The Town of SpringHaven

There is a small village on the outskirts of a mountainous region, perched on a plateau overlooking the sea.  It sits in the shadow of a great castle adorned with great towers, fortified walls, and topped with a roof made entirely of blocks of pure diamond.  SpringHaven, as the locals call it, is a quaint village in a vast, largely unexplored world.  Shopkeepers and an ever-patrolling lad named Drakia, add to the activity and bustle, but real life is breathed into this town, and the surrounding regions, when the world’s architects are there.  I’m talking about the learners who are actively creating and building this living, breathing virtual world in Minecraft.  I merely provided them with the canvas, but they are the true artists who are making this year’s newly re-designed survival server come alive.

springhaven_s

This year, we’ve re-launched our district’s survival Minecraft server with an emphasis on building community among our student-players.  If the first few weeks is any indication, they have embraced that call.  They designed our starting area, the town of SpringHaven, the great Diamond Castle that overshadows it, and are working to create a unique world, all their own.  Another goal of this year’s project is to increasingly hand over the leadership and ownership of this community to the learners.  We’ve instituted a challenge/rank system, offering players the ability to “level up” by actively contributing to the design of the world and participating in the community-building projects and contests that we will be rolling out.  We’ve also incorporating some exciting new plugins, including MCMMO which allows players to level up skills like Mining and Archery.

Just last night, we just launched our first event, a community build (a collaborative, server-wide building project), called “The Town of Deadwood!”  In the spirit of the Halloween season, players are invited to build a deserted, and haunted town, each choosing a different component to be responsible for, and working to add it to the town’s deserted streets.  By participating, they earn community participation points and can advance their “status” on the server as a contributor.  Want to see our event flyer?  You can find it here:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/16Ry36DMAIarAKirE-3UECM6tCmDfubZ6s9Seu8r-iPk/edit.

I’m thrilled at the level of engagement and ownership I’ve seen so far.  I can’t wait to see what’s next!

-Lucas

It Takes a Guild Webinar: Episode 3 – Featuring PCS Super-Teachers Craig Lawson and Sara Toothman!

Yeah… I work with amazing people.  GamesMOOC (massive open online course) was kind enough to invite Craig, Sara, and I to share about our game-based initiatives in Pender County Schools.  Missed the live show?  You can watch it here:

 

-Lucas

5th Graders in Minecraft

I’ve said it before, but here I go again, “Minecraft is probably one of the most valuable games (for the price) available to the education community.” It fosters critical thinking and can be used in so many creative ways. Here’s a quick video I put together with my iPad at the end of last school year. It features some of our 5th grade students talking about their construction and learning in Minecraft. Apologies for the poor audio. I wasn’t aware I was covering the microphone at times. Lesson learned!


 

If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out Joel Levin (The Minecraft Teacher) – http://minecraftteacher.net/ and the awesome folks at Massively Minecraft – http://www.massivelyminecraft.org/. There’s also a collaborative wiki set up to foster the sharing of ideas on the use of Minecraft. You’ll find it here – http://minecraftinschool.pbworks.com.

-Lucas

Good Learning Is Always Messy – Minecraft Project – Day One Reflections

pickaxeSo, just a quick post reflecting on Day One of our Minecraft project.

First off, from a technical standpoint, the program and the server worked perfectly.  We didn’t have any issues and the server practically yawned with boredom as we connected our 20 elementary and three teacher accounts.

Initially, I prepped the students with a brief introduction telling them they were literally pioneers and some of the first students in the world to ever do what we were doing.  It’s awesome to observe their facial expressions as they consider that.  Our students’ first experiences with Minecraft consisted of them logging into the world and learning the fundamental mechanics of the game (movement, breaking and placing blocks).  They were also introduced the chat system and we quickly discussed some basic limits on how much information we should share about ourselves.

A few more observations:

  • The students were abuzz with excitement when they came into the lab.  One particularly inquisitive student had spent quite a bit of time researching Minecraft on Youtube prior to Friday (See where they go to learn?).
  • Our 45 minutes flew by entirely too quickly and the kids realized it, too.
  • I think our administrators, who were there to observe, would agree that the speed at which the kids adapted to the controls was amazing.
  • Engagement was through the roof.
  • Students were very willing and eager to share what they were learning with their classmates.
  • In most cases, I refused to give them direct instruction about how to deal with the first problems they encountered, the most common of which was, “I’ve dug myself into a hole… How do I get out?”
  • I only used admin commands once to get a student who’d fallen into a deep and lightless cavern out because the glare of florescent lights on the screen made it nearly impossible to orient himself.
  • Adding the “shipwrecked explorers” element to the story helped provide a context for their overall challenge of cooperatively building a town.
  • One of the first thing that many of the students did was try to hit other players in the game.  My advice to them was “Go ahead and get it out of your system and see that it’s a waste of time so we can get on with our real challenge.”  This is normal gaming behavior.  You test the boundaries, limits, and rules of the game world.  That’s probably really important in sandbox games, where those limits are not well-defined.  I did, however, inform them that we won’t be harassing or destroying another student’s work and if they insisted on engaging in behavior like that, we could easily find a replacement.  …I don’t anticipate any issues there. :)
  • Especially due to our short time frame, a little more up-front guidance is going to be required if we are to achieve our end goals.  This has caused my anticipated direction for the second class to shift slightly, so, I’ll be headed to the store this weekend to pick up some graph paper and small composition notebooks.
  • Communication between schools will be a  challenge if we limit it to in-world chat.  We may integrate Skype in the coming weeks.
  • Feedback at the close from students was positive all around the room and they were reluctant to leave.

I felt really good about our initial outcomes.  When you try something new like this, it’s difficult to guess what it will look like.  You have to be flexible.  Having other educators on board can help you capture some of the “amazing” that’s going on around you that you might overlook.  My best advice, assume it will be messy.  Good learning always is.

-Lucas

Minecraft in School? Yes!

Characters in MinecraftYes, I know I’m late to this game.  How did I miss it?  About a month ago, I started noticing Minecraft popping up in education technology discussions.  I’d heard of the game before and after a very cursory glance dismissed it.  This growing buzz I began to hear, though, got me asking around.  Of course, who had answers to my questions?  Students!  One even said, “Here’s my account info, try it out.”  So I did.

Within 20 minutes of game play, I’d shelled out the $20 to buy my own account.  There is something incredibly compelling about this game.  Don’t let the funny 8-bit-looking graphics fool you.  There’s more here than meets the eye. …much more.  Why?  Because this is a true sandbox game.  A sandbox game is a virtual world that allows free-roaming with almost no artificial barriers.  On top of this, this is a building/creating game.  Yes, punching trees for wood may seem silly at first, but then you find that you can construct things with the materials you’re collecting.  A few pieces of wood yield planks, four of these planks yield a crafting  table. And from there, a world of building potential is opened up. Within an hour or so of play, I’d constructed a makeshift castle and had begun to dig deep underground to find iron, coal, and other resources to build a variety of tools.

So, what do I, the educator-gamer do next?  Of course I put on my teacher glasses and begin to ask, “How could I use this with students?”  Immediately the ideas begin to come to mind.  Here are a few of my early brainstorms:

  • Give students login information and have them all log into a school-hosted multiplayer server (Yes, you can host your own private server).  Tell them they have arrived on a deserted(?) island (think Lost, maybe?).  They need to work together to build a society.  Who will gather resources?  Who will build?  Who will plan?  How will they feed themselves?  How will they defend themselves from the skeletons/creepers at night (though these villains could be turned off as a feature).  The key here is to have them plan and write all of this based on their in-world experiences.
  • Have students journal daily life on their island as though they were a real person in a real place.  Imagine… “Day 1 – Not sure how I got here.  Haven’t seen another person.  All was fine until nightfall.  I began to hear a groaning sound in the forest and that’s when I saw the zombies.  Now I’m holed up in a cave hoping they go away.”
  • Have students think of a real-world machine and attempt to recreate it in their Minecraft world.  People have even made basic computers out of Minecraft materials.  Yes, it can be that complex.  You can craft circuits with basic logic functions out a material called redstone.  Players have built working rail stations, musical instruments, and more.

Of course the multiplayer potential for the game opens up lots of collaborative opportunity.  Imagine different classes working together to build something, different grade levels, or even students from schools in two different parts of the world!

Other folks are talking about this game’s potential as well.  Check out Bryan Alexander‘s posts on the topic.  John McLear has a nice post on the topic as well.  Also, check out this interesting discussion on the same topic at Minecraft Forums.

Some of the principals in my district have asked me for ideas for a project similar to the WoWinSchool Project for earlier grades, either as an elective or a club.  I think Minecraft would be suitable for 4th through 8th graders (many high schoolers would certainly enjoy it too, though).  What are you thoughts?  Let’s here them!

-Lucas