Friday, 5 December 2014

Surprises are Nice!

You know one of the things that makes teaching such an amazing job, and what most teachers will look forward to most (apart from holidays) are those moments where students surprise us. Those moments where students are completing the assigned activity at a much higher standard or engagement than you expect. Where they are able to show characteristics like leadership, or teamwork that they normally do not display, or even supporting other students in ways that they normally do not.

I was lucky enough to have one of these moments yesterday with a group of year 8 students. The majority of year 8 are not at school this week, either on a school camp, or choosing not to attend. There were about 10 of them here yesterday, and on Wednesday when I first had the year 8s for the week, I explained that I wanted this group to be the experts for the planned activity next week. So I gave them Wednesdays class to just play and then yesterday we stepped up the 'game' a bit.

I set up some command blocks to detect when any player died and when detected freeze all the students. I also put in a circle of border blocks to limit space and resources. I explained that this would then mean the server would be reset and everyones progress would be lost when the first player died. This meant that they were a team and they needed to work together to survive. Their first attempt was as you would expect, 'little' teams all worked on their own, building their own shelter for the first night. Surprisingly they all survived the first night, but a creeper did what creepers do and snuck up on one of the students and blew them to the afterlife….

Server reset to a new random map after a quick discussion about how effective teams operate. Attempt 2 had all the students in the one 'team' building the same house, it was ginormous, more like a house for 30 people. This time students worked much better, to the point where they were supporting one student who had run out of hunger by going out to get him some food. Again they survived the first night, but a skeleton in the water and students lack of hunger caused the server to reset again.

Attempt number 3 ended in the first night, a student got caught in a cave with a skeleton and died early in the first night. This time however the students made a much more modest house and again, their teamwork and planning was much improved. Food was sought and shared amongst the team, as was the gathering of wood and other resources. Unfortunately many students were relying on the knowledge of others in terms of building tools and other crafted items.

Attempt number 4 is where fantastic things started happening, after a quick discussion about what had happened, and how to prevent it, I restarted the server again to a new random world, and this time set the difficulty to hard, to make food a higher priority. Again the teamwork and planning was excellent, however it was during this run (which is going to continue today) that the sharing of knowledge began. One 'non-crafting' student called out to one of those that knew the recipes, "I need a pickaxe". A third student then said to the first, "You cannot rely on him all the time". Now this third student is probably where the title of this post, and the feelings associated with it come from. This student is normally one who will sit back and let others do the work for them, and yet here he was, in this team situation trying to get others to do their own work.

It was after this comment that this same student began asking others for the recipes to create things, instead of just taking those that were given to him. I think he had realised that being part of a team means that all members of the team need to support each other, and when this other student called out his need, he realised that perhaps only having one or two students with the knowledge of tool crafting was not the most efficient in this situation. This was a nice surprise, and gives me a great deal of hope for next week when I run this with a lot more students with the goal of encouraging teamwork and a less fractured, more cohesive class group.

So on that note, I have decided to just run with this activity, I know I felt that the decision was a worthwhile addition to the beginning of the lesson, but seeing what I have this week, I think it is far more beneficial to complete this activity, and the learning and teamwork that comes out of it will be far greater than a collaborative build with no consequences for a lack of team work. So now I need to work out the right balance of space restriction and life restriction for a whole class instead of a small group.

I am still leaning towards 5 lives for the class, and I think an initial space of a radius 100 blocks that doubles on the dawn of the 3rd day. Given this small group I am currently working with is unable to survive past the second day I think it is a good target and I wish I had more than just 90 minutes to run this program with the students as I think 90 minutes will only scratch the surface of the possible outcomes for this activity.

This brings to mind the video Shane and I produced a while ago, talking about the problem solving process while playing Crash Landings. The goal of that 'series' (we have 2 recorded iterations currently, but more planned) is to discuss the potential for teaching the design process and problem solving processes. Having done this activity I really think there is massive potential for that sort of teaching within this space, be it in modded Minecraft like Crash Landings, or vanilla Minecraft with specific restrictions.

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

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Time, My Biggest Enemy.

I am not writing this to complain, more to explain. I have all these great plans of things I could to in MinecraftEdu with my classes. What I lack is the time to implement them 'in' my classes. I can make the time outside of my classes to create the lessons, but I cannot 'make' the time in classes to use the lessons. I find this really disappointing and am struggling with a way to alleviate the issue, the constant battle between time and curriculum.

So if I have a look at what has not happened in this latter part of the year that I had planned to do. "Spore" in my senior Biology class to discuss evolution and the process by which that happens and also the Minecraft and money skills unit with my year 8 Maths class. Both projects I was extremely excited and motivated to run. However my Biology class ended 2 weeks ago, and they are now beginning to prepare for next year, starting the new course. Even if I was actually still teaching them I wouldn't be able to, in good conscience, run my planned Spore lesson anyway as the learning is about a different component of the course.

My year 8 class realistically finishes at the end of this week, and while we are covering the same content, there just was not the time available in the classes left to really delve into the learning in Minecraft, as the 'lead' time to learning is longer in Minecraft than via traditional means. The power of Minecraft comes from the long term engagement and once the 'lead' time is over the powerful learning that happens. Unfortunately I did not feel that it was in the best interests of the students understanding of the topic to begin a project that we had very little hope of finishing.

So what now? I feel like I have barely used MinecraftEdu (or much else interesting) in my classes this year. I do have one opportunity left to me that will allow me to use MinecraftEdu in a classroom. In a couple of weeks we do a transition program for years 7-9, in this program the students don't do 'formal' classes, but practice specific skills required to learn. In this program I have 90 minutes with each class of year 8, in Minecraft. So I plan on using this time to try and get students to be a more cohesive group, more likely to work together and support one another.

So I am going to give them a couple of options, option 1, creative mode with a plan to build something, be that something the school, a pirate ship, a truck… whatever. I am also considering with option 1 giving them the opportunity to work in smaller groups instead of one large group, however I would really like the whole class to become more cohesive so I would be leaning towards the small groups building parts of the whole class build instead of something completely different.

Option 2, survival mode, but with a team death count. So I will limit the total number of lives all the students have, and students that know the game will have to support those that do not and work as a team. So it will not be 1 life per student, but the class may have 10 lives, and once those lives are used up the game ends and if there is time, we can start fresh with the idea to survive, as a team, longer than previous.

Now I think option 2 is way more interesting, and probably more fun, so I am hoping the classes choose that option. I am considering just saying that is what we are doing, but choice is also very important, and voting and coming to a group consensus based on majority is probably something that is a worthwhile endeavour to set the scene at the beginning anyway.

OK, I have been sitting on this post for a couple of days wondering what else to write to close out this post, and I finally figured it out. Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to leave them below. :D :D :D

Thursday, 6 November 2014

20 is not much different to 40.

Who would have figured that? Having 40 kids in a Minecraft world is not really too much different to having 20, at least in terms of my energy levels getting drained. I did however have quite a few helpers with me today.

So lets talk about today. I am doing some training at a school in Adelaide. Training a group of students to become world builders (and hopefully lesson designers) today and training staff in utilising MinecraftEdu in their classes tomorrow. This afternoon was an exemplar lesson with 37 year 8 maths students doing a probability experiment that I had half pre-built and the students helped to finish off this morning while talking about effective world design, lesson design as well as using the advanced build tools.

That was 90 minutes in an untested world that was completed about an hour before by the students and me. Also with untested tech, at least untested by me, and also with an untested group of students (again by me). So here I am in a lesson with double the number of students I normally have in a class, a group of about 8 student helpers/builders and maybe 6 or so other teachers. Looking at these numbers stack up, no wonder I walked away with the feeling that it was no different, I had way more support than I perhaps had realised at the time.

So now for the good, the bad, the ugly and the to improve for next time.

The good: The actual map, in principle and practice, would be a good map to use to discuss theoretical probability, experimental probability, sample size, fairness and designing probability experiments.

The bad: We did not cover near half of what I wanted to cover effectively today.

The ugly: This is going to sound bad, but I am not being critical, I work in a school as well and understand how the funding works. The schools equipment was just not up to scratch for running Minecraft. I have the exact same laptops at my school, they are 4-5 years old, the graphics card will allow the computer to launch Minecraft, but it definitely does not give a decent framerate, which makes the game almost unplayable.

To improve for next time: This is a hard one, the map itself would be fine with the right client connections. I cannot, unfortunately, fix the underfunded schools. My delivery could probably use some tweaking, but that is always the case, especially when you listen back to the recording of your own lesson.

So what next? Tomorrow I talk to a group of interested staff about how they could leverage Minecraft in their classes, and provide them with some thinking material for how they could use MinecraftEdu in their classes, ready for them to plan for implementation next year when the school goes BYO. The other part of the day will be spent with the school technician discussing how to deploy a MinecraftEdu install to BYO devices and ensure the school is still following their licensing requirements.

Then a tour. This school is amazing, like nothing I have ever seen before. It is an agricultural school, it has heavy ties to a TAFE college as well and the grounds are not only enormous, they have their own wetlands, farms, fruit orchards and who knows what else I will find on an official tour rather than a drive around the outside. I cannot think of a school that is similar anywhere in Victoria (not that I have travelled everywhere), but wow, I am blown away by the grounds.

Also the library space we were working in today is amazingly resourced. It is at least 4-5 times the size of my library at school, it is a light, open, inviting and vibrant place. At break times students are in there playing board games, card games, reading, playing computer games and soon to be enjoying a 'maker space'.

OK enough for now, I will try to take some pictures of the amazing things I see tomorrow and will probably write another post tomorrow (or soon after) reflecting on the teacher training side of this trip. Thanks for reading, if you would like to leave a comment, please do so below.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Blend Elfie, Blend!!

So, welcome to a new post. I was going to post regularly about my current project, I was even going to include you in all in the planning stages. Which means I have been procrastinating about the whole thing, including writing a blog post to update you. Which is interesting, but not interesting enough to write any more about.

So where am I with the project? I am thrashing around ideas at the moment mostly, but I came to a somewhat amazing realisation last night, hence the blog post today. So I have been trying to work out activities in game to help students understand the concepts I want to cover, and last night I asked myself a very important question. Why? Not why am I doing this project, not why do I want to use Minecraft to help my students, but why do I need an in-game activity to cover each concept?

Now this might seem silly, but I was genuinely scratching my head trying to figure out engaging, worthwhile activities that covered the concepts. However the realisation I came to is that I don't need an  in-game activity for each concept. I can have out of game activities for some concepts, and offer in-game rewards for these 'real world' tasks.

So my new plan.. BLEND!!! I want in-game options and out of game options for my students to explore, I want students to be able to choose their rewards, hopefully in-game ones, but I am considering real world rewards also.

So time to share what actual planning has been done thus far. Not much, but I have 3 key activity types I want to include, ECAAS (multiple choice quiz areas), estimation station and exploration activities. So the ECAAS is pretty straight forward and I might keep this for topic review quizzes and rewards associated with that kind of review.

The estimation station activities will be about building, or perhaps purchasing items (considering it is a unit about money) and delivering them somewhere. As far as the exploration activities go, I am not entirely sure how to get this tied in, but I do want some random bonus loot areas that students can find and get rewarded for being proficient in a particular topic. With my hope being that they will find the area, go and do some learning about it and then complete the area, which means I think I will have to make it a one attempt per student system. To prevent them just random guessing until they get it correct, or repeating the task and getting too many rewards from one area, and not covering more concepts.

So what sorts of rewards am I planning? Well I am throwing the idea around of having a reward room, where particular doors open for students who have completed certain activities. These rewards I think should vary from basic survival tools/food to diamond equipment to basic building supplies to 'hard to get' building blocks and maybe even some potions. It really depends on which direction the students take. Of course the rewards could just be in-game cash for students to purchase what they want, but that means that they are going to have to 'know' how to play.

So since I know that many students in this class do not play Minecraft (hopefully they will after this project) I am thinking I can 'lead' them through the beginnings of play by choosing appropriate rewards that will encourage them to explore the survival side of Minecraft and hopefully enjoy their time in-game more because of it.

Hopefully the updates here will become more regular, I will stop procrastinating, and will share more details about my planning and building process as the next few weeks unfold. Thanks, as always, for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 4 August 2014

On Rewards, Progress and Challenge.

In my last post I mentioned a discussion I had with a non-gaming colleague. This discussion occurred while I was writing my last post, and after she had read the 4 previous posts to that. It was a very powerful discussion for me as to what makes games engaging for her, and what makes her keep returning to a game.

There were two very interesting points, the first being the comment "I know exactly how your wife feels." So we followed that path for a while and discussed why she was thinking about abandoning Dragon Story. The main reasons were the same as my wife's. She did not see that she was making progress, or that the progress was far too slow.

This led to a discussion around her needing to see that there are 'goals' or that she is making visible progress. However she then shared another story as to why she stopped playing a different game advertised in Dragon Story. She was making heaps of progress, up to level 60 or something after only a few days and she still deleted it. The reason was that she felt there was no challenge, it was too easy. So it seems there is an interesting interplay between feeling challenged and making progress. 

Her ending thoughts in this part of the discussion, after getting onto many of the other games she had discontinued playing was something along the lines of "There needs to be achievable challenge, it cannot be too easy, or impossible. I don't mind repeating something 8-10 times to 'get it' and I get a good sense of achievement when I do, however too much more repetition makes it feel like you are making no headway."

Now skip forward to Sunday evening. "I JUST GOT A DIAMOND DRAGON" rang out just before we went to bed. The real interesting part about this comment is the chat I had with my wife after it. I asked her how she felt, she said she felt pretty darn good. I then asked her if she felt this might get her back into playing the game a bit more, her response was that yes it probably would. So here is something she has been trying to achieve for a few weeks, to gain an elusive, ultra rare diamond dragon. I think one of the reasons she was becoming disengaged was because I have had a diamond dragon since very early on and we started playing together, and while I was very lucky to get one early on without even trying, she had been actually trying for quite some time.

This leads to the second interesting point from the discussion on Friday. "I don't mind some luck being involved, but it cannot be all luck, there needs to be some 'skill' involved." This is why my colleague plays Bubble Witch still, but has moved away from Candy Crush. She feels that Candy Crush is all about being lucky, especially in the 300+ levels, however Bubble Witch has some element of skill.

Now I am not sure about this, since I have also given up on Candy Crush, but I would think that there is some element of 'skill' in it, but it is so far hidden behind the 'luck of the draw' that it feels non-existent. I have not played Bubble Witch myself, but have seen others playing it, and agree that there is a much more visible element of 'skill' in the placement of your shots. This of course prompted me to ask about Angry Birds, knowing that she used to play it and did not anymore. This led back to the first point, the levels just got too hard to feel like she was getting anywhere.

When I shared the diamond dragon story with my colleague this morning, she also quite happily shared her story of 'elation' over achieving a goal over the weekend that she felt was impossible on Friday. So I know that this subject is taking up an awful lot of my blog space at the moment, but it is a very interesting perspective to take on games, gaming and gamers, one that I have never investigated before.

Now if we try to apply this to an educational perspective, not just about using MinecraftEdu in my class, or the project I initially started this investigation for, I think we get something which is probably not new or groundbreaking at all. To engage students in learning we need to have it challenging but achievable, with visible progress and some level of skill involved, it cannot be just pure chance that learning happens. So here you are, 5 or 6 posts into my discussion on an upcoming project and you are not sitting there going "Elfie, you idiot, as if you didn't already know this."

Well if that is indeed what you are thinking you would be right, of course I 'knew' this, but I have never been 'slapped in the face with it' until now. So where to from here? I still want to focus on including as much of this into the upcoming project in MinecraftEdu, with the aim of doing some real serious reflection on what components I am including, why they are there, and then hopefully what impact they have on student engagement and learning outcomes.

I am trying to think of MinecraftEdu as an instructional tool for this project, forget about the game, I never made it a 'game' in my classes early on, I always just used it as a tool to help me teach my students. This may mean a slight deviation back towards some teacher directed activities within the virtual world, I think I have been doing myself, and by consequence my students, a disservice by removing the teacher interactions.

So now you may be sitting there going, "Is it going to be fun for the students?" My response, FOR SURE!!! I am not going to ignore the information I have come across over the last few weeks about what makes games fun, for gamers and non-gamers, I still want this to be a really fun learning experience for students, I just think that if we are all having fun together it will be better for all, instead of me standing on the side trying to 'force' students to follow the path I have laid out for them. 

Well that is another pretty long post, thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments or suggestions below.

Friday, 1 August 2014

A Non-Gamers Perspective.

So with all the making things engaging by investigating what makes gamers play going through my head lately, Last night I had the opportunity to have a relatively in-depth discussion with a non-gamer about a recent game they have been playing. My wife is the one that started playing Dragon Story a couple of months ago, so I started playing 'with' her. Last night we had a chat about why she had given the game up and was no longer interested in playing it, or at least why she was clearly not as interested as she was at the beginning.

Now my wife is definitely a non-gamer, she will say it is because most games require some form of hand eye coordination, but given our chat that may not be 100% true. Here is a brief summary of our chat.

What made you keep going back in the beginning?
The dragons were cute and I could collect dragons I didn't have easily.
I felt like I was getting somewhere.

What made you stop enjoying it?
The time taken for no reward, now that I have a fair few of the dragons, I wait hours for them to breed, and then hours for them to hatch, only to already have that dragon, and have to sell it for a ridiculously low value.
What is the 'end game' what am I aiming for, how does it end? I mean with Mario you get to the little flag and "insert attempted Mario flag raising music here".
The cost and time to do things that are not getting me anywhere, what is the point.

What would make you go back to playing it?
Being able to 'gift' the dragons I don't need to others, instead of having to sell them for next to nothing.

So I stewed on this a bit last night in my sleep (my best thinking happens while I sleep) and clearly she has a different 'need' from games than I do. She wants to feel a social connection, which is definitely missing in Dragon Story, I however am a collector, I want the dragons and don't really care that much about social interactions as long as I am getting new dragons.

But what really interests me the most about all of this is the initial 'hook' that made a non-gamer play. I am now also talking to other non-gamers that play these kinds of games, Candy Crush, Bubble Witch and Dragon Story to name a few. There are many of my colleagues, who will readily say that they are non-gamers, that play these games through Facebook. Are they chasing the social connection like my wife, or is that just the beginnings, and then like it did for me some point does it switch from the social, conversation starter (which is why I started Dragon Story, so I could talk to my wife about it) to the collector or achiever types playing and those wanting the social connection stop playing as they need something else to keep them coming back, which Dragon Story is missing, at least in the eyes of my wife.

So how does this apply to my upcoming project? Well it appears that there may be a 'grace' period where even those gamers (or non-gamers) who crave particular things from a game will play the game to see if it meets their needs. How long this grace period lasts I think would be dependent on how alluring the game is to the other needs that the person playing has, even if it is not their main gaming need. So given that this is a relatively short term project, I may not need to hit all the 'gamer' needs exactly from the start, but instead give a 'sniff' of them and allow students to find them on their own.

More discussions have been had since I started writing this post 3 or so hours ago, but I have written enough for now, and need to think about these conversations more before I write about them, so stay tuned for more, I feel like I am on the verge of a big shift in my teaching practice. As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Where Does it Fit?

The three topics I have remaining this year for my Year 8 Maths class are;

Linear and Non-Linear Graphs.
Geometric Reasoning.
Money and Financial Maths.

So where is this project going to fit? I think it would fit best in the Money and Financial Maths unit, and with my experience in the Pre-CAL Numeracy world I already have some pretty good ideas of how to design a project in Minecraft around things like this. I have, however, been doing a bit of reading on the gamer psyche, mostly from about the 4 types of gamers and their needs.

So how am I going to get an activity that suits the killers, as well as the explorers, achievers and socialisers? I could almost guarantee that I have at least one of each type in my class, just reading about the sorts of things they value I can clearly see where some students will be. I will still get them to sit the test and give me their results, but I am sure I will need to have all four catered for.

So I am beginning to think of activities.

Killers: Running a store, charging what you want for items that are rare. I think this would fit with the implying ones will unto others and making them 'suffer' that gives these students the desire to continue to play. I am also considering adding a PvP arena where students who want to fight to be the best in a tournament type thing can do so.

Explorers: Have the opportunity to purchase a plot of land to explore, maybe a time limit would work best. You can purchase a set amount of time 'outside' the designated area in which you can explore as much as you like.

Socialisers: Have a central 'town' area where interactions can occur. Maybe these students would like to build the central town together, including a hotel of sorts and perhaps other buildings for the community.

Achievers: I am thinking I need a list of achievements and their rewards from the start. Similar to what I tried with the Pre-CAL Numeracy project to fulfil the needs of the achievers.

So, the more I think about this, and where I want to head, and think back to the buy-in I got with that Pre-CAL Numeracy project, that it actually (accidentally) fulfilled a lot of the needs of gamers of varying types. So using that as a basis I think I can more formally address these needs and also develop a much clearer path forward.

I still need to think of the outcomes in the designated unit, and how I can ensure that all students can buy-in at their level and meet these outcomes in the time we have. My real disadvantage is that this unit will be run for 4 weeks or so at most, which means less than 20hours total in the game. So I am seriously considering opening up to the outside world just for my students, to allow them to access from outside school hours and see if they do in fact buy in and see how the project progresses.

I will not be setting up a pay system like I did for Pre-CAL, but I do need to figure out a way for students to gather resources and barter/trade with each other or with NPCs for either cash or other resources. I am not quite sure how to get the 'secret' information to assist in moving forward in the game into my plan just yet, that is what I am thrashing about at the moment.

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below if you have any suggestions or ideas I have not yet considered.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Gaming Dynamics and Using Games in the Classroom

OK, so a lot of my posts lately have been very………. I don't have the word I need here. So I will get right into the post, and if you have the word I am looking for put it in the comments below (please don't use the word 'boring' to describe them :D)

I was talking to Shane tonight on Skype about my latest post, about what I was planning and why. He put a massive cat amongst my planning pigeons, so much so that they have all flown away, figuratively speaking of course.

He obviously has done a lot more reading than I have on the topic of games, and the psyche of gamers. I am just a game player, not a game designer, I have had not training in it, but gee I feel like I am being schooled at the moment. Not in a bad way, I am loving the discussions around what I am currently doing, what my issues are with it, where I want to take my teaching and the path I want to take to get there.

So after the discussions a couple of posts ago with Randall, I had a semi-solid plan of what I wanted, and how I was going to achieve it. Then I read that article that I mentioned in the last post, and my semi-solid plan became a not very solid plan. Now after discussions with Shane tonight, I now have no plan, at least no plan for creating my next project.

I do however have an idea of where to start, Shane mentioned the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, and the four main categories of gamers. He asked whether I had ever; a) sat the test myself and b) given the test to the students I am working with. The answer to both was of course a no. So he gave me a brief rundown on what each 'personality' wants out of the games they play. He also pointed out a pretty major flaw in my whole teaching in Minecraft at the moment, which is a valid point, and not one I had considered.

This is why I love having a collaborative community to discuss my ideas with, there are so many opinions and so much experience out there that I am consistently blown away by the support I receive. Anyway that is an aside, the flaw is purpose, or the lack of purpose I 'give' the students for completing the lessons I provide in Minecraft, and probably a lot of other lessons also. I think this is why I am not getting the 'buy in' from students and their progress through the task is limited due to this lack of 'effort'.

Don't take that the wrong way, I don't actually blame the students here, this is a flaw in my planning. I have a purpose in mind for both myself and the students when I work through these lessons with students. My purpose is to push my own teaching boundaries, give the students something different to do, perhaps something interesting and fun, but still learning what they need along the way. I also think that my purpose for the students has just been 'the learning' but that is clearly not how games work, at least not for all of the students that are involved.

So, now, without a plan for the actual project I want to complete, how do I get started? I think, when I get a chance, I will get the students to sit the Bartle Test, gather their results and use those to inform my decision making in the development of this project. So of course this has pushed back the project even more, to the point where it may not happen until very near the end of the year. I still hope to have a really good project to use with my students, and of course share with the community, but more importantly I want this project to be something the students can be proud of at the end, something that they can share what they achieved with others to give them the purpose that has been missing.

So here are my current goals for this project, perhaps a bit large, but I am going to aim to fulfil as many of these as I can.

Game like: I want this to be as much like a game as possible, this will require me to have a wide range of activities to suit the wide range of gamers I am sure a present in my class, while still allowing all students to achieve the 'outcomes'. (Note that I did not say the same learning…. I don't think all students need to achieve exactly the same learning, however I need to have a set of outcomes that students will need to meet.)

At their level: All games have options for entering at the level you are at. I want to achieve this also, I want the option for students to buy in at a point where they currently are, and get challenged to push forward 'to the next level'.

'Secrets': I want students to be able to find additional information outside of my class (or the game) to assist them in progressing, I think this will only work for some students, but it is something I would like to investigate further, and what better way then having a go at it.

Purpose: I want students to see the purpose for engaging in the tasks, and for that not to just be "because Elfie said so." I want real purpose, this is going to be a massive step for me and quite possibly for my students also, this is something I am sure they will value, but it is not something that they are used to 'getting'.

Complete: So many of my projects are 'complete' to a superficial standard, and I don't mean superficial as in only on the surface. I mean, because of the nature of the way I plan activities at the moment, they are not as complete as they could be. I would like this project to be complete well before I use it with students, completely planned, annotated and possibly already shared with the community. Usually I will  share my projects throughout the planning stage here on my blog and then use my class as 'testers' to determine how well a task will work, tweak it (or at least have a good reflection on it) and then when I get time actually share the project as a whole (which hardly ever happens).

So I don't know how long this is going to take, I will try to keep updates flowing, but my first step is to analyse the types of gamers in my class, and then begin planning tasks around those different gamers needs that will fulfil the outcomes for this project. It is not often that I get two posts out in the one day, especially of this 'thoughtful' nature, so thanks for reading, and feel free to comment below.

Minecraft has been an 'opener'

So earlier today I read this article ( it popped up on my twitter stream and I had a few spare minutes, and as with most things that are to do with Minecraft I will have a look when I get time. I enjoyed reading it, and some parts raised some interesting lines of thought.

"'Game' doesn't even do it justice. What we're really talking abut here is a generative, networked system laced throughout with secrets."

"Imagine yourself a child, in possession of the secret knowledge."

"To play, you must seek information elsewhere."

Given my recent line of thinking in terms of how I can make my lessons in Minecraft more fluid, more engaging, more open and more fun I think these three quotes started something in my head today.

How do these, along with my thirst for making the learning more game like and hence more engaging, tie in with education?

Imagine you had 'secret' knowledge that you could share with the other students in your class to help them on their journey….

What if we had a system within the game that required students to seek out knowledge from elsewhere and only by doing so could they engage in the 'game'? What affect would this have on students.

How can I make a project within Minecraft that was 'laced' with secrets for students to investigate.

What if I could do this outside of Minecraft? Imagine the powerful learning going on in my classes if I could somehow use these ideas/ideals to generate learning activities within every class.

The real question: HOW DO I DO THIS?

Yet again, I am now readjusting my plans for an upcoming Minecraft activity. So it is all in limbo, I now need to have a serious think about how I can utilise 'secret' knowledge, and the thirst to be the person to find that knowledge and share it with others. This is stepping even farther from 'traditional' teaching methods, something which, of course, is going to take me out of my comfort zone.

So why is Minecraft an opener? For me it has opened many virtual doors and windows. From the collaborative relationships I now have around the globe, centred not only around Minecraft in education, but also playing the game to travelling and sharing a journey as I have never done before.

In doing these things it has opened my teaching methodologies to untold possibilities, and these possibilities (I hope) are beginning to transfer out of Minecraft and that virtual world into 'real' life and my teaching in general. It really has shifted a great deal of my thinking about education, how to best engage students, how to use games in classrooms and also about how to share. Something that I don't think teachers in general do enough, is believe that the journey they are on is worth sharing.

I never did prior to this, everything I did in my classes was 'in' my classes, between my students and me, but sharing what I have been doing in some of my classes over the last 3 years has given me a new perspective on what is worth sharing. Everyone has strengths to add to a discussion, everyone is at a different stage of their journey. I think there is real value in sharing the things you try, whether they turn out amazing, or they make you go home, curl up in a ball and try to forget them. So if you take one thing from this post today:

Share a journey, you might be surprised at what comes from a simple, "Hey I tried this today, this is what happened."

Thanks for reading and feel free to make a comment below, even better share something you tried today, include how it went, what you would change if you were to ever repeat it, you might find it rewarding.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Gamifying vs. Playing Games.

I will preface this post with: This is a brain dump, it will probably jump all over, and while I will re-read and edit the post, it is just a dump of information to get things clearer in my head and ready to start thinking about how this applies to my next MinecraftEdu lesson (which I am currently planning).

This all came about because I just had a meeting with my admin, in which we were discussing games in education, what they should look like, how they should work and what they should do. This is not just digital games mind you, but any 'educational' game.

So my understanding of gamifying a classroom is that you make the learning part of the game, as is the instruction. One game I think that does this well is Historia, it is a classroom game where students play to learn, play while learning and reflect on their learning as part of the game. So how is this different to playing games in class?

Playing games in class does not necessarily integrate the learning within the game, take for example my planned Spore project, or my Plague Inc evolution lessons. These are not the same as the base for Historia, these are utilising a game to start a discussion with the class. So within the game there is no 'space' for playing to learn, playing while learning, or reflecting on their learning as PART of the game. Don't mistake my meaning, these games do teach things, innately, however I as the teacher then tie all this together through discussion into what I hope is a powerful learning experience for my students.

So what should games in school look like? My opinion is, whatever suits the learning space. However in my classroom it is more along the playing games and leveraging relevant and powerful discussions from them. However after the discussion with my admin, I am going to try to 'quest' (similar to the Measurement lesson) my upcoming MinecraftEdu lesson, which may have to become a project instead, so that students, while playing the game, learn, show their learning, reflect on their learning, and then move on to the next 'segment' of learning. This will, maybe, tie more into the gamifying category, as students will play the game to learn, learn as they are playing it and reflect on their learning within the game.

So how will it be different to my Measurement lesson? Well the newest version of MinecraftEdu has a much wider scope for 'tracking' student progress and rewarding for each step, as well as triggering the next section afterwards. Which the Measurement lesson was sort of geared towards, but the version of the software was not fully operational in this sense as the current.

So what am I planning? I have a very 'limited' plan at the moment, and I will share the whole idea once I have fleshed it out a bit, so stay tuned for that. I can tell you that it will be based on Algebra, and students will be required to learn algebra skills along the way, and utilise these skills to progress in the game. There will also be small 'rewards' along the way as students progress, as this is something I feel that was missing with the Measurement map.

As when I think about what makes me play games, why I enjoy them, it is different for different games, but the overarching reason is small rewards for progress. Whether that is levelling your character, the chance of epic loot, or unlocking certain 'hidden' parts based on progress, it is all about the rewards. So I think one of the reasons students were not overly 'driven' to complete the Measurement map, and therefore plodded along slowly may have been because they gained no 'value' by moving forward.

Ok, enough brain dumping for now, if you stuck around to here, great job, thanks for reading. If you would like to share what makes you continue to play a particular game in the comments below, please do.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Spore Trial.

So if you are a regular reader, you will know that once I get an idea in my head, I cannot help myself, I have to try it out. Well, true to form, I tried Spore with my Biology class last week and it was a very interesting lesson.

First off the students LOVED it. Even with just me controlling our creature and having discussions at each evolution as to what they wanted, and their reasoning as to why. In the lesson we did not get past the cell stage, but now they are at me every lesson, "Are we playing Spore today?" This of course means that I will definitely be putting in a lot of time to get my head around it, and how to support student learning both within it and outside with it as the base.

Their excitement actually started at a low level, but very quickly got to screaming level when we were getting chased by larger creatures. It was hard to maintain discussions with the whole class, and give everyone input with so few items available (and so few DNA points to spend), so I think a small group project would work much better.

I also spoke to the students who I used Plague Inc with last year, that had also played Spore on their own, for their thoughts as to which would be better. They thought that Spore would provide a more appealing learning space, and a better discussion point for evolution and why things evolve.

At the end of the lesson I spent half an hour (after school finished) discussing the lesson and my plans for the project with the blind student and his support staff as to what we could do to support him in this. He said that while the 3D printed model parts would be cool, he probably only needed the base parts printed and then written descriptions of each different part to make informed decisions and enter the discussion. We also had a chat about which group members would best support him, and describe what was happening as well as what they were doing.

I seem to be doing a lot of planning toward this project, unofficially and all in my head right now, but I am thinking, as part of the project, students must befriend or ally with at least ? other species. By doing this, students will need to think about what parts they need to do this, and this will drive their decision making and discussions into the area where most learning will occur. I don't know how many species to make them befriend, I think 2 is not enough, but I think 5 is too many, so I will need to have a serious play session in the game and figure out how much time it would take and go from there.

On the MinecraftEdu front, we are planning to do an update stream session with the developers to discuss the new features in the 1.7.10 (and before) update and also the future features that are currently being planned or worked on. So stay tuned for more information on times and how to get involved. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Why is it Always Evolution?

So, while I have been quiet on the MinecraftEdu front, I have been working in the background, testing the latest version and bug hunting. I am very pleased to say that the new 1.7.10 version is out and can be found by hitting the update button on the launcher. It is still a development version, so there are still some bugs and issues that may arise. So get into it, 1.7 adds a whole heap of new opportunities in terms of blocks, but also in terms of, and probably more what I will be using, the new command block possibilities. I will hopefully be doing a feature update soon, as I have not done one in a long time, as well as some fresh tutorials to put on the MCEduCrew channel.

Now onto the topic for this post. Why, when I look at games, is it so easy to see how evolution could be discussed. I mean first Plague Inc, which was a great success, and now I have been watching someone play Spore on YouTube, and straight away I thought "Wow, imagine the discussions we could have as a class, or small group trying to work out what parts to put on the creatures and why." I mean Spore just lends itself perfectly to the "why" of evolution, and in a fun, and kinda cute way too. So while Plague Inc is a great discussion starter, I think that Spore might hit the mark for a better, more rounded discussion and therefore a deeper understanding.

So I got a copy of the game and started playing last night, and I messed up. The evolution of my little species sidestepped without me realising it and now I cannot go back, at least not at this stage. Which is interesting, one decision has altered the path of my species for the foreseeable future. What a powerful discussion to have with students.

My only concern with using games in this class, this year at least, is I have a totally blind student in my class, so my animal cell map, which I would normally use in the latter half of this year is not going to benefit him at all. So do I stop the others doing it to be 'fair' to him or do I try to find something that would give him the same depth of understanding while the others explore the cell? I know what I would like to do, but I am limited in my resources for giving this student a greater depth of knowledge, I am investigating designing and printing a 3D cell in slices that he could explore, but I just don't think I have the skills in design yet (or the time right now to put into learning them along the way).

This applies to Spore as well, I think with a guided discussion and verbal explanations it would work, but I am also looking into exporting 3D models from Spore to print on the 3D printer so that he can explore the parts like the other students. There are of course limitations to this method that I need to consider, he will not be able to scale the parts like the other students, he will not be able to see the environment, and other creatures that are around, unless I already have printed the scenario, which I think is impossible without actually playing the scenario first, which means I would have already done all the decision making.

So my current plan is to play a scenario as a class for a lesson (or two) and have discussions along the way as to the changes we make and why we are making them. Then break into smaller groups, of 3 or 4 students and then they play their own scenario in the groups, again documenting all the changes and reasons for them. Then as part of a final report 3D print their creatures (assuming I can get each step out along the path) and have them alongside their decision pathway with their reasoning. I may need to get them to take screenshots of some of the opposition they come up against to include in their reports to help clarify their decision making.

But first, I need to do all of this myself :D and I think I might have a fun time doing it. So keep your eyes on my YouTube channel for a feature update video, and keep you eyes here for my first attempt at a Spore evolution report with 3D printed models and screenshots to go along with it. 

So back to my original question, why is it so easy to see evolution in games? Is it that the games have it in them, or perhaps because I like games, and I love evolutionary theory, it just pops out at me when I am playing games because I am passionate about that subject. Who knows, but I am definitely excited to see if I can get this up and running in the next couple of months.

As always thanks for reading, and if you have any comments please feel free to leave them below, especially if you happen to have used Spore in your classroom before, I would be very interested to hear from you.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Version 1 Complete.

Those pictures speak for themselves. WOW! This was all created from scratch, all the student had was an old clock and the drive to create his own. The design amazes me, it kinda breaks my brain to think about creating something this complex. I am not sure what sort of planning went into it, I never saw that, all I got was the stl files to print and give them to the student.

The face and back were laser cut and the whole thing looks amazing. It is all driven off the second hand, so if we can get the second hand spinning at the correct rate, the whole clock will be correct, and theoretically will stay correct. I have made some suggestions for version 2, that will make it easier to put together, whether he decides to sell them complete, or in a kit, or at all. I want one, and once we work out the best way to drive it I will be creating one, of course I will need help but I would hang that on my wall and probably in my office, classroom and anywhere else that needs a clock. I really like the design, a lot, but if I were to print one for me I would probably have each hand and the cogs that drive that hand in different colours.

That is enough for now, I will hopefully be able to share the 'data' collected from the pre- and post-lesson surveys soon, I am just finalising the analyses. Thanks for reading, feel free to share the amazing work of this student, and leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What are they learning?

So I have been reflecting on what learning is actually happening in my maths classes at the moment. While we are supposed to be doing measurement revision, are we really doing it? My answer is, "we are getting there but….." Some students are doing a lot of revision, others are only just beginning, but the learning they have been doing extends beyond the maths. My frustrations are lessening, the students are beginning to learn how to behave in a different, virtual class, as well as learning how to concentrate on a task for a bit longer than they are used to.

So what is the plan from here, would I do this again? I probably wouldn't use this as my first activity with a new class again. I think the learning curve, and the need to follow instructions in the virtual world is a little to much. I would start with a more teacher controlled lesson, a lesson that is perhaps less 'high risk' than this, one where I could have more impact on the experience, rather than one that is so 'hands off' in game.

Don't get me wrong, I think the lesson is great, I really think it is a very engaging way to do revision, but it will take about 4 hours, if the students are already proficient at the whole learning in Minecraft thing. 1 lesson/hour on the tutorial and setup, possibly a bit less and a bit less than an hour on each section. This of course does not leave them any time to actually complete the 'test' in game to launch their shuttle. So perhaps adding another hour or so would be beneficial in giving a more complete and enjoyable experience to the students.

So I have 2 students who are streaks ahead of the rest of the class, pretty much a whole lesson in front. So those two have nearly completed the volume section, which means they have the final volume question and also the conversion section to complete. These two will probably not get the opportunity to work on their shuttle either as the test (the old fashioned pen and paper way) is happening on Thursday, so tomorrow is our final lesson.

Ideally I would like to make this map a revision and test map. So the final test is to get the shuttle ready to launch by building it and getting the materials needed by answering questions correctly. Unfortunately this is not going to happen in this iteration of the map for these students. Partially because I am working closely with another teacher and we are working really hard to do the same assessments under the same conditions. The other main reason is I just don't think these students are ready for that kind of assessment. Despite their improvements I think it would still be an issue for them to be able to use their time efficiently and appropriately at this stage, hopefully next time.

Thanks for reading, a final reflection, and sharing of the post-lesson survey data will hopefully be posted tomorrow. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Training Takes Time.

Training takes time, it is not going to happen overnight. This is something I need to remember at the moment while working with these students. The majority of the students are giving the measurement activities a red hot go, but there are others who are just being silly and wasting time. Unfortunately for these latter group of students I am not going to let them continue to waste the revision time. So today I let them know that if they get pulled up tomorrow for being silly and off task, they will go back to doing revision the 'old' way. Hopefully the threat is enough to bring them to task, if not I guess the follow through will. Perhaps a more 'structured' start to using Minecraft in the classroom is needed to introduce students to this type of learning activity. That is what I have done in the past, a much more teacher directed beginning, so it has been interesting to see what happens when it is more student oriented.

On reflection of the new activities I put in, mainly the estimation system, I think they went quite well. Only 2 students got to them today (as expected) and the first time they used it, they over and underestimated but the second time they got it spot on. The system appeared to work quite well, I thought at some point while I was asleep (or trying to) that I could double the speed of the give system to make things go a little quicker for them. I will be chatting to those 2 students to find out their thoughts as to how those sorts of activities were for them, as I plan on putting more in for the volume section.

I did find some flaws in one section of the map, that I did a hot fix for, but I will need a more permanent fix before releasing the map to the World Sharing Site. I think part of the issue was I was making things too complicated, trying to not 'spam' the students chat with things from command, however in the area section I did not do this so I will be interested to see the difference between the two methods and see which the students prefer as well as which provides the best experience.

I cannot wait to finish this map and release it to the public and get some feedback from other teachers/students. I think it is great but I am not sure the students feel the same way at the moment. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Area Island Almost Done.

An update on the Measurement map that is still being produced as students chase my working tail through the tunnels :D. The area section is complete enough, there is no treasure or anything like that yet. But tomorrow students will be able to continue their journey to the space shuttles. I have had a good idea in terms of the 'final test' and the launching of shuttles.

If I come up with space shuttle themed questions, and give students blocks based on their answers (which I have already got the schematic for) then they can build their shuttle on the frame that has been left, and if they complete it, they got enough correct and they can launch their shuttle to the space station/new planet. If they do not get enough correct, then they will be unable to complete their shuttle without completing some more questions to get more blocks.

This of course may be thwarted by answering numbers way too large and getting a huge amount of blocks and being able to complete the shuttle regardless, however I will have the backup option of checking their answers, either in the journals, or the scoreboard system. A thought, maybe not one I implement in this version of the map, but something to consider for a future update when I have the luxury of more time to complete the map.

Some more screenshots showing some of the activities the students get to do, and one I am really excited about (not in the screenshots) is the estimation/test setup I have for a couple of tasks. This is where students perform a calculation, submit that calculation to the 'scoreboard' system in Minecraft, then receive the number of blocks that they estimated, then they can test it out. In future prototypes I may include a 'return' system for over-estimations, and an under-estimation station too, so that students can submit their results as well as their initial estimation.

Thanks for reading, a quick post today, hopefully another post tomorrow after I run the next lesson with my class.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Much better today.

Well, taking the attitude mentioned in my last post into my class today worked amazingly. Explaining to the students how I felt after yesterdays class, the time and effort I put in to create this for them, as well as explaining that I showcase all of these things to the world and that this was kind of like a trial for these guys to see if they liked learning like this before I keep making these activities put them right on track. I explained that I was not going to help them with any in-game tasks, that my response would be to teleport back to spawn and re-do the tutorial. Their response was quite interesting, at first there was a bit of outrage, but once I said that all the information they required was in the game for them, if only they paid attention, they seemed to be ok with it.

I will say however it is very easy to say that I will not help, but it is an almost impossible task for me to actually follow through. I want these kids to succeed in this activity, and will do what I can to assist them to gain that success, especially if they are trying their best. So after todays lesson I am confident that the vast majority of students now know how to use the in-game tools they need to complete the upcoming tasks. Two students completed all the activities I had ready for them today, those students got free time in a Minecraft world of their choice. The rest are somewhere along the path reviewing their understanding and knowledge of perimeter.

After viewing the survey results, I asked, prior to the lesson, one of the students who was not excited to be learning in Minecraft, and did not think it would help her learn for a bit more information. From what I could gather, the reason she was not excited was basically because it was going to put her out of her comfort zone. So I asked for her feedback again today, what was great to hear is that her understanding of the game is now enough for her to begin to feel a little more comfortable, and she can see that this may help her learning if she continues. WIN!!!

So over the weekend I will complete the rest (hopefully) of the tasks that I want the students to complete in-game, check the journals that students have already submitted to the 'Central Database' and make sure the students are following along with the tasks ok. I did notice today that one student in particular had a pretty major flaw in his understanding of perimeter, one which I had not noticed from his work in class. The great thing about this is that it is an easy misconception to fix, and he will be right on track to launch his space shuttle in no time at all.

A much more positive post today, sometimes I forget that these students are not as 'experienced' as I am at this kind of learning and obviously I set my expectations too high, or did not explain them clearly enough to students To be honest, it was probably a combination of those two things, I am obviously a bit out of practice at this whole Minecraft teaching thing, especially with students that have not been in this kind of class before. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

GAH! The Frustration.

Well todays first lesson in the measurement map did not go great, don't get me wrong, it was a great lesson in itself, but the learning I was looking for did not happen. The energy and excitement in the room was great, and that is what makes the lesson ok. I am really bummed about the learning though, I was using today as a setting the backstory, and tutorial lesson. Unfortunately I would estimate that half the students still do not fully understand how to use the tools they were given in game to complete the tasks.

So what was the main issue today? READING, the bane of my life… not really, I love reading, but students just will not do it. I split the reading into manageable chunks, made it part of the storyline, even sectioned it off into specific tasks. There were a considerable number of students that just ran past all the NPC's and had no idea what they were expected to do (mostly boys I will add there too). So what now?

I am very tempted to 'reset' the map, make everyone start fresh and do it properly, but that is not the answer here I don't think. What I think I might do is just refuse to help anyone with in-game tasks, just tell them to teleport back to spawn and go through the tutorial until they find the answer they were looking for. Alongside this I will be starting the lesson tomorrow with a group reflection on what happened today.

I have been really disappointed most of the day, since I ran that class this morning. But, after consideration (and a bit of chatting with other Minecraft educators) I just need to remember that this is these students first foray into learning in Minecraft. Of course the excitement was going to be sky high, and this is going to create distraction, which leads to off task behaviours. So tomorrow I will be re-iterating the 'ground rules' and expectations and I will continue teaching students how to behave, interact and utilise this time to their best advantage.

The following sentence will be my mantra tomorrow as I keep reminding students that all the information they need to complete the tasks in in the game: "Remember, this is new to them, they have never had the opportunity to 'play games' in class before, their initial reaction is sure to be excitement, channel that, use it to set the expectations and get awesome learning experiences happening." Corny yes, but the number of hours that have gone into making this map enjoyable and interactive instead of just drill and kill is significant. So if that helps me get through and helps the students learn things in a different and interesting way, so be it.

I did survey the students today, pre-Minecraft to get a picture about what they thought it was going to be like. I will also be surveying them at the end of this map to see what their thoughts are then, how they have changed (if at all) and whether they would like to do it again. I am really looking forward to seeing the post lesson results, but I will share some of the pre-lesson data now.

4 girls: not excited about it at all, or not very excited.
All boys: highly excited about it.
5 girls: did not think it would help their learning at all (really hoping this changes post)

I also asked the students to judge their current knowledge of the topic, and will do so again at the end and I am hoping to see increased confidence in their ability.

Enough blabbering for now, thanks for reading, more updates over the coming days as this task continues. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


It has been such a long time since I worked on a map of this magnitude, and equally long since I shared screenshots of an incomplete build, but here goes.

The backstory finally fell into place, all the mechanics I wanted in the background to give the students a 'reason' to complete the quest, other than because I suggest it :D. So we are in a post apocalyptic world, where the entire environment is toxic. There are healing 'posts' that prevent those journeying from becoming ill, as long as they do not stray too far from them for too long. There are also emergency 'MedBays' along the way if they get in a pinch and need immediate healing of the effects.

These technologies were left behind by the previous race who abandoned this planet long ago after a long drawn out war with enemies unknown. There is also a teleportation device, if you happen to fall ill (and perhaps die) you can travel back to the island you were just exploring. All of these technologies are linked to the 'central database', where your genetic imprint is stored for teleportation, and to whom you submit your findings and calculations along the way to prove you are worthy of gaining access to and launching the shuttles.

There are custom NPC's along the way to point you in the right direction, as well as offer friendly advice. There are also a slew of command blocks impacting on gameplay and being 'command' who whispers helpful suggestions in your ear and sees what you see through the glasses you were equipped with. Oh and did I mention the hidden treasure you can find along the way that will make your journey safer, as well as perhaps providing you with opportunities to gather even more valuable treasure.

It has taken quite a few hours to get all the background mechanics working as intended, I am finally beginning to build the 'learning activities'. I am using a mod to add a heap more paintings and customising those to suit my needs. As well as utilising custom NPC's to add interactions with the central database, and also for the beginning to lay out the 'guidelines' and teaching them to use the technology they get supplied with from ancient stores.

So, now to the screenshots.

Most of the wool blocks you see are either markers or placeholder blocks that will be replaced when the map is finalised. I think the first lesson will probably be setting the backstory up and going through the tutorial part of this map. I think I may actually need to read some parts to students, or create another video like I did for Gravity Lab to get everything across. I actually feel like doing a bit of story telling, but I don't know whether I can do a good enough job, in a short enough time, so that the students get maximum time towards completing the journey to the shuttles and reviewing their knowledge about the measurement topic along the way.

OK, it has just gone midnight here, and I need to head to bed, but I felt I needed to share the progress I have made. Thanks for reading, I hope you like the look of the map so far and the backstory sounds interesting to you. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Another Storyline?

I am still in the deep planning stage of the measurement map I want to do in about a week (how unlike me to leave things until the last minute). It turns out that I may be able to have a few hours in this map to help the students review their learning of the measurement topic, which is awesome, because it means I can perhaps get another storyline happening. Kind of like Gravity Lab merged with Path to Percentage Perfection.

So what is the new plan with this map? To review everything we have learnt throughout this topic. A pretty large aim, but I honestly think it is doable. I have added a few mods to give me access to more paintings in-game, as well as a few other items that will be useful. Which means that this will be the first 'heavily' modded map I have made, as in the first that really relies on mods to be successful.

I have made a custom biome/map using WorldPainter, here is what it looks like so far.

It is really going to be interesting to bring my build to life in this map. Basically the students will be going through an 'on the rails' type path, like Percentage Perfection, and will be journalling their review of the topic as they go. The end result however, will be that the students will get their in-game journal printed out for them, which they will then be able to take into their final test for this topic, hopefully stuck in their summary book.

The storyline is 'brewing' slowly, I have some ideas, vague and incoherent, but ideas none the less, that I think could make an interesting story line, and if these students get involved in the story (unlike my Pre-CAL class, and more like the original Gravity Lab group) I think it will be a pretty engaging task for them.

There are a few other reasons I really want this map to shine, the main one being I have not made a really cool map in a very long time with all the other things going on in my life in recent months. I would also really like to share this map with the community as a complete, standalone map, unlike many of my others which are not complete or not fully standalone.

The other major reason is that we (the Math faculty) are going to be showcasing our use of MinecraftEdu in our classes at a parent information night next week, and having a student engaged, learning and able to articulate their learning for the demonstration will go a long way (hopefully) in getting me a bit more flexibility to bring MinecraftEdu back into my classes a bit more and also bring some more students into the school.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Warm and Fuzzy.

This might sound very silly, and has nothing to do with MinecraftEdu but I just had to share something right now. It is nearing 9pm here on a Thursday night before a holiday Friday. Today I finished 3d printing the last pieces for a student project, and jokingly told the student that it was to be put together and I was to be sent photos before now. About 30 minutes ago I got my email and pictures. I will share them right here:

Email Subject: I made it on time
Email contents:

This is a clock, designed from scratch by a student at my school but not as part of any class. So this has all been done outside of class time. This project started close to 7 months ago. The student in question is a very bright young man, and was involved in a project based learning environment with the rest of his year level. I had been trying to get him to design something, anything, for the whole year, finally he decided he would like to design a clock.

GREAT!!! Here is a broken clock, pull it apart, figure out how it works and then design one. The first iteration of the gears was not quite up to scratch, the teeth of the gears would not mesh consistently or smoothly enough from the large to the smaller gears. With that taste of a challenge the student went home and did a bit of a google search, found the information he needed and redesigned all of the gears overnight. I was absolutely blown away by how well the second set of gears I printed meshed together. So I set about printing all the parts he required and today the final pieces were finally printed, there was a long delay due to the summer break and his computer having some issues.

So why do I feel all warm and fuzzy? This student has just taken something from his head, onto the computer, and then had it printed in real life. Now that is a feat, but to have what you can see in those images, for him, has got to be a pretty amazing feeling. I know I felt like I could conquer the world when my designs were finally complete, from the DNA model to the Periodic Table and those that I have partially completed since. It is a very interesting feeling to have something you created from scratch in your possession, something that came out of your head and is now in your hand.

This student has just been exposed to this same feeling, and I hope it is like a drug for him. His first design project was this, his second is to either alter the train set I designed for my daughter so that we can have an engine that is remote controlled from an old toy helicopter and its parts, or to design a remote control car from those same parts or to do something else that he is more interested in. I hope that the feeling he has right now, looking at his almost complete clock, drives him to continue designing contraptions that I will readily print 2 copies of, 1 for him and 1 for the school.

So where to from here? Once this model is completed and is working as intended we will sit down and work out an 'educational' version of this clock, where the hands, and all gears associated with those hands will be printed in a different colour, what a way to teach about gearing and ratios. I would also like to see him offer the design on the web, and if he is feeling entrepreneurial, selling the clock online, either the plain, or educational version.

OK enough babbling, thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.