Friday, 1 August 2014

A Non-Gamers Perspective.

So with all the making things engaging by investigating what makes gamers play going through my head lately, Last night I had the opportunity to have a relatively in-depth discussion with a non-gamer about a recent game they have been playing. My wife is the one that started playing Dragon Story a couple of months ago, so I started playing 'with' her. Last night we had a chat about why she had given the game up and was no longer interested in playing it, or at least why she was clearly not as interested as she was at the beginning.

Now my wife is definitely a non-gamer, she will say it is because most games require some form of hand eye coordination, but given our chat that may not be 100% true. Here is a brief summary of our chat.

What made you keep going back in the beginning?
The dragons were cute and I could collect dragons I didn't have easily.
I felt like I was getting somewhere.

What made you stop enjoying it?
The time taken for no reward, now that I have a fair few of the dragons, I wait hours for them to breed, and then hours for them to hatch, only to already have that dragon, and have to sell it for a ridiculously low value.
What is the 'end game' what am I aiming for, how does it end? I mean with Mario you get to the little flag and "insert attempted Mario flag raising music here".
The cost and time to do things that are not getting me anywhere, what is the point.

What would make you go back to playing it?
Being able to 'gift' the dragons I don't need to others, instead of having to sell them for next to nothing.

So I stewed on this a bit last night in my sleep (my best thinking happens while I sleep) and clearly she has a different 'need' from games than I do. She wants to feel a social connection, which is definitely missing in Dragon Story, I however am a collector, I want the dragons and don't really care that much about social interactions as long as I am getting new dragons.

But what really interests me the most about all of this is the initial 'hook' that made a non-gamer play. I am now also talking to other non-gamers that play these kinds of games, Candy Crush, Bubble Witch and Dragon Story to name a few. There are many of my colleagues, who will readily say that they are non-gamers, that play these games through Facebook. Are they chasing the social connection like my wife, or is that just the beginnings, and then like it did for me some point does it switch from the social, conversation starter (which is why I started Dragon Story, so I could talk to my wife about it) to the collector or achiever types playing and those wanting the social connection stop playing as they need something else to keep them coming back, which Dragon Story is missing, at least in the eyes of my wife.

So how does this apply to my upcoming project? Well it appears that there may be a 'grace' period where even those gamers (or non-gamers) who crave particular things from a game will play the game to see if it meets their needs. How long this grace period lasts I think would be dependent on how alluring the game is to the other needs that the person playing has, even if it is not their main gaming need. So given that this is a relatively short term project, I may not need to hit all the 'gamer' needs exactly from the start, but instead give a 'sniff' of them and allow students to find them on their own.

More discussions have been had since I started writing this post 3 or so hours ago, but I have written enough for now, and need to think about these conversations more before I write about them, so stay tuned for more, I feel like I am on the verge of a big shift in my teaching practice. As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Where Does it Fit?

The three topics I have remaining this year for my Year 8 Maths class are;

Linear and Non-Linear Graphs.
Geometric Reasoning.
Money and Financial Maths.

So where is this project going to fit? I think it would fit best in the Money and Financial Maths unit, and with my experience in the Pre-CAL Numeracy world I already have some pretty good ideas of how to design a project in Minecraft around things like this. I have, however, been doing a bit of reading on the gamer psyche, mostly from http://mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm about the 4 types of gamers and their needs.

So how am I going to get an activity that suits the killers, as well as the explorers, achievers and socialisers? I could almost guarantee that I have at least one of each type in my class, just reading about the sorts of things they value I can clearly see where some students will be. I will still get them to sit the test and give me their results, but I am sure I will need to have all four catered for.

So I am beginning to think of activities.

Killers: Running a store, charging what you want for items that are rare. I think this would fit with the implying ones will unto others and making them 'suffer' that gives these students the desire to continue to play. I am also considering adding a PvP arena where students who want to fight to be the best in a tournament type thing can do so.

Explorers: Have the opportunity to purchase a plot of land to explore, maybe a time limit would work best. You can purchase a set amount of time 'outside' the designated area in which you can explore as much as you like.

Socialisers: Have a central 'town' area where interactions can occur. Maybe these students would like to build the central town together, including a hotel of sorts and perhaps other buildings for the community.

Achievers: I am thinking I need a list of achievements and their rewards from the start. Similar to what I tried with the Pre-CAL Numeracy project to fulfil the needs of the achievers.

So, the more I think about this, and where I want to head, and think back to the buy-in I got with that Pre-CAL Numeracy project, that it actually (accidentally) fulfilled a lot of the needs of gamers of varying types. So using that as a basis I think I can more formally address these needs and also develop a much clearer path forward.

I still need to think of the outcomes in the designated unit, and how I can ensure that all students can buy-in at their level and meet these outcomes in the time we have. My real disadvantage is that this unit will be run for 4 weeks or so at most, which means less than 20hours total in the game. So I am seriously considering opening up to the outside world just for my students, to allow them to access from outside school hours and see if they do in fact buy in and see how the project progresses.

I will not be setting up a pay system like I did for Pre-CAL, but I do need to figure out a way for students to gather resources and barter/trade with each other or with NPCs for either cash or other resources. I am not quite sure how to get the 'secret' information to assist in moving forward in the game into my plan just yet, that is what I am thrashing about at the moment.

Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below if you have any suggestions or ideas I have not yet considered.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Gaming Dynamics and Using Games in the Classroom

OK, so a lot of my posts lately have been very………. I don't have the word I need here. So I will get right into the post, and if you have the word I am looking for put it in the comments below (please don't use the word 'boring' to describe them :D)

I was talking to Shane tonight on Skype about my latest post, about what I was planning and why. He put a massive cat amongst my planning pigeons, so much so that they have all flown away, figuratively speaking of course.

He obviously has done a lot more reading than I have on the topic of games, and the psyche of gamers. I am just a game player, not a game designer, I have had not training in it, but gee I feel like I am being schooled at the moment. Not in a bad way, I am loving the discussions around what I am currently doing, what my issues are with it, where I want to take my teaching and the path I want to take to get there.

So after the discussions a couple of posts ago with Randall, I had a semi-solid plan of what I wanted, and how I was going to achieve it. Then I read that article that I mentioned in the last post, and my semi-solid plan became a not very solid plan. Now after discussions with Shane tonight, I now have no plan, at least no plan for creating my next project.

I do however have an idea of where to start, Shane mentioned the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, and the four main categories of gamers. He asked whether I had ever; a) sat the test myself and b) given the test to the students I am working with. The answer to both was of course a no. So he gave me a brief rundown on what each 'personality' wants out of the games they play. He also pointed out a pretty major flaw in my whole teaching in Minecraft at the moment, which is a valid point, and not one I had considered.

This is why I love having a collaborative community to discuss my ideas with, there are so many opinions and so much experience out there that I am consistently blown away by the support I receive. Anyway that is an aside, the flaw is purpose, or the lack of purpose I 'give' the students for completing the lessons I provide in Minecraft, and probably a lot of other lessons also. I think this is why I am not getting the 'buy in' from students and their progress through the task is limited due to this lack of 'effort'.

Don't take that the wrong way, I don't actually blame the students here, this is a flaw in my planning. I have a purpose in mind for both myself and the students when I work through these lessons with students. My purpose is to push my own teaching boundaries, give the students something different to do, perhaps something interesting and fun, but still learning what they need along the way. I also think that my purpose for the students has just been 'the learning' but that is clearly not how games work, at least not for all of the students that are involved.

So, now, without a plan for the actual project I want to complete, how do I get started? I think, when I get a chance, I will get the students to sit the Bartle Test, gather their results and use those to inform my decision making in the development of this project. So of course this has pushed back the project even more, to the point where it may not happen until very near the end of the year. I still hope to have a really good project to use with my students, and of course share with the community, but more importantly I want this project to be something the students can be proud of at the end, something that they can share what they achieved with others to give them the purpose that has been missing.

So here are my current goals for this project, perhaps a bit large, but I am going to aim to fulfil as many of these as I can.

Game like: I want this to be as much like a game as possible, this will require me to have a wide range of activities to suit the wide range of gamers I am sure a present in my class, while still allowing all students to achieve the 'outcomes'. (Note that I did not say the same learning…. I don't think all students need to achieve exactly the same learning, however I need to have a set of outcomes that students will need to meet.)

At their level: All games have options for entering at the level you are at. I want to achieve this also, I want the option for students to buy in at a point where they currently are, and get challenged to push forward 'to the next level'.

'Secrets': I want students to be able to find additional information outside of my class (or the game) to assist them in progressing, I think this will only work for some students, but it is something I would like to investigate further, and what better way then having a go at it.

Purpose: I want students to see the purpose for engaging in the tasks, and for that not to just be "because Elfie said so." I want real purpose, this is going to be a massive step for me and quite possibly for my students also, this is something I am sure they will value, but it is not something that they are used to 'getting'.

Complete: So many of my projects are 'complete' to a superficial standard, and I don't mean superficial as in only on the surface. I mean, because of the nature of the way I plan activities at the moment, they are not as complete as they could be. I would like this project to be complete well before I use it with students, completely planned, annotated and possibly already shared with the community. Usually I will  share my projects throughout the planning stage here on my blog and then use my class as 'testers' to determine how well a task will work, tweak it (or at least have a good reflection on it) and then when I get time actually share the project as a whole (which hardly ever happens).

So I don't know how long this is going to take, I will try to keep updates flowing, but my first step is to analyse the types of gamers in my class, and then begin planning tasks around those different gamers needs that will fulfil the outcomes for this project. It is not often that I get two posts out in the one day, especially of this 'thoughtful' nature, so thanks for reading, and feel free to comment below.

Minecraft has been an 'opener'

So earlier today I read this article (https://medium.com/message/the-secret-of-minecraft-97dfacb05a3c) it popped up on my twitter stream and I had a few spare minutes, and as with most things that are to do with Minecraft I will have a look when I get time. I enjoyed reading it, and some parts raised some interesting lines of thought.

"'Game' doesn't even do it justice. What we're really talking abut here is a generative, networked system laced throughout with secrets."

"Imagine yourself a child, in possession of the secret knowledge."

"To play, you must seek information elsewhere."

Given my recent line of thinking in terms of how I can make my lessons in Minecraft more fluid, more engaging, more open and more fun I think these three quotes started something in my head today.

How do these, along with my thirst for making the learning more game like and hence more engaging, tie in with education?

Imagine you had 'secret' knowledge that you could share with the other students in your class to help them on their journey….

What if we had a system within the game that required students to seek out knowledge from elsewhere and only by doing so could they engage in the 'game'? What affect would this have on students.

How can I make a project within Minecraft that was 'laced' with secrets for students to investigate.

What if I could do this outside of Minecraft? Imagine the powerful learning going on in my classes if I could somehow use these ideas/ideals to generate learning activities within every class.

The real question: HOW DO I DO THIS?

Yet again, I am now readjusting my plans for an upcoming Minecraft activity. So it is all in limbo, I now need to have a serious think about how I can utilise 'secret' knowledge, and the thirst to be the person to find that knowledge and share it with others. This is stepping even farther from 'traditional' teaching methods, something which, of course, is going to take me out of my comfort zone.

So why is Minecraft an opener? For me it has opened many virtual doors and windows. From the collaborative relationships I now have around the globe, centred not only around Minecraft in education, but also playing the game to travelling and sharing a journey as I have never done before.

In doing these things it has opened my teaching methodologies to untold possibilities, and these possibilities (I hope) are beginning to transfer out of Minecraft and that virtual world into 'real' life and my teaching in general. It really has shifted a great deal of my thinking about education, how to best engage students, how to use games in classrooms and also about how to share. Something that I don't think teachers in general do enough, is believe that the journey they are on is worth sharing.

I never did prior to this, everything I did in my classes was 'in' my classes, between my students and me, but sharing what I have been doing in some of my classes over the last 3 years has given me a new perspective on what is worth sharing. Everyone has strengths to add to a discussion, everyone is at a different stage of their journey. I think there is real value in sharing the things you try, whether they turn out amazing, or they make you go home, curl up in a ball and try to forget them. So if you take one thing from this post today:

Share a journey, you might be surprised at what comes from a simple, "Hey I tried this today, this is what happened."

Thanks for reading and feel free to make a comment below, even better share something you tried today, include how it went, what you would change if you were to ever repeat it, you might find it rewarding.

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.