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

Monday, April 6, 2015

First Grade is Good to GO!

I met with Mrs. Hall's class for a second Minecraft session, and this time we focused entirely on learning the controls for Creative mode. The project we are beginning soon will be made in creative mode, so it was necessary that everyone be comfortable moving around and placing blocks.

First we met on the floor like always, and we discussed our rules. Everybody agreed that they were still applicable, and we didn't need to make any modifications. I demonstrated a couple of important things to know, like how to fly up and down and how to choose a block from the Creative inventory. We also discussed the answers to a few questions the class had written after our first meeting. These were the questions:

 How do you send messages to your friends?

 How do you dig?

 Do we need villagers in our city?

 How do you get a block and put it in your backpack or hand?

 How do you teleport yourself?

 How do you see yourself?

 How do you drink potions?

 Can you have animals in the city? (cows, ducks, pigs)

 If you want to make a building can you add a cave on top to make it have more details?

Many of the questions were answered by the resident 1st grade Minecraft experts. I couldn't remember how to see yourself, so that was a good opportunity to let the students take the lead. I told them that we would all have to figure it out together!

We got the students logged in to the server. I chose to use this map from the world library, because it would give each student a space to work without having to worry about other kids building right next to them. (Eventually I'd like to modify this map to make it easier for kids to find their own areas, using portals or teleportation stations or something - I'm still thinking about this)

The challenge today was for the students to build a house. This usually works well for a first challenge because it allows each person to challenge themselves based on their abilities (and I talked about this to the kids before we left the carpet). The kids who already know how to play Minecraft can build elaborate structures, while those who are just learning can feel accomplished with making four walls and a door.

The students did a great job working hard to make their structures. I think they are ready to begin our math project - Block City! Look for more information on that one soon!

Monday, March 30, 2015

A New Experiment!

How young is too young for using Minecraft effectively? I've been wondering if 1st grade was a bit too early to begin. I found a willing teacher to let me experiment with her students, and we started learning the controls.

I began the lesson by having the students sit on the floor like always, and I asked the class who had ever heard of Minecraft before. Lots of hands shot into the air! Several students wanted to tell what they knew about the game. I did have 2-3 kids who had never even heard of it, so I had a couple of students do their best to explain what the game was about. Then I asked who had played Minecraft before, and about half the kids raised their hands. When asked who had played on a PC rather than a tablet or console, only a couple said they had. Clearly, we needed to start with the basics.

I handed out a copy of the MinecraftEdu control sheet to each person and had them look it over. Then I launched MCEdu and demonstrated the controls using the projector and physically pointed out how each key and the mouse controlled the player.

Next we decided on some basic rules for playing. The students who had played Minecraft before were very helpful in determining what the rules should be.

Our rules

We then got everyone on a computer and I explained step-by-step how to log into the server and join a game. They did a great job of listening and following directions! I made sure to inform them that when they first joined the game, they would probably be inside someone else's body (which looks really weird) so they would need to push the letter W to get out of the way.

I used a small tutorial world I built to get the students used to the controls. I love the tutorial world that comes with the game, but I find that it often takes too long to get through. Looking back, I think I would have done better to just launch a new creative world with border blocks around it. The project we will work on will be done entirely in creative mode, so their time would probably have been better spent learning those controls. (I found that the control sheet needed some modifications to reflect the creative controls, so I fixed them for next time.)

Mrs. Hall's class did an excellent job of being persistent with figuring out how everything worked. Next time we meet we will continue learning the controls, but this time we will just use creative mode and build little houses.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An Exciting Visit!

Right before Spring Break, our students were thrilled to host some visitors and show off their Minecrafting skills! I was contacted by some lovely people from Microsoft's Minecraft in Education team who wanted to come to our school (along with representatives from Doberman and Mojang!) and see how we use MinecraftEdu. How exciting!

I organized two groups of students for our visitors to see:

  • A group of 3rd graders who were just beginning a project, so we could demonstrate how we start off. These kids finished reading "A Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom" and wrote a spin-off story about the prince from The Little Mermaid. They had already done some prep work beforehand, such as deciding on jobs and assigning roles, but nothing had been done in Minecraft prior to the visit.
  • A group of 4th graders who chose to use Minecraft as a vehicle for teaching others about their cultural heritage. These students had been working on their projects for a couple of weeks (2-3 hours cumulatively), so the visitors could see how we handled Minecraft after a project had taken off. These students worked in small groups or individually to create an area of a map that showed some aspect of their culture. I had connected these areas with teleportation stations so the future audience could easily travel from one project to another.
The students were told a few days ahead of time about their guests, so when the day finally arrived they were SO EXCITED. The 4th graders arrived chanting "MOJANG! MOJANG!", and the 3rd graders ate lunch in the classroom to finish preparations for their session.

Our visitors were impressed with our students' work, and I was proud of how well they worked together! After each session the students asked for autographs from all of the visitors, who were kind enough to take the time to do it. The kids were also able to ask questions, most of which were directed to Vu since he had the most inside knowledge about Minecraft itself.

Check out the photos from the visit! I'm so thankful our kids got the opportunity to meet these people and be a part of such an exciting event!

Vu playing with the kids

Kimmy from Doberman asking the tough questions (using a pig)

Group Shot!



Monday, March 23, 2015

The Future Looks Awesome!

Our 2nd and 3rd grade Enrichment Cluster students have completed their Tomorrowland, and it looks amazing! They worked on this project for one hour a week for about 7 weeks. Most of the students had played Minecraft on a console or tablet, so the PC controls were new to them. They mastered this problem quickly, though, and went on to create this fantastic city!


Aerial View

Inside the Airport

Inside the Airport - TSA Only!

Inside the Airport - Passenger Entrance

Check out the floating buildings!

Lovely Home

Aerial Garden

Home with an Indoor Waterfall

Tomorrowland Playground

Tomorrowland Museum

Grab a boat to take a water tour of the city

Observation Platform - swim up to get there!

Hotdog Stand of the Future

Build on a cloud!

Tomorrowland from up high

Helpful Map

That was photo overload, but I'm so proud of these kids! The superintendent came to view their Showcase presentation and was quite impressed with their work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A lull in the action... but not for long!

It's been a while since I've last updated with student projects, but we have got some really cool stuff in the works!

Besides the ongoing Enrichment Cluster with Mrs. Marshall, the teachers and I have been planning some new and exciting lessons that will appear here soon! (The kids don't know about most of these yet. Shhh!)

- Use Minecraft as an assessment of area, perimeter and volume with 3rd grade
- Reinterpret famous works of art within Minecraft with Mrs. Schorn's 4th grade art classes
- Create movies relating to a chapter book Mrs. Ferriola's 3rd graders are reading (we will use Camtasia Studio for this)
- 4th graders participating in my new 3D modeling and printing class will build structures within Minecraft to print on a 3D printer!

Along with all that, many 4th graders are about to start work on individual or small-group projects that use Minecraft to teach about world cultures. These kids (all from different classes) will all come down to the lab and work together in a world on one server. I'll be trying to figure out how best to accomplish this task, since each project is quite different from the last. Maybe use portals or a mod of some sort? I'll be doing some research and asking other experts (including some of the kids here!) to see what ideas they might have.

Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Spreading the Word

As much as I love using Minecraft as an educational tool, I find that getting other teachers to make the time and commitment to giving it a try is sometimes difficult. I recently put this poster in my "Goo in the Loo" PD picture frame:


(By the way, Goo in the Loo is an effort created by some GAFE teachers and trainers where you put posters in the bathroom as a quick PD session for teachers). I use it for all kinds of tech PD topics, not just Google Apps. 

I wanted to see if this would spark any conversation or requests for Minecraft sessions with classes. So far, I've had one request to try using Minecraft to simulate an economy. I've never done that before, so I'm excited to see how it goes!

Here's hoping we get even more kids and teachers involved with Minecraft! 

Friday, January 16, 2015

An MC Enrichment Cluster Begins Again... Without Me

It's time for the 2nd and 3rd graders to start their Enrichment Clusters, which always makes Fridays so exciting! Again this year, we offered a Minecraft cluster to this age group. This time, though, I wanted to take a break from the commitment of facilitating a cluster so that I can focus on another one of my big projects - bringing a Makerspace and the idea of Making to our school (look for adventures in Making and 3D printing with Minecraft coming soon-ish!).

Our fantastic music teacher, Mrs. Marshall, has been interested in Minecraft since we began piloting it here last year, and she agreed to take the reins of the MC cluster this time! I'm really excited about that, but I do miss the interaction and excitement surrounding kids doing Minecraft.

The kids have decided to create a Future World, which sounds full of potential. I'll check in with them periodically to see how things are progressing, but I'm thrilled that Minecraft is catching on with other teachers here. There's no such thing as too much Minecraft for these kids!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Medieval Village Complete!

Our cluster of 4th and 5th graders worked really hard for several hours to recreate their version of a medieval village, and were finally ready to present their world for a community audience at the showcase just before the winter holiday.

We used the Halcyon Days texture pack to achieve a medieval look. We also used the CustomNPCs mod to create a few NPC characters around the village to interact with, but the tools that come along with that mod made for some great decorations as students mounted weapons and armor into item frames on the walls.

Have a look at the finished product!

Overhead shot looking at the town marketplace

A Trading Post

The Wool Shop for all your weaving needs

A jail (I think)

A small church

Overhead view with a nearly-complete castle in the distance

Medieval farm near the town wall

I'm continuously learning new things as I work with students and Minecraft. This was the first time I enabled build tools for students, and I decided to try it when I saw how much tedious work was being done on the perimeter wall and the giant castle. I had the students elect two people who would be able to use these tools, so that we didn't crash my server and there would be minimal damage if someone went crazy with the fill tool. I felt bad that I hadn't introduced it sooner, but I guess it's kind of like how your calculus teacher shows you this really complicated method of solving a math problem so you understand how it works, then pulls out this huge time-saving easy method of doing the same thing? Yeah, I'll go with that.