I was at the VITTA conference about 2 weeks ago I came across a sales booth selling 3D printers for schools. I mentioned that I was very much into Minecraft, and more specifically MinecraftEdu for use in schools. I was asked "do you do much designing in Minecraft with students?" My initial answer was not really, but the more I think about it the more I think any time I get the students to build something in Minecraft they are designing.

This has led to a 'case study' in Minecraft as a design tool, I still don't have my hands on a 3D printer but I am working towards it. To help me to convince the powers at my school that this is a worthwhile spend I spent about 4 hours last night designing a couple of models in Minecraft to be printed. I am going to send them to the company, they will print them for me. I am also going to start a design competition at school for students, and the best design(s) will also be printed.

Here is a picture of what I designed last night.

On the left is a bacteriophage and on the right is a DNA helix. The box that these are in is 120X120X120 Minecraft blocks. The printer being used to print can print a 12X12X12cm 'block' which means that each Minecraft block is about 1mm in real life.

I still have quite a bit of 'print area' left and am trying to think of other things I can design in the print area to show other faculty heads in my school to try and get them on board and split the cost amongst more of us.

3D printers are also called RepRaps, google them for more info. You can buy kits and build your own if you have the money and time. However the one I am looking at is called and Up Mini which will work after about 15mins out of the box.

If you have a 3D printer, or have built one I would really like to hear from you about them and any suggestions you might have. If you are in a school that has access to a 3D printer I would like to hear how it is being used in different learning areas. If you are someone who knows of any grants or funding I could call upon to get some of these in my school I would REALLY like to hear from you. If you have any other comments please leave them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Is Simplicity The Key?

The more I use MinecraftEdu for teaching, the more I come to realise that it is the simple maps that demonstrate a specific concept, or those that allow the students to experiment are the most powerful. I still think that the initial neurotransmitter lesson is one of the most powerful learning experiences I have ever delivered. So is the contour maps lesson and the solids, liquids and gases demonstration. I think, with the help of sswe903 on youtube, that we may have a couple more great conceptual and experimentation maps coming up.

One is on experimental probability. The part designed to teach students the concept was designed and built by sswe903 and he was kind enough to share it with me. After seeing what he has created, and some of the shortcomings I have designed an add on activity to allow the students to use experimental probability to estimate unknown probabilities in game.

The other map is on gravity. One of the upcoming topics I am teaching is Forces, and this includes gravity. As I was discussing this with sswe903 I had a thought, why couldn't we measure gravity in Minecraft. Performing experiments and using our results to discuss real life gravity and some of the limitations of our experiment.

This is the video I recorded talking about these 2 maps. I am really beginning to think that simple maps that focus on a specific concept are the way for me to move forward. Perhaps linking all of these together into a learning sequence is a job for me in the future.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Double Collaboration.

Well after a busy couple of weeks things have finally started to calm down and I am back into teaching and back at school. This means that I have had time to get my server sorted out and I now have 2 collaborative projects happening.

One is on cell division, where Matt and I are starting with a 'Mitosis Museum' and then having some interactive areas for students to show their learning. Working with other teachers on a shared vision is an interesting experience and something that I hope to do a lot more of as I think it is an easier way of creating 'great' maps. Not just because the workload is shared, but because we all have different ideas. Sharing these ideas and molding them into a map is something that makes us justify our reasons for what we are doing, and gets us talking about the educational value of the map as a whole.

Is it going to be a passive learning experience for the students or are we going to make it interactive?

How is this interactive part helping us as teachers gather information about what the student has learnt?

Most importantly are the students going to learn what we want them to learn?

Are just some of the questions I am starting to ask myself and share my thoughts on with Matt.

The other project is a human body 'edventure' map that was begun by Miggtorr on YouTube. I am really looking forward to working with Miggtorr as he is a WorldEdit genius (in my eyes anyway). We spent a couple of hours messing around with WE last night and he taught me things that I never knew you could do, and then we both started playing with things that neither of us had used before. We ended up messing around with the //deform command and learnt how that works and how you can make hollow vertical cylinders into horizontal 'tubes'. Taking it even further you can model equations using that command too.

I have also finally managed to nail down the Year 7 Humanities teacher to meet with me to discuss the possibilities of using MinecraftEdu in her classes, so hopefully she will be another person I can collaborate on maps with.

Well that is a pretty ordinary post, mostly just updating you on what has happened since my training experience in Darwin. If you have MinecraftEdu and are interested in collaborating on either of the projects discussed in this post please leave a comment and I will see if we can organise something.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Training Wrap Up

Day 1: Some awesome things are happening in the NT. Working up here with other educators on day one was just amazing. I don't even have words to explain what is going through my head right now. What an experience, working with people who 'get it' is just amazing. Showing them what is possible with a bit of time and effort gives those moments you get into teaching for, those 'lightbulb'/wow moments when you can see the wonder in their face.

My first seminar was another experience I am still trying to digest. Working with a reasonably large group of people on game based learning and how it links to curriculum standards is something I will never forget. Seeing that 'oh yeah that could work' look on their faces and having those discussions to try and get teachers to think out of the box and attempt something new in their classes.

In a quick summary of today, WOW!!!! I had an absolute ball, I am so glad I have had the opportunity, and I have 2 days left, I cannot wait for tomorrow, I am buzzed and want to keep working.

Day 2: Went pretty much the same as day one, quick! I worked with Tim all day today working towards building a map for another teacher to use in their class. It is basically a skyblock survival map, but copied 25 times, 1 for each student. This is just a way to get them problem solving and researching.

Teaching Tim how to use the advanced build tools in MinecraftEdu as well as Worldedit has been a blast, every now and then throwing him a new tool to play with and seeing him run away and have a practice and mess it up, undo it and try again has just been awesome.

Day 3: I am quite sad that this experience has to end, today I was working with 2 teachers who had almost no experience in Minecraft and 1 teacher who has had a fair bit of time in the environment. The real interesting thing is that when the 2 teachers that had little experience turned up and were asked if they had seen or heard of MinecraftEdu, one of them replied with "Yeah I googled it the other day, cos I thought I better find out what this PD I am going to is all about and I saw a video on YouTube of some guy and his class." I had to say "ummmm yeah, that was probably me", as soon as I spoke he said, "yeah you are right". I find it a very strange experience to talk to people who "know" me from my online stuff.

The other interesting thing that happened is that Tim took his skyblock map home and played it with his son last night to test it out a bit, his son is 7 years old. Apparently they were up until 10pm playing and Tim was being taught things by his son. He freaked when his son started to chop down the tree but he explained that he needed a pick to get the cobble from the cobble stone generator he had created. Amazing that a 7 year old is learning skills that will help him later in life, all because of Minecraft.

So a wrap up of the last 3 days. What an experience I have had. Never have I had this much fun working. I still want to teach my classes, but I really want to train other teachers how they too can bring MinecraftEdu into their classes. Hopefully I can keep doing both.

As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Late Night Reflections.

It is 10:30pm and about 45 minutes ago I took of on a plane from Melbourne heading to Darwin for a few days. I am so excited, I am heading up there to train some teachers in MinecraftEdu. My first experience of training teachers in Minecraft. This whole journey for me has been a series of 'firsts' and I hope that they continue.

When I began this journey, and perhaps more importantly sharing my journey online I honestly never expected it to get to this stage, on some level I probably hoped for it, but to be honest I started sharing my journey online here on this blog as a way of getting my thoughts down and clarifying them, and also as a way to get feedback and ideas from other people out there. Forcing myself to take the time to write my thoughts down has been a great way to reflect on what happens in my classes (and in my head during them).

Youtube is a different thing entirely, I started that as a resource to show other teachers how my classes run, and at my last check the first neurotransmitter video is up over 16000 views. Alongside this I have over 200 subscribers, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be producing videos that people would actually want to watch, I just wanted to have them in an online space (for free) so that I could get at them from anywhere and point other teachers to them if they were interested.

So initially my motivation was very selfish, but I really value the feedback and support I get from those watching my videos and reading this blog. I think being able to share my thoughts and journey has made this all the more powerful and effective in my classes.

I still remember the first time a youtube user going by the name of Miggtorr sent a video response to one of my videos, he wanted to show me about Worldedit, and he did a great tutorial, specifically geared towards what I was creating and also he shared some awesome ideas about how to make the map an 'adventure' with goals and targets for students to reach while learning. I had never been so shocked, someone was not only interested in what I was doing but wanted to help. I cannot wait until the personal edition is released to the public and I can invite him onto my server to work with him. Of course this never would have happened if I was keeping my journey to myself.

So as well as my first training experience coming up, I also have my first conference visit as a presenter. I had never really contemplated presenting something at a conference until I wanted to share with other like minded educators the power of MinecraftEdu in engaging students and making learning (and teaching) much more fun. The scary thing was that when I tried to book into my session I was unable to because it was booked out, I had to email the organisers and request that they assign me that session, or those attending would not have a presenter.

Another exciting 'first' that has happened recently is that I have had a couple of articles published. One in the "Australian Teacher Magazine" (link) and another arrived at my school today in the ICTEV magazine (link). I got a 2 page article on my journey of using MinecraftEdu to engage students in a different kind of lesson. Alongside this I have also done my first email interview with a journalist and am really looking forward to reading his article when it comes out.

So where to now? Well now that I have bored you with my current flow of thoughts I will complete my training in Darwin (expect some thoughts to flow from that onto here), present at my first conference and then get back into my classes with gusto. I have plans to let my Year 7 Science classes roam my 3D cell tour as we study cells over the next couple of weeks.

I also plan to have some fancy redstone machinery in my senior student version of the animal cell to get students to make mRNA, be tRNA and make protein. I have a prototype for the mRNA machine working, but am struggling with the protein machine because it relies on being able to move 3 blocks at once to represent codons, I am close but am still encountering some redstone glitches that are frustrating me.

I am also trying to nail down the teacher that took over my year 7 Humanities class to discuss the opportunities for using MinecraftEdu in her classes to help the students learn history, or display their knowledge of ancient civilisations.

As always thanks for taking the time to read this, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Collaboration Begins Soon.

Well there was very little interest in the group funded collaborative server, in fact only 1 other teacher was interested. So I will host it on my school server for a while, and if more people get interested and I need more space, well I guess we cross that when we come to it.

Matt (the teacher I am collaborating with) and I chatted on skype about some ideas, and I was just setting my server up so we could jump in and start building our planned map together, and I managed to crash my server :(

For some reason my Ubuntu server does not like it when I try to copy things, a right click and copy crashes my remote connection and I can no longer access the server, I have tried using ctrl-c as well and that crashes it half the time, so I think it might be time to move back to a windows based server. The only reason we tried a Linux server to begin with was we were trying to get rid of the lag issues that the developers fixed in their latest release anyway, so there is no point sticking with a system that is unstable.

So what is the plan for this collaborative map? Well we are going to create a map based on cell division, and are hoping to create 3D models of the process in the nucleus. So kind of an educational adventure map about mitosis and meiosis. We are going to focus on the structure first and then work out the 'adventure' part once we have the basics built. The great thing about this is that my animal cell texture pack can be used again as well as some of the structures from the cell itself. I guess it is time to learn how to use schematics with worldedit.

I should also update you on where the cell map is headed, after further discussions with my Biology students we have decided to skip the energy transfer part of the plan, and I think we might wait to re-enter the cell until we do protein synthesis, that way I can get a really good setup going for that, where the students can be tRNA and have to bring specific amino acids to place in the sequence.

As always thanks for taking the time to read, and if you have any comments feel free to write them below.

Monday, 16 July 2012

I Want to Collaborate.

Hi there, I have been very quiet on here lately, I have been on 2 weeks worth of holidays and have been busily relaxing and having some down time. Now however the term has started and things are about to get noisy again.

I have been very slack in terms of finishing the building of stage 2 of the animal cell map, which is 'zoomed' in views of structures like the cell membrane. To be honest I have not even started, and then there is stage 3 which is energy transfer, followed by stage 4 which will be about movement of substances within cells. The stages keep going, with stage 5 being about DNA replication and transcription and then stage 6 about translation.

I think that is where I want the cell map to head, which is a massive job and quite a depressing amount of work, but on a brighter note I am starting cells with my junior Science class this week, which means all the hard work in getting the cell built pays off yet again as we are going to be able to tour a 3-dimensional cell in Minecraft.

On a sad note I am no longer teaching Humanities, so all my ideas for Geography and History will not be implemented by me, I am however hoping that the other teachers will pick up some of the ideas and enthusiasm and run with at least some activities in Minecraft, which might mean that I will need to make some maps for them to use. I think I want to drop to part time teacher, part time map maker, but there is no money in map making so that is not going to happen at this stage.

Speaking of map making, I put a post on the Google Minecraft Teacher group asking whether teachers out there would be interested in collaborating on maps to lighten the load on everyone, my plan is to host a large server and 'split' it into smaller servers that could be 'rented' for a lesser cost than you could rent a Minecraft server for, by buying in bulk I will be able to cut costs a little bit. These smaller rental servers would be for teachers to collaborate on maps together, but there has not been a great deal of interest yet, so I thought I would pose the same question here.

Is there interest out there in group funding a large server that we could split into smaller collaborative servers to help get maps made quicker? I know how long it takes to make great maps, and if we can share the load and get many different ideas into maps it will make it easier for all of us using Minecraft to teach.

I did get one response to my post on the Google group, and the suggestion was that I not only open it up to teachers, but students too, this in theory is a great idea, however I know that my students don't have MinecraftEdu at home, so they could not help outside of school hours, and until the 'Personal' edition of MinecraftEdu is released to the public I am not sure how viable this option is.

I have always said that I would start a server when the personal version was released for anyone to join, but I want to move the timeline up and get teachers working together on maps. So if you are a teacher using Minecraft or MinecraftEdu and would be interesting in collaborating on some maps with other teachers, please let me know. If there is enough interest I will start the ball rolling now.

As always thanks for taking the time to read and feel free to use the comments below.

Thursday, 21 June 2012


I wanted to introduce the topic of classification to my year 7 Science students today. Normally I sit in the room with them and tell them 'stories' about 'things' in my home, gradually adding more information until they get the name of the thing correct. An example is my dog, and the story goes something along the lines of:

"This thing is about 'yea' big"
"It is black"
"It has 4 things sticking out the bottom"
"2 things stick out the top"

and so on, until they guess that it is a dog, then we do another one where instead of using non-specific words like thing I use the classification words, like legs, or ears. We then discuss why we as people classify things, why we group them, what are the advantages. I really enjoy this approach as the students normally get a real good discussion and I think a very good understanding of grouping and why we do it.

However today I thought I would try something in Minecraft, I know that in the next release (1.3) of Minecraft they have 'sorted' the creative inventory to make it easier to find things, so as a class we went into a new superflat world, had a brief discussion about where they had heard classify before, and what they thought it meant, and then proceeded to classify them into groups, the first was boy and girl, the second was the hair colour of their avatar in the game.

Then I gave them the task of grouping all the items in the game, or to classify them into groups, place them in chests and give that group a name. I was yet again amazed at how quiet and focused the students were on the task they were completing. There were some amazing groups, the first to materialise was 'natural' followed by 'wool' and 'food', 'tools, weapons', 'diamond' and the list goes on. Each student was to come up with their own groups, then one student popped up with the questions I was waiting for.

"Mr. Elford, if I have something, can it be in 2 chests? Sandstone, it is sand, and stone, so should it be in the sand chest, or the stone chest, or can I put it in both?"

This was the moment I had been hoping would arise, I stopped all the students, and posed to question to all of them, they started arguing straight away, but not antagonistically. They were having a discussion about which it should be in. After the discussion died down, back to their own classifying they went. I must say I cannot wait to get back in there to let them finish of their classifying, and then get them to explain their reasoning.

That was the first MinecraftEdu lesson of the day. The second was with my year 7 Humanities class, where we were going to start discussing biomes, what better place to get a discussion happening about biomes than in Minecraft? So in we went, brand new world, no student building or flying, their task, to explore the land around them, writing down the biome name from the F3 display and also writing down what they saw in each different area.

This was a great lesson until they decided that they were bored of walking and wanted to fly, and I stupidly said fair enough, and changed them all to creative mode. The server survived no more than 5 minutes of that pressure before the lag got too much and I made the students log out so that it could try and catch up, and also so we could start a discussion about biomes.

I don't think the task itself was a successful as I would have liked, the main issue being that they were probably too excited to write enough detail down about each area. So I will giving them greater direction tomorrow when we enter a new world about what they are describing in each different biome.

If anyone out there knows a good 1.2.5 seed with a mushroom biome within easy reach please leave it in the comments below (I need it for tomorrow morning). As always thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Cell: Stage 1 Complete.

Well I have just finished the first stage of the Animal Cell map. Students have completed their booklet and we have had our discussions about some of the questions and why I asked them. They have requested that next week I wander through the cell on my computer projecting it on the whiteboard talking about the organelles, their roles and why I made them the way I did.

There were some amazing discussions around which organelle uses the most energy, and which uses the least that I will be uploading to youtube in the next couple of days, but the brief summary is that the students were connecting the energy requirements with the importance of the role, to the point where one student said "each organelle would use the same amount of energy, as they are all equally important for the functioning of the cell"

The further discussion about the issue with linking 'importance' with energy requirements was actually brought up by a student, she said "it doesn't make sense for the mitochondria to use the most energy, as it is creating energy for other parts of the cell to use, it seems a bit silly if it uses a heap of energy to do that." Amazing insight there that lead to a real teachable moment about what requires more energy, creating or destroying, something that I think the students understand better now is that building things up takes more energy then breaking them down, at least in relation to breaking down glucose vs creating proteins.

The feedback discussion at the end was very positive. The students thought that this lesson was much better than the neurotransmitter lesson when prompted for reasons the first thing mentioned was the visual was much better. Which is the same thing I was thinking about immersion in a virtual space, rather than immersion in the game of Minecraft. Another key thing that made this lesson better for them was the booklet, having to fill it out made them think about things more, so they felt that more learning had occurred. They also preferred the 'scripted/restricted' approach to the task, they couldn't just wander, they were restricted to the areas I chose.

Another interesting interaction occurred when students we finishing off their booklets, they were 'fighting' in the game and one student teleported away from the other using the teleport block, and the student left behind said "Yeah, you better run, I was about to pick you up and throw you into the lysosome to recyle you." I can tell you I have never heard that in any of my classes before, but it shows that he knew exactly what the role of the lysosome was, and he was going to use that to his advantage in the fight (even if it was not possible for him to do so).

There is a brief summary of todays Biology lesson, they students are very happy to continue onto the next stage of this map, which I am yet to build completely, about energy transfer in the cell. Where energy is used and also cementing the roles of the organelles as they go. Very excited to continue, and I have about 3-4 weeks to finish the building of Stage 2.

As always thanks for taking the time to read, and your comments or feedback are welcomed below.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Cell.

Well the first stage of the animal cell was completed at 11:30pm last night. The first lesson for students in the map was started at 10:00am today. I really should not leave things to the last minute. However the lesson is going to take longer than I initially thought, probably another hour or so, then there will be the discussion to follow to further embed the knowledge the students need to gain.

So how did the first lesson go? The students were somewhat wary after their neurotransmitter experience, but were willing to give it a go. The issues we discussed after the neurotransmitter map were mostly centered around the technical issues we encountered (telling them we are 'testing' the software doesn't seem to help) and the lack of direction in the latter part of the lesson.

So for this map it was very 'restricted' in terms of where they could go, and they had a booklet with questions to fill out as they toured the cell. This way they could see the outcome of the lesson and 'walk away' with something. I think that most students were focused on the actual task, and gathering the information. What concerns me is probably the wording of some of the questions in the booklet, perhaps I didn't clearly explain to them what the question was asking when they needed to describe the organelle, most were just copying the information from the game to their booklets, but I wanted the physical description. I also wanted them to think about how they are going to be able to recognise this particular organelle from other pictures, as this particular representation is mine, and how I think a cell looks in my mind, there are many more ideas and pictures out there.

The thing that really blew my mind was some of the discussion students were having with one another, and with me about their thoughts and ideas. There were also a lot of 'lightbulb' moments where something just clicked with the students, which, lets be honest, is the best part of teaching. I even had one student tell me that using a translucent block for the cell membrane was not what she would have done, instead she would have used water or lava with a customised texture to represent it as when she thinks of the cell membrane she thinks of it as 'gooey'. Those sort of discussion just have never happened in my biology classes before, and I have taught cells quite a few times now.

Well there are my current thoughts on what just happened in my previous lesson, as I consider the implications from discussions and edit the footage I am sure more will come and I will update you as we continue to use this map next week to finish of the introduction stage, and then in future tracking energy, creating proteins or even zooming in on particular structures inside the cell to talk about what impact these have on the cell and the processes that occur.

As always all thoughts are welcomed and thanks for taking the time to read.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Immersion and Adventure.

I never thought when I started my cell tour map that it would be this cool. To be honest I had never really thought about messing with texture packs to make it appear more realistic than 'Minecratfty', but I have got to say I am really impressed with myself. The cell and custom texture pack I am creating to go with it are coming together into what I believe is probably the best thing I have ever created for education. I keep using the word immersion when talking about this cell. What I think I have created is an environment that is a cell, or at least as close an approximation as I am able. It no longer 'looks' like a Minecraft world.

Is immersion important for learning? I think that it is, if you are 'lost' in the moment, isn't that when you have the greatest buy in, and in theory doesn't this lead to an overall better learning experience. A lot of educational research states that you need to 'engage' the students, so get them to want to learn, to crave the knowledge. So will this map create that engagement, and buy in with the students, time will tell, but given the effort I am putting in, and how cool I think it looks, I hope it will.

Below are some screenshots of the build so far, with the kind of lighting that I hope to use when students are in the map.

 The orange G's you can see are temporary, they are there so I know where the glowstone is placed, I will remove the G from the texture pack once the build is complete
 Perhaps one of my better 'inventions' the nuclear pore.
Since students no longer need to go into the organelles, I think the mitochondria (orange) is too big, so I will shrink it down a bit and with the new //copy, //paste and //rotate options available with worldedit I will place several throughout the cell.

Now I have decided to take a slightly different track with this map, with the model of the cell I am creating and that you can see in the screenshots above, it will be just that, a model, one that the students can move around in, learning about the cell as they go. However I have an idea where students will be able to 'zoom' in on certain organelles, get a closer look at them, gather some more knowledge about that organelle and its role in the cell. Further to this I am hoping to get the students to carry and deliver energy to different parts of the cell to embed even more knowledge about the role of energy in the cell, and what each organelle does with the energy it is supplied.

This means that there is an absolutely massive amount of work left, and some tricky texture pack alteration to get items to look like something else, as well as a path of item swapping using furnaces and dispensers to get to the final product. This has led to a request for a 'conversion' block to be included in the edu mod, perhaps one day in the future. So when placed, the teacher can put a certain recipe into the block, which when students place a certain item in the block, it will swap it for another, so instead of having to be tricky with double BUD switches (thanks Ethoslab), furnaces and dispensers, creating a sequence of events where students can trade one item for another will be simple.

So my basic premise is that students will start by zooming in on the cell membrane, and will get a better look at the 'fluid mosaic' model of the cell membrane, as well as being able to watch 'glucose' being transported in through diffusion, and also active transport. Then they will take some glucose and travel to the mitochondria, here they will give the mitochondria the glucose, and it will transform it into several ATP. This ATP will be the students energy to spend at organelles as they travel around the cell.

Next stop will be the nucleus, where they will trade some energy for some instructions (mRNA), they will then take the mRNA to the ribosome, where they will give the instructions, and also some more energy and they will get a polypeptide chain in return. Then moving on to the endoplasmic reticulum they will give the polypeptide chain, and more energy to transform it into a completed protein. They will then take this completed protein to the golgi, where they will again trade some energy and get a packaged protein. Then they will go back to the cell membrane, provide some energy and send their completed protein outside the cell.

That is the basic path students will follow, but there will be some 'flawed' proteins, which if a student gets one of these, they will have to take it to the lysosome, give up some energy and destroy their faulty protein and go back to the nucleus to try again. The students wont know they are faulty (I hope) until the get to the ribosome. I am yet to work out how I can tie the vacuole into this path so if you have any thoughts they would be greatly appreciated. I also need to make sure the students don't think that all proteins created by a cell are exported, so I am thinking perhaps that some students should be required to take their proteins back to the mitochondria, or even the lysosome, and deliver them there instead of exporting them from the cell, but again I am unsure how to tie this in with what I know Minecraft can deliver.

As always thanks for taking the time to read, and any suggestions or thoughts would be very much appreciated.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

0.982 and Custom Textures.

Well it has been an awfully long time since I have posted on the happenings of MinecraftEdu in my life. Never fear, it has still been happening, a bit less (dang Diablo III taking a lot of time), but I have been doing some work towards completing my 3D cell tour map. It amazes me how quick time goes, originally I was going to use the cell tour at the start of the year, but decided I would hold off until later in the year and to be honest, prior to this week, I had done no work on completing it at all. Earlier this week I looked at my plan for my Biology class for the next few weeks and realised that now I really do need it. So after a little bit of a shock I have been working on making the map a more complete experience.

As well as completing the building I have been doing a bit of messing around with the new texture pack support, which for my purposes of making the kids think they are inside a cell is going to be awesome. Unfortunately I have hit 1 big snag with my idea, I wanted both the cell membrane and the nuclear membrane to look 'jellyish' when in the game, however there is a limitation, hard coded into Minecraft, that I have no way to work around. You can make any block see through, but only 1 block in the game (that I have found so far) can be made translucent, that is a tinted see through block, similar to stained glass. So this essentially means that only 1 membrane can be see through. I have decided that it should be the cell membrane as it provides a greater immersion in the environment. Below is a screenshot of what I have decided it should look like, I will probably tweak the colouring a bit more, but I am very impressed.

The one disadvantage is that the block in question is ice, so it melts if torches are placed too near it, so I am going to have to be very careful when it comes to lighting the interior of the cell. As far as progress goes, I have just completed around half of the upper membrane, which means for the whole membrane I am now about 3 quarters of the way done.

Then I would like to add some teleport blocks to various viewing platforms and also to 'zoom in' points where students can be placed inside a larger version of the organelle and have to complete a task and gather some information about the organelle as they do so. Basically make exploring the cell an adventure where the quest is knowledge (might sound really corny but I still think it is a great idea) and at the end of the quest they will have a very good knowledge of cells, organelles and their functions.

The other interesting thing that has happened this week is that MinecraftEdu has been officially updated to version 0.982 and the changes are enormous, I have been lucky enough to have access to the developer versions over the last couple of months, so I had forgotten how much has been added. Here is a very quick list of the major changes and below is a video showing what you can do with these changes.
  • Worldedit is now included
  • Custom server side textures
  • Massive performance enhancements
  • New skins for students to choose
  • 1.2.5 compatible
  • Custom key binding to certain commands
  • Much, much more

As always thanks for taking the time to read, I do plan on recording tutorials on customising texture packs and also worldedit basics. If there is anything else you would like a tutorial on, let me know in the comments, and please if you have anything to share about what you are doing feel free to add that in the comments below also.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Kids are Just Kids Sometimes?

Sometimes I think I forget that kids will be kids if given the opportunity. The reason I am saying this is because one of my fellow year 7 Humanities teachers took her class into the contour map activity for a second lesson, where the task was to build a mountain from the contour map in the game.

The students she took in are the students I have for Science, so they are Minecraft savvy, and normally very well behaved while in game. So when the teacher said I want to go in, I didn't hesitate, I gave her the teacher password and a quick intro into the tools to teleport herself and students around.

I caught up with her after the lesson and she said she had a lot of trouble with them, they were not listening to her instructions when asked to not to dig tunnels into the mountain and generally being uncooperative. I must say I am a little disappointed in the students, however does the saying "kids will be kids" excuse the behaviour.

I have been very upfront with the students about how what we do in class, while being used to teach them, is also being used to help other teachers see how this can be used in classrooms to make learning more interesting, both at our school and further afield. I feel that they have let me down, as now the teacher in question has, as punishment, decided that she will not use Minecraft in her classes for at least the rest of term, so within 10 minutes of me not being there they have undone a lot of my work in getting other teacher on board.

Now I have this class tomorrow, and I will be having a discussion with the class about what they did, and what it means for them, me and other teachers. So my question to you is, how would you approach this situation? Should I be 'blaming' the students for their poor behaviour, or should I be blaming myself for allowing a fellow teacher to go into a situation where she was not fully equipped, mostly the biggest thing she didn't know about was the 'freeze students' button that caused a big discussion a couple of months ago, but probably could have averted at least some of the continued issue.

Should I also be punishing them for their behaviour in some way, or should I leave it in her class? I feel the need to discuss and explain to the students exactly what they have done, but how far do I take it? A lot of questions, and I would really like to hear some of your opinions on the issues that have arisen.

What Have I Done.

Well it has been a very long time since I wrote a blog post, and I have been feeling guilty about it for at least a week, but now I have some news to share from my classes. First of all I am so happy with how my contour map activity worked out. After getting through most of the activity with my year 7 class last week I sat down yesterday (a weekend and a day later) and they still knew how to read a contour map.

I drew a contour map, roughly the same shape as the one they ended up creating in Minecraft, on the board and asked the students where they would walk to travel from the bottom to the top. The discussion as to why they chose their particular starting point showed a depth of knowledge that amazed me. Some students were starting at the steepest part, as this gave them the shortest distance to travel, others started on the side that was the least steep, as this would give them the easiest walk. Yet others were starting at a steep part that shallowed out afterwards as they wanted a 'challenge' but once were tired they wanted an easier trip.

I ran this class 3 times, once with each year 7 class, here are some screenshots of the contour maps they created.

With my class later this week we will be heading back into Minecraft to build a mountain from a contour map, the students wanted the contour map on paper, but I think I will build them one in the world as well as their paper copy.

The other great news is that our whole year 7 project on energy efficient houses started today, at least for one class, the others will be starting tomorrow most likely but the students had to research and provide the teacher with a plan of what they were going to add to their house that was going to help conserve energy.

The students had to choose the environment they were going to build in, and some have started to build. In the end we decided that it would be most time efficient if students all built from the same floor plan, but could choose which environment to build in. The aim is not to create an awesome house in Minecraft, but to record a tour explaining how they have accounted for conduction, convection and radiation.

If this works, perhaps in future we will allow them to create their own floor plan, but we are trying for time efficiency here and the teachers felt that allowing them 'free reign' to build any sized house would take away the time we are hoping to gain by virtually creating a model instead of creating a real life model.

Here are some more screenshots of what the students have started building.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.