Sunday, March 23, 2014

Minecraft in Language Arts

Students had their 4th day on minecraft this past Tuesday after taking a break for Spring Break. Students continue to build their Middle East world. I had some trouble with griefing by one of the students who became invisible. I am going to have to see if I can get some data and find out who it is. I think there is a way to do that, I just need to investigate.

I continue to be amazed and surprised at how well my students can understand the ins and outs of minecraft and put so much thought and complexity into their minecraft structures. After one of our minecraft session, I showed our after school coordinator some of the buildings students were working on. The students were eager to show off what they had done and kept talking about what they were going to do and how they would do it in minecraft. Students craft without having to refer to a resource. So anxious were they to show me how they added the various features to their buildings, that they would take over my machine and make the item they were trying to describe. They seem to know everything about minecraft. During this very lively convesation, I asked the students how was it that they were able to learn all the ins and outs of minecraft and be so creative, but had such a hard time learning Math facts and being creative in their other subjects. One student answered without having to think "because we get to do it." In other words, in minecraft he gets to learn and do on his terms. It's not because he thinks the subjects are boring or not relevant, he wants to discover them on his own. So here's to minecraft and having students create and do on their own. Most of them can do quite well without being told what to do.

Mr. Gembicki has started to use minecraft for his 8th Grade Language Arts Class. He was looking for a project for his advanced students. The assignment is to buid a structure from a book they have read and to write about it in minecraft. Mr. Gembicki is a minecraft player, so he was able to get the assignment running in no time. Students have had about 30 minutes to work on their structures and I have included some screen shots below. I expect this assignment will evolve over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for the final project.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Middle East World

We have only had two Minecraft days since my last post, due to ice days or after school cancellations, so our progress is slow. I am considering tyring to meet more than once a week once we get back from Spring Break.

We continue to try to work on what to build. The tornado idea is on hold since it will require me to install a mod that may not work with minecraft edu. So, in the meantime my minecraft students have decided to build a middle east city (with a little prompting from me). Most of my students are studying the middle east in their Social Studies class so the idea of building a desert city made sense.

We started with a flat desert world and the students decided to use TNT to make a hole in the desert and add an ocean. Filling that ocean with water turned out to be a monumental task and eventually our server crashed. I have also found out that it isn't very easy to get rid of water, so today we started over.

Rather than having students build on their own, I asked them what they wanted to build and assigned them a place to build. They put a perimeter around their space and began to build. This worked well and we are starting to see some good structures in progress.

One of my favorite is the hydroelectric dam. Students have studied that there are some hydro electric dams on the rivers in Egypt so Brian built one using redstone. I have a short video of the dam in operation below.

Here are some of our structures starting to take shape.

I have noticed how well the students take care of each other in Minecraft. They are always willing to help each other and share their knowledge. I have also enjoyed their enthusiasm and their patience with me as they teach me what they want to do and how the game works. I see the value in using Minecraft in the classroom, but I am not sure how, just yet. For now, it is a wonderful enrichment for students. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Day 1 with Kids

Wow! Did I learn a lot from the kids today. I had 6 middle school boys eager to try out minecraft on the school machines and test our server. They had lots of questions, most of which they answered on their own. I brought the students into the computer lab and explained that they were going to test minecraft edu on our school machines. I was afraid once I mentioned edu, they would lose interest, but they did not. Not knowing how much experience they had, I started them out on Tutorial World. They didn't need it. They were crafting and building without much help and they were eagerly helping each other. At the end of our time, I asked them what we should do with minecraft that would be educational and require them to work together. They immediately mentioned the mods. There were several ideas, but one seemed to create a lot of conversation. They want to create a sort of storm chaser minecraft using the tornado mod and the car mod. Oh yes, and they can teach others about tornadoes while they are at it. Even though I am not sure how they are going to do this, I feel certain, they will bring me up to speed.

The computers worked great. The kids were running around the tutorial world as fast as they could and the computer kept up. The computers did not freeze up and when I teleported all of them back  to build, it was fast. I don't think we will have any trouble with the computers.

So, now I need to get up to speed on the tornado mod as well as other mods and see what the kids can do. I think these kids will do a great job. Next week we will include a few more students and so we will have a discussion about the mods to see if the other student are in agreement creating a storm chasing minecraft. We may even have time to create other worlds. Since there will be more students, we will begin with a Minecraft Charter, our social contract for behavior in minecraft.

My greatest fear starting out today was that students would be more interested in doing their own thing in minecraft and would not be helpful to each other. My other fear was that I wasn't going to like this. I am having as much fun as the kids are. I can't wait to meet again next week. Next week I will have about fifteen students. We will see how that goes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Weather Delay

Our weather turned icy last Tuesday, so no minecraft with students that day. We are going to try again this Tuesday. In the meantime I visited Sara's elementary minecraft class, view her blog at, and watched her students use minecraft. It was helpful to see multiplayer minecraft edu in action. I'm wondering how well my students will play together and what they will want to do in minecraft. I envision students using their creativity to collaborate and create elaborate structures and worlds. Will students have the same vision? I am grateful to Sara for sharing her knowledge. I am going to introduce my students to the Diamond Boots website so they can easily craft items.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Diving into Minecraft for Education

As the Instructional Technology Specialist for Hernandez Middle School in Round Rock ISD, I am often asked to look into new Technology. In the fall of 2013, I was approached by Jodi Garza, ASPIRE after school coordinator about using Minecraft Edu for enrichment after school. When I inquired about the possibility of using minecraft at school, I learned that two of my colleagues, Lori Lind and Sara Richards were also looking to bring Minecraft to their schools. A proposal was submitted and approval was given to begin a Minecraft pilot at our schools.

Sara was the first to set up her server and begin using with students at Laurel Mountain Elementary as part of a weekly enrichment class. Her experience with a desktop computer as a server got me to look into using a larger server to run Minecraft. After discussions with District Information Services, a server was set up and minecraft edu was installed.

The server is located in our District's Tech Center. I connect to the server using my district computer and VPN access. A few minor bugs had to be worked out as well as an update to allow mods to be installed. I can turn the server on and off, when I need it. Only RRISD machines can connect to the server, so I don't have to be concerned that students are in the game, when they are not being supervised.

Installing minecraft on the student computer requires changing where the files our installed. I installed them in Program Files. I changed the permissions to the folder to everyone and gave modify access. Thanks to Sara Richards for the heads up on this part of the installation. I was able to install the icon on the desktop for all users, but later removed the icon from the desktop so students are not distracted by minecraft in the computer lab, when they need to be working on a class assignment. Students will navigate to the site from the program files.

In the meantime, I have been getting up to speed with minecraft and installing the client version of minecraft on computers in our computer lab. ASPIRE purchased 25 licensees and the minecraft edu version. I have tested the game with one student I snatched from the library to check and see if the permissions were correct and the student could log in. My tester was very excited about testing the game out and wondered when he could start playing.

I have to confess that I did not see how minecraft could possibly be used for educational purposes, but I have come to appreciate just how special this game is. Gaming is popular with students and requires many skills that will help them master course work. Minecraft requires planning, building, collaboration, patience and tolerance. Students can use the game to create examples of the things they are learning and take on roles similar to the people and times they are studying. After playing minecraft and learning to craft and build, I am struck by how difficult it seems for me and yet students can do these tasks and complete them. If they can do this, they can master any of the curriculum we have for them. I have to find a way to translate the minecraft skills to the classroom. I am anxious to begin this adventure with our students and see where it takes us.