Friday, 17 April 2015

TEDx Video is Live!

Well it has been just over a month, but it was definitely worth the wait. The TEDxRosalindParkED talk I did is now live on the TEDxTalks channel.



I have watched it once, just to see (and to check that I didn't miss anything important from the script I had written), and I am very happy to have had the opportunity to share some of my experiences in relation to the power of MinecraftEdu in my classes and how it can really have an impact on students in this format.

If you have about 13 minutes please watch, and consider sharing some of your own experiences that resonate or that show some of the other powerful ways that it can affect students and their learning either in the comments on that video, or in the comments section below.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What a Month!!

Well I have had a half written post reflecting on the Sheep Probability session I had with students about 3 weeks ago. The reason it never was completed, nor published is because things got crazy busy. About 2 weeks ago my main computer had a OS failure, and it took about 3 days to recover all of my data. Following that I had a TEDx talk to write, memorise and present. Then last week I went to Los Angeles to be a part of the first Minecraft Educator Summit, hosted by Microsoft Research.

So things went from running smoothly to absolutely crazy busy over the last 3 weeks. So now to brain dump and reflect on all the things. Sheep probability first.

The map itself is quite client graphical lag intense. More so than I originally thought, so I will be 'removing' half of the sheep in the initial barn area to see if that helps it along a little bit. The actual activity worked well, students were mostly on task and engaged, but with the lag it is a bit difficult to say the map was an outstanding success.

The jeb_ sheep activity was a bit of a let down in my class. I am quite disappointed that we didn't get to it and complete it properly as I really wanted to see the discussions that could stem from that activity. Unfortunately students were a bit out of it by the time we started. The lag had gotten them all unsettled, and in my excitement to try a new activity I forgot that these students are new at learning in this kind of environment. So the students began getting a bit silly and things started to get frustrating for all students. So we stopped playing, had a reflection time on what went well, what didn't go so well and what could be done different next time.

I always amaze myself at how quickly I forget that it take students quite some practice to be able to learn effectively in such a different environment, especially when using the game mechanics so that they enjoy themselves and it is not a boring repetitive task, no different in essentials to a worksheet. I did screen capture the lesson, and will hopefully find time over the upcoming term break to edit it down and publish it to my YouTube channel.

TEDxRosalindParkED was amazing. What an awesome experience to be a part of. Having never been involved in anything quite like it before made it a very new experience for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing my own speech, editing it, making sure it sounded 'like me' and still got the most pertinent information across. In the end I was very happy with the script I had written, and I even think I managed to stick to the script when I got on stage. The video is reportedly going to be uploaded by around the 10th of April so I am really looking forward to seeing how it actually sounded.

Enough about my own speech and presentation, the other presenters on the day were fantastic, and I cannot wait to revisit them when they are uploaded as there were some really cool 'things' that I would like to try out in my own classes. The networking opportunities at the pre-dinner and post-dinner were also highly valuable, being able to pick peoples brains and have others pick mine is something I think I need to do more often.

The Minecraft summit in LA was also an amazing opportunity to meet some people I have been working with for almost 4 years now in person for the first time. It was also an opportunity to meet some of those who I feel I have been working against face to face and have a proper discussion, instead of passing 140 character notes to one another via Twitter.

If there is one thing I hope that Microsoft/Mojang and the community of educators that were there take from this summit, it is that we, as a community of people using Minecraft to educate students need to ensure that we don't tell anyone they are doing it wrong. There is no one correct way to do this, as I have mentioned in the past, people need to start where they are comfortable and evolve their practice from there until it works for them.

If you can do open ended projects where students play to learn, great do it, but if your school, classroom, curriculum or teaching style does not allow that and you want to do some more scripted play, or direct instruction in the virtual world, do so. I think as a group, educators are not that great at sharing what didn't work in their classrooms, they will happily share the successes, which is great, but I think there is also a great deal of valuable information about what didn't work, and why, being left unshared.

So after this insane month, what am I taking away, apart from the need for a bit of a break? Share, share often, share everything (within reason) and talk to people. Remember people are passionate, most educators are not in this job for the money, most are passionate about education, about educating students. Make sure you don't belittle others opinions just because they differ from yours, listen, reflect and share your own opinions freely, try to explain the reasons for your opinions, use evidence if you have it. Most of all, share your passion, if there is one thing that will bring people on board it is seeing your own passion, passion is contagious, it is very hard not to be infected if you really get involved in the discussion.

Well if you managed to get this far, well done, and thanks. Any comments you have would be greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

On Minecraft and Curriculum.

So I read an article the other day http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/02/the-case-against-minecraft/385678/ and after I read it I was all a bit "meh" about the whole thing. So I read the comments, which is normally where some decent debate occurs, unfortunately the comments devolved very quickly into nonsensical arguments over the syntax used by others. So I left it alone and went to do something more productive with my time.

Then this morning I find this blog post by Donelle Batty https://dbatty.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/does-everything-need-to-be-educational-minecraft/ and found a resonating opinion. Is Minecraft educational? Does it have to be? What makes it so great in education? All of these questions are valid, and I feel Donelle does a brilliant job of bringing into light what should have been the 'real' questions that article addressed.

I felt the original article was lacking in any real substance for me, not saying that the article itself was pointless, but for my purposes, and with my experiences, this article really did not add anything to my own understanding of Minecraft and how it can be used in education. What it did do however, is bring to the forefront something that is becoming an increasing concern for me as someone actively working in the global community of educators trying to use Minecraft in their schools. Some people hear about the wonderful things students are achieving in Minecraft (both in and out of classrooms/schools) around the globe and immediately think that this will teach for them.

And that is just not true. As Donelle states, it is just a tool. In my opinion not much different to a pencil. With the right instructor or instructions the pencil can be used to create wonderful pieces of art, fantastic geometric drawings, a map to buried treasure or even a literary masterpiece, but without that key instructor or instruction what does it create? So how can we as educators utilise this tool called Minecraft properly? I think the first step is understanding it, understanding how to utilise it effectively for the learning objectives you have, the first step is not just expecting it to teach for you.

So in and of itself is Minecraft educational? Probably not, but while I was playing I saw a very large potential for teachable moments, particularly for Math. But that is probably my Math brain altering my perceptions. It is a great environment for teaching about digital citizenship, something that I have never 'really' been able to cover effectively in my classes prior to utilising Minecraft, as it is was a contrived lesson, rather than authentic and the students are very quick to realise that it is not real for them unlike in Minecraft where it is real for them, very real.

Minecraft does not educate my students, that is my job. Minecraft in the end is just a medium of communication between the students and me. I mean I use Minecraft to teach specific concepts, or reinforce them at the very least, and I believe I do that well for my students. But without my input what would having Minecraft in my lessons end up producing for my students?

Monday, 23 February 2015

Probability Map Complete.

The map is complete (I think). The mystery sheep probability portion of the map is now done and I think it will work wonderfully. I did, in the end, display all the possibilities of the sheep breeding, despite the large amount of wall space required as I felt that only showing those that are different may sway the students choice when it comes to choosing the sheep colour for their experiments.

 The walls displaying all the possible breeding outcomes (before I went through and got it right apparently).

The area complete (although I may have 'culled' the sheep after this screenshot).

So the plan is to start with the dispenser trial, complete this twice and record the data in the Google doc. Then we will reflect on our results have a discussion and then complete the two random number trials, again recording this data on the Google doc. Then we will compare these two sets of data to determine whether the rumour that dispensers favour a particular slot are true or not.

From there we will go to the Jeb sheep mystery, where the students will have to choose the colour of the sheep they are going to breed with the Jeb sheep to try and determine the true colour of the Jeb sheep. I imagine most students will only take 1-3 breeds to work out the colour of the Jeb sheep, between each breed the students will need to reflect on their choice of colour, record the result, try to infer the colour and then describe the probability they are correct in their guess.

Once they are certain of their guess I will give them some shears to shear the Jeb sheep to determine whether they were correct or not, and then write more reflection on this. From there they will be teleported to the 'free build' area for creating their own probability experiment in Minecraft, describing the theoretical probability, performing the experiment and comparing the theoretical and experimental probabilities and writing a reflection on this.

Then of course if there is time left, or if they cannot figure a probability experiment to design (it may be quite hard for them depending on their Minecraft experience) they will be able to head through the qCraft portal back to Mathlandia and enjoy some time gaining ownership of their land, gather some resources and think about the reward they would like for completing the probability map. Enough blabbering for now, next step, sharing the map to the world share site and running the class on Thursday. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Even More Probability

So after the last post I started building the 3rd component of the map and realised quite quickly that the behaviours I expected from sheep breeding were not correct at all. So I did a bit of a Google, and of course that was changed way back in Minecraft 1.4 which created quite a problem for me. The task I wanted the students to do will no longer work in the way I intended. So I have spent the last couple of days figuring out how I can utilise the new game mechanics to achieve the same results and learning for the students.

I think I have finally got it figured out. They will still have their mystery sheep, they will also have a display of all the possible outcomes of sheep breeding pairs. Instead of following my initial experimental design to find out the colour I am going to make them design their own experiments and possibly even more importantly (and much more excitingly) explain why they chose that particular experiment, what their outcome means, what they think the colour is and the probability they are right.

This has stepped up the learning for this particular part of the map well above what I was originally planning, and I am excited to see how the students 'cope' with the higher level of understanding about probability required to interpret the data they have access to and their results and whether this activity will help them gain that higher level of understanding.

The current sheep pens. Walls will be built around these with the sheep breeding options displayed for students.

I have begun building the walls, and the display of the breeding options, however to display all the options will take far too much space. So I am going to only show those that 'merge' the colours, all others I will tell the students create a 50/50 chance of either of the parent colours. I will hopefully finalise the map this weekend and upload it to the world share. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Mathlandia 2015 - Probability

So I am pretty sure I have the first map ready to go for Mathlandia next Thursday. It is a probability experiment, hopefully that can lead to some great discussions on theoretical and experimental probability. I have not completely set up the Moodle for the students yet as I am still not 100% sure on how I want it set up and what will work best, so that will probably remain a work in progress for a bit longer.

This map is a concept I came up with late last year and ran at a school I went to train some staff and students at. However the hardware we used let us down, so I never got to use the map to its full potential. Hopefully next week that will change. I remember writing an almost complete script as to how I would introduce each component of this map, so I will be updating that and making it available with this map. That is right, I am sharing this map to the MinecraftEdu World Library, and I am even going to share it before I run it next week. This is how I am going to improve my map sharing, if it is shared before I use it, I don't know what is 'wrong' with it, and therefore I will not hold onto it to fix those issues before sharing and never get around to it.

Here are some screenshots of the map with explanations as to what is happening at that location.

The sheep barn, with dispensers ready to randomly dispense wool colours. 20 pens of 9 sheep, doubled up for the second experiment where they will use a random number generator to determine the wool colour instead of the dispenser.

The full dispenser, with all the colours the students will need.

The 'free' build area where students will be designing and building their own probability experiment.

If you are interested in looking through the current 'script' follow this link, if you do take the time read it  (it may not make sense without access to the map, so if you want the map to look at alongside leave a comment below and I will get it organised) I would really appreciate your feedback on it. It is not wholly complete, and having re-read the script before linking it, neither is the map :D. I Still have to build the advanced probability experiment where students will have to use their knowledge of probability and decide the colour of an unknown sheep after completing some breeding experiments. I also need to display the possible breeding outcomes in tree diagrams and 2-way tables so that students will have to interpret these options.

Thanks for reading, more updates to come as this project moves along. I am so excited to get this going.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Engaging Students in Minecraft.

Today the year 8 math class and I began our journey in MinecraftEdu towards making Mathlandia the project I always hoped it would be. I am so excited, and so are the students. I explained that there would be a base world where students would just be able to play, in survival, however they wanted. Their response was palpable excitement at the prospect of this, and I mentioned my hope that I can let them into the computer room, and the world at recess at least once a fortnight, hopefully every week.

I went on to explain how we would have a portal to another server where we would do our learning activities, and they would be rewarded with undecided rewards at the conclusion of each task(their first reward they can decide, within reason). Many of these students play Minecraft at home, so that got a stir of excitement as inter-server portals are probably not something that they would have explored before. I then introduced them to our Moodle page, where they will get their tasks, links and what ever else is needed for the lesson and we joined the tutorial world.

The students were off like a rocket, they knew how to play, so once I was sure that everyone had the basics down, we loaded up Mathlandia and I just let them play, gather and begin building their houses. I left night off for the session today, just so that they could get set up and not get frustrated by dying over and over at night.

Now if you are a regular reader, you know that I have been thinking a lot lately about how to make lessons fun and engaging for students. What is it that makes Minecraft fun for students, and how can I utilise that in lessons? Today I received yet another wake up call, which brought about the rest of this post. The engagement in that lesson today was off the charts, every student was working towards whatever goal they had in mind, they were working in small groups towards a common goal and individually towards their own, no arguments, no issues whatsoever.

I've heard lots of similar success stories from other teachers, but it sadly does not seem to be the universal experience in all classrooms. This got me reflecting on how my own practices with Minecraft might differ from those of other teachers. I am a big proponent of the "Minecraft at home is different to Minecraft at school." In fact I regularly use that line when I talk to students and teachers about Minecraft in the classroom. I think the distinction needs to be clearly made in terms of what students expect, however I don't think that the experience in school needs to be completely locked down and so far removed from what makes the game fun for them. In fact I think it would be way better if their learning experience used their knowledge of the game mechanics to complete the lessons the teacher has set.

I feel that if a student doesn't actively play the game at home and the game is ‘locked down’, chances are their experience will not be as negative as a student who is an active player and who knows ‘what they are missing’. So a big part of this year for me will be trying to use the ‘game’ to help me teach, rather than just teaching within the game. But when I hear or read teachers saying that students are disappointed that they cannot reach their 'goals' in Minecraft for whatever reason. I think to myself, why can they not do that, why can the teacher not negotiate with the student to make a valuable learning experience where the student can do the ‘thing’ that will engage them while still reaching the learning goals? So another goal I am working towards this year is to get students feedback on my lessons much more, with pre-lesson and post lesson surveys, focussing on the learning they achieved and what they liked and disliked about the activity, so I can work to improve my lesson design and delivery.

I dont want to be an educator that uses Minecraft in their classes as a 'baby sitter', a 'silver bullet' or just because everyone else is raving about it. I want to use what is a very powerful tool for education in my ‘toolbox’ in the best possible way. I want to use it in my classes because of the engagement, learning and flexibility it can provide. I want to give students the opportunity to learn in a way that they have not before, at least in a formal classroom. Wish me luck and thanks for reading.