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.