Monday, 29 July 2013

Massive Day Part 2 Done!

Well the transcription/translation lesson has just finished. It ranged from a massive disappointment to a mediocre success. The principle is completely sound, and the machinery worked as it was supposed to. However there were a few issues getting in the way of it being the roaring success I was hoping for.

The top one being the lag, when on my computer, with one lot of machines running and only me on the server, I could place blocks quite fast, so the RNA sequence moved along at a decent pace and got to the ribosome relatively quickly. However having 10 of the machines running with 8 students at only 4 of them, the lag was atrocious. This is not client lag, this was server lag, and I think it was due to the number of computers on an infinite loop to do things. (I was warned to stay away from infinite loops, but I did not quite realise the impact they would have.)

As I stopped, or killed off, the unnecessary computers the lag got much better and the sequences started flowing a lot more smoothly. Hence the mediocre success. The other main issue was my sequence, and it is yet to be determined whether this will be a success or failure as a lesson in terms of looking at mutations and their impact. Tomorrow the students will come back in and complete the mutated sequences. Then we will be able to see whether it is a valuable lesson, or whether I need to do some tweaking before it becomes a lesson worth repeating. The sequence was a fair bit shorter than I expected it to be, which in itself, given the way today went, could possibly be a blessing.

The third issue was that a student managed to break the machinery, they were able to break one of the DNA bases, which I am unsure how to prevent at this stage. This caused the sequence to fall well out of sync and of course impacted severely on the sequence that was presented to the ribosome.

As I said, not a complete failure, but definitely a lot of room for improvement and a lot of investigating on improvements to be made. Thanks for reading, feel free to comment below.

Numeracy World Lesson 1 Done!

The first lesson where students were allowed to join the Numeracy world finished about an hour ago. I am still trying to wrap my head around exactly what happened during the lesson, the recording will help with this, but one thing I am definitely sure of is that students were engaged. There were some teething issues with the install, but they were quickly fixed. Then there were some naming issues, which caused some students to be unable to collect their pay until they logged in with their 'proper' name.

Shane and Matt were on Skype for the hour or so students had access to the world, and their feedback on what they heard has been fantastic. An interesting point here is that the students were amazed that these people wanted to hear what they were doing. They have both given me some of their thoughts on things to adjust before next time, or at least in the near future, that will make it easier to manage, and perhaps free me up in class too. One great idea that I will most likely be offering to students next week, is an extra payment for being a 'helper' that goes around the room helping other students if they get stuck.

One student, already, killed a spider, went to the not yet implemented sales floor and wanted to sell his piece of string to get some extra cash. Now that is an entrepreneur in the making right there. Many students did exactly what I was hoping they would do, once they ran out of cash, or things to do in the numeracy world, they wanted to log into the creative world to make their houses. So what I am thinking of doing is putting that creative world as a MystCraft dimension in the Numeracy world, so that they can stay in the same log in, and head over and keep building. This will also make it easier for me to copy/paste their houses over when it is time to do so.

Another interesting thing that happened was students were helping defend each other from the monsters at night, one even learnt from their first death, went and bought a sword and then went back out to help out even more.

The discussions with students were quite interesting, one student was trying to buy 64 raw fish, so I went over, asked her if she really wanted to buy 64 raw fish, she said no, I only want one. So we headed to the right floor and went to buy one. Then I went on and asked if she wanted to buy a cooked fish for 4 stone, or an uncooked fish for 2 stone. She said, "Will I need to cook it?" my response was yeah you probably should. She then needed to add it to her budget, when she worked out she just paid $20 for one raw fish she went "20 DOLLARS!!! WHAT!!!!" Hopefully students will learn the value of thinking about their spending as time in world progresses.

So where to from here? Next up is to demo to students how the traders work, and how the bank currency swap works. I am planning on using the first part of each lesson to teach students particular in-game skills that they will need. Also I will be beginning to offer worksheets on percentages ready for them to apply for their home loan in the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading, there will be another post later today after the transcription/translation lesson is run this afternoon.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Huge Day.

Tomorrow is perhaps the biggest day in my MinecraftEdu journey so far. I have the first time my Pre-CAL numeracy students join 'their' world, and get paid. I am also unveiling my new transcription/translation map, including mutations, to my senior biology students. This is the culmination of a couple of months work (on both maps).

Needless to say the nerves are all aflutter, even now nearly 2 years on from my humble beginnings allowing students to be neurotransmitters in a virtual world. I like unleashing new projects on students and seeing what happens, the problem is these projects suck up so much of my time to generate, and I hope that time is not wasted. Not that I think that will be the case with either of these maps.

I am about to do a video walk through of both of these worlds, the reason I have been holding off, apart from waiting until they were ready, is that the transcription/translation map is relying heavily on an upcoming programming suite for MinecraftEdu, called ComputerCraftEdu (at least that is what I am calling it). The guys at TeacherGaming have finally unveiled the project and are looking for beta testers, so that means I now have permission to publish videos showcasing what it is capable of, as well as how I am using it.

Now if you are interested in getting students to learn programming, I cannot recommend this highly enough. I have been testing some of the early alpha versions with students, and I can tell you that students with absolutely no programming knowledge can pick this up, play with it, problem solve and get things happening amazingly quick.

Back to the actual content of this post, I will talk more about CCEdu in the future I am sure. The Numeracy pay system is not going to be as 'cool' as I had hoped. Apparently when trading, Minecraft villagers ignore the extra data that can be associated with items, so my idea of assigning each student a data value and adjusting the worth of that data value in the villager each week was just not going to work and they would only trade 1 type of coin. I thought about relying on the Custom NPC's but, like the villagers, that would only allow me to pay the students with 1 type of coin.

So instead I have a massive array of command blocks, I have dubbed it the command centre, where students names are checked as to whether they have already been paid that week, if not they are paid their due and then marked as paid. Then at the end of the week I go in and hit the reset button and it resets all students to not-paid and also resets their death count to 0.

All in all a relatively simple to manage system, that gives greater flexibility and accuracy, for a minor loss of 'coolness'. I have been speaking to colleagues a bit over the last week or so, and one of them put forth the idea of live streaming my class. I must admit this intrigues me, how many people out there would be interested in seeing an in-game class live? I am not promising anything, but I can say that I am not wholly opposed to the idea. I think I am going to do a bit of a trial run tomorrow with a visitor in the Numeracy world and on Skype as I wander the room talking to students. Of course this depends on whether the students are happy for me to do this.

All in all, tomorrow is going to be a massive day for me. Thanks for reading and if you would be interested in seeing a live streamed lesson please leave a comment below saying so, and if there is enough interest I will see what can be organised.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


Who knew. Edmodo and Google Docs can be paired. Found that out just this morning, that makes sharing documents with students much easier. It also should mean that the students only need to log into Edmodo to access their files. The one disadvantage is that they cannot create docs in Edmodo, that still has to be done in Drive.

However it does hopefully mean that delivery of their payslips should me much easier, as I can just share it with them in Edmodo. The payslip document has begun to take shape, I spent a couple of hours yesterday messing around trying to get a functional spreadsheet that gives the students the info they need, but also gives me a summary sheet so that I can more easily put the relevant information into the game.

Now to work out the easiest way of sharing just one page of the document with students, or whether to export each payslip and share individually as a pdf.

Many hours later.....

There is no simple way to share a single page of a google spreadsheet with students, however there are a couple of options I now need to consider. One option is to have a master file set up that then 'pushes' the data to students. The issue with this is that I would either have to have a different master file for each week, or students will get the every week appearing on their sheet. The second option is to have a master file each week, that is exported to pdf, split into individual pages and then each individual page is dropped into a shared folder for that student.

Many more hours later......

Most of the problems have been solved, and the convoluted set up should be offset by the ease of use throughout the term. I have decided to have a different master file for each week and each student will have their own document with a different tab for each week. The data will be automatically pulled into their document from my master document for that week. Gee, even the explanation seems convoluted to me and I am writing it. Maybe I will try drawing a picture.

I hope that terrible drawing helps explain what is happening. Now this post has taken me a whole day to write, in between testing and trialling many things on google, and my teaching. However I have more to write, today with my smaller Wednesday class we started discussing the income and fines the students can be given.

What I found extremely interesting is that students were vicious. Not towards each other, but in terms of the fines, they knew what behaviour they didn't want to see in the class, either virtual or real, and were pricing their fines to try to ensure that these behaviours do not occur. To give an example, deliberate destruction of anothers' property virtual or real will incur a $1000 fine + repair costs. To put this in perspective, the base wage students will be earning, having done no work at all is $100, if they complete their budget this will net them another $400. So the absolute minimum of work will get the students $500 for the week.

There are of course additional opportunities to be earning money, doing any homework for maths will get them $3000 for the week. Completing worksheets of varying difficulties will get them upwards of $1000, multiple sheets double the reward. So 2 sheets you get the $1000 for the first and $2000 for the second. Getting no fines for the week also gets you an extra $500. So with my smaller group we have come up with a list of 17 penalties or fines, and only 10 ways to earn money. This will possibly need to be rebalanced.

One student at the end of the lesson came up to me and said "I am not going to go into business with student X, as they are not going to do the work, and I will have to pay for it all." Interesting, another said when we were talking about how much the work was worth said "This will be the only time I ever have done work." Even more interesting, this is a student, whom I taught last semester. I use taught very loosely here, he perhaps actively worked for a total of 2 weeks in the 20 or so he was in my class, so it will be very interesting to see how long this works for this particular student.

I am going to get all this up and running ready for the students to log into the world and receive their first 2 weeks pay on Monday. Then they can start looking at blocks of land which they want to buy and build a house on. I will probably in the next couple of weeks be running a Minecraft maths activity similar to what I did with my year 8 maths students, be it on area, volume, perimeter or even probability and the reward for students will be extra cash, that they will have to add into their budget for that week.

Stay tuned for more updates, and feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


I have been having a serious think about how I can automate as much of this Pre-CAL Numeracy map as possible so that it does not become a burden and take too much time to be sustainable throughout the term. I think the process of altering the market prices will be far too involved and suck too much time to be sustainable, so I am taking that off the plans for now. I have explored using command blocks (another big thanks to Shane here for taking the time to be my guinea pig to test things out on, and helping me problem solve) to automate the payment of students.

The plan being that students will head up to the payment area, press a button, the command blocks will 'check' to see who is there are give them their 'payslip' and then mark them as paid. They can then take their payslip to a villager/NPC and trade it for their payment. This of course is still not fully automated, but it is close, the only work I need to do each week is reset the students paid 'tag' so that they can again receive their payslip, and also adjust one of the villager/NPC and copy/paste it over the others. So I will need to adjust how much their specific trade will be worth each week based on the work completed in class.

Yesterday I showed the students through the world, just a quick tour explaining how things work, and giving them a rough idea of how much building materials cost so that they can plan accordingly while building their houses in the creative world. It was interesting to see students doing calculations to work out how much their flooring was going to cost and then changing the material as it was too expensive. I am hoping to get the students more involved in using spreadsheets to help manage their costings. This started yesterday with 2 columns on a Drive spreadsheet, block and number. Then we will add in cost and do some simple calculations within the sheet.

Another thoughtful addition to the world, so that death in game means something, is a penalty system, each death of a student (as they keep their inventory upon death to stop others capitalising on others' demise) will cost the students a certain amount of money. This is achieved through the use of the scoreboard system, but it is not automatic unfortunately. I will need to re-zero the death counter for each student each week and manually subtract money from their pay.

I am also thrashing around the idea of how to manage the students finances, as ideally I want them to be doing it themselves, however there is no easy way for them to pay me, without me spending a lot of my time in-game receiving payments and noting what has been received. Which would be fine if I didn't have a class to teach. So I am thinking that on their payslip they get each week (in real life) I will give them a gross pay, then do the deductions (like a direct debit from a bank account), and then give them their net pay. It will be these numbers that they will need to add into their budgets as well as any extra expenditure.

Edmodo is proving to be an interesting tool to be using. I gave the students a badge last week, and despite being in year 10 (16 years old or so) they are still excited to receive a virtual badge, the majority of students voted for a continuation of badge giving in a poll, with only one student saying they did not care either way. Another big advantage to Edmodo is that I can also easily see who has not shared their budget with me, both through the badge and the mark book, so chasing that up is very easy, this will of course carry on to any assessment item and badge achievement throughout the project.

The next step I guess is to work out a heap of badges that will be available to students, list them down and make it like a set of achievable goals for the students and then of course, give it to the students so that they know what they need to do to receive badges.

I think that is enough for now, thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Feedback From a Student.

Every Wednesday at my school, and in the whole area that my school is in, is VET day, which means that those students who are attending TAFE one day a week, do so on a Wednesday. The impact on my year 10 PreCAL class is large. I go from 20 or so students to around 8. A couple of those 8 missed the first lesson on Monday, so I sat with them and explained what the overall plan was.

I had my concerns about one students reaction, who I know is not a gamer, to the point where he said that my Minecraft avatar on Edmodo was 'gay'. But he surprised me, and it will be extremely interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out, his response was something along the lines of.

"Wow, you are using like 4 tools, to make this really interesting aren't you?"

Now to have a response like that from this particular student is a big thing, and I really appreciate that he is willing to give it a go. Another interesting thing that happened yesterday was that students were already thinking of businesses they wanted to run in the game, one being a nightclub (which I was told I could get into for free :D), another was a zoo, both of these ideas came from the one student but I think he is going to go with the nightclub.

Tomorrow we begin the discussions about the houses we want to build, we will talk about a rough cost for them and then hopefully next week the students can begin to build them in a creative world, costing as they go, ready for me to import into the real world when they have the money in game.

Thanks for reading again, feel free to leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Passwords, How Hard Are They to Remember??

Seriously. Students made accounts and chose their own passwords just yesterday, perhaps 27 hours previous and they already forgot their passwords??? Not all of course, but some had. Now with Edmodo that is fine because I can change their password for them, for the Google account this is not so easy.

On the bright side most of the students managed to get into their Drive folder, open up their budget and share that with me. So now I have access to about 15 of my students budgets online, any time. This is great! I have also added that to Edmodo as an assignment, so that I can keep track of who has done it, and who has not. (Even I am learning along the way)

The next task for today was to start looking at floor plans, find one that they wanted and save it to their computer somehow. Then comes the real fun bit where we can begin talking about about what is a realistic house that the students can afford to build/buy with their wages. The important thing for the start of this task is that students look at floor plans, how they are drawn, what they look like, and then we can start making our own to certain specifications and costing along the way. Then flip it into a perspective drawing and finally build it in a creative world in Minecraft to double check the cost.

Then students will have something to aim for when it comes to their application for a loan after 2 weeks worth of wages. I am really enjoying the beginning of this project despite pulling my hair out with the set up of the backend sharing and accounts. I am hoping that the hard yards are over now and we can get into the real fun Maths plan I have for the remainder of the year.

Just a quick update, thanks for reading.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Lesson 1: PreCAL Introduction.

Today was the first day back at school after our mid year break. It also happened to have a double of the new PreCAL class I am taking, first off to start the day. So that is a 90 minute session to start off a brand new course in a brand new semester. I have held off doing too much more to the maths world until I had a chance to chat to the students and gauge their interest in attempting this.

So I started by explaining to the students that I had pretty much the ability to write the course any way I wanted, and that I wanted to make it different to anything I had ever done before, and probably different to anything they had ever done in Maths before. I had a couple of students say that they would not play Minecraft, my reply was something along the lines of "That's fine, I have other options for you, one being worksheets, the same learning will happen anyway." They very quickly quietened down and listened to what I was proposing.

We spent about 5 minutes in Minecraft for the lesson, right at the end, and that was just in a new world in creative mode. The rest of the lesson was spent in getting things set up. First off I got all the students to sign up to Edmodo and join my PreCAL Numeracy class there. I have no idea how to use it, or what I am planning on doing there, but it will be a good spot to store assessments and communications with students. This part of the lesson went swimmingly, the sign up process for Edmodo makes it super easy to get students into a class and since most of the students did not have an account already there were no unknown password issues.

The next part of the lesson was to get students to either log in to, or create a Google account, so that we can use Drive to store their budget and they can share that with me so I can see it at any time. Now this was an involved process, there were many students that had google accounts but did not know the password for it. To add to that issue Google's sign up system was acting odd, it would timeout on account creation, but it would create the account. It took us quite some time to figure that out and by then students had tried so many different passwords that they had forgotten the first one they put in.

So that took up the majority of the lesson, the students then opened up my budget spreadsheet and made a copy in their own Drive. Tomorrows job is to get them all to share that document with me, then we can start talking about how the spreadsheet works, and how they can use it to help them manage their Minecraft cash.

I also chased up the student who I am creating the Braille Periodic Table for, he said the 3rd version was great so I have started the long 10 or so hour job or printing all the pieces of it. The two the largest pieces got printed today with 5 more to go, hopefully I will be able to take a picture of it once it is all together to show the finished product. That is it for now, thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


It has been a while since my last update so I figured it was time to write an update on the animal cell and the new Pre-CAL maths world. First of all I think I need to thank Shane (find him on the google group if you would like), he has also been on a break from school and has been helping me a lot on the Maths world. Mostly with the design of the residential floors and also the NPC's and design of the residential lobby.

The rest of this post will mostly be screenshots showing the in-game look so far, but I will say prior to that that the trading floors are coming along quite nicely, the first floor, or the non-bulk purchase floor, is complete, all the villagers are in and modified to be trading. The second floor, the bulk purchase floor, is still being worked on in terms of the villagers and their trades. The third, selling floor, is not even begun in terms of the villagers. The fourth floor, the bank is almost set up, I still need to tweak the NPC's on that floor with dialogue. The fifth floor, the residential lobby is amazing (thanks to Shane again) that is complete with design and NPC's.

The sixth and seventh floors, the first of the residential floors, and the cheapest to rent, are complete as is the fifteenth floor which is the penthouse, and most expensive to rent.

Now to the animal cell, the machinery for DNA-mRNA-Protein is complete, I am still waiting on a test subject, either my wife or some students when we get back to school to check the timing and make sure it copes with the possible speed, and that the mRNA does not travel too fast for the ribosome student to put in the amino acid.

Enough blabbering, onto the screenshots.

The non-bulk sales floor.
The bank lobby
The teller line.
The residential lobby
The hotel restaurant.
The cheap rooms.
 The penthouse dining room
 The penthouse balcony and pool.
 An update on the front of the building.
 The machinery to convert DNA to RNA
 The 20 amino acids selection panel
 The start of a polypeptide chain.
 The rest of the polypeptide chain.

Thanks for reading, more updates to come, and keep an eye on my youtube channel for video updates soon.