Tuesday, April 5, 2016

MinecraftEdu is Saying Goodbye

Today marks the last official day of MinecraftEdu as we know and love it. Starting tomorrow, Microsoft is the proud new owner of the educational version of the game. Their version isn't ready yet, leaving a gap for schools who want to use this tool but hadn't yet jumped on board. This abrupt demise of the Edu version was a surprise, as we anticipated the change happening sometime over the summer.

What's supposed to be different with Microsoft at the helm? Lots of things, maybe. Nobody actually knows what this new version will look like, as the previews have been incredibly limited, but here are the rumors: No more local hosting, no mod support, forced integration with 365 accounts, and a paid subscription model estimated at $5/student/year. (How will this affect low-income schools, who could barely afford the investment of MinecraftEdu with a one-time fee of around $400?) Teacher tools will be different and more limited than we are used to. Students can possibly log in from home.

What about the world library so many of us had built up into a valuable resource? Well, it seems that the worlds will still be floating around out there somewhere, but they won't be useful at all with the new version because they're completely incompatible. Some of us are in a mad dash to download and archive the ones that are important to use in case, like yesterday, its imminent disappearance is suddenly announced.

I'm hopeful the new version turns out much better than the rumors suggest. I'm hopeful that Microsoft listens carefully to the existing community and doesn't alienate those who have helped MinecraftEdu become a tool worth purchasing in the first place. I want the new version to be amazing, because Minecraft is such a great educational tool.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New School Year, New Goals!

School has finally begun and students are in the swing of things now, so it's time to begin planning how we will use Minecraft this year! I've already had lots of kids ask in the hallways when they'll get a chance to play, so I know the kids are eager to start.

I'm really excited to facilitate a Minecraft club this year. I say "facilitate", because I am not at all in charge. Who is? A lovely young 5th grader who approached me at the end of last year to ask if she could start an after-school Minecraft club! I agreed to help out, but she is doing most of the work herself (with some assistance from her mom). She's got all kinds of ideas for themes for the club meetings and things they could build. Our first meeting is this Friday, and I can't wait to see how it goes.

We are gearing up for Enrichment Clusters again. I hinted to my son (a 5th grader) that I was thinking about doing something else for clusters this year (3D printing), and he was truly horrified. Clearly I had to rethink that idea, so I'm offering Minecraft again and I'll figure out another way to get 3D printing into the kids' hands.

Stay tuned for more updates! It's going to be a fun year!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Block City - Adventures in City Planning with First Graders

Mrs. Hall's class recently wrapped up a unit that combines geometry and social studies called "Block City". In this unit, the students discuss 3D shapes along with the ideas behind city planning. The class talked about how cities are laid out and why, then created their own city within the classroom.

Each student was responsible for building one structure within the city. They used wooden blocks to build a prototype, then sketched their constructions on paper. Once these "blueprints" were complete, it was time to place their buildings within the grid of a city. Mrs. Hall laid out a grid of tape on the floor of the classroom, and the class decided where each building should be placed. Should the airport be near the houses? What about the trash dump? How close should the power plant be to other buildings? Once these decisions were made, the model of the city was complete.

Block City in the Classroom

We decided to take the project one step further this year by having the students collaborate in Minecraft to make a 3D digital model of their city. To save time and frustration, I created a Minecraft map modeled after the grid the students had laid out on the floor, with the spawn point up high so they could see how the map was laid out. (I put the spawn point inside a cloud because I had just learned how to automatically create hollow spheres using commands and wanted to practice my newfound skill- "//hsphere [block type] [radius]").

When the students arrived at the lab on the first day, we made sure to discuss behavior expectations along with making sure everyone knew exactly where to go on the Minecraft map to build their individual buildings. We spent time comparing the grid from the classroom with the digital Minecraft map. Once we were sure that everyone would be successful at placing their building on the map, the students logged into the game and began building. Most of the students were still learning the controls, so some of the first session was spent figuring out how to fly, place blocks, and search for the blocks they wanted. Unexpectedly, searching proved to be a great integration of phonics, because I could hear kids sounding out the words as they typed them. There was also tons of collaboration going on, as students helped each other with controls and spelling. The individual buildings took two 1-hour sessions to complete.

The third and last session was devoted to finishing out the city. Students had been put into teams: roads, traffic signals, parks, playgrounds, etc. These kids sat together during this session so that collaboration would be easier. We quickly found that an adult needed to sit with each group for a few minutes to guide their planning, so that working together would be successful. I sat with the roads committee so we could decide which blocks looked best as road material and come up with a plan for filling in the roads. Mrs. Hall worked with the playground committee to decide what equipment they'd like to build and how best to create them within the limitations of the game. Slides and monkey bars initially proved challenging, but the girls figured out you could use ladders or rails to make them.

The view from above

A lovely park

Homes, parks and buildings

Another lovely park

The school 
The airport and runway

Wastewater plant

Stop sign and Power plants

The library (with spawn cloud in the distance)

A stoplight

Such a great city!

I was initially uncertain about how well using Minecraft would go with such young students, but I was thrilled with the outcome. There was so much creativity and collaboration happening during each of the sessions, and the students were proud of their work. I would definitely do this lesson again next year!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Habitat Study: What Do Animals Need?

Second grade is learning about what animals need in order to survive. We decided to experiment with using Minecraft as a way to explore more about that topic.

First, I created a guide for students to get started. I only included animals that are available in the 1.6.4 build 20 version we have running right now, but eventually I'd like to install the MoCreatures mod and give students many more choices. I wanted to include a research piece to tie this lesson more firmly into the curriculum, and I knew everyone could easily access PebbleGo to complete this part. I searched PebbleGo for each of these animals before putting them on the sheet so that nobody would be confused if the animal wasn't available.

We created our set of rules and expectations and reviewed them each time we met in the lab. Our project took three one-hour sessions. Most students stayed on-task, but a couple of students needed some reminders about the goal of the project: create a habitat that would enable your chosen animal to survive, and place signs around your area telling readers why you chose to build what you did. If you completed that part of the assignment, then you could make an environment that would not be a good habitat for your animal and explain why.

Reflections about this project:

  • I chose to use a pre-built world with individual building areas to keep students from getting in each other's way. I would do this again, but modify the spawn area to make it easier to get to your assigned work site.
  • I would use mods to make the project more intricate for older students, but this was a good introduction to Minecraft for 2nd graders. I think it would also work for 1st grade and maybe Kindergarten.
  • Having students sketch out their habitats with labels in a notebook before coming to the lab would yield better results. I had some kids who could not focus on the information part while in-game, so their projects would likely have been better quality with more work completed in-class. 
Check out some screenshots below:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mining vs. Minecraft: Diamonds

Check out the infographic below. What a great tie-in to geology lessons going on right now in our school! I would love to see more of these made by students, comparing real-life geology to that in the Minecraft world.

I'll be adding that to my list of future projects!

Mining Vs Minecraft - Diamond
Courtesy of: 911 Metallurgist