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.