Monday, January 18, 2016

Monday Mornings

Student A: "I'm stuck in the Nether, and can't find anyone!!"

Me to Google: "Define: Nether"
Google result:

The Nether (also known as "the Nexus" in Notch's blog, and previously, Hell or the Slip) is a hell-like dimension, filled with fire, lakes and rivers of lava, and dangerous and powerful mobs.

(Me to myself: I should never have let those kids talk me into the Other Dimensions. What was I thinking?)

Me to Google: "How do you get out of the Nether?"
Me to Student A: Find a Nether Portal and go through it.
(Me to Myself: Please know what I mean by Nether Portal because I sure don't)

Student B: "I'm stuck in the End!!!  You have to allow monsters so I can kill the Ender Dragon and get back to where everyone else is"

Me frantically to Google
  • What is the End?
  • What is the Ender Dragon?
  • How do you get out of the end without killing Ender dragon? 
Me to Student B: I'm not allowing monsters. (I learned my lesson with the Other Worlds.) You have to jump off the end!
Student B: But I'll die!!!
Me to Student B: You have to jump.
(Me to Myself: I cannot believe it's not even 8am on Monday morning, I've only had one cup of coffee, and I'm telling a kid to jump off the end of the world....)

This is what the typical Monday morning sounded like in our tech lab for the first semester of the 2015-2016 school year during Minecraft Mornings.

I was inspired to set up Minecraft Mornings based on what librarian @StacieLynn2000 had been doing at her own school for the last few years.  It seemed like a great opportunity for me to learn how to work with our server more and to give kids who are passionate about Minecraft an outlet to collaborate with other students who share their interests. With 1st Grade teacher, @stephperks1, on board to help me moderate our 7:30am-8am sessions, I set up the dates and notified parents.

Meetup Logistics

Eventbrite App
The 23 spots we have open for Minecraft mornings each week are open to all K-5 grade students.  To try to give all students a fair shot at attending, since we have a greater interest in the events than I have spots available for students, I use Eventbrite's free service to help keep track of the 23 tickets we have available each week. 

Registration opens every Friday at 4:00 pm and parents can log in and register their children for the upcoming Monday.  Tickets are usually gone within 20-30 minutes of the event opening on Friday. 

Eventbrite makes things very easy because I can easily use the service to communicate with the parents of students who are attending, and I can use Neon Eventbrite app to check in students and monitor ticket sales.

For a Monday morning, our Minecraft sessions have been full of energy and quite chaotic as kids of all age and ability levels attempt to interact.  We have one, main expectation: Do Not Destroy What Others are Working On.  This expectation has proven to be a bit of a challenge at times as kids with little experience with Minecraft explore and try to learn the controls. 

My hope was that the time on Monday mornings could be used for collaboration between students and for me to learn more about MinecraftEDU and how to manage it with larger groups of kids.  

Success & Some Learning Opportunities (Failures)

We had some success and failures with the first semester.  Perhaps our biggest success was using Minecraft to create different setting and character features of our 1 Book, 1 School choice The One and Only Ivan.
As far as failures go, the biggest was during the Hour of Code week, when I thought I would introduce the kids to the Turtle Canyon World and didn't have our system upgraded to include the ComputerCraftEDU feature - basically that was just 30 minutes of kids yelling about how confused they were and finding horses to ride.  It also seems like, even though some of the kids come back week after week, that they really aren't clear about how to use Minecraft. Some of the younger students especially demonstrate a lot of frustration, and in turn frustrate some of the older kids by "wrecking their stuff" or getting stuck in places like the Nether or the End.  There are also a few students who spend more time looking over the shoulders of other students instead of creating. 

When I found myself in the last session before Winter Break trying to explain to a second grader that we should ask other kids questions about Minecraft, because the kids in the room were the experts, I was met with a certain degree of could the teacher in the room not be the expert?!  This was the point where I knew it was time to make a few changes to help facilitate the understanding that the kids are the experts, and it's okay to ask another student for help.

A New Plan 

Over Winter Break I began to brainstorm with @TLJamesA, who also uses MinecraftEDU to think about ways that I could more actively engage some of the students so that they felt compelled to learn more or build more.  After reading the Minecraft: Essential Handbook over the break, I decided to learn from the success we had with the One and Only Ivan Build to encourage students to be a little more goal-oriented with their time spent in Minecraft Mornings.

I decided to try to challenge students to learn many of the "Essential Skills" explored in the book. I thought it would be good to start with wood crafting, stone crafting, mining and shelter buildingSince this is a free time before school, I didn't feel like it was fair to require students participate, but to encourage it, I decided to create a badge that students could earn for demonstrating that they understand each of the skills.  For students who already know the skills, I gave them the option to either mentor another student through the process or they could opt to create a minimum of three "how to" screencasts demonstrating essential skills for us to upload to our school YouTube page to earn a "Minecraft Essential Mentor" badge. Of course, any of the students can opt out and play and explore in MinecraftEDU mode without trying to learn the skills. 

The MinecraftEDU World

With our first session after break, I generated a world that was set to the MinecraftEDU Peaceful Mode, with the time locked to 8:30 am.  This meant that students didn't need to worry about their health or life levels, but they also didn't have direct access to everything they need.  Currently the only thing I'm allowing is "weather effects" - there are no monsters, animals or other dimensions to worry about or be distracted by.  

Upon logging in, I gifted all students with a Home Block and a Sign Post, with the instructions that they should find a place they liked in the world to place their home block, and they should claim their area with the sign.  This way they could go out and about and explore and collect materials without getting "lost". 
View of world with home blocks placed

I then explained to kids that I was going to keep them in MinecraftEDU mode for the time being so that they could concentrate, if they wanted, on learning some skills, and told them about the opportunity to earn the badges.  To help facilitate learning, I'm working on creating "Essential Skills" booklets that are heavy on the pictures. Most kids jumped right in to try to learn the skills, a few stepped up to mentor, and I had one or two decide to just play.  My main guideline is for kids to just not mess with someone else's work.  We have run into the issue of Home Blocks accidentally being broken, but I think with more practice that will stop.

The Skills Explained

Currently I have a "Crafting Level 1" and "Crafting Level 2" booklet developed.  I'll be working on the Shelter booklet next.  

In the Crafting Level 1 booklet, students learn to: harvest wood, craft: planks, sticks, a crafting table, wooden tools - pickax, shovel, hoe, and how to make a storage chest. 

In the Crafting Level 2 booklet, students learn to:  mine stone, craft: torches, stone tools - pickax, shovel, stone axe, stone sword, furnace, iron ingots and a bucket.

As kids finish crafting something, I'm encouraging them to either put it in their inventory to show me upon completion of a level or store it in the chest that they made. 

After our first session the most of the kids had finished the Level 1 booklet and were ready for me to check their work.  I'm hoping the "Level 2" booklet takes a little longer, but I'll have to be ready with the shelter booklet just in case it doesn't!

What's next, maybe?

After our first session, many of the kids left excited to have learned something new.  I'm hoping to capitalize on that excitement with other badges they can earn.  I'd love to encourage a Minecrafter approach and encourage kids to make things like: art, a Redstone contraption, or a rail system.  It might also be fun to encourage them to learn skills like: baking, farming, and entrepreneurship within Minecraft. 

I am hoping that if the kids using MinecraftEDU in our morning meetups can develop some real skills, they can embrace the idea that they are the experts and become mentors during the day with their classmates and help teachers who want to use MinecraftEDU for lessons.

As I'm working through this more, I would love some ideas! What badges do you think would be fun to develop? 


Sunday, January 17, 2016

MinecraftEDU - The Journey Begins

I am not a gamer.  I don't even usually sit still long enough to play a friendly game of cards. I've never played Angry Birds or Mario Kart or whatever that
Diamond game is that people keep inviting me to play on Facebook. 

Minecraft is one of those games that I had sort of observed from afar with curiosity.  It is something that many of my students have an incredible passion for, and I began to realize that if I can find a way to encourage that passion as a way to encourage students to learn or show their learning in new ways, then I might be able to help encourage kids and teachers to make connections on levels they previously never could have dreamed of.

Motivated by Conferences

When I attended the KySTE 2015 conference last year, I saw on the schedule that fellow librarian @StacieLynn2000   was going to be hosting a session on MinecraftEDU and how she was using it. I had read an excellent article in Kentucky Teacher about how she was using it with students, and I felt like it was time to take a big leap outside of my comfort zone and give a little gaming a try.  I attended her session and learned all about how to what I would have to do to get access to MinecraftEDU, and her examples of use were so inspiring, I really felt like it was something I could manage.

When I got back from KySTE, I began to brainstorm ways we could use it in my school.  We could use it for math, in social studies teachers could use it to have kids recreate historical cities, and don't even get me started on what I found on the wiki and in the World Library. Get a little taste of what I mean by checking out this PBS Idea Channel Video:

I looked at our book fair proceeds and knew I had enough to purchase one server and 30 student licenses. It wasn't long before members of our PTO caught wind of my plan and intervened to pay for the program, which was even better! 

By May of 2015 we had the server up and MinecraftEDU running in one of our labs. We were testing the waters by letting kids build collaboratively when they were finished with assignments, and I was just trying to figure out how to work the teacher controls.

I used ISTE 2015 as an opportunity to explore MinecraftEDU a little more.  I saw some really cool examples of things students had built and even downloaded the standard Minecraft to my personal laptop so that I could try to figure out the controls.  

Let the Real Learning Begin

The real learning began, though, when one of our first grade teachers, stephperks1, agreed to take the leap with me and try to figure out how to develop learning experiences inside Minecraft for math.  

This past summer, we hosted two summer sessions with about 10 kids in each session.  I just put the word out through some emails and on our Facebook page that I was looking for kids, and the outpouring of support was incredible.   During our first session, the kids came in and each student took turns sitting down with each of us to teach us something that they loved about Minecraft.  From basic controls, to words like "hot bar" and mob, and features such as the crafting table, I was completely overwhelmed.

During our next session we had the kids play in "Creative Mode" while we practiced things like freezing students, gifting items, teleporting and we attempted to see what the different game modes did for the classroom experience  I used the opportunity to Periscope some of what we were trying out, and when the it got dark in the world we were playing, one of the viewers was able to tell me how to set the time back to daylight - brilliant!

Here's some of the video we shared using Periscope:

Since this day in the lab I have, thankfully, learned that you can reset the time on World Settings on the teacher menu, and I will often lock the time to daylight hours when the kids are working in creative mode.

Professional Development Opportunities

To try to help teachers learn how to use MinecraftEDU, I hosted my first, of what will hopefully be many, PD sessions on getting started with MinecraftEDU.  

Screenshot of MinecraftEDU Menu
After school one day a number of teachers stayed to learn how to work with MinecraftEDU and how to set up the server so they could allow multiplayer access for their own students.  Each teacher received a short packet that included important jargon, and screenshots of the different menus, since this is one of the things that I myself had struggled to learn some.  We have since upgraded our MinecraftEDU server, so the screenshots don't exactly match the newest version.

We spent the first 20 minutes of the session using the Tutorial World, so that the teachers could get an idea of how to navigate within MinecraftEDU.  I restarted the server after the initial 20 minutes to be in a "Flat World" in Creative Mode.  I felt like the teachers needed to see a way to use it free from some of the distractions that sometimes come with a random world. While I was restarting the server they explored the MinecraftEDU wiki and "World Library" some an began to discuss ways they could effectively engage students with the program.  In the flat world we practiced accessing inventory, looking at teacher controls, destroying and placing blocks.  

This initial look into MinecraftEDU, left many of them wanting additional professional development opportunities, which I hope to be able to offer them this upcoming semester or this summer.  Many of them expressed interest in a full day of PD where they could work with class levels to develop units in the program, and I hope to be able to accommodate that learning time.

 Where am I going from here?

The Essential Handbook 
I still haven't even scratched the surface with this new environment, and I may never actually achieve anything higher than an "apprentice level" of learning with this (by my own estimations, I'm a novice right now). Currently, I'm making my way through the Minecraft Handbooks and feeling inspired to try some new things.  I also, just this week, made a new contact via Twitter, PBJellyGames, who will be hosting a #MineCraftED chat starting Tuesday, February 16 at 8pm est.  I am really hoping to participate and learn from this community.