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.