Monday, 4 June 2018

Minecraft... in a classroom... It is GREAT to be BACK!

Today marks the first day I have used Minecraft: Education Edition in a classroom... and the first day in a few years that I have used any Minecraft version in a formal Australian classroom, and let me tell you, for me, it is still as thrilling and enjoyable as it always was. The version may have changed, the process for getting started is also quite different, but the core basics in the classroom are still exactly the same.

I knew this on an intellectual level, don't get me wrong, but there was that little niggling part of me that was worried it would all be different and the 'spark' would not be there. I am very glad to say that the spark has not gone, and the kids I worked with today in Minecraft, were absolutely amazing, focused and creative, and I very much look forward to continuing to work with them in future.

There were of course technical issues, there always is on the first attempt, but these did not dampen the overall experience for the students. There were a few computers around the room that just would not either install or run M:EE, and I have left that little problem in the very capable hands of the local technician to try and solve. Students who could not log on themselves, sat beside someone who could and they worked together, which was a very pleasing aspect of this particular class today.

One part of the narrative of the lesson that stands out for me, was one student was building in black concrete, and since they were supposed to be building ancient Egyptian obelisks, pyramids or temples, I queried her on what she was building, and why in black. She merrily pipes up with, "I'm building a statue of Anubis, and he is black!" so, having been put back in my box, I kept wandering the room admiring their creativity, and the learning they had shown through their respective builds.

Also, in reflection, it is amazing what 'comfort' with the environment does, this is the first group of students I have worked with where they were already Minecraft players, all but 2 had played before in some way shape or form, only about half on PC though, so we ran through the controls quickly for those PE players. The amount that they built in the time they had was significantly more than the last time I ran this project with students a few years ago when the students were not comfortable Minecraft players.

There were plenty of pyramids, quite a few neat obelisks and a few pretty good looking temples, or at least the beginnings of them plus a couple of amazing statues (one being Anubis of course). I will request a few screenshots from the teachers and see if I am able to share them when next I post. What is great is that, while there was plenty of summative assessment material today, there was also a lot of non-curriculum learning. Students learned how to log into M:EE, how to use the camera and portfolio, and also how to 'behave' in Minecraft in school and these non-curricular skills will stand them in good stead to continue to gain benefit when next they join a Minecraft class. It was great to see that there were very few behavioural issues with students today, whether that continues in future classes remains to be seen, but I believe if the lessons continue to be engaging and worthwhile for the students, then it will.

Today's session went for about 90 minutes, and, after the 'first logon' time and introduction we probably had about 60 or so minutes of build time before we started taking pictures using the camera, and teaching students how to export their portfolio for the teacher to view. Teaching students how to take "selfies" in Minecraft was not something I had ever done before, and I must admit it was quite an enjoyable lesson to teach.

Another interesting thing I learned was that if the teachers laptop goes to sleep while hosting the world for the class, the program shuts down and all students get disconnected. It was really nice to be able to say to the students, that if they didn't want that to happen again, they had to convince their teacher to play with them, and help them out. Of course they did this in all kinds of ways, one students even promised a large sum of cash, but all students definitely supported her in joining, and those sitting next to her were super helpful in helping her navigate. All in all, I think it was a great first experience for the students, and probably, in reflection just as great for me and the other teachers involved.

One of the teachers involved today was already a Minecraft convert, but had only ever used MinecraftEdu, hence the reason I had been requested to go to the school today to support her to get started with M:EE. Together we have begun planning some humanities lessons/projects from year 7 to 10 that they (we) could possibly run. However the other teacher involved today is now completely sold, and is looking at how she may be able to use Minecraft in her junior Science classes next term.

In the space of less than 2 hours, she had gone from never playing Minecraft before, to seeing how valuable it could be for her teaching, and is already exploring possibilities for future classrooms. I think she was amazed at the creativity the students showed, and the depth of learning they were able to get into their blocky creation.

I call that a win, and for my first 'in school' coaching day I can only hope the wins keep coming. Thanks, as always, for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

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