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.