Friday, 13 December 2013

Well, That Was Hard.

That has got to be one of the more difficult lessons I have ever done, in Minecraft or out. I think that it would have been impossible to manage students in that space without experience in Minecraft, and even more impossible to get students successfully completing the challenges without at least a basic understanding of CCEdu.

Shane and I have been discussing ways to adjust the scaling of the challenges to make it more standalone for students and teachers, and there are things that we can do to help, but realistically I think just picking up a map and throwing students into it is not a viable option in the long term. Teachers need to explore the maps that they want their students in and have some basic understanding of Minecraft itself and how it operates as a virtual teaching space. Also I owe Shane an apology, apparently his map is not based on Michael Harvey's challenge map, both maps are completely separate and made completely individually. So sorry to both Michael and Shane for my misleading comment in the last post.

I think one big (and I mean MASSIVE) problem with trying to make standalone maps is that students will not read the instructions. Even today, when the challenges were written in the information blocks, students would not take the time and read them, they were running around with no idea of what they were supposed to be doing. So without my directions to read the blocks, and complete the challenges I don't think the students would have achieved anything today. The only way to make some headway into this would be to 'lock' the map down completely, so that students were restricted to certain areas and forced to follow certain paths.

Enough about the negatives, onto some positives. There were some awesome positives today that I was hoping to see. Some students were able to persevere and achieve the first challenge, and the sense of triumph when they did was palpable. Unfortunately, I was not in the room for one of these triumphs, but the student screamed out loud and came running to find me so she could show me her turtle completing the challenge, I think she had Shane laughing hysterically in Hawaii. What makes this amazing is that this student began by saying "I am no good at computers." but with continued support, suggestions and her own perseverance, she saw success.

Even one of the teachers that came in to explore Minecraft was having a go, and she was ecstatic when she got her turtle to move from point A to point B. Unfortunately the challenge was only half complete as she was supposed to get her turtle to visit 4 specific points in between, but with that small success she began to understand how to get the turtle to do what she wanted.

Trial and error was our friend today, and a sense of 'it is not failing, it is just trying something, finding out that it doesn't work and then altering it so it does' was also important. I think, in general, students are afraid of 'failing' at things, where what they need to do is see these not as failures, but opportunities to improve. I think doing these challenges in Minecraft certainly helps students feel less threatened with failure and more inclined to take the risk and see what happens and because everyone else has not achieved success on their first try, including the teachers, it makes it a more 'friendly' environment for design iteration.

Well that wraps up the teaching part of my MinecraftEdu journey this year, more testing of the new versions and hopefully some awesome collaborative map building will be happening over my teaching break. Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

One Last Hurrah!

Not forever, just for this year of classes. All of my formal classes have ended, we have been doing 'headstart' programs getting students ready for next year, and today begins our 'summer program' where we do activities and more relaxed fun things with the students who still remain.

So today it is the Science faculty's turn to do activities, for 90 minutes later today we will have the students and we can run what ever activities we want, they don't even have to be about science. But me being me, I want to do some interesting science type activities. Well maybe not science as such, but computer science. It is computer science week after all, and I always wanted to do some thing to do with hour of code..... so what better opportunity to get students thinking about coding and computer science.

Enter ComputerCraftEdu. Later today, for the first time I will be picking up a map someone else has made and getting students to 'do' it. I am talking about a ComputerCraftEdu coding challenge map made by Shane, which I think is also based off a world made by Mike Harvey, both are great contributors to the google group and are much more advanced in CCEdu than myself.

I am really excited to get students into the world and trying to complete challenges, none of which should be above their ability, particularly with the visual programming that CCEdu provides. Shane is going to Skype in and join the world with the students I think to get an idea of what is happening. He has already run the world a couple of times with his students, and is currently making alterations to it before he sends the most recent version to me to use later today.

But I am also really nervous. I probably shouldn't be, but there are a couple of reasons I am nervous, one, as mentioned I normally don't just get other peoples worlds and run them without at least some exploration, that is good practice. But I am deliberately doing it this time, to see if it is actually viable to just run with a map/lesson that someone else has created, with no pre-work. It seems that there are a few teachers beginning to join the community who want to do just that, take maps made by others and just use them, not explore themselves, but just let students in and the lesson should run itself.

So is this viable, will it work? We have been doing some testing of the online templates area of MinecraftEdu, so I want to know what teachers need in our maps to make this happen. What supportive materials do they need to ensure that even if they don't want to explore the world first, they have enough of an understanding to make the lesson a success for both themselves and their students.

The second reason I am nervous is because I am actually not going to be the 'main' teacher in the room, I have 2 staff that I will be assisting with their activities, one being the CCEdu activity, the other being a Lego robot activity where I have programmed the 'bricks' and students are tasked with building the robots around them. Of course they have instructions to help, but I was planning on moving between the 2 rooms to help out where I could and get the students thinking in some different ways.

So realistically both activities could go completely awry, I don't think they will, but there is the possibility. Both teachers supporting me do not have enough of an understanding of the 'systems' we are using to 'fix it' if things do go in the wrong direction. So why do it? Again, more information gathering to see if picking up Minecraft (and Lego), with no experience and trying to use it for a specific purpose/lesson/activity will actually work.

So I will probably have some thoughts to share later, but before I close out this post, I will say, the next update of MinecraftEdu that the guys are working on now, and we are testing as much as possible, is amazing. A few new features that will make things a lot easier for everyone involved (hopefully) and for the first update in a while I might actually get to record a feature video and share. My poor EduElfie youtube channel is feeling a bit neglected but hopefully soon I can get back into sharing some of the features, tutorials and maps with everyone again.

As always thanks for reading, leave a comment below if you feel like it and there should be another post later.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Just Another Tool.


So I have been in a pretty stressful situation these last couple of weeks. I was told the other week that there are some areas of my teaching practice that I am not up to scratch on, little things, but things that are expected of me in my role as a teacher in this school. Now this in itself is great for my own personal development. It is giving feedback on things I can do to improve my own teaching practice.


The stress has been caused by a request to provide “hard data” to prove that Minecraft is assisting my students in their learning. I have anecdotal evidence that supports the value of Minecraft as a teaching tool, but collecting “hard data” has never been a goal as I use Minecraft as a teaching tool. So after gnawing on the meetings and discussions I have had, I requested a follow up meeting to clarify the reason for seeking this data, and why my professional opinion was not enough to allow me to continue using it in my classes.

It seems there is a perception in my school that I use Minecraft in my classes ‘a lot’. Now over the weekend I actually did some calculations to show how much class time over the year I have spent with each of my classes in Minecraft. The results surprised me, the percentage of time spent in my classes using Minecraft is way lower than even I thought it would be. Excepting the Pre-CAL Numeracy Project, which sits around 50% of class time spent in the game, all my classes used less than 10% of available class time in Minecraft.

Now about 4 or 5 months ago I asked my admin at the time whether I could share the work I was doing in Minecraft with the staff at my school. My hope was that of removing some of the misconceptions about using games in classrooms, and also to see if any other staff at my school would be willing to have a go at using this tool in their classes. I was told back then a flat out no, and to work with a small group of interested staff.

Now, given the large misconception about the time I spend using this, my current admin is suggesting that perhaps it is time to share. I will be surveying my year 8 students, as they have used it more than most of the classes. The survey will focus on their thoughts about Minecraft in class, and how they feel this learning tool has assisted them in learning. I feel that the relevance of this data would be enhanced with a greater understanding of what we actually did in those classes.

So to increase understanding I look forward to a sit down with my admin to go through the lesson, “Path to Percentage Perfection.” During this process I hope to talk about the learning goals, the planning involved, the research based foundations, and what the students were required to do within the lesson. Then we will explore and discuss the data I collected from discussion and student surveys after that lesson. My hope is that my admin will see what is happening in my classes, the real learning that is happening, and hopefully provide evidence that this is indeed assisting my students with their understanding.

So back to the ‘hard data’ collection. After these meetings with my admin, I have had quite a few discussions with members of the MinecraftEdu community about how all of us can benefit from this. How can we get some solid, data based, evidence that using Minecraft assists students in their learning? We already have a few ways, the EduCrew MC Answer System, in-game journals, worksheets that fit alongside the learning in Minecraft and pre- and post-testing. I think, however, there is definitely scope to increase our options for data collection that proves to those not using this tool what those of us who are see clearly during our lessons.

I keep emphasising in all these discussions, that Minecraft is only one tool in my repertoire I use to engage and educate the students in my classes. It is no different than any other teaching practice I undertake in my classes except that it has been tagged a game. It has great engagement power, but it also has great teaching potential. Much like the clickers I used intensively last year, and will use again in the same manner next year to improve my students ability to interpret and answer multiple choice exam questions in a timely manner. In the end, Minecraft, like any other tool, is only as good as the teacher using it to teach lessons. So in reflection, if you see someone doing something new in their class, ask them to show you what it is, spend some time trying to understand it... who knows, you just might find a new tool for your teaching toolbox.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Winding Up.

My Pre-CAL Numeracy class is definitely winding up, we have just about a week and a half left of this project, so I have been doing a lot of thinking about how it went, what I would change for next time (if there is a next time) and what I saw during the time undertaking this project with my students.

I have made a post in the past about what I think I would change if I were to run this project, or one similar, again. Just a quick rehash;

  • More structure to the tasks, perhaps project explanation sheets.
  • A more fluid market for the land purchasing.
  • Proformas to fill in for loan applications to fast track the application process.
  • Student 'helpers' that are paid extra for helping me manage some of the land/building permits.
  • Mining permits would be available for a % fee of their findings.
  • A complete rehash of the map layout to remove the lag associated with too many entities in the one location.
Overall I think the project went very well but it was far from perfect, we had server issues for a few weeks that made us lose our momentum early this term. Over the course of the project however I saw glimpses of awesomeness. Glimpses of what this could be with enough time dedicated to adding more structure outside, yet more flexibility in-game.

One 'lesson' will stick with me for a very long time, I think I will be hard pressed to forget a disengaged student doing higher level measurement calculations than I would have ever expected from him given his work ethic and history in Maths. Not only was he doing the calculations on the board in front of me, he was explaining his thinking, with great clarity, each step of the way.

The engagement of the students in the tasks is also something I am very impressed with, that fateful Friday afternoon where students were focussed and working towards a $100 in-game reward for a whole 45 minute period blew my mind. If only I had the time or ability to maintain that level of engagement in every lesson I teach.

The engagement definitely declined as the weeks progressed, compounded by the server issues many have 'given up' on the Minecraft side of things by now. I think this steady decline was because the students could not see 'progress' towards their goals, as they spent so much time building their houses in the creative world, and then would not go through the loan application process to get the money required to get that house put into the Pre-CAL world. To remedy this I would not give them that option again, I would have some houses they could buy/rent if they wanted, but I would also have 'blocks' of land that students could purchase and then build their houses on.

Students did not really keep a good record of their budgets, it took a lot of prodding to get them to do their budgets each week, and that was only transferring the information from their payslip to their budget. Their in-game purchases rarely made it onto their budgets. I am not sure how to remedy this, it was not like the students had to get out of Minecraft to do their budget, they had their laptop beside them. Obviously I need to find the 'carrot' to make the budget a worthwhile activity to maintain. However I have no way to track in-game purchases, the real question I guess is, is the budget a key component of the project? Originally my response would have been yes, now I am not so sure.

Since the project started I have been shown mods and very cool command block systems that can 'lock' students houses to particular students and collect rent without input from me. With enough time to explore and implement one of these options I think it would make the process a bit simpler. That being said I still feel that the ability to be very flexible with the pay system, down to paying individual students different amounts based on their work output is a key component of making students take ownership of their work and their investment into the game.

The targeted lesson/map I called the Path to Percentage Perfection worked for some students, but not all. I believe that if these activities were a bit more regular that the students would 'get used' to doing them and also find more value in them. The first time doing anything is always a bit scary but with repetition, the process becomes more comfortable for students.

Whoa, that turned into a long post, it was supposed to be much shorter than that. If you made it this far, thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below. If you didn't make it this far ....... ;)

Monday, 18 November 2013

Minecraft Algebra Provides a Reference Point.

So the students in my year 8 class continued on their exploration of building and using algebraic equations from the textbook today. The text questions aligned perfectly with the types of questions the students were doing about Minecraft last week when they swapped back to the text book. Given the introduction that students had, explaining how to create equations from worded questions was much easier with Minecraft as a reference point.

For example, the book asked students to write an expression for legs (l) for n grasshoppers. Some students were struggling, but mentioning the logs to planks expression we used last week seemed to help them to see the connection, that l = 6n because for every grasshopper there is 6 legs. I honestly do not know how I would have helped students to see the connection if I could not refer them back to Minecraft the way I did. I am sure, in the past, I would have just taken more time to sit with those students who were struggling and tried to think of as many different ways of explaining it to them as I could until one stuck.

I think that, perhaps, because algebra is such an abstract thing, that the 'real' connection and visual of the Minecraft crafting bench really helps students 'get' the idea, and gives them a base to work from for the more abstract questions.

Now, the comments from students as to their reason for going to the textbook rather than continuing with Minecraft algebra. I ran out of time to post these last week, but the main reasons students provided were: The questions from the text book are clearer. The book has answers in the back that they could refer to to see if they got the question correct. They also felt that the textbook would have easier questions. Finally, a couple wrote that they were more used to working from the text book.

The comment from the one student who persisted with the Minecraft algebra calculations was "it was harder to comprehend and a challenge." What a great reason to persist, wanting a challenge, wanting to extend themselves.

I will leave you on that positive note, and ask how do I get all of my students to want to challenge their learning instead of taking the perceived easier option? Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Did I Make Them Think Too Much?

Yesterdays year 8 Maths class was a continuation of Minecraft algebra, my learning intention was that students would be able to build and interpret algebraic equations. So we started with our basic wood tool set again, and put a cost on purchasing logs. I pulled $5 from thin air and we based our calculations on that. As a class we used that to come up with a cost for the planks and sticks. I then went through a worked example for calculating the cost of purchasing the materials needed for a wooden pickaxe on the board. Students were then given the task of calculating the cost for each of the other tools individually and then also the cost of the complete set, in a specific algebraic way, as per my example.

About 40 minutes later, after students we given the task of calculating the stone set in the same manner, there were students who wanted to do 'book' algebra. Now this is a very interesting comment to make. "Can we do text book algebra please?" This does not concern me in the least, they can still meet my learning intention through using the book. What interests me is, what do they see as the difference between the algebra they were asked to do about Minecraft tools, and the algebra in the textbook?

After thinking about this a bit, and I will ask students today when I see them again to see what they say, I think that maybe they thought that the textbook algebra would be easier, and that the algebra I was getting them to do, made them 'think' too much. There was one student who wanted to continue with the Minecraft calculations, she finished the iron set, asked me to do it too, and we compared answers. Interestingly enough, both of us made some simple errors, but came to agreement in the end as to the costs of each tool and the complete set.

A very quick post today to share my thinking, if the students responses today are interesting I will probably be posting again later. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Minecraft Algebra Follow Up.


Today was the lesson where I tied the learning that happened in the Minecraft Algebra play sessions, and by this I mean using the information that students found, telling them about the skills they were using while in the game to explain what algebra is, and how we use it.

I did not mention the world algebra at all, but once I had put the following on the board, someone gave it away :D

L = Logs
P = Planks
S = Sticks

1L = 4P
2P = 4S
1L = ?S

The comment from the student "Is this algebra?" My response, "No, *sheepish look* don't you think I would tell you if I was teaching you algebra?" Despite my best poker face, I knew the game was up, it was not long before all the students realised we were doing algebra. Now, what I find very interesting is, that normally when you mention the 'unmentionable' word algebra, students switch off. Today, however, the students were quite happily discussing their thoughts as to working out the problems I wanted them to solve.

They were arguing with each other over how to do it, which was the best way and what the correct answer was. So today I managed to talk about algebra in a way that the students were willing to listen, engage and explore. I call that a win.

We covered the fact that letters are just substitutes of numbers, that some letters can be made up of other letters, so we can translate planks into sticks, or logs, but not cobblestone as there is no connecting rule. This also allowed me to introduce the simplification of algebraic equations, I did pull out the old 'apples and oranges' for this as well, but tied it back to the cobblestone and wood from Minecraft.

I gave the students a task for homework, based on their understanding of what we found out in Minecraft, and also what we discussed today. It will be interesting to see how many students take the time to do their homework, when it is not 'in' Minecraft, but is about Minecraft.

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Pocket Frogs and Plague Inc.

I have been spending quite a bit of time in my senior Biology class allowing students to explore these two games. They are now all addicted to Pocket Frogs, and we had a really good discussion about inheritance, heritable characteristics and the 'flaws' in the Pocket Frogs model when compared to some of the human inheritance we know of.

Selective breeding was also a small part of it as students tried to breed particular coloured frogs to meet requests, or just meet their own goals of getting a certain colour combination.

Now the students are exploring Plague Inc, next week we will have the discussion about selective pressures and evolutionary theory. I still think that Plague Inc is a great way to introduce the topic and get students thinking about it. Within a couple of hours of game play (2 lessons or so of my class time) students have a pretty good base to make some inferences about evolution, its effects and what some of the key terms may mean.

Now if I can manage to tie these 2 games together when we talk about selective breeding and its impact on evolution I will be very happy.

The great thing about using these games as a learning tool/introduction is that students will play at home, not only in my class. Then when we get together in class we can discuss their findings as a group and they can share their ideas with others, which of course will impact on the way they play afterwards.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Kerbal Lesson 2&3.

Lesson 2 (last week)

WOW! It is just amazing to watch what students can come up with the more comfortable they get with the mechanics of the game. I started todays lesson by telling students to load a pre-made craft and have a fly. Many students picked a craft, had a fly, looked at the parts and went back to try to create their own. Today we had some successful flights, and many unsuccessful ones too.

Many students are putting wings on their craft, but no control surfaces, so they have no way to get lift and the ability to move. This is going to make a very good discussion when we start our debrief and talk about forces, their effect and how we can manipulate them.

I also learnt that many of the jet engines, after reading through and talking to some of the students, require one or more air intake parts. So now I could, in theory, create a space plane of my own. I am really enjoying learning alongside the students, not being an expert, but exploring and sometimes advising them with a bit of knowledge.

Lesson 3 (today)

A week later we got to have our third lesson in Kerbal. I started by readjusting the goals I had set for students, and also gave them a bit of an introduction to the control surfaces available to them. I am impressed, more and more students are managing to get airborne. They still struggle to land properly, but they are getting off the ground at least. Soon the time in Kerbal itself will end and we will have to pull it all together. I am interested to see what the students reflections are in terms of forces, and what learning outcomes they believe they achieved while playing the game.

I am thinking one, maybe 2 more lessons in Kerbal is all I have time for. I still have another topic I need to cover this year and the time is slowly slipping away from me. Putting what we did in Kerbal alongside the bottle rockets students created and let fly I am hoping for a pretty solid understanding of forces in the 'real' world and how we can manipulate these forces. I know one student today learnt how to make things spin as they fly, completely by accident, and an unwanted side effect of the control surface placement, but what an 'aha' moment for that student.

Introduction to Algebra.

Today I threw caution to the wind and let my students play Minecraft in class..... sort of.......

Students were allowed into a fresh world and given the task of working out how many logs are required to make a full set of wood tools. This included a workbench, pick, axe, shovel, hoe and sword. Once they had completed that I asked them to list the ingredients for each item in terms of P for planks and S for sticks. The third part of the task was to put each item back into how many logs are required for each of them. They wrote their answers/calculations in a book in game.

Some students finished this quite early, so for those who were ready to move on I gave them the task of working out the above 3 for a full set of stone tools. Now they thought this would be super easy, but they needed to make sure that they included the workbench and also the wooden pick which makes it a little trickier.

After that they were tasked with the iron set, which meant they needed to include the workbench, wood pick, stone pick, furnace and wood for smelting the iron on top of all the raw materials for the tools themselves.

It was really interesting to listen to the 'out loud' thinking that was going on as students were trying to work all of this out in terms of L, P, S, C and I. What a way to introduce algebra.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Kerbal Space Program.

KerbalEdu is currently still only the mainstream Kerbal game, the Edu mod for this game is not available yet. However, I got a chance to explore the game with students today, and I have some pretty good ideas of what I personally would like to see the mod add to the game for schools, students and teachers.

I am using it to explore forces with students, from gravity to air resistance and friction to the lack of, this game has some pretty neat physics we can use to talk about these forces. I gave the students a very brief introduction to the controls on Tuesday, gave my tech the installer to deploy to the school computers, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best this morning when I walked into my classroom.

There are some local issues that need to be addressed prior to future lessons, but that can only be found by testing things out. KSP itself actually runs quite smoothly, I did have to cut down the graphics a little bit just to get it running smoothly. For a game, in a classroom setting, this is really the first one I have used in which the students are 'on their own', that is they are not playing together, but each student has complete control over their own experience.

I gave them a choice between 2 goals, in sandbox mode, no restrictions. They had the option to build a space plane, or a rocket. If they chose the plane, their goal was to get it out of the atmosphere and then land it on the planet again. For those that chose the rocket, they needed to get to the moon and back safely. In a 45 minute lesson, after explaining how to launch the game and that they were pioneers at using this game in a school we had about 30 minutes left.

Some students claimed to have played the game before, however I did not really see what I expected from those who had, they were not streaks ahead of the first timers. There was a lot of 'not reading' going on, much like what I see in Minecraft, which had a pretty serious impact on the students ability to get their creation airborne.

So some students did get airborne, many students unfortunately exploded many rockets and planes, and the population of the Kerbal Astronaut Complex was severely impacted. I think the students took a little bit too much pleasure in watching the poor Kerbals explode.

So what will I do from here? I think before I go into class next time I will create a base for both the rocket and the plane to give to students to tweak, adjust and try to make it fly. The biggest issue today was in getting compatible parts, and since I am nowhere near an expert at building planes or rockets myself, having only put in a few hours of gameplay, I really struggled to help them find the correct parts.

I need to work out which fuel tanks and engines are compatible for the planes, or at the very least explore some of the included creations and suggest that students base their spacecraft on that. I am really looking forward to seeing where KerbalEdu can take my teaching. I think that not only will it be great for teaching forces as I am using it now, but also for costings, higher end physics than I fully understand as well as some scientific principles if I explore career mode.

That is it for now, feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Graphing & Proxy Tests.

So my year 8 graphing lesson in Minecraft was an eye opening experience. One thing jumped out at me massively. My students had data, but could not work out how to represent that data visually, many of them struggled to see that they needed to group the data, or perform some other type of manipulation before they could make a graph of it.

To fix this issue I did a demonstration on the board of 2 different types of graphs, a pie graph and a cumulative frequency bar graph. Once students saw how I built these, and manipulated the data to do so they got up and running. Some students continued with the graphs they had begun before my demonstration, others branched out and tried to recreate a graph similar to mine.

Here are some screenshots of the graphs that we created.












I have also been madly testing the new version(s) of MinecraftEdu for proxy support, we are so close but still have a few issues that need to be addressed. The proxy support now works for updating MinecraftEdu, downloading worlds from the online template area and also for authentication to Minecraft.net. The issues are now that I cannot join an online server from behind a proxy, and nor can my internal server be an online server through a proxy (I think it cannot check with mc.net).

So hopefully we can get there and then I can begin running 24/7 projects and allowing students to access these learning world from home and school.

That is it for now, thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

More Data, Graphing and 3D Models.

After running the data collection with my Year 8s last week, I sent the map to Shane so he could check it out. Of course he doesn't like my 'functionally ugly' style so he adjusted it and sent it back to me. So I used it with my Year 10s on Monday to collect another sample of data. The year 10s collected more data, and I trialled using Google Docs with them to collate the data. Shane was online and listening in on the audio of the class, and let me tell you that is an amazing experience and help. While I wandered the room checking what students were collecting, he was listening and adding those items to our list in the Google Spreadsheet.

So at the end of the 20 minute collection period the students put all their data into the spreadsheet very easily and the data was in a very useful format. While the students we adding their data Shane was sitting in the doc watching and giving advice and encouragement, which was pretty amazing for the students also. Once we had collated out data we began the next 20 minute collection and again put all that data onto the spreadsheet. So now I have a great amount of data to use with both my year 8s and year 10s.

Since after thinking about it most of the weekend I had figured out the way to set out the data we collected, and I had trialled it with my year 10s, I gave my year 8s the opportunity to transfer their data from one form to another, it went supremely smoothly. I am impressed with how Google Docs allows so many students to collaborate on the one document, and also how well my students manage themselves in there. There were only minimal issues and for the most part they sorted themselves out without a great deal of input from me.

So today we will begin looking at graphing in Minecraft. I am hoping to get some of the students that like pie charts to try to create them in Minecraft, and I am really looking forward to seeing how they go with it. The year 8 graphing class happens in a few hours, so I might take some screenshots and write a reflection afterwards if time permits.

Now as to the 3D models, I have been designing a new model in Braille, while not as 'cool' as the Periodic Table, and it is not designed in MinecraftEdu, it is still a model I am proud of and also think it is useful. It is a non-standard die, you can get 6 sided dice, not in Braille, but with the raised dots that the vision impaired can count, but you cannot get any non-standard ones. So I have designed and prototyped an 8 sided dice in Braille. It is designed and printed in such a way that it is non-biased. Unfortunately this means it needs to be printed in 8 parts and glued together, but after 1000 rolls it is looking pretty good for both fairness and overall wear and tear.

So now that I have that base model, I am now adding inset numbers on them so that sighted people can work out what number has been rolled. I also have a prototype design that I need to print for a 12 sided dice and am in the process of working out exactly how to design the 4 and 10 sided varieties also. The 4 sided one is causing me some issues because with a regular 4 sided dice it is the number that is face down that you have rolled, I want to re-design it so that it is the number that is up that you have rolled. I have ideas on how to do this, I just need to get my head around the design process to get these ideas into the 3D model. And seriously just now as I was writing this post I think I have a great idea on how to do it so that it rolls nicely and is not too large or awkward.

On that note I am done writing for now, I need to go get this idea down and sorted in my head. Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below if you like.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Collecting Data and AWESOME Feedback.

My year 8s have just begun studying data. These are some of my learning intentions:


Demonstrate the ability to organise data appropriately, Grouped data, class intervals, Frequency tables
Column Graphs
Calculate the Mean, Median, Mode, Range
Investigate the effects outliers have on these Averages
Measure of Spread (Range)

So I decided to use Minecraft to collect data, I was going to use a map created by Shane where students collect wood with different levels of tool, ie wood, stone, iron..... but I felt that this was not going to provide me with enough data to play with. So I got to thinking..... and thinking...... and thinking...... but I could not think of an 'awesome' yet easy way to get some data out of Minecraft.

So I did what all good teachers do, I collaborated, I asked for another teacher opinion (it happened to be Shane was online and we were discussing whether or not to use his map) and he came up with the brilliant idea to just let the kids free, let them go collect whatever they want, in whatever numbers and at the end of a set time, either a Minecraft day, or some other time they need to collate all of their items into a table.

Then we will head to a second location, and off they will go again collecting more data. I am really looking forward to seeing the amount of data we can pull out of this activity, and really going into depth with how we can use that data to meet all of those learning intentions.

I have decided to keep this separate to Mathlandia for now, for a couple of reasons, if students get lost while caving hunting for those precious gems, or if their pick breaks, or if they run out of torches they can just hit back to spawn and fix those issues, with no input from me. If it was a MystCraft dimension in Mathlandia this would not be the case.

On the feedback side of things I requested that those students who completed the Path to Percentage Perfection to fill in a feedback survey, and what they are saying is astonishing. 5/6 have given it a rating of 8/10 or above for enjoyment. For the question what did you like the most I got the following responses.

  • The chests and how you had to actually think, really take the time to look around. 
  • the exploration of the many trials and skills it needed 
  • I like how i can explore the world and answer questions at the same time 
  • getting rewards and looking for rewards on minecraft. i think we should do more!!!!!!!!! 
  • It was like a treasure hunt and you actually had to concerntrate to find treasure and get through the right paths and finish the game. I also liked how if you got a question wrong it showed you how to work it out and gave you a similar problem. 
  • finding cool stuff doing maths
For what they disliked the most:

  • getting lost and confused 
  • not being able to do it again. to find more stuff 
  • i didn't dislike because i enjoyed doing the task
  •  SPIDERS, the SPIDERS man scared the @*$# out of me. some of the things were a bit confusing like when you got back up the Well you had to really look around for ages to find those Tower note things. 
  • I didn't like the holes in the ground that you couldn't get out of. 
  • when some doors didnt open
All of the students said that they wanted to do an activity like this again in the future. There was an extra comments section, surprisingly, even though it was not a compulsory question, the students answered it. Here is my favourite response: I really enjoyed this event, it was mind blowing at every part. :D

On that note, thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.



Monday, 14 October 2013

The Path to Percentage Perfection.

Today I had the pleasure of seeing students go through a map that took over 20 hours to create, 15 or so of those hours were just yesterday. This was my second attempt at a treasure hunt map with inbuilt questions. If you cannot guess from the title the topic for exploration today was percentages.

So this map has been designed with the feedback I received from my year 8 students that did the integers treasure hunt at the end of last term that continued into this term incorporated. The feedback I received was fantastic, what they liked was most was that it was in Minecraft, that it required them to solve problems to advance in the map and that they received rewards for getting the correct answers.

Their main dislikes were the poor wording of some of the questions, the lack of a story line (why are we here answering these questions?) and that the travel time between points of interest was too long and made it far too easy to get lost.

So todays map had a storyline, that I don't think the year 10s actually got into at all, which is interesting, they seemed more interested in just getting the loot and rewards on offer. The travel between points of interest was drastically reduced through the use of teleport blocks and the wording of questions was carefully checked for clarity.

So how did it go? Fantastic, after the initial confusion that always arises when a new type of task is begun and students still refusing to read any instructions they are given. The main issue arose from students travelling in pairs and causing issues with the scoreboard system. For which there is a fairly simple fix, just tell students to wait for their friends away from the exit door, most will comply because it means they do not need to wait for me to check their score, find out what it needs to be and then change it. Today I just fixed it on the fly and it really was not that much of an issue.

So compared to the integers map, which had 6 (I think) single chance EduCrew answer systems in place and took the fastest students over 2 hours to complete, this percentage map had 8 two chance EduCrew answer systems in it, and the fast students took only about an hour to complete it. So it is much more streamlined. There could be other reasons why things happened quicker today, these students probably did not use their in-game journal as they should have, whereas most of the year 8s did, but I think the reduced travel time, and less chance to get lost made a massive difference to the time taken.

So what would I change for the next one? I would go back to putting the 4 possible answers into the info block so that students could choose which answer they want before going in, instead of getting into the answer room, realising their calculated answer is not an option and having to try to re-calculate, meanwhile blocking anyone else from answering. I would also add in a 'help' wall at the first question that provides students with some support in answering the question, scaffolding of some description to prevent students 'giving up' through frustration and randomly guessing.

I am going to pay students for their in-game journal too, so how well they documented their calculations will determine the added bonus pay they will receive. They will also receive a payment proportional to the number of questions they got correct. This is over and above the rewards for getting questions correct while progressing through the map, and also the treasures that were found along the way in hidden chests. This should improve the use of the in-game journal for next time as students will understand that it is the main article they they receive payment for, so should take more care to use it correctly.

I did not record any video footage today, I did however record the audio for me to listen to. I may publish parts of the audio overlayed on a flythrough of the map to my youtube channel in the future as well as tweaking some of the exploits students found today and then I will put this map up for download on the google group. Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 7 October 2013

We're Back and Running.

Here is another blog post that I am going to start by apologising for my absence, so much has been happening but not much has been shared. So I am back at school, first day back for the last term today in fact. Which means I have about 6 or 7 weeks with my Pre-CAL Numeracy class and about 8 or so with the year 8s.

I actually had both classes in MinecraftEdu today, the Pre-CAL class, unfortunately, were unable to collect their pay today and I think that made them a bit lethargic, some did worksheets instead of getting into the world. I am worried that I have gone the wrong way at some point and taken away the fun. So here are the beginnings of a reflection on the project at this stage, what I would change, what I think worked very well and what I am planning for the remainder of the year.

To give you some idea about what I would change, the main thing is the creative world for building and costing their houses, I would definitely not do that again. I would have houses in the world for them to purchase or rent depending on their financial status. The tower would be redesigned to not be a tower at all, but spread out a bit more, I think having that many item frames and villagers in the one location is causing significant lag on the school computers, unnoticeable on mine, but causing issues for the students.

I would be making sure that the main world actually is the main world, I would have vacant lots of land for sale so that students could purchase the land and then purchase the items they need to build their house and slowly build it over time, this would mean that the costing would more intuitively happen as they purchased items from the vendors and put these purchases in their budgets, rather than what the students did this time, which was build a house and then try to calculate the number of blocks in it.

I would also have suggested business ideas for students, or businesses for students to purchase and run on the server, because some these students are not avid Minecrafters outside of class they don't know what sorts of businesses they can run, and what would be good for turning a profit. I would love to be able to give students access to the server 24/7, I think that would make the project 100 times better, more real and definitely more engaging.

So there are a few changes I would make, what would I keep? The payslip and payment system I have running is pretty simple and smooth, it did take an awful lot of time to set up, but over the project it has saved me hours of time. I think the amount of cash I am giving students is about right too. The base ideas for tasks are great, but I think they need a bit more prescription or perhaps more solid instructions/proformas for students to use. I would hope that this would speed up some of the projects, I know I have complained in the past about consistency of attendance and that being a major obstacle, but I also think that clearer support may help alleviate some of that.

So there are a lot more changes than what I would keep, but realistically I am still amazed at how the overall project has gone. So what are my plans? Well the next step is to use the multiple choice answer system from the year 8 maths group to give these guys an assessment on what we have learnt so far, in the form of a treasure hunt, similar to the year 8s. I am also feel like trying to 'break' the economy, just to see what ensues when the students seem to have a lot of money, to see whether the system will rebalance itself or whether it does indeed ruin the learning experience, of course that is a problematic thing to be doing and may ruin the end of this project so I am really not sure whether I will actually do that or not.

Now, onto the year 8s. We spent another 40 minutes or so in the integers review treasure hunt. I have reflected quite a bit on what issues we have been encountering and how the design of the answer system, or the wording of my questions need to be tweaked to prevent these issues from reoccurring in future implementations (like the Pre-CAL assessment).

I think most of the technical issues are direction based and caused by redstone behaving different when it is facing different directions. Shane and I spent a couple of hours messing around last night tweaking the design and getting to a point where it is easy to implement, and also will not be affected by the direction you paste it in. We are also going to design a 'second chance' room, where if you get the question wrong, you get put in the second chance room, given some specific instruction or tips as to the mistake you made, or how to get the question correct and you get an opportunity to show your learning and answer a similar question for half the reward. This is going to be implemented in my Pre-CAL assessment so I am really looking forward to seeing how that goes.

As to the wording issues, it is definitely interesting to see how things are interpreted by students, with written tests I am not sure I get to see so clearly the misinterpretations of the questions. I will be thinking much more critically about the wording I use as I write the Pre-CAL questions and will be trying to make them as clear as possible to see if one of the issues is the game itself being a distraction or whether it is just the poor way I worded some of the questions. (Many were written very late at night after a full day at work, simply because I was in a rush to get the map ready).

Well, that was a long post. If you made it this far, thanks so much for taking the time, and I hope my reflections and plans were interesting. Of course more will be coming in the future as I finish up this Pre-CAL project as well as Mathlandia for the year. Sometimes I regret that Mathlandia did not get used as much as I hoped, my plans for opening up the world for students to play at lunch times never actually came to fruition. Again, thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Collaboration, Questions, Maths and Cells.

As you can probably tell by the post title, this is going to be about a lot of things. I have been needing to write a blog post on what I have been up to, but unfortunately I have not had the time before now.

Collaboration.

I have a couple of things to talk about here, first is the first 'open' time on the MCEdu server where we had people coming in, either to tour, explore, learn or build. It was amazing, and a big thanks to everyone who took the time to drop by. We had abilities ranging from first timers to seasoned veterans and the sharing of ideas was great to hear. There will be more of these so if you are interested head over to the google group for the details on how to get online. Unfortunately you must have MinecraftEdu to be a part of it, as it is a collaborative/training server for teachers.

Questions.

The second thing to discuss to do with collaboration also ties into the questions and maths parts as well. I have been working closely with another teacher on a setup that allows students to answer multiple choice questions in MinecraftEdu, in a much simpler way than my 21 questions map. It uses the command blocks and the scoreboard system in ways I had not even dreamt of. Working with Shane on the implementation of a question/answer system has opened up a massive amount of possibilities for gathering information from students, getting students to collaborate, making testing a bit more enjoyable and even being able to immediately give feedback to students as to whether they got the answer correct or incorrect.

With a bit more time spent it would also allow teachers to give immediate formative feedback that ties directly to the answer the students gave, if incorrect, it could quite easily provide corrective suggestions to the students and allow them to then do similar questions to prove they have fixed the issue or their misconception. I am amazed at the power we have unlocked by learning about the command blocks to implement this, ranging from doors that will not open unless you meet certain criteria to tagging students for teleportation.

Maths.

Now the reason Shane and I have been designing this is because I wanted to be able to give the students some form of 'test' in-game on their integer knowledge, but to make it much more fun. So while getting students to use integers to work out coordinates for a treasure hunt, there were also question stations where students commit to an answer for an integer based question and immediately get told whether they were correct or incorrect. If they get the answer correct they receive a diamond reward and then go to a new question to answer, if they get it incorrect they miss the diamond reward and go to the next question. This is where all of my time has been spent over the last week or so, designing, tweaking and implementing the question system into a treasure hunt map.

What is really interesting is that students did not really understand the questions, and this is something I will work on for future maps. I am not sure whether students didn't understand the question or whether they did not understand the form of the questions. Being the first really 'new' thing I have done for a while I clearly have a fair few things to work on before I do this again. Or before we continue with the treasure hunt after a 2 week holiday break.

Cells.

The animal cell map was also run again today, and I am still really impressed with how it turned out. For the hour or so the students were working through it, my room was pretty much absolutely silent, and while it is a small group of students it is still a pretty sure sign of engagement and just adds another point of access for information for my students in a different way.

I think that is enough of a post for now, thanks for reading, I will be putting my integer treasure hunt map up for download once I have tweaked it after the feedback from students today, and the 'guts' of it is on the MCEdu server to explore if you want to. Once I have stabilised the answer system and am sure it is 'bullet proof' I will also be putting that schematic up for download on the google group also.

Friday, 13 September 2013

First Thing I Was Asked Today.

Are we going to do more Angry Birds forces today??

:D

The answer was unfortunately a no, as we had the opportunity to have access to MinecraftEdu for another project the students are working on, but the fact they asked means I at least made an impression. I now need to decide whether to continue with the plan to fire off bottle rockets next week, or whether to start the game forces assignment earlier. I think if we started it early the students would probably do quite a bit of it over the holidays that begin at the end of next week (which would be a massive win). However, I only have 2 periods of science next week and I have been promising them we would fire off the bottle rockets in the last week of term. I know some students have created their rockets and are really excited to see them fly, I have designed a bottle rocket (actually 2 different designs) on the computer and need to print them off to see how they perform, so I too am kinda excited to fire off some bottle rockets.

This weekend will see the first 'open' MCEdu server build session, where we will have some experts online working on a collaborative build and discussing the design of it as we go. This works very well in small groups, so it will be interesting to see how many people turn up, and also if it is a bit of a larger group how it goes, whether we need to split off into a couple of groups working on different builds or whether the large group will work.

We are not just building houses or something like that, I would like the focus to be on lesson design, but I know there are some things that would be good to discuss while building with everyone, that on their own would not be a lesson, but may tie quite well into some. So that is another thing I am really excited about, it is happening on Sunday morning my time so expect a post either Sunday evening or Monday at some stage trying to share what happened and clarify it all in my own head.

OH! Another super exciting development with the Braille Periodic Table, I shipped the first one the other day (it was even international) and am eagerly awaiting its arrival so I can get some feedback, but I also got an order for 4 today :D so I will be printing these off and sending them off soon, again I cannot wait to get some feedback from students on either possible improvements, or how it helped them out.

Quick post today, just thought I should share the comments from students today and some of the happenings of MinecraftEdu. Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Angry Birds Space & Forces.

I have just walked out of a 48 minute lesson with my year 7 class, where we began looking at how forces work by playing Angry Birds Space. I have got to say that it was interesting to run a lesson like this (I have had/seen the idea to model parabolas in Angry Birds before, but never had the opportunity to implement it in a classroom setting). To get students predicting as to where a bird was going to land when we let it go was great, then to discuss the forces at play and how some forces are stronger than others was also pretty amazing.

I own Angry Birds Space on my iDevice, but played it for free online so we could put it on the data projector for all to see. I have never actually played Angry Birds Space before, but have played plenty of Angry Birds in my time, many of the students were the same, however we did have a couple of experts who had played quite a bit of Space. So for students who hadn't played the first thing we did was compare what happens when you fire a bird straight off into the distance (or straight up in the air). "It doesn't come back, normally they do" was one comment, and captured what was happening perfectly. So from there we got to talk about forces being a push or a pull. We also got to discuss that objects that are stationary have forces that are in balance and will stay that way until the forces get out of balance (by a rogue flying bird).

At one stage one poor little piggy was in a bubble in space, so we got to pop his bubble and he froze!!! So I asked why did that happen? Their response was "there is no air in space" which, while true does not fully explain why the pig froze, but it is a good starting point for future discussion about gravity impacting on air and keeping it closer to the planet and that is how atmosphere 'forms'.

All in all I feel that it was a very successful beginning, how we move on from here though I am not entirely sure. I have an idea that may, or may not work very well. I will get the students to propose a game they would like to explore the forces in, be it on their mobile device or the web. I will then check each of them out to make sure they are suitable and it will be the students responsibility, either individually or as a group, to share their findings about forces in that game with the rest of the class. I will also put together a short sample list of games that are free and have a decent physics engine for those who don't know where to start. I think their final task will be something along the lines of explaining how the physical forces in the game make the game playable, how they can be used to 'win' the game and what would happen if some of those forces were removed or altered.

List of possible games (not accurate or complete but just ideas of where they are so I can refer back later)

Angry Birds (pretty much any of them)
http://www.coolmath-games.com (many games on there would work)
Plenty of iOS games I have played and cannot remember the names eg World of Goo
Westpoint Bridge Builder
MinecraftEdu (of course :D)

Just throwing ideas down as they come, sorry about the garbled mess of thoughts, I am sure there will be more updates coming on this project in the future. Thanks for reading, if you have any suggestions (including suggested games) please drop them in the comments section below.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Why the Students Like Maths.


I forgot to mention in my last post that I had students begin their learning journal a couple of weeks ago. Last week was pretty much a non-existent week in terms of class, but I would like to share some of the quotes from students about why they like this project we are working on at the moment.

"I like this math class because…
  • It teaches us real life skills
  • It’s not just questions out of a textbook
  • Everything is explained in more detail than normal math classes
  • I remember more from doing this class than doing things out of a textbook
  • It is actually enjoyable"
"I like this math class because its different from other math classes and we learn all the same stuff but through a computer game. We do not have to sit and get questions out of a textbook, we learn from sheets about what we are doing like percentages and area. The fine thing that the teacher decided to do is a pretty smart idea because it keeps us organised, not using bad language and behaving better.


"I have learned that to be to be rewarded you have to earn it. I have learned that you actually have to use your money for something that is useful and not just pointless crap."

"The thing that i really like in this class is we were learning and having fun at the same time were not just playing were actually learning how to calculate money and earning money and how do we do the percentage and do our own budget."

"The reason I enjoy the way we do maths in our precal is because its not just going heres whole lot of work learn it and theres a test, in our class its more involving and it keeps everyone motivated to keep working at maths but at the same time keep everyone enjoying maths and wanting maths to come more often, to summarise it makes us want to do maths instead of us having a “no way, I hate maths attitude”, we have a “ooh yes, I love maths I enjoy it so much, i cant wait till we have it next” attitude. So in short terms, our maths makes everything we do more alive and and keeps our mind thinking in every possible direction."

"I really like the way that math is going and i am enjoying and liking that my teacher has not made me use minecraft and has found a different way for me to do it."

"I didn't used to like Minecraft cos I thought it was really nerdy, but during the experience I have learnt to love it and making stuff so I really like the whole Minecraft thing."

Another quote I would like to share is from class on Friday. I was chatting to students about how they need to work out their house cost, and one student that has already done hers and is about to give me her application said,

"Oh, I just realised that is where the maths comes in, I just did it because that is what I had to do, but that is pretty cool."

So today I had another 90 minutes with the students, I am really pushing them to get their house costings done by the end of this week and many are getting closer. I also built a couple of shops near the main tower for students to rent off me for their business, but it appears that some students are incorporating their business area into their houses, which just means that they will need to do both a business and loan application at the same time.

On another topic, I have posted in the past about the power of collaboration and how cool I find it. I had another go on the weekend with 4 of us on the one server talking and building a tutorial section on the new server I am starting for teachers to learn how to use MinecraftEdu and then begin sharing ideas and collaboratively building. Each time I work with others on a build I am impressed with the different ideas they share, and the support given to everyone while working. I cannot wait to open this server to the MinecraftEdu teachers and get more people building together and sharing ideas. I still strongly believe that working collaboratively on lesson design is the easiest way to get the best lessons for our students.

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Long Time Coming.

This is another one of those posts where I am going to begin by apologising for being a bit lax in my posting of late. Life just seems to get really busy sometimes and the first thing to go, it seems, is my written reflections here. A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks so this is probably going to be a bit of everything kind of post and probably reasonably long.

I will start with the freshest in my mind, relational thinking with my year 8s. I just finished another 90 minutes with the students in Minecraft trying to visualise a thinking process to solve a problem, despite my concerns that other week regarding their inability on a Friday afternoon. Upon reflection on that lesson and those that have occurred since, and also after talking to students about it and getting their feedback as to why they thought it did not go well, I have concluded that perhaps I left the exploration phase too long for those who couldn't do it so they disengaged.

So what have I done since then to improve the situation? Well I have had both paper/pen classes and Minecraft classes. In both we discuss possible strategies for solving problems, try to visualise them and share our ideas. Also I think that perhaps the multiplication relational thinking is a bit harder to visualise in Minecraft than the other operations, I am not sure why I feel this way yet, I just do. More reflection required.

Also I moved away from the restrictive format I had the students in, where they were working in a group, in a closed space and then had to share. I ran a open world where students could put their own 'decorations' around their calculation, so if the problem and thinking got too much, they could distract themselves by building rather than turning off completely. I also gave students a range of problems to choose from, rather than forcing them to do a particular one.

On top of those alterations I also kept a closer eye on how students were progressing, to the point today where I had 5 or 6 'experts' roving around the room helping students who were stuck. I think giving those students the responsibility of teaching others not only reinforces their own knowledge, but also gives them a sense of pride. Even better, the students who didn't get it were not upset to be taught by other students, in fact many students were extremely happy to see how simple it could be to solve the problem.

Now onto the Pre-CAL Numeracy world. Things are progressing nicely, more students are doing more homework and worksheets than I initially envisioned, which is awesome. It also means that a lot of the students are 'cashed up' with thousands of dollars to spend. So we are really starting to focus on getting loan applications and business proposals in. Students seem to have the percentage work well under control, so it is time to move onto the next topic, which I think will be costing things, be it their house, business or whatever, but also doing it effectively in a spreadsheet. I wanted to be so much farther along with this project than we are, however I think that the inconsistency of many students attendance is what is slowing us down and unfortunately there is not a lot I can do about that.

The last topic to cover today, and thanks if you have gotten this far, is the Braille Periodic Table. It has been a great success in helping the student see it the Periodic Table the way it is designed to be seen. We sent off an explanation and pictures to our local supplier of vision impaired materials and they sent the info out to the south Pacific region. I am offering these for sale, so if you happen to know someone or a school/library/provider/foundation that would benefit from this please get them to email me at eduelfie @ gmail . com (without the spaces) and we will sort something out. I can ship worldwide, so as long as they use Unified English Braille this will be suitable.

As always thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below and please if you know anyone who is vision impaired and would like to see the Periodic Table as it is designed to be seen let me know.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Grinning From Ear to Ear.

I could not get the grin off my face during class today. I got a homework sheet completed and it had a letter to me on the back.


I absolutely love the way he signed this letter, "one proud student." What more could I ask for? He even took more sheets home today to do over the weekend. I really feel like I am getting somewhere with these students. They really value this project, having asked them why I get responses like "it makes maths more fun" or "we get paid for doing work, but we actually have to work, it is not just given to us."

It might sound silly but it is letters like this, and comments like those that make all the hours I put into creating and maintaining this project well and truly worthwhile. To be able to get 16 year olds who dislike Maths engaged and active not only in class but also out of it is a great feeling.

Another student was building and costing his house in the creative world during class, and he came to me (or shouted across the room :D) with a blow by blow on how he was working out how much veranda he had just laid and how many blocks were in it. He knew his house was 17X19 squares and he added a 4 wide veranda all the way around. After he started explaining what he needed to do I gave him my whiteboard marker and asked him to draw it on the board and explain it step by step to me.

Another massive grin moment occurred as he did this. He went through processes that I would not have expected and he was way too focussed to even give me a high five as he finished one part of his calculation, he was too busy trying to figure out the next one.

Well that is the good, now onto the not so good, the subtraction relational thinking lesson did not go anywhere near as well as the addition one yesterday. I am not entirely sure why, but I think it may have been to do with the time of the day, or perhaps it was that the students could not see a relationship. So after a bit of time I went through the idea that students could trade one diamond block for 10 gold and then let them at the task again. Some groups got there in the end I think, but we will share our thoughts next week and I will be asking for a bit more feedback from the students as to their thoughts about the lesson. Perhaps one solution would be to ask any student who had a solution to come up and share with the class next week and discuss those strategies with the class.

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

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Relational Thinking WIN!!

Today was the first attempt at getting students to visualise their thinking in Minecraft. Some students had a bit of trouble finding the link, they relied on calculating the answer, which is not an incorrect way of doing it, I just had to push them a bit more to try to find the link or relationship. What really blew my mind was the student that came up to me at the end of the lesson and said "I wrote my way of working it out in a book, would you like to read it?" So I headed over to her in-game, she handed me her book and I asked her to come sit beside me in the room and talk me through her thinking.

The discussion and her explanation were so outstanding I had to tell the rest of the class, and even though they had a few minutes of free time they all listened (mostly attentively) to the explanation and could see how that relationship tied the numbers together. The great thing about this students explanation was that it ties in perfectly with the next lesson, at least as a way of getting the students thinking about the links between the numbers and how they can be used to make solving questions easier.

I had to publish that small section of the footage from today straight away, I couldn't wait until I found the time to filter through all the footage that I recorded today.

Here is the video


So tomorrow we explore the relational thinking of subtraction and next week we look into multiplication and division. I was not entirely sure how long it would take the students to complete the tasks I set but it seems that about 45 minutes is right. In the end I decided that I would group the students into groups of no more than 4 and each member of the group would have the same problem to work on for 10-15 minutes and then they would discuss their thought process with the other members of their group. The group then needs to come to an agreement as to the process they would share with the class and build what they need on the centre platform.

After this, each group had to come up the front of the room and explain their process to the rest of the class. After each group we had a discussion about their way of solving it and went over the visual on the board together. One group could not come up with a way to solve the problem except for calculating, so as a class we helped them use some of the other methods that had already been shared.

I am looking forward to seeing how they go tomorrow with subtraction so expect another blog post after that class is finished. Today I also got to run the Neurotransmitter 2.0 map (from a good 12 months ago if you have not read that far back in my blog) and it worked very well, there were some good discussions about the limitations of my models, the students were engaged and having fun while learning.

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Braille Periodic Table Complete.

Over the weekend I finally managed to finish printing the Braille Periodic Table. It is more awesome than I ever imagined when it is together. I had only printed trial parts and had not even come close to seeing the whole thing, or even imagining what it would look like when it was put together. The 7 parts all fit together perfectly and I glued the pieces together into the 2 halves to make for easier transport. It is around 45cm long, 15cm wide and 2cm high.

There are some changes I would make if I were to print it again, one, that I would run past the student before hand would be to decrease the height of the Braille to 0.5mm instead of 1mm, as that should still be easily readable, but also less likely to break. The second was suggested by the integration aide, at the moment the 2 halves slot together, but do not clip, she suggested a clipping mechanism (which I could quite easily add) to help hold the table together when in use.

Here are some pictures of the completed print.

 The whole table together.
 It splits into 2 halves for a more friendly transport shape.
 The height mapping of the different groups of the periodic table, to help the teacher teach the Chemistry behind the groups.
A close up of the Braille.

On the MinecraftEdu front, tonight I am hoping to design the relational thinking activity for my year 8s ready to implement and trial in my class tomorrow. The year 10 Pre-CAL Numeracy project is steaming along, I have some ideas on redesigning the 3 market floors to make it a better visual. I am waiting until the students have done the calculations for the sales floor before I implement that. As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Friday, 9 August 2013

What Just Happened????

I am not entirely sure what happened this afternoon in the Pre-CAL Numeracy class. Last class on a Friday, I made a couple of worksheets that students were to complete using information in the Numeracy world. I made it a competition, and maybe I talked it up a bit too much. The activity, a 5 minute challenge, worth a $100 bonus in game. I waited until they were all on Edmodo on their laptops, so they could easily find link to submit their answer. I made them all wait on the desktop and not get into MinecraftEdu on the school computers.

Some students were having computer troubles so I explained the task verbally, gave the students the sheets upside down and stressed that they were not to turn them over until I said so. I thought the sheet was pretty easy to follow, I had planned it out, set it out exactly the way I wanted them to 'think' about the problem and thought it was an easy task and sheet to complete, hence the 5 minute time limit on the challenge.

So I hit the post button on Edmodo, shouted "go" to the students and insanity ensued. But it was not a normal Friday afternoon, students unfocussed, off task and bored insanity. It was a learning insanity, completely unexpected animation and engagement on a Friday afternoon. Students were running around the room, yelling for help, trying to find out the answer, all to get the bonus for being the first to submit the correct response. The 5 minute challenge was not as 'easy' as I hoped for the students. I had another maths teacher in the room, so after a while I asked her what the issue with my instructions and worksheet was. Her response, "They are just too excited to actually read it."

Now that was unexpected, as was the level of excitement over what I thought was a measly $100 in-game cash. I had no idea of the 'power' (I cannot think of a better word to describe it right now) that the in-game currency would have. It has changed poor behaviour, encouraged students to become better organised and even prompted students that have never considered doing school work at home to do some.

I had two activities organised for the lesson, but the 5 minute challenge took up pretty much the entire 45 minute lesson. So now I have a new plan, consolidate the learning from today on Monday by doing another question with the students, only explaining why we do each step. Then requesting that they do a couple of similar questions on their own after that. Then we will move onto task 2, where the students will, again after an example we do together, be asked to work out what the sale price of an item will be if it is to be 18% lower than the purchase price on floor one.

The reason I designed these tasks was to get students working on percentages, as they are soon to be applying for their loan and will need to calculate interest cost and weekly payments for their application. I think that sums up what happened in the lesson, so feel free to leave a comment below, and thanks for taking the time to read.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Visualising Thinking.

The next topic for the year 8 maths class is 'relational thinking'. For those of you not maths trained, the idea behind this kind of learning area is to get the students making connections and looking at the relationships between sums on either side of an =

An example question is 24+14=?+16

The idea being that you are not supposed to work out what 24+14 is on the path towards working out what number the ? represents but instead look at the overall relationship between the two different sums. One way of looking at it is that if you add 2 to the 14 to get 16, you must take 2 off the 24 to get the ?

Now relational thinking, in terms of what I need to teach the students, applies not only to addition but to  all four basic operations.

So I have a couple of students, very bright students, who have completed the work for the current topic, so I took them aside today, gave them some of these types of questions and requested that they work together, next to me, so that I could listen to their discussion as they tried to complete these questions. There were 4 sheets, each one with a different basic operation on it. I suggested that they begin with the addition sheet, and let them attempt the first few before giving them a friendly nudge to look at the relationship between the 2 sides rather than calculating the answer, as it would be easier for them.

Once they had the relationship down, we sat at my computer, in a Minecraft world and discussed a way of visualising that relationship with blocks. Once we had agreed on a way that it would work, they continued onto the subtraction questions while I recorded a quick video, while it was still fresh in my mind, detailing the way of visualising that relationship. Rinse and repeat for all four operations and I now have a student approved, teacher certified way of visualising the relational thinking processes in Minecraft. The next step is to work out a classroom implementation of it, in a fun and engaging way.

I am also running this by the Numeracy guru at my school to see if she agrees that the visualisation is correct, and also to ask for her input into any other ways of visualising the relationships.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below. I will be publishing the video to youtube shortly, so if you are interested please keep an eye on my youtube channel.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Wins So Far.


As I regularly do with any new project, or MinecraftEdu world, I have been reflecting on what has been accomplished in the time I have had with my Pre-CAL Numeracy class, and the 180 minutes that the students have had access to the MinecraftEdu world that I have created. The more I think about what has happened over the last few weeks, and chat to the EduCrew folk about what they heard during their Skype the happier I get.

If I reflect on the process of learning, using something called the e5 instructional model, which for those not in the same educational system as me is "a reference point for school leaders and teachers to develop a deeper understanding of what constitutes high quality teacher practice in the classroom."(follow the link to see the model). The first step is to engage, only once students are engaged can quality learning happen.

A primary focus of the project was to engage students in a different kind of learning. The level of interest and engagement seen during my classes is higher than anything I have seen at this level of schooling, keep in mind that I am not a teacher of the 'cool' subjects that the majority of students enjoy, like Physical Education, or Wood Work, but Science and Maths. So when I say that the students are involved in a Maths project, and wanting to be there, that is a huge win.

Students are reflecting on what they want or need to be more successful in the project. There are students, who have never done homework before, doing homework to gain extra cash to buy more items in the game. They are focusing on tasks for 90 minutes, normally these students would not be able to focus more than 5-10 minutes in a standard classroom. Not only are the students more conscious of their own behaviour, they have put forth requests for me to add additional fines and rewards to balance out the system. In essence they are showing investment into the project.

So the students are engaged, the next step on the e5 is to explore. Now this is natively in Minecraft, but students are already exploring the worlds market. They are beginning to explore ideas about what business they would like to run in the world, that will get them more money. They are exploring how to cost jobs, how to convert a 2d floor plan into a 3 dimensional building. Students are also exploring some of the tools available to them to manage finances, like Google Spreadsheet.

What about explain? Well students are working towards explaining their house costing, justifying their loan application. Just through managing their budget they could explain what some of the key terms mean; income, expenses, fines, balance, budget, unit cost. As we move further along with the project what students will have explored, and be able to explain, should grow much larger.

How are students going to elaborate as they move through the project? When students are writing their loan application, or business application, they are going to have to not only explain their budget, but elaborate on how that budget shows that they can afford the loan they are applying for, or how they business is going to be profitable.
The final part of the e5 talks about evaluating. Students will be evaluating their budgets weekly, reflecting on their purchases, were they the right purchase to make, or should they have done something different. They will be evaluating their business for viability, and hopefully if they decide that it is going down the gurgler, so to speak, they will jump ship, or begin another business to help prop themselves up a bit longer.

So if I were to write a list of what I have seen the students accomplish over the last 3 weeks it would look like the following.

Creating a safe learning environment:
No swearing
No bullying
Don't deliberately break things
Don't hit others
Support others

Life skills:
Bring all required equipment
Be on time
Be respectful to all
The value of money (even virtual)
The value of work
Managing accounts and passwords

Budgeting:
Income
Expenses
Unit Cost
Bulk Cost
Bulk Discount
Think about purchases
Costing a job

Where to from here?? Well I want to see this list grow. Hopefully by the end of the project this list will take up a lot more space and there will be some serious Maths learning in there. The next topic, now that the basics are set up, and most of the teething issues are out of the way, is percentages. This will be incorporated into the students loan applications. Following that, plans, isometric and 3D drawings. Inadvertently along the way students have picked up, or will pick up, the applications of area and perimeter to buildings and costings.

Another activity I will be getting the students to do is to work out what the bulk purchase discount is in my store, as a percentage. How much more authentic can a task get without paying with real money? If a student undercuts my prices later on, students will be asked to work out how much money they can save by purchasing from the student rather than me for different amounts.

Thanks for reading, I will try to reflect more often on the learning happening within this project and share the additions to the above list. As always feel free to leave a comment below.