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.


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  2. Interesting questions, this something I'd not have fully anticipated so I totally feel for you and I'm glad you've shared it here so others, like me, will be able to head off some of these issues before the erupt.

    It does sound like the teacher needed a bit more training... the 'freeze students' option in MC has been enough of a deter ant and punishment for unruly behaviour, they hate being frozen and always want to restart but I'm very clear that that won't happen until they understand the rules and promise to try harder.

    Personally, I'd leave the punishment to her and her class, but I'd definitely talk to your class and, perhaps, get to a point where they can come to an understanding that they might like apologise to her and get her back on board, they could do a lot to undo her punishment if they apologised and made promises to behave next time (in her class).

    Just my thoughts, hope that's useful.


  3. Hey Elfie, good to hear about some real life situations arising from the use of Minecraft. I think I can sort of relate to your situation (somewhat) and think its a great idea to throw it open.

    My thoughts on the matter are that it needs to be a multi-pronged attack. With this particular incident, I think I would use it as key learning experience (not blaming experience) for all 3 parties.

    Firstly you should definitely address the students, there should be consequences for showing a level of disrespect towards the teacher and yourself (for putting in so much time getting it to where it is). I personally think these consequences are probably a bit much. We had some issues with how students were treating each other (pillaging and stealing) and resorted to some heavy respect based discussions, set some more explicit ground rules on behaviour, and gave them a week to think about it! Seems to have worked well, and the thought of going a day without MC got their attention pretty quick.

    The other learning aspect that needs to be addressed is the understanding and learning pedagogy behind what you have set up, and how that is nutured - the other teacher needs to get their head around what MC is, how the kids react to it (they can be absolutely mental at times) and why they do - they are completely engrossed! I definitely think there needs to be somesort of leeway given to the students in this new and freeish learning environment...this message needs to be communicated and discussed with all other teachers using it! We have four teachers, including myself in our senior unit (primary) with differing perspectives and knowledge. One of those teachers is similar and probably a little afraid of loosing the control. I think this is where you need to empower teachers to show them where you are coming from, and what you are achieving with it.

    My final thought, which I have learned the hard way is that if the task does not have a natural flow...then students are going to naturally follow their basic desire of enjoying the world...that is go their own way. A lot of thought needs to go into worlds that have inexperience teachers leading, to ensure that students are engaged and want to follow the desired learning path!! I made a map on volume - my class (guinea pigs) tore through straight to the end...ignoring every bit of learning I inserted! Back to the drawing board...I had to go back and use my knowledge of what they did the first time, and find a way to lead them better, or block possible ways of getting 'off course'.

    Anyway thats my say and experience on the matter. Hope it helps! It sure is a journey.....Keep up the amazing work!

    PS had to re-submit - I am a teacher - and had spelling errors and no paragraphs! hahahaha

  4. Mu and mrjonhnson thank you both for your input. These sorts of discussions really help me to clarify my own thoughts and pave a way forward. First it has been a few hours since I posted this, so I have done some more thinking, and both of you seem to agree that I should not be punishing the students in my class for their behaviour in another, it just doesn't seem fair.

    I cannot however dictate to another professional what they should be doing in their classroom but I really feel that the next 8 weeks without Minecraft in their Humanities is both fair, and unfair on the students. Let me explain why. This is the first time the students have used Minecraft in a class that did not have me in it, and the consequences the other teacher decides are well within her rights and her comfort zone.

    To be honest I think she thought the threat of no Minecraft in her class would be enough of a deterrent to stop the bad behaviour, unfortunately it was not. Of course it would not be, this is their first time using it in Humanities, so once in 10 weeks, well there are 8 weeks left in the term, they are really losing nothing.

    So that is why it is fair, now I think it is a little unfair because it was their first try. How can they show improvement from here if they don't get the opportunity.

    The other point I will address is the activity structure. I built it, and to her credit the other teacher gave it a try, but it was my thinking behind it, and therefore without a clear explanation of that thinking how can someone else really understand what the object was. Now it is a straight forward activity, at least I thought it was, and the students were able to successfully complete it, but I think the main issue, and the reason students were getting off track, was most likely because there was not enough 'work' for them all to do. The mountain they were building was too small for them all to work on effectively.

    The first activity in the map was about 3 times larger than this one, so something I had not thought of before was the 'size' of the activity, it is not really something you come across in a real life situation, the size is dictated by physics, in a virtual world you don't suffer the same constraints.

    So for future classes there is something else I need to be thinking about, and thanks for helping me come to some sort of realisation about the kids getting off track and trying to entertain themselves in the game.

    So thank you both again for taking the time to share your thoughts and experience with us.

    PS mrjohnson, you had me thrown there for a bit, I got an email with your initial post, then I came over here to reply and it had disappeared.

    1. No problem mate, good luck with how it goes. It really does feel like we are pioneers, hard work with a heap of excitement....and hopefully a big payload at the end!

  5. Hey Elfie,

    I completely understand. First, I commend the other teacher for giving it a try and you for promoting MC to others. I don't feel like I have anyone else capable of using it in my school as of right now.

    I think when you discuss the problem with the kids you may suggest they do something extra for their humanities class, (maybe if they have time after school or at home) that involves the contour line theme. Maybe they could create their own contour lines on some random MC landforms using colored wool and then take screenshots from high above to see what it looks like.

    But I guess it would depend on their attitudes and if they recognize the issue as being disruptive to the learning objective. I teach that age group as well and I know they don't always realize when they are being disrespectful.

    I look forward to hearing about the outcome!


    1. I guess I should have read your other blog post first! You already did what I suggested! Nice!

      Well, maybe when they transition into another topic in humanities, they can incorporate it on their own. Maybe the teacher will allow an "extra-credit" kind of assignment.

  6. Ah, you are dealing here with ludus rules. The game (which I am assuming you are running in multi-player) has sets of rules. Some of them non-negotiable (mostly how the game works), negotiable (what the game will let you do) and finally social-rules - how you will go about being in the game. The issue here is a metal conflict with the rules and the other teacher's rules. Therein lies the even more complex problem of the other teacher's view of behaviour and her reaction to kids in a world where they hold the knowledge.

    Spanning all this are the social-rules between players - and the tacit rules of 'school', plus the additional 'rules' that MinecraftEdu places on player conduct and ability. As I've never used it, but familiar with it's origin toolset - it's impossible for me to give a view on solving the issue.

    As you know we have rules Massively Minecraft, but these are under a charter of social-expectations and cultural-norms that the kids created from the outset. We have some non-negotiables, such as how you gain power and ability by completing missions, and it is the tacit knowledge between the players that upholds them. We don't have teacher or police in the game - and rely entirely elements of game-theory around social-rules between players.

    We also can't direct kids towards a specific task in a specific way as a teacher can, so for us, we hold no power of authority over what they choose to do on any particular day. We never punish a kid and in that regard, the players learn though the process how to conduct themselves. Our motto - "for the win" is just that. Kids choose their behavior and when they play with others, they have to respect this if they want others to help/play with them.

    Our model is therefore like Warcraft, there comes a time, when to be a good player means being a good person, as you can't 'win' without collaborating - and that means knowing all the rules.

    I realise you use MC towards specific goals and place kids in and out of the game, so I can only offer that the problem here is complex as I doubt your teacher here would have a great deal of game-experience in this kind of realm. You also have to think that kids themselves do not play MMOs at home (or that's what my research says) at anything like the generalisations people make. They don't know the social-rules and routines in other games to apply to this game. Most kids play single (where the machine holds the rules) or co-opt with 2-4 others. The more kids you add, the more variables you create.

    Generally speaking, my experience of teacher's using MMOs with students is that they don't place the kids with novices. We certainly don't let a novice into Massively with special powers. To relate to your situation I wonder was the teachers doing the task (as in playing) or simply being the over-seer? The latter is always going to end in weirdness IMO.