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.

No comments:

Post a Comment