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.