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!


10 Great iPod/iPad Learning Games For Christmas!

So, a colleague of mine asked for suggestions for great apps for her nephews’ upcoming Christmas gift – a new iPod Touch!  (Someone has been very good this year, huh?)  After some consideration of my own personal favorites,  here’s a list of  iPod Touch games that will not only get them playing, but may also get their brains engaged, too!  Note that the links I provide are for the iPod Touch version of the game, but many have an iPad counterpart.  Happy gaming and learning!

spore_originsSpore Origins – Based on the popular Spore series, developed by master game designer, Will Wright, Spore Origins is a creative, make your own creature and survive game.  Modifying and upgrading your creation is fun and surviving the harsh environment makes for challenging game play.

sims3SIMS 3 – Another entry from the mind of Will Wright, SIMS 3 allows you to create a virtual person and watch as they respond to the events of everyday life.  Will they get a job?  Get married?  What are their hopes and dreams?  This is a great fishbowl-style game that allows the player to create situations and see the outcomes.  Note:  This game is not recommended for players under 12.

touch_physicsTouch Physics – Touch Physics is a puzzle game that let’s you “draw” your way to victory, while having to deal with the effects of physics (gravity and inertia for example).  Both fun and challenging, this game forces you to account for these natural forces when working toward a solution.

whizzballWhizzBall! – Remember the classic board game, MouseTrap?  WhizzBall! from the Discovery Channel, brings back that classic Rube Goldberg feeling with this unique puzzle game.  What’s really exciting for learning, is that users can create and share their own Whizzball! puzzles.

wordswithfriendsWords With Friends – What’s better than playing a word game?  Playing a word game with other people!  Words with friends adds the social element into this Scrabble-based game beautifully.  Play with someone you know or start a game with a random opponent.  Strengthen your vocabulary and spelling skills in the process!

osmosOsmos – One of the most aesthetically pleasing games, I’ve ever experienced, Osmos puts you in the role of a single-celled organism (?), called a mote.  Typically, your job is to simply become the largest mote on the screen, but clever use of Newtonian physics by the games’ designers make that particularly challenging.  The ambient music in this game is incredible, by the way.

civrevCivilization Revolution – The Civilization series has long been a staple of computer-based strategy games.  Recently, Sid Meier’s masterpiece has been ported to the console and the iPod/iPad ecosystems.  This game not only encourages strategic thinking, but you’re likely to pick up a historical fact or two in the process.

wordfuWordFu – Here’s another exciting word game that encourages quick spelling and an expanded vocabulary.  In WordFu, you square off against the computer or another player (over WiFi) and spell as many words as possible from a random assortment of letters.  Be sure not to sling your iPod when “chopping” a word!

tapreefTapReef – Start with a new coral reef and a few fish and build a thriving underwater aquatic community.  As you grow your reef, you can add new types of fish.  Though free, this game does encourage a micro-transaction format encouraging you to purchase the game’s “currency” to build your reef faster.

fantastic_contraptionFantastic Contraption – “If you build it… will it run?”  That’s how the developers of this imaginative physics-based game describe it.  Based on the popular Flash-based game, you can spend hours devising new designs to overcome the game’s challenges.  Will your design work?  Press the START button and see!

Do you have a game that’s both fun and encourages learning?  If so, leave a comment!


WoWinSchool: A Hero’s Journey – Anatomy of a Typical Week

Though we’re nowhere close to having a complete, 36-week course available to share with the world, we do have about 1/4 of the course completed. (Also known as building the plane while in the air!)  So, what in the world does this look like?  How is the Moodle set up?  Though we’re not quite ready to offer guest access to the Moodle yet, I thought I’d give a sneak-peak of some examples of what we’re doing.  I took some screenshots from our course showing how we’re setting it up and put them into a presentation, uploaded to Slideshare.  To be able to read the text clearly, you may want to view full screen or download the presentation.

One feature we’ve added recently, and as instructors are having a blast with, is in-class achievements.  For example, we challenged students to successfully “friend” each of their classmates in the game.  The two students who successfully completed this on the first day assigned, were awarded the “Fast Friend” achievement.  We’re creating game-like achievement badges for unlocking these and then adding them to the students’ Moodle profiles.


I Feel Like I’m Raiding With A Bunch Of Middle Schoolers

WoWinSchool Day 1 Reflections

dwarf_rudeI am reminded of the sort of cliche’ scene from a military movie where you see the new recruits arrive at boot camp and their drill sergeant, sputtering and screaming, has a short time to whip them into a cohesive fighting unit.  Yesterday was our first day of the WoWinSchool Project.  We had about ten students and expect a few additions in the coming days.  For the sake of time, because I have to be at work shortly, I’ll share a few reflections:

  • I was reminded today why I went into education.  The interaction with students was something I’ve missed since leaving the classroom to take the Instructional Technology Coordinator position for my district.  Working with this after-school program will fill that gap.
  • Throughout the development of this project, I’ve tried hard to keep my expectations in check.  Yesterday I was reminded why.  These are middle school kids.  They are not necessarily the most academically motivated ones nor the stereotypical teachers’ pets, either.  That has to frame everything that comes out of this experiment.
  • The number one challenge, yesterday, was encouraging students to be thoughtful about choosing their character’s class.  Normally, a player simply picks a class and starts playing, but thinking long-term, we’ll need balanced groups for grouping and raiding later as the students advance in level.  In the same way everyone can’t be the quarterback on a football team, everyone can’t be a mage or rogue.  We started by giving the students the game manuals (yeah, I know, no one reads game manuals), and asked them to spend about ten minutes reading about what each class can do.  Did they do it?  Nahh…  Perhaps a better approach would be to simply put all the needed choices in a hat and have them draw them out.  Then, you could let them trade as needed.
  • Having Arik, our high school senior, who’s volunteering with the program as part of his senior project, was a huge help.  The kids seemed to respond really well to him.
  • While we were explaining the project, the expectations, the idea of choosing your class and such, the kids were chatty, giggling, and largely not paying any attention.  Really, who can blame them?  They’ve been talked at by teachers all day.  However, once they got into the game, their attention transformed.  It was really remarkable.

So, going into day two, I remind myself of this:  learning is messy business.  The best laid plans become something altogether different when you’re in the trenches.  Remember, this is a grand adventure.  I can’t wait to see them form groups and run their first dungeon…


The WoW Factor: Cognitive Dissonance and WoWinSchool the Focus of THE Journal Article

erudIf you haven’t read the recent issue of THE Journal, be sure to take a look at the article.  It’s a great discussion of how the Cognitive Dissonance Guild is supporting educators’ explorations in the virtual world, World of Warcraft.  There’s also discussion of our very own WoWinSchool Project!


Off to Games, Learning and Society Conference 2008!

Well, I fly out Wednesday, headed to Madison, Wisconsin for the 2008 Games, Learning, and Society Conference.  I was awared an educator’s scholarship to attend this year’s conference but will also be presenting our work with Squeak (http://www.useitproject.org) in the Poster Session at the conference.

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