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.