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.


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.


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.


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.


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??


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) (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.