Sunday, 26 May 2013

ICTEV13 Conference and Silence.

I have two things to talk about in this post. Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure of attending the ICTEV conference in Melbourne. I have never been to one of these conferences and was very surprised at how many educators showed up on a Saturday to share with and learn from one another.

I also had the opportunity to share my experiences of using MinecraftEdu in my classes alongside another Victorian teacher with a group, in the last session of the day (commonly called the graveyard shift, as you are dealing with 'brain dead' people who have information overload). The session was recorded and I cannot wait to see the finished product.

The passion of the educators there during the day, from those sharing, to those attending sessions was an eye opener for me. I have not been in the company of so many passionate ICT educators in once physical space before and it was amazing. I think you can probably tell I am still trying to digest what I saw yesterday and am at a bit of a loss as to what else to write so I will begin on the second thing I wanted to post about.

I did something very different on Friday, I wrote the following on the board (or at least something very similar)

"Welcome Year 11 Biology students, today it is time to do something different. I am not going to speak today. Your task, the most difficult in living history. Classify the creatures. This is to be finished by the end of the lesson."

And so I spent the entire 50 minutes listening and observing my class as they went about their task. I also recorded the audio from the class so I could reflect on what happened throughout the lesson. I took some notes as I was listening.

It was interesting to observe the students go from almost open rebellion, thinking that there would be no repercussions for their behaviour to getting enthralled in the task. Of course I chose my test audience very carefully, I would not do this with just any class. I trust these students, and I knew that the lure of the problem would outweigh any urge to rebel and take advantage of my 'inability' to tell them off.

I had given the students a sheet with 20 different 'Pamishan' creatures (google it) with the instructions removed and the key also removed. So all the students had were the diagrams of these creatures. What was interesting was that my instruction of 'classify the creatures' was quite obtuse and students approached it varying ways. The reason I chose to not speak was because I did not want to interfere with the students problem solving, I wanted to observe them try without any input from me. With the aim of in future lessons asking why we might need to classify things, and the ways in which the Science community chooses to do it.

Most students started grouping the creatures in various ways, from writing lists of all the creatures with similar characteristics to cutting the individual images out and then moving them around. It was also interesting to see the students watch what other students were doing, think about that process and deciding to either do the same, or continue with what they were doing their own way.

Another really interesting observation was that about half way through the lesson instead of just grouping the creatures, the students started grasping at stories to make sense of the task. What I mean by this is that some students began looking at how these creatures may have come about. One of the two main groups that went down this path started looking at possible mating patterns, the other started looking at it in terms of evolution and how these creatures fit in to an evolutionary timeline.

Now neither of these ways of looking at the problem are necessary for the classification of these creatures, but without my interference they started looking for connections to prior knowledge and using that knowledge. I was astounded at some of the connections they were using.

The other interesting outcome was the students need to make sure they were doing it right, to the point that some of the students would not leave my class at the end (when I started speaking again) without seeing how they were classified. I asked them if they were going to stress about it over the weekend, and they honestly replied yes. WOW! Now I don't want to add stress to my students lives, so I showed them, but that sort of thirst for the correct answer, or at least the affirmation that they were on the correct path interests me. I don't know whether it is a good thing to try and replicate or not.

Should I continue allowing my students to chase the 'correct' answer, or be confident in their own thinking skills? Not all answers in life are clearly defined, and is the thirst for the correct answer going to 'get in the way' somehow. I have no idea, but it is something I want to explore some more. I think that is enough for now, thanks for reading, and feel free to comment below.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Quest 3 Attempt 2

For once I actually don't know where to start a post, given that, I think this post may be a bit all over the place so I will apologise for that first up.

My class went through the quest today, they were mostly focussed on the task, every time I look at the engagement in a MinecraftEdu class I try to think about giving them a worksheet and how much focus I would see in that style of task and despite the repetitive nature of this quest I still think I generally got much more focus and work out of the students than I would by doing a more traditional task.

For the first time in a while, perhaps because I am tired and grumpy, I had to 'kick' 2 students off the server so that I could have a discussion about their behaviour in-game. One was just completely unfocussed and off task, despite several requests to start his work he was still running around doing whatever he wanted. This particular student is fairly high on the autism scale, so I wonder how this sort of 'shift' in learning space is affecting him, whether it be for good or not good is something I still need to work out. I know however he does love Minecraft, so the 'threat' of being unable to be involved seemed to be enough today to get him back on track.

The second student was spamming chickens around in the gallery, other students were requesting that he stop, however he continued. So I kicked him from the server and sat down with him, discussed his behaviour and how it was impacting on others. He then rejoined the server and completed the tasks in a much more positive manner. This kicking I think is very similar to sending a student out of the room for inappropriate behaviour, then discussing 'the why' with them and inviting them to come back in and behave in a more appropriate way. This is what I would do in any other class for inappropriate behaviour and sits quite nicely with the way I teach and manage my classes.

The task was still too long for the students to complete, although one student managed to complete all 13 sculpture calculations, however he is self-motivated and is able to ignore distractions. He did not get into discussions with other students, even about the work. So while he completed the task, he did not engage in a lot of the work related discussions going on in the room as students natively began to work in groups.

I deliberately didn't mention working in groups or whether they had to do it on their own, however it was very interesting to see some students begin on their own, only to realise that the person or people sitting next to them were completing the same task so they started to compare counts and work together. I think this sort of collaborative working is an awesome way of improving student knowledge.

I still think that having the visually appealing and simple to read instructions with screenshots of what their book should look like was a great help. I read through it with the class prior to them beginning the quest and then was able to refer students to it when they asked a question. There were no really low literacy students in my class today, so the need for an audio recording of the instructions was not there, but it is certainly something I think I will try to include next time to cater for more students at their ability level and prevent those sorts of problems holding them back from displaying their true understanding of a topic.

I think that is enough for now. If I think of any other key points to share I will, but thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Quest 3 Attempt 1

OK time to brain dump again, quest 3 was run with the first class today.

The positives.

It never ceases to amaze me how involved the students can get when doing activities in Minecraft. There was no complaining, the vast majority of students were on task, those that were not, were not on task due to their low literacy level and their inability to read the instructions not because they did not want to get involved. Options to fix this: 1) go straight to those students after everyone has started and get them started. 2) record some audio of the instructions, put them on the web or local network and link to them in-game. I did read through and explain what the task was for the students to complete prior to starting, and I thought this would have negated this issue, however it did not seem to, but it may have got those students who were borderline in terms of their literacy skill on task easier.

I did not stay for the entire 90 minutes of the lesson, so I am not sure how it ended. However the initial stages went a lot smoother and students were completing the tasks much quicker than quest 2. Having the printed sheet with instructions and screenshots of how their cost book should look was very helpful. I only had a couple of students ask for direction, and I straight away referred them back to the sheet and they seemed to self manage the issue they were having.

The not so great. (that's right singular :D)

The tasks were way too long, the amount of time required to complete either of those tasks would probably take much more than the 70 or so minutes I wanted it to take. I will not alter this before I run it a second time tomorrow, as I would like to see how far my own class gets through before I begin to think of alterations.

That is all I have for now, compared to the previous quest there is a lot less here, however I am sure I will have more reflections after it is run with my class tomorrow. Thanks for reading, feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Mathandia Quest 3 is READY!

OK after some intensive building and writing dialogue I have finally finished Quest 3 which is based around students calculating surface area and volumes and then using these figures to cost a job of painting either a house or a set of sculptures.

This is the first time I am giving students choice as to which 'quest' they do, they call on the same basic principles of Mathematics that we are covering in classes at the moment, and I think they are at similar levels of complexity and overall work required to complete them.

I was thinking after my last post that it has been a while since I have shown what I have built in Mathlandia, I will be doing a video tour of quest 2 and 3 'soon' but I thought I would show some screenshots of what quest 3 is all about.

The artists building where students begin their quest.

The actual text telling them to head to the artist for the new quest. (Did you know that the MinecraftEdu information blocks not have inline editing? No, well it is AMAZING!)

This is Ringo the artist, he rewards the students for completing the quest, as well as setting them on the path to the costing area.

I am trying to make the quest areas different to the 'normal' Minecraft world, in prior quests the sky has been a different colour as well. (I haven't figured out how to do that in the new version MystCraft yet)

This is Rick, he is the NPC that allows the students to choose to go to the house or the gallery to complete the quest.

The overall view of the house.

The main hall

Dining room.



Master bedroom.

Pool out the back where students will need to calculate the volume and how much it would cost to fill it with water.


For the house students need to paint the walls and the roof in each room. There are different costs for the wall paint and roof paint, as well as an added complication of waterproof paint being required (and costing more) for the kitchen and bathroom. There is a total of 11 rooms and the pool to cost out for the quest.

The first sculpture I built in the gallery, and perhaps the oddest.

I called this sculpture "The Frog" because after I built it it kinda looked like one. Then I figured I probably had to name all the sculptures.

An overview of some of the other sculptures.

The volume sculpture where students need to calculate the volume of the shape and how much it would cost to fill with water. There are a total of 13 sculptures and the above volume calculation to complete the test.

My attempt at an attractive instruction sheet with what I hope are minimalistic yet clear instructions that the students will read and refer to while completing their chosen task. I plan on printing these in colour, back to back and laminating them.

As mentioned above, I hope that I have kept the two quests at a similar work level and similar effort however I think that the sculptures are much more involved to work out the surface area while the calculations are simpler. Whereas the house may be easier to work out the surface area (may be) but there is a bit more thinking required and an extra step in the calculations.

That is it for now, this will run with the first class in about 12 hours, so expect another post soon detailing any wins and any issues that occurred throughout the quest. As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Mathlandia Quest 3: Surface Area and Volume

Well a lot of time has been going into life outside of MinecraftEdu, and some time into Mathlandia, but I am supposed to have quest 3 set up and ready for Wednesday at the latest, theoretically I should have it set up now ready for the other teacher to have a play with. However I decided to upgrade to the latest MinecraftEdu version to fix some of the issues I have been having with command blocks and NPC commands.

This presented some new issues for me as a world builder. The upgrade to the newer MystCraft was a big shift, I can no longer just make up a random world and expect it to all be good. The maker of the mod has altered the way that worlds generate and now it is much harder (at least until I figure it out properly) to write a book that has a stable world without any negative effects on the players.

So I basically spent the weekend trying to figure out a lot about the new MystCraft and the way to make a world that was suitable for the activity I want to run. So I finally figured one out for myself and am now in the process of building the activity in it. I also have got to say the addition of command blocks has opened up a whole world of possibilities for me as a way for me to move students around and give them the items they need for the quests.

Now for the basics of the activity itself. For surface area I have explained to my students that it is basically 'painting' and how much area I would need to paint is called the surface area, and for volume it is about how much 'fluid' I would need to fill that 3-dimensional space. So the sequence of tasks I would like the students to complete, and I am not entirely sure how many they will get done, is basically;
  1. Painting a house, I am considering separating the cost into rooms, walls, roof, feature walls but again I am worried about the time constraints for the lesson.
  2. Painting some sculptures in the garden, with different paints that have different costs.
  3. Filling the pool in the yard of the house, including perhaps the time taken to fill at a certain flow rate.
  4. Filling some sculptures with water and lava having different costs.
So essentially the students are expected to record costings (and hopefully how they worked it out) for these things in a book in-game to give to the artisan for their reward. So I need to finish building the house, sculptures and finalise the actual sequence of quests and the associated dialogue. The students reading instructions was still an issue in the last quest, so I am going to simplify it even more by making only 1 quest instead of making students return to the quest giver over and over like I did in quest 2.

I am also putting in 9 of the quest giver NPC's so that there is not a backlog of students waiting at the start of the lesson. I am also not sure of the value of 'doubling' up on the surface area and volume activities, that is, should I give the students the choice of whether they work on the house OR the sculptures rather than making them do both. The basic principle behind the activities is the same, with the house probably being a slight bit easier than the sculptures just because of the shapes it is going to be made up of.

I think that is enough babbling for now, thanks for reading and feel free to comment below. There should be more updates later this week as this quest runs on Wednesday and Thursday in classes.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Mathlandia Quest 2 Revisited

Today was the second run of the quest on perimeter and area in Mathlandia. The alterations I made last night almost fixed the issues with students getting inventories cleared when they should not have. It did cause a bottle neck, and some other issues, however, overall, today went better than yesterday.

New issues to address
  • Need more 'copies' of the NPC giving out the quest.
  • Need a better way of ensuring that only 1 student can see the NPC at a time (nearly there)
Old issues still to address
As you can probably tell I am still very frustrated by students not reading the instructions. On reflection today was better than yesterday in this respect, and I probably had at least half of my students reading them properly, but there were still some students that did not, and hence were unable to get their reward for completing the quest. Now what to do here, give them the reward myself? 

I tried making them go back and talk to the quest givers, but for some reason the quest 'tree' has been broken for them (it may have been an issue early on in the lesson with students accessing the NPC's in groups larger than one but I am not entirely sure so it could be my fault) Should I give them the reward, or 'punish' them and not give them the reward as they did not fully read the instructions? Your thoughts would be welcomed on this.

Now to start building the next quests, quest 3 and 4 should be done and dusted within the next month, so hopefully things on my blog will get more interesting. As always thanks for taking the time to read, and if you have any suggestions on getting students to read instructions please leave them in the comments below.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Mathlandia Quest 2 Attempt 1

Well today marks the day which quest 2 in Mathlandia, about perimeter and area, was first tested and run with students. I would not call it a roaring success, but it was definitely a success. I need to go through the footage I recorded to completely wrap my head around it, but I also need to make some alterations to the design before I run it for the second class tomorrow. Here are my first thoughts, however I warn you, they have not been clarified or thought much about, these are probably more feelings from todays lesson.

The Pros

  • The tasks I set scaffolded the students very well to complete the overall task at the end.
  • There were a heap of 'teachable' moments to utilise.
  • Students were mostly focussed on the tasks.
  • Most students completed the task within the 90 minutes, those that didn't were very close.
  • Very little teacher interaction was needed in-game once the students started.

The Cons
  • The use of custom NPC's and the /clear command caused a few problems.
  • Students still did not read the instructions. (more on this later in the post)
  • Some students were interfering with others
  • Some students could complete the first few tasks without doing the 'activity' (not sure this is a con)
  • The 'checking' system I implemented with the custom NPC's was pretty easy to work around. (I have ideas here to do with ComputerCraft, but I need to learn some lua first)
  • Some students used the teleport to spawn to avoid losing the quest items.
That is pretty much my current feeling, so now the alterations I need to make tonight before I run it again tomorrow are mostly 'simple' redstone contraptions to make it so that only 1 student at a time can talk to the NPC that uses the /clear command. This will prevent the major issue from today of the NPC clearing student inventories that it should not be. I am not sure how, but I need the NPC's to target the player interacting with them when using the /clear command. Currently I am using this command /clear @p which clears the inventory of the nearest player. So if a student is standing closer than the student who is supposed to have their inventory cleared than the closest student gets their inventory wiped. (An update to the latest MinecraftEdu version may give me more options here, as in the version I am using (0.9847) the /give command from NPC's and command blocks does not work, but I think that is fixed in the 1.5.1 version.)

The other major concern is that students still did not read the instructions, I think this is a problem based on the students 'need' to get into the activity as soon as possible. After feedback from community members on the first quest video I had instructions in NPC dialogue and also on a piece of paper at their computer. This did not seem to fix the issue, perhaps I did not stress enough the need to read the instructions with this class. For tomorrows class I will try to stress it a bit more and see what the result is.

I think that ends up my current 'brain dump'. Thanks for reading, there will probably be another post tomorrow after I run the activity with my class and the in-game footage will also be published soon. Feel free to leave a comment below with any ideas or suggestions you may have for future quests.