Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Classes Start SOON!!!

I am very excited, I don't remember ever being this eager to get back in to the class room at the end of holidays. I have had a lot of ideas that I want to try using with the students in MinecraftEdu. Most are just quick, easy to make maps that teach a specific concept, ones that I think are hard to grasp. I hope that these virtual interactions will help the students understand the concept, and also remember the learning that occurred in game.

I have made absolutely no progress on my cell tour, I just keep putting it off, I think I was a bit overly ambitious with the size. I wont abandon it completely, but I have had other projects that I was thinking about and needed to do some work on. One was the sequential answer system, I now have a working model, including a 3 strikes and you are 'dead' function.

I attempted to record a tutorial on how to build one of these systems, it took a long time, so it is the first time I have had to split a tutorial into parts, 5 in total. I am not sure how clear the tutorial is, and if someone could reproduce what I have built by watching the video (or if anyone would want to). So if you get a chance to watch the 5 part tutorial your feedback would be very welcomed as to how easy you think it would be (or was) to reproduce a system like the one in the video. Part 1 is below.

I have had a play on someone else server since my last post, and I came across none of the redstone glitches I was having on my own school server. This leaves me with 3 options, the first is that the Minecraft update 1.1.0 had a lot of SMP redstone update bugs fixed. The second being that my server needs a bit (read lot) more resources, i.e. more RAM (most likely). The third, which is most unlikely, is that there are glitches in the Edu mod.

So I am waiting to see what happens when the Edu mod is released with 1.1.0 compatibility and if I still have the redstone glitches I will allocate more RAM to the server and hope for the best. Otherwise I will have to hassle the devs to try and work out what the issue could be.

That is pretty much all the news I have, I am hoping I will be able to do more Minecraft educating with the students over the next 9 weeks and keep you guys updated on our progress, instead of just rambling about what I have done, I will be able to get back to showing you what students have created in the wonderful world on Minecraft. As always thanks for taking the time to read.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Redstone Is Testing.

I have just spent the last hour or two working on a combination lock in Minecraft. The principle is sound, my idea works, it is just the darn redstone update glitches that are so common in multiplayer Minecraft that are causing me issues. So if I end up doing single player 'adventure' maps to teach the students things I have the perfect combination lock, or numerical answer question, or anything else that is order specific in terms of input. I will probably record a tutorial on it anyway as I think it is a cool idea. I have not worked on the cell since my last update so nothing interesting there. So I guess that just leaves screenshots of the combination lock. Enjoy.

 The 'interface' with the numbers 0-9 as buttons, and a reset button.
 The wiring heading towards the back, what a mess of redstone it is.
The whole build, at this stage anyway. While I was writing this post I remembered I need to add each incorrect digit to the reset line. And I have just had even more thoughts about what happens if they choose the correct first digit, then one of the correct digits for the second, but not the second. Hmmmmm, much more wiring to be done before it is a full working project. Better get back to it then. Thanks for taking the time to read.


I have spent a little more time messing around and I think I have it fully working, except for the glitches. All the incorrect numbers reset the system, also the 'correct' numbers in the incorrect order will reset the system too. Here are the updated screenshots, notice the added lines on the red wool in front of the pistons, that is the reset line. I think it works pretty well.
The new and improved whole build.
 Now when the piston is retracted the signal sent down the wire will reset the system. But if you have the sequence correct, the piston will be pushed out and the signal will trigger the next piston in line.

I am sure this could be neatened up considerably, and made much smaller, a project for another time though.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Cannot Help Myself.

Hi all, I know in my last post I said I must not start any new projects until I finish my cell tour map, but I just couldn't help myself. I had a thought, and it needed testing. I had spent about a day hunting around for mapping tools trying to find one that I liked, and worked the way I wanted. Then I posted my last post, and went to bed.

While asleep I had even more thoughts about contour maps and how best to use Minecraft to help the kids learn about them, and what they represent. I had a brainwave that I needed to test out. So I set myself up in a fresh world on the Edu server and proceeded to record myself as I put my thought into action. Below is the resulting video.

I am amazed at how well it turned out. It is exactly what I was looking for and I can barely wait the 3-4 weeks it is going to be before I teach contour maps so that I can use this with my class to see how it goes with students. Until then I guess I will just have to keep thinking of new ideas. As always thanks for taking the time to read my blog, feedback and comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cell Membrane 1/4 Done.

Well it has been a while since I have let you guys know what is happening. It has been super busy this last week or so, it is coming up to the end of our holidays which means all the work that I was supposed to spread across the holidays has, as per normal, been left to the 'last minute'. I work better to a timeline anyway.

I spoke to one of the devs this morning and he told me about some of the cool new features coming up in the next release, which he also said should be within the next couple of weeks which is awesome. It hopefully will include 1.1.0 support. He did say that teleport blocks should be included, from what I understand these can be placed around the world, and teachers can access them from an in-game menu and teleport to any of them. Each teleport block can also be hidden or shown to students, and at each block you can decide which other blocks the students can get to from there.

Also included are some new build modes, one which is a more advanced version of the current 'horizontal build mode' that allows blocks to be placed in front of you. This is going to allow you to place blocks where you are looking, with distance chosen by scrolling. The other 'locks' you to the center of the block and you can move one block at a time, even through walls, so that measuring distances while building will be even easier.

I also made a request for a compass that points North instead of to spawn, as I am teaching Geography this year, which is not what I am trained for, but I think the potential for mapping and orienteering activities in Minecraft is enormous.

My first thought is contour lines, now these are difficult to grasp, I think because you cannot walk the mountain that you were just given the contour lines for (in a 1 hour lesson anyway). Step into Minecraft, where you can walk the mountain that you have just seen the contour lines, then you can pick another mountain, use some of the free mapping tools out there for Minecraft and bam, you can also draw your own contour map for a different mountain that you saw in the world of Minecraft.

Then orienteering, instead of, or more likely as well as, setting up an orienteering course around the school, set one up in a Minecraft world where there are 'prizes' (read diamonds) at certain points along the path you need to take, or perhaps the parts needed to build 'something'. All of this is just rough thoughts for now. I am nowhere near completed my cell so I must not start a new project/map just yet.

So now for the update on the cell, as I said I have not had a great deal of time to work on it, but I have completed the wireframe for the bottom half of the membrane and actually managed to fill in half of the bottom half, and since I am a maths teacher I know that means that the cell membrane is about one quarter of the way done. Here are the latest screenshots. Enjoy.

 I have started placing some torches around underneath just so that I can see the general shape and make sure it looks how it is 'supposed' to.

I think the overall shape is quite good, I am really happy with the 'randomness' and folds that are being created as I go.

As always thanks for taking the time to read, please leave a comment with your thoughts or suggestions if you have any.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Please Vote!

A very quick update, because I forgot to mention it in my last post. Can you please support the creators of the Edu mod in winning an award for a Primary & Pre-School Innovation Award.

Please follow this link, the category to vote in is the second down the page, click on the 'vote' button beside MinecraftEdu. Any support you are willing to provide that is going to help the developers gain the recognition they deserve is greatly appreciated.

Voting closes 12 midnight GMT Saturday the 21st of January, so don't delay.

Thanks again.

Collaboration is Cool

Well my first collaboration with another teacher working with MinecraftEdu happened just the other day. Bob from LA has been using Minecraft in his class for a while, here is a link to his blog, but now he is investigating the Edu mod to see if it suits his needs better. After watching some of my tutorial videos he sent me an email asking some questions about what the Edu mod can do, so I invited him onto my school server to explain how I set up my 'spawn holding cell' on my 3D build map.

We spent about 2 hours running through how to use the advanced build tools available in the Edu mod, and this is where I think my videos are lacking, I think they explain what the features are and what you can do, but not how to do it, so now I have a much clearer idea of things that need to be recorded to help out teachers who want to use Minecraft in their classrooms.

On the map making side, I have not spent as much time as I probably should have but I have started working on making the cell membrane into a 3 dimensional shape so I will be able to see where I need to place more organelles. I have found that 'wire framing' is the easiest way to create these shapes, so the top of the cell membrane has been wire framed, and I have started on the bottom. I will fill in the bottom when ready, but I am going to leave the top open so that daylight lights the cell while I am working on it. Here are the latest screenshots.
 This is where I started, just to give you a point of reference.
 The beginnings of the frame, I find this much easier to get the shape I want. I just stand at the top of the shape and hold the right mouse button until the blocks reach me.
 I figured I should frame a bit excessively as it will be easier to fill in the gaps.
The top frame is complete.
The start of the bottom frame.

Thanks for taking the time to read again. If you have the Edu mod and are interested in working together on maps, or would like an introduction on the build tools before I manage to record more tutorials let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Cell Continues to Grow.

After spending many more hours working on the 3D cell it is slowly coming together. I have finished off the nucleus and ER into 3d shapes, started on the walkway students will use. But there is still a massive amount of work to do. It is because of the amount of work and time going into this project that I am thinking I will not build a plant cell beside it.

My year 11 Biology students can build it for me once they have walked through mine. This way they get to show their understanding of the similarities and differences between a plant and animal cell, and also work as a team. Walking through mine also gives them the opportunity to see how the 3D tour map works, which I think was a stumbling block when I tried to get my year 9s to tackle one last year. Of course the massive bonus, for me at least, is one of many hands make light work. So instead of me spending weeks creating, we can get it done in a much shorter time.

I have been uploading the build process to youtube, but this does not seem very popular, so I will finish uploading the footage I have, and not worry about recording and publishing the rest. If you really want to see the build footage let me know in the comments and I will continue to record.

Here are the most recent screenshots.

 The ER about halfway done.
 The other side once the ER was completed.
 Inside the ER.
The overall picture.

I think it is coming along nicely. Lighting is definitely going to be an issue though, random torches all over is not the look I am going for, so I might need to work on mood lighting and hiding the lights a little bit. As always any thoughts or feedback are welcomed in the comments.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Power is Amazing.

I have had the latest version of the edu mod (0.975) since before Christmas, but it took until a couple of days ago to work out how to use the clear feature that was added. The fill feature was easy, but how the clear worked eluded me. It was not until I needed to use it that I decided to try and work it out (what is it that they say about 'just in time' learning being a better way of learning than 'just in case' learning?). And work it out I did.

I have got to say I was amazed that with about 4 clicks I could clear an area too big to count, I know it was about 30 blocks deep, but I have not gone back and tried to count the sides. I was floored, so floored in fact I undid the clear, and set up to record it so I could share the power of the edu mod on youtube, and here with you.

And there is the video, it took about 26 seconds to calculate what needed clearing, and when I checked the server logs there was a fair amount of "[WARNING] Can't keep up! Did the system time change, or is the server overloaded" but as you can see on the video the outcome is amazing. It would have taken over an hour to clear an area that large just in creative mode.

I am trying to use twitter more, and am tweeting when I blog and upload videos to youtube, so follow me on twitter (@tickleme_elfman) to receive those. Thanks again for taking the time.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Thinking in 3 Dimensions is HARD!

After making note of how the students don't think in 3 dimensions when given the opportunity in December last year, today I have fallen for the same trap.

I was creating the first of my 3D tour maps, an animal cell and had to really concentrate on thinking in terms of a 3 dimensional shape instead of a flat model. It is really quite hard to do, normally I draw a cell on the board, so I have a pretty good idea of what a cross section should look like, but trying to translate that into a 3D model in Minecraft was more difficult than I thought.

That being said, as long as I kept reminding myself that I was building in a 3D environment and to stop thinking 'flat' I made pretty good progress, but it took me about half an hour to realise. So the first half hour of building was what I am going to call 'mapping out the cross section'. The following screenshot shows the first half an hour.

So this is the 'midline' of the cell, most are on a 2d plane, however some are dropped slightly lower than the others. I used the 'horizontal build mode' to build in mid air so that I didn't have to clear underneath.

After that half an hour I turned off the 'horizontal build mode' and solidified all the lines and then started fleshing out the nucleolus. The below screenshot shows the 3D nucleolus.

I also created one of the mitochondria, including cristae. I am concerned about lighting, but I figure if I light the path the students follow that might provide a fair bit of ambient light where needed. There is much more building to be done, but the other mitochondria just need to be 'shells' no cristae required as the students wont be walking through. As always thoughts, feedback and suggestions are welcomed in the comments. I also recorded the building so far, so keep an eye on my youtube channel if you would like to see that.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Thinking Hats.

Well I have spent about 2-3 hours map making, and have just finished a brand new map. I was sitting around today writing courses for my Year 7 Science class, and I came across de Bono's 'thinking hats' and thought to myself, that is normally pretty dry and boring, and the kids seem to forget it as soon as the lesson finishes, maybe I should try making a Minecraft map to teach them instead.

So a few hours later, wham, one appeared before my eyes.

Nope, not really but without the advanced build tools of MinecraftEdu it would have taken significantly longer to create this map. I am not completely sold on the map as yet, it is not 'fun' yet, I am going to have to think of some ways to spice it up a bit, but the majority of information is laid out in a nice linear path going through various areas of the map.

I am thinking that it might be also be worthwhile creating a map for the 'multiple intelligences' and getting the students to fill out a MI survey whilst running around a Minecraft world, but at this stage the survey is over 30 questions long, and getting a 'final score' at the end stating which intelligence is the strongest is going to be very tricky too. I will ponder this some more over the coming weeks and see what I can come up with.

I recorded about 2 hours of map making, and I would like to edit and speed up the video down to around 15 minutes if I can, if not I will have to upload it to youtube in parts, which is fine, but it is always good to have a goal.

Now here are some screenshots of the map, if you think you might like to use it, or you just want it to have a look, let me know through the comments and I will sort something out.

An overall picture of the map, the spawn is up the top, a little higher than the red platform. I was originally going to make each colour an actual hat, but decided I was not artistic or talented enough to pull it off with any flair. So I just went for different looking areas.
 The spawn point.
 The sort of information/questions for discussion as we travel around the map.
 And again.
The white area is the only place I used the information blocks as 'teleporters' and information delivery.
 The green spiral, I am hoping it doesn't make the kids too dizzy.
I thought it would be cool if the blue hat was under water, so I used glass panes. I am very happy with how it turned out.
And the freedom at the end, if time permits, but if I can make the map more fun throughout, I might remove the 'freedom' from the end, will have to kid test it to find out for sure. I will most definitely be updating you, and the map once I have tested it on students, should that read 'on' students or 'with' students??  ;)

Thanks for taking the time to read, hope your enjoyed, and again, if you think you could use this, or have ideas on how it could be improved, please let me know in the comments.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Greetings and Happy New Year. I hope you have all had a lovely holiday season. The school Edu server was down for a while, but it is back up and running and I have started creating a 'town' map for students to become involved in during my Minecraft lunchtime sessions. I still have a couple more weeks off and have just come back from a wonderful family holiday at the beach, so I am feeling very well rested.

So as of tomorrow (or possibly the next day), I will get back into the swing of things and get some more map making done as well as some of the other work that needs to be done and keep you updated with pictures and ideas.

I will also be working on some more video tutorials so keep an eye on my youtube channel.

Here are some screenshots of the town map. My plan is to make the students build their 'store/house' in a designated area and then they can 'work' in that store and gather resources and sell to other students. I am thinking I might need to install 'iconomy' though otherwise it might become a bit messy and some students might steal from others. I guess I can only try it and see and if things go pear shaped 'start again', that is the beauty of virtual worlds, you can always press the reset button.

The overall 'town' at the moment, I have a couple of ideas for shops and have sectioned areas where I think it would be best.
The soon to be food store, I am thinking I might split food into a butcher and a baker, more jobs for more kids.
The mines, I think a lot of students will want to be working in the mines, I know that would probably be my preference.