Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Gamifying vs. Playing Games.

I will preface this post with: This is a brain dump, it will probably jump all over, and while I will re-read and edit the post, it is just a dump of information to get things clearer in my head and ready to start thinking about how this applies to my next MinecraftEdu lesson (which I am currently planning).

This all came about because I just had a meeting with my admin, in which we were discussing games in education, what they should look like, how they should work and what they should do. This is not just digital games mind you, but any 'educational' game.

So my understanding of gamifying a classroom is that you make the learning part of the game, as is the instruction. One game I think that does this well is Historia, it is a classroom game where students play to learn, play while learning and reflect on their learning as part of the game. So how is this different to playing games in class?

Playing games in class does not necessarily integrate the learning within the game, take for example my planned Spore project, or my Plague Inc evolution lessons. These are not the same as the base for Historia, these are utilising a game to start a discussion with the class. So within the game there is no 'space' for playing to learn, playing while learning, or reflecting on their learning as PART of the game. Don't mistake my meaning, these games do teach things, innately, however I as the teacher then tie all this together through discussion into what I hope is a powerful learning experience for my students.

So what should games in school look like? My opinion is, whatever suits the learning space. However in my classroom it is more along the playing games and leveraging relevant and powerful discussions from them. However after the discussion with my admin, I am going to try to 'quest' (similar to the Measurement lesson) my upcoming MinecraftEdu lesson, which may have to become a project instead, so that students, while playing the game, learn, show their learning, reflect on their learning, and then move on to the next 'segment' of learning. This will, maybe, tie more into the gamifying category, as students will play the game to learn, learn as they are playing it and reflect on their learning within the game.

So how will it be different to my Measurement lesson? Well the newest version of MinecraftEdu has a much wider scope for 'tracking' student progress and rewarding for each step, as well as triggering the next section afterwards. Which the Measurement lesson was sort of geared towards, but the version of the software was not fully operational in this sense as the current.

So what am I planning? I have a very 'limited' plan at the moment, and I will share the whole idea once I have fleshed it out a bit, so stay tuned for that. I can tell you that it will be based on Algebra, and students will be required to learn algebra skills along the way, and utilise these skills to progress in the game. There will also be small 'rewards' along the way as students progress, as this is something I feel that was missing with the Measurement map.

As when I think about what makes me play games, why I enjoy them, it is different for different games, but the overarching reason is small rewards for progress. Whether that is levelling your character, the chance of epic loot, or unlocking certain 'hidden' parts based on progress, it is all about the rewards. So I think one of the reasons students were not overly 'driven' to complete the Measurement map, and therefore plodded along slowly may have been because they gained no 'value' by moving forward.

Ok, enough brain dumping for now, if you stuck around to here, great job, thanks for reading. If you would like to share what makes you continue to play a particular game in the comments below, please do.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Spore Trial.

So if you are a regular reader, you will know that once I get an idea in my head, I cannot help myself, I have to try it out. Well, true to form, I tried Spore with my Biology class last week and it was a very interesting lesson.

First off the students LOVED it. Even with just me controlling our creature and having discussions at each evolution as to what they wanted, and their reasoning as to why. In the lesson we did not get past the cell stage, but now they are at me every lesson, "Are we playing Spore today?" This of course means that I will definitely be putting in a lot of time to get my head around it, and how to support student learning both within it and outside with it as the base.

Their excitement actually started at a low level, but very quickly got to screaming level when we were getting chased by larger creatures. It was hard to maintain discussions with the whole class, and give everyone input with so few items available (and so few DNA points to spend), so I think a small group project would work much better.

I also spoke to the students who I used Plague Inc with last year, that had also played Spore on their own, for their thoughts as to which would be better. They thought that Spore would provide a more appealing learning space, and a better discussion point for evolution and why things evolve.

At the end of the lesson I spent half an hour (after school finished) discussing the lesson and my plans for the project with the blind student and his support staff as to what we could do to support him in this. He said that while the 3D printed model parts would be cool, he probably only needed the base parts printed and then written descriptions of each different part to make informed decisions and enter the discussion. We also had a chat about which group members would best support him, and describe what was happening as well as what they were doing.

I seem to be doing a lot of planning toward this project, unofficially and all in my head right now, but I am thinking, as part of the project, students must befriend or ally with at least ? other species. By doing this, students will need to think about what parts they need to do this, and this will drive their decision making and discussions into the area where most learning will occur. I don't know how many species to make them befriend, I think 2 is not enough, but I think 5 is too many, so I will need to have a serious play session in the game and figure out how much time it would take and go from there.

On the MinecraftEdu front, we are planning to do an update stream session with the developers to discuss the new features in the 1.7.10 (and before) update and also the future features that are currently being planned or worked on. So stay tuned for more information on times and how to get involved. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Why is it Always Evolution?

So, while I have been quiet on the MinecraftEdu front, I have been working in the background, testing the latest version and bug hunting. I am very pleased to say that the new 1.7.10 version is out and can be found by hitting the update button on the launcher. It is still a development version, so there are still some bugs and issues that may arise. So get into it, 1.7 adds a whole heap of new opportunities in terms of blocks, but also in terms of, and probably more what I will be using, the new command block possibilities. I will hopefully be doing a feature update soon, as I have not done one in a long time, as well as some fresh tutorials to put on the MCEduCrew channel.

Now onto the topic for this post. Why, when I look at games, is it so easy to see how evolution could be discussed. I mean first Plague Inc, which was a great success, and now I have been watching someone play Spore on YouTube, and straight away I thought "Wow, imagine the discussions we could have as a class, or small group trying to work out what parts to put on the creatures and why." I mean Spore just lends itself perfectly to the "why" of evolution, and in a fun, and kinda cute way too. So while Plague Inc is a great discussion starter, I think that Spore might hit the mark for a better, more rounded discussion and therefore a deeper understanding.

So I got a copy of the game and started playing last night, and I messed up. The evolution of my little species sidestepped without me realising it and now I cannot go back, at least not at this stage. Which is interesting, one decision has altered the path of my species for the foreseeable future. What a powerful discussion to have with students.

My only concern with using games in this class, this year at least, is I have a totally blind student in my class, so my animal cell map, which I would normally use in the latter half of this year is not going to benefit him at all. So do I stop the others doing it to be 'fair' to him or do I try to find something that would give him the same depth of understanding while the others explore the cell? I know what I would like to do, but I am limited in my resources for giving this student a greater depth of knowledge, I am investigating designing and printing a 3D cell in slices that he could explore, but I just don't think I have the skills in design yet (or the time right now to put into learning them along the way).

This applies to Spore as well, I think with a guided discussion and verbal explanations it would work, but I am also looking into exporting 3D models from Spore to print on the 3D printer so that he can explore the parts like the other students. There are of course limitations to this method that I need to consider, he will not be able to scale the parts like the other students, he will not be able to see the environment, and other creatures that are around, unless I already have printed the scenario, which I think is impossible without actually playing the scenario first, which means I would have already done all the decision making.

So my current plan is to play a scenario as a class for a lesson (or two) and have discussions along the way as to the changes we make and why we are making them. Then break into smaller groups, of 3 or 4 students and then they play their own scenario in the groups, again documenting all the changes and reasons for them. Then as part of a final report 3D print their creatures (assuming I can get each step out along the path) and have them alongside their decision pathway with their reasoning. I may need to get them to take screenshots of some of the opposition they come up against to include in their reports to help clarify their decision making.

But first, I need to do all of this myself :D and I think I might have a fun time doing it. So keep your eyes on my YouTube channel for a feature update video, and keep you eyes here for my first attempt at a Spore evolution report with 3D printed models and screenshots to go along with it. 

So back to my original question, why is it so easy to see evolution in games? Is it that the games have it in them, or perhaps because I like games, and I love evolutionary theory, it just pops out at me when I am playing games because I am passionate about that subject. Who knows, but I am definitely excited to see if I can get this up and running in the next couple of months.

As always thanks for reading, and if you have any comments please feel free to leave them below, especially if you happen to have used Spore in your classroom before, I would be very interested to hear from you.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Version 1 Complete.

Those pictures speak for themselves. WOW! This was all created from scratch, all the student had was an old clock and the drive to create his own. The design amazes me, it kinda breaks my brain to think about creating something this complex. I am not sure what sort of planning went into it, I never saw that, all I got was the stl files to print and give them to the student.

The face and back were laser cut and the whole thing looks amazing. It is all driven off the second hand, so if we can get the second hand spinning at the correct rate, the whole clock will be correct, and theoretically will stay correct. I have made some suggestions for version 2, that will make it easier to put together, whether he decides to sell them complete, or in a kit, or at all. I want one, and once we work out the best way to drive it I will be creating one, of course I will need help but I would hang that on my wall and probably in my office, classroom and anywhere else that needs a clock. I really like the design, a lot, but if I were to print one for me I would probably have each hand and the cogs that drive that hand in different colours.

That is enough for now, I will hopefully be able to share the 'data' collected from the pre- and post-lesson surveys soon, I am just finalising the analyses. Thanks for reading, feel free to share the amazing work of this student, and leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What are they learning?

So I have been reflecting on what learning is actually happening in my maths classes at the moment. While we are supposed to be doing measurement revision, are we really doing it? My answer is, "we are getting there but….." Some students are doing a lot of revision, others are only just beginning, but the learning they have been doing extends beyond the maths. My frustrations are lessening, the students are beginning to learn how to behave in a different, virtual class, as well as learning how to concentrate on a task for a bit longer than they are used to.

So what is the plan from here, would I do this again? I probably wouldn't use this as my first activity with a new class again. I think the learning curve, and the need to follow instructions in the virtual world is a little to much. I would start with a more teacher controlled lesson, a lesson that is perhaps less 'high risk' than this, one where I could have more impact on the experience, rather than one that is so 'hands off' in game.

Don't get me wrong, I think the lesson is great, I really think it is a very engaging way to do revision, but it will take about 4 hours, if the students are already proficient at the whole learning in Minecraft thing. 1 lesson/hour on the tutorial and setup, possibly a bit less and a bit less than an hour on each section. This of course does not leave them any time to actually complete the 'test' in game to launch their shuttle. So perhaps adding another hour or so would be beneficial in giving a more complete and enjoyable experience to the students.

So I have 2 students who are streaks ahead of the rest of the class, pretty much a whole lesson in front. So those two have nearly completed the volume section, which means they have the final volume question and also the conversion section to complete. These two will probably not get the opportunity to work on their shuttle either as the test (the old fashioned pen and paper way) is happening on Thursday, so tomorrow is our final lesson.

Ideally I would like to make this map a revision and test map. So the final test is to get the shuttle ready to launch by building it and getting the materials needed by answering questions correctly. Unfortunately this is not going to happen in this iteration of the map for these students. Partially because I am working closely with another teacher and we are working really hard to do the same assessments under the same conditions. The other main reason is I just don't think these students are ready for that kind of assessment. Despite their improvements I think it would still be an issue for them to be able to use their time efficiently and appropriately at this stage, hopefully next time.

Thanks for reading, a final reflection, and sharing of the post-lesson survey data will hopefully be posted tomorrow. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Training Takes Time.

Training takes time, it is not going to happen overnight. This is something I need to remember at the moment while working with these students. The majority of the students are giving the measurement activities a red hot go, but there are others who are just being silly and wasting time. Unfortunately for these latter group of students I am not going to let them continue to waste the revision time. So today I let them know that if they get pulled up tomorrow for being silly and off task, they will go back to doing revision the 'old' way. Hopefully the threat is enough to bring them to task, if not I guess the follow through will. Perhaps a more 'structured' start to using Minecraft in the classroom is needed to introduce students to this type of learning activity. That is what I have done in the past, a much more teacher directed beginning, so it has been interesting to see what happens when it is more student oriented.

On reflection of the new activities I put in, mainly the estimation system, I think they went quite well. Only 2 students got to them today (as expected) and the first time they used it, they over and underestimated but the second time they got it spot on. The system appeared to work quite well, I thought at some point while I was asleep (or trying to) that I could double the speed of the give system to make things go a little quicker for them. I will be chatting to those 2 students to find out their thoughts as to how those sorts of activities were for them, as I plan on putting more in for the volume section.

I did find some flaws in one section of the map, that I did a hot fix for, but I will need a more permanent fix before releasing the map to the World Sharing Site. I think part of the issue was I was making things too complicated, trying to not 'spam' the students chat with things from command, however in the area section I did not do this so I will be interested to see the difference between the two methods and see which the students prefer as well as which provides the best experience.

I cannot wait to finish this map and release it to the public and get some feedback from other teachers/students. I think it is great but I am not sure the students feel the same way at the moment. Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Area Island Almost Done.

An update on the Measurement map that is still being produced as students chase my working tail through the tunnels :D. The area section is complete enough, there is no treasure or anything like that yet. But tomorrow students will be able to continue their journey to the space shuttles. I have had a good idea in terms of the 'final test' and the launching of shuttles.

If I come up with space shuttle themed questions, and give students blocks based on their answers (which I have already got the schematic for) then they can build their shuttle on the frame that has been left, and if they complete it, they got enough correct and they can launch their shuttle to the space station/new planet. If they do not get enough correct, then they will be unable to complete their shuttle without completing some more questions to get more blocks.

This of course may be thwarted by answering numbers way too large and getting a huge amount of blocks and being able to complete the shuttle regardless, however I will have the backup option of checking their answers, either in the journals, or the scoreboard system. A thought, maybe not one I implement in this version of the map, but something to consider for a future update when I have the luxury of more time to complete the map.

Some more screenshots showing some of the activities the students get to do, and one I am really excited about (not in the screenshots) is the estimation/test setup I have for a couple of tasks. This is where students perform a calculation, submit that calculation to the 'scoreboard' system in Minecraft, then receive the number of blocks that they estimated, then they can test it out. In future prototypes I may include a 'return' system for over-estimations, and an under-estimation station too, so that students can submit their results as well as their initial estimation.

Thanks for reading, a quick post today, hopefully another post tomorrow after I run the next lesson with my class.