Wednesday, February 26, 2014

First Foray into Curriculum: Area and Perimeter with 3rd Graders

This morning we made math a little more exciting! Mrs. Smith's 3rd grade class met me in the lab to work on demonstrating their knowledge of area and perimeter, using Minecraft as the assessment tool.

Yesterday I met with her class to discuss the rules and expectations of behavior within Minecraft so we would not have to waste our lab time with this part. (I really think this is one of the most important parts of using Minecraft with students - you must involve them in the discussion about what constitutes appropriate behavior within the game. Digital citizenship is a vital skill, and this is one way to reinforce it.)

At 8 am sharp, the class entered the lab. I had them sit on the floor by the projector screen so we could get ready for the assignment. I demonstrated how to get to Minecraft, which is hidden in the Program Files without a desktop link (less distraction to students in the lab who are not using Minecraft). About half the class had no PC Minecraft experience, so I showed the basic skills needed to work within a creative world.

Then we did a quick review of the project goal: create a house with a fenced-in yard, find the area of the floor of your house and the perimeter of the fence. To demonstrate, I made a very small floor and we talked about how to find its area. I placed a sign nearby and wrote "The area of my house is 18 square meters". Then I created a tiny fenced-in yard, and we discussed how to measure its perimeter. (One interesting point was we had to decide what constituted one unit. Was it the fence post? Was it an entire section of fence including two posts and the wood boards inbetween? The students decided that one fence post would be one unit since it only took up one square on the ground, so we went with that.) We then calculated the perimeter of my fence, and I created a sign that showed our answer.

After this quick demonstration, Mrs. Smith had the students who knew how to play sit at the computers first, leaving at least one chair on either side of them. Then the newbies filled in the empty spots so that they could easily ask for help from one of their peers. (This worked out really well!)

The students logged in and claimed a spot near the spawn point. Some kids decided to work with a partner, while others chose to work alone. We had to redirect behavior a few times, but overall the class did a great job of getting right to work and staying focused. They created some really nice houses, but were not able to finish in the time allotted. We will meet again tomorrow to finish up.

The students greeting Mrs. Smith in-game

The neighborhood so far

Once the students left, I visited each house and checked their math. I left an information block giving feedback about their calculations for each student to see in the morning. Several students correctly figured their areas and perimeters, but we will need to do some reteaching tomorrow. In cases where I was unsure how the student calculated their area but the answer was feasible, I left a note block asking them to see me tomorrow to demonstrate how they did their math.

One example of a feedback sign

Today was so exciting for the students! I hope we continue to expand this pilot into other areas of our curriculum.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Our City is Growing!

Our students were back to work on their city this Friday. I was so excited to see what would happen after the last meeting, which was so wonderfully industrious!

The students sat on the floor like usual, and Mrs. Shrull and I talked about how proud we were of their work last week. We praised their collaboration and polite conversations (because we definitely want it to continue!). After a quick discussion about the upcoming showcase, the kids all logged in and resumed their construction tasks.

Beginning the Hershey's Kiss

Making progress on the Emerald Mansion

The castle, bakery, mansion and farm are all taking shape and looking great! Someone made an awesome scaffold addition to the farm. A group of girls began working on the all-important Hershey's Kiss today, and it's turning out really cute!

The Hershey's Kiss

Inside the Hershey's Kiss - complete with lamps!

Awesome Farm!

Occasionally Mrs. Shrull or I would have to remind a student to stick to the task at hand, because they'd come up with these great ideas for new things to build. We told them that once we had finished the original project, we could start on something new.

Happily, the same calm, collaborative atmosphere from last week continued this week! If someone wanted to move or break something, it was done politely and with permission.

Mrs. Shrull took notes of conversations she overheard:
     "Is it ok if I break this so I can have it?"
     "yeah, sure."
     -said to me: "She said I could break it."

     "Why are you breaking it?" (said to different student)
     "We're breaking it so they can build their moat. We're gonna move it."

     "I'm planting cocoa beans because I know that almost everything you would bake in a     bakery needs chocolate."

Aerial View

These kids are having so much fun working together on this project. When I see these students in the hallway or in their classrooms, they always make sure to let the other kids know "she's my Minecraft teacher!". LOVE IT. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Student Reporters: From Filming to Playing

Minecraft is like a super-powerful magnet for kids, and I think it's really funny.

While we've been working with Minecraft, other clusters around campus are doing things like friendship bracelets, Lego constructions and movie making. (Clusters are really fun. I wish I'd had them growing up!) The last two cluster meetings we've had, students from other clusters have been showing up in our room armed with video cameras. They're making a documentary about our cluster, which is awesome!

Here's the funny part for me: No matter which kids come into our cluster, and no matter what they're supposed to be doing, they inevitably get drawn into the game. They offer advice or ask questions of our students, and sometimes even sit down to play!

Someone here is supposed to be filming

I can't wait to see these Minecraft documentaries!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Valentine's Day Edition: Our Cluster Project Begins!

This week our cluster began its real work - designing and building something great to show off at the showcase! Now that our students had pretty much mastered the controls, it was time to move on to the real deal.

First thing, we discussed the purpose of the showcase and the necessity of having something great to show. We needed to decide which mode we would use in Minecraft - survival, Edu, or creative? At first, many students wanted to use survival. After looking at the calendar and counting how many meetings we still had left, we came to the conclusion that using creative mode was our best bet.

Then we talked about the product. What should we create? The students had lots of great ideas: a castle, a mansion, a bakery and a hut. Oh, and a Hershey's Kiss. We decided that maybe we could create a town that had all of those structures inside it!

We assigned project managers for each building, and the students were allowed to choose which building they wanted to work on. The managers placed a sign outside each structure to show what it was going to become, and the kids got to work.

Creative Mode = Students Flying Everywhere!

An Aerial View

Great Work!

Up until this point, all of our cluster meetings had been sort of chaotic, with lots of excited yelling. It was really interesting to observe what happened this time. With a given project and all distractions turned off (no mobs, weather, PVP or anything), the students were calm and focused on the task. There was talking, but it was normal conversation. The best part: SO much collaboration!

We overheard things like:
  • Is it okay if I destroy this block to put in a window?
  • Hey, can I work on that with you?
  • Let's put some carpet here. What color do you want?
  • Can anybody help me figure this out?

Collaborating on the Castle

Working on a Farm - note the "Thank u"!

It. Was. Awesome. 

We had one occasion where there was some accidental griefing. One student was trying to use redstone to create an arrow dispenser so that the castle could shoot arrows at enemies, but none of the other players understood what he was doing. Instead of getting upset, he calmly told me the situation. I froze the students and let him explain what he was working on. The others thought it was a great idea, apologized for breaking his work, and even offered to help him!

The Arrow Dispenser

This was the best meeting we've had so far!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mods and "Snow" Days

I did it! I successfully loaded a mod!

Okay, so I had to have someone sit with me and explicitly teach me where to put the downloaded files. Even then, I put the file in the wrong place three times. I'm still a little confused about how to tell whether a mod is a server mod or a client mod, so I basically put the file in every possible location and then deleted them one at a time until the mod loaded. But let's focus on the positive - I loaded a mod!

Which mod? Well, it would've made sense to start with WorldGuard or something that would actually be helpful to my cluster; however, my 8-year-old has been DYING to try out the Pixelmon mod because of his dual obsessions with Minecraft and Pokemon, so I started with that.

Here's the thing with Pixelmon. I play Pokemon X on my 3DS XL (am I the only parent here who still plays stuff like this?) and I play Minecraft. I know some stuff about both of these topics, but once I saw that I successfully had loaded the mod and the excitement of that accomplishment wore off, I realized I had absolutely no idea how to play with this mod. NONE. I chased a Minecraft-version of a Pokemon around the forest for a bit while clicking madly on it with no result. So, now I'm off to YouTube and my 8-year-old to figure it out.

Next topic: "Snow" days

These snow/ice/too-cold-for-school days are really putting a damper on my Minecraft cluster. How is it possible that everysingleone of these days is a Friday?! So weird.

Anyway, this Friday is supposed to be great weather so here's hoping we can get some Crafting done!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Minecraft Cluster: Day 3

Friday morning clusters began with the usual amount of excitement. The kids rushed into the room and sat on the floor, looking expectantly at the projector screen.

We began by discussing possible ideas for our cluster products, which will be presented to the school and community the week after Spring Break. The kids had lots of great ideas:
  • a giant floating pirate ship
  • a castle, specifically one that says "Minecraft Rules"
  • a dragon
  • an underwater house
  • a hotel
We talked about which mode would be best to use to accomplish this task. The students agreed that, while survival mode is more fun, creative mode might be the best one to use. 

I explained that we were lucky to have a third mode, MinecraftEdu, which is kind of a hybrid between the other two modes. The students elected to try this mode out today to see what it was like, so I launched a new world on the server. I turned off pretty much everything in the environment so it wouldn't be a distraction. 

Before we set the students loose on the computers, I introduced something new. I showed them the Samsung tablets that were lent to us by the Outdoor Learning teacher, and demonstrated how to use the Diamond Boots searchable wiki in order to figure out crafting recipes.

The assignment today was an easy one: gather resources and build a shelter. They could work alone or collaborate with others as they saw fit, but we revisited the agreed-upon rules about griefing and working together nicely.

Once the students logged into the new world, they set off with their partners and began punching trees. They did much better today with typing their messages to each other, rather than yelling them excitedly across the room (although that did still happen to some extent). There was a lot of great collaboration and communication about what needed to happen. One group decided to create a farm, so they split up tasks to make it happen more effectively. There was only one issue of someone taking resources which was quickly rectified by having the student return what was taken.

Building a farm

You can put a pumpkin on your head!

Most students were able to construct a rudimentary shelter, although one little guy made an awesome underwater house! I asked him how he had managed to make a house underwater without the water leaking down into his house. He taught me something new: If you put a ladder in the water, it blocks the downward flow into the shaft. I'm going to have to go try that later!

Ladder leading into the water

At the end of the cluster, a group of parents taking a guided tour of our Schoolwide Enrichment Model in action stopped by to watch us work. One of them asked a great question: "How is this version of Minecraft different than the regular one my child plays at home?" I was happy to explain how MinecraftEdu gives a teacher more control over the gameplay and the ability to create new worlds and set assignments.

Today was another success!