Friday, December 7, 2012

Minecraft Club, Week 1

A 6th grade student made this for me. That's right, it's a Minecraft pickaxe. It kind of made my day. 

This was the first week of after-school Minecraft Club and it was. . . interesting. There are 26 kids in the class. Six of them are girls, which I'm happily surprised about. It might not seem like a lot, but in the world of middle school computer gaming, it's impressive. About a third of the group is very inexperienced with Minecraft, which also surprised me. Overall, I think this is a pretty diverse sample that should help me extensively as I decide how to adjust this for the classroom.

Before I explain anything, I think the differences between the first and second meetings is summed up pretty accurately by the following two screenshots. Day two went better.

Day 1:
 Day 2:

I generated a flat map and used boundary blocks to keep the kids penned in together. The goal was fairly simple: Build a house. I like this activity because it gives the novices a chance to experiment with the controls and the different materials. It's also just a fun, straightforward way to be creative. On the first day, most of the students ran around in circles doing random things. By day two everyone had calmed down and focused on building.

I noticed two trends that made me very happy. In the classroom, some students made a point of sitting beside classmates who haven't played before in order to help them out. In the game, many students sought each other out and worked on building a house together. Hooray for organic teamwork!

By the second meeting, also heard multiple unsolicited apologies when someone accidentally encroached on another player's area.

This cooperation hasn't come completely out of nowhere. We spent the first half of Monday's session creating a "Gaming Code of Conduct" which I've included at the end of this post. All students must sign this agreement. It lists all of the expectations and responsibilities of a responsible gamer in our club. It also includes the consequences of breaking the code, which I have had to enforce several times already. If a student is misbehaving, either in game or in the classroom, I simply teleport and freeze his avatar for five minutes. Virtual timeout is so much more terrifying than the real thing.

I've also been impressed with how quickly the kids situate themselves at the beginning of class. They know that I won't give any instructions until they're settled, so the longer it takes to get quiet and in their seats, the less time they'll have to play the game. Many of them do a good job of regulating their peers. 

Next week we finish up the home-building activity and prepare for team-based survival mode (it will not involve any PvP).

Gaming Code of Conduct
I, ___________________________________, promise to uphold the following standards and expectations while playing Minecraft or any other videogame as part of a club for the Super Duper After School Program.

I will not curse or use offensive language, either in the game or out loud.
I will not purposefully kill other plays in-game.
I will not take another player’s materials when they die, unless it is to return them to the player.
I will not destroy someone else’s property or creations.
I will not shout or raise my voice while playing.
I will not type abusive or offensive messages in the game.

I will help my fellow gamers if they are in need of assistance.
I will play the game fairly and without cheats.
I will work to create a safe and fun environment, both in-game and in the classroom.
I will log out of the game in a prompt fashion when it is time to pack up.
I will play the game according to assignments and tasks given by the instructor.
I will be a model of good gaming citizenship.

I understand that failure to meet any of these expectations will result in an in-game time-out. Repeated violations will result in the loss of my gaming privileges.

____________________________            ______________________
Signature                                 Date

Monday, December 3, 2012

Looking forward, looking back

I'm sorry it's been so long since I last posted. November was a weird month, full of four-day weekends and under-staffed after-school days, so Boys' Club ("The Pack") didn't happen all that often, unfortunately.

Posts are about to get much more frequent. This week my actual Minecraft Club begins after school. We'll have it for two weeks before pausing for winter break. Minecraft was one of the most heavily requested clubs in our after-school program, and I'm expecting about 25 students. At least, I hope it's 25. I don't think I'm ready to handle a larger group size.

I have three goals for the first week: Establish a code of conduct, assess the Minecraft experience, of the students, and determine whether or not my MacBook can handle running as a server for 25 clients. I'm having the kids write the code of conduct themselves, so I will post it as soon as we complete it. I'm fairly certain that my computer will not be able to handle the processing load. If it doesn't work, I'll have to split the group in half and run two servers. Not a problem for the after school club, but a bigger problem for when this is implemented in my actual classroom. Hopefully I'm wrong and everything (and everyone) works magically.

I would also take a moment to look back at how The Pack's gaming experience progressed.

I provided minimal support throughout. We spent about five minutes processing at the beginning and end of each session, and I told them the objective was to "find the next island," but that's about it. They were in charge of the rest.

No progress was made the first week. They spent most of the time destroying each others' constructions, exploring on their own, and dying at nightfall.

During the second week they began assigning roles, but had a hard time actually following their roles. A partial group shelter was built and two boys began working on a bridge to the next island, but communication was still minimal.

Something happened during the third week. They actually worked as a team. Some boys explored and built a shelter on the new island, others widened the bridge so they didn't fall off as often, and others stayed back on the first island to continue mining for resources and building the home base there. They didn't argue or shout at each other. They asked for, and gave, advice. It was kind of beautiful.

I'm extremely curious to see how this dynamic plays out, particularly with a group of mixed gaming levels. I'll let you know soon.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Suvival? Not so much.

The Map: A modified "Sky Conqueror." This map consists of four floating islands. Each successive island is richer in resources than the islands prior. They also increase in difficulty, with more complex dungeons and stronger baddies. It would be extremely difficult to travel between islands without cooperating, let alone survive and explore once you get there.

 The Mission: Find the next island.

Day One:

Everyone died.

After being dropped into the world, the boys immediately spent the day exploring. One became stuck in the bottom of a mine and spent 10 minutes frustratedly jumping while his peers ran around above him. Another tried building a tower while two of his classmates chopped it down from below. Then night fell, no one had a shelter, and everyone died.

Well, everyone would have died, had I not turned off monsters at the last minute and frozen all of the players to discuss the situation.

Their observations and plans for next time:
We need to work together.
Help another player when he gets lost or stuck.
We'll build a large one-room shelter where everyone can stay for the first few nights.
We need a plan.

Until next time,
Mr. T.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's not a house, it's a home

It took us at least five minutes to pose for this picture. I told the boys I wanted a group photo and they then ran, swam, and flew around until finding the perfect location. Then, somehow, they convinced me to let them have swords. Gotta look tough.

The problem with the after school club is that kids leave at different times -- we started with seven boys but, by the time we got around to the group photo, were down to just three.

The current project is very straightforward and open-ended: Build a house. They're working in creative mode and can use any materials they want. As you can see in the background, everyone decided to use something different and go for a different style. One house is underground, another has a glass roof, one is straight-up TNT, and two students are building extensive hidden tunnels to connect their houses. 

The coolest moment so far happened after the student building the TNT house went home (in real life). Another boy decided to start destroying his building. The other kids noticed and told him to stop, that he was being rude. He apologized, rebuilt what he'd destroyed, and went back to constructing his house.

The whole incident lasted less than 30 seconds and I doubt any of them gave it a second thought, but I was extremely impressed. They self-regulated to enforce good citizenship and the vandalizing student responded positively. If they only acted that way during lunch!

We finish this activity today, and Wednesday we move into cooperative survival mode.


Monday, October 15, 2012

It's happening!

I lead a boy's club at school, and all of the boys are into video games. Within the last week or so, our meetings have comprised of two parts: Playing Minecraft and discussions centered around Extra Credits videos.

It is fun.

I currently have everyone in a small playground world building the best houses they can. Screenshots and a better writeup to follow later this week.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I'm still waiting for the game licenses from MinecraftEdu, so things haven't moved forward much as of yet. My plan is to teach a Minecraft after-school class starting in five weeks. That class, part of the after-school program at my school, will serve as a sounding board before I launch the actual class itself. There are two main issues I hope to resolve through the after-school class: How to differentiate for the 'experts' and novice gamers, and any and all technical issues that may arise. Particularly since many of my after-school students are experience Minecraft players, it will be a good venue to run smaller modules and experiments.

In the meantime, let's talk money.

Minecraft isn't cheap. Even excluding hardware, if you go through MinecraftEdu, 25 game licenses and their custom mod come to $376. I was able to raise around $100 more than I requested. The surplus will either go toward more licenses or a wifi router dedicated solely to running a Minecraft LAN. I'm going to keep it in my back pocket until we start running it and see whether the router is necessary.

I fundraised by working through Paypal. Some other options are Donor's Choose or Kickstarter. Below I've outlined the pros and cons of each.

A 'Donate' button from Paypal is probably the easiest and most straight-forward method. It's also the one that requires the most trust from your donors. As far as I know, there's no way to display a tracker for how much money has been donated. I updated my blog with the current total once a day but, again, this relies upon the trust of my donors. You can learn how to use Paypal for donations here.

DonorsChoose is probably the go-to site for educational fundraising. The only problem -- Minecraft isn't on its list of trusted suppliers. If you want to raise money for Minecraft through DonorsChoose, you have to have already completed at least three other projects through the site.

Kickstarter is probably the other well-known fundraising platform. Kickstarter focuses on creative projects with a specific output -- documentaries, murals, computer games -- as such, you'll need to get creative and thorough with your Minecraft project proposal to have it approved. Here is an example of an educational Minecraft project that was approved and successfully funded.

I'm sure there are many other ways to go about fundraising, but those are the three options I explored. I'd love to hear other ideas.

Hopefully my post next week has good news about moving our project forward!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Well that was fast

Gigih, thank you. Your generosity and faith in a project you've only read about, organized by a person whom you've never met, is truly touching. I'll make sure my students know that someone from literally the other side of the world believes in their potential and knows that who they become and what they will do can affect the entire world.

I'm going to document this endeavor rather heavily and, even before I actually implement it in the classroom, I'll make sure to post updates on this blog at least once a week. Everyone in Internetland deserves to know how things are progressing. Hopefully, the better my documentation, the better this blog will function as an educational resource for teachers interested in similar projects.

To everyone who donated, I can't thank you enough. Maraming, maraming salamat kayo.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The plan & the pitch

Hello, world!

This is the first of what I hope will be many posts documenting the work of my students and I as we explore the use of Minecraft in the classroom. I have a lot of excitement, a lot of plans, and an incredible amount of support from my school staff and administration. This is a project everyone hopes to see grow from a dedicated class to an educational tool that can be used across the curriculum

Before that can happen, though, we need to actually purchase the game licenses. A classroom set and the educational mod developed by the folks at MinecraftEdu will cost a total of $400. Before we can implement, before we can use a video game to construct a castle using Boolean logic, reenact the Hunger Games, or learn about the struggles of young civilizations by creating our own, we need to raise the money.

You'll see a donate button on the right-hand side of this page. Please, donate. I will remove the button as soon as we've raised the $400. If we raise more, we can buy more licenses and more kids can use the program simultaneously. There is, of course, something in it for you, and I don't just mean the joy you'll get from reading these posts and watching the videos I upload. Donate $25 or less and we'll name a monument in our world after you. Donate any more, and you get a town named in your honor.  The sooner we do this, the sooner my 7th graders can begin exploring.

So here it is: the pitch. 

For students to grow truly engaged and curious about learning, the content must connect directly to their lives. Traditionally, this hook would be an outside speaker or a discussion about how the material affects the world around them.

One of the most powerful hooks, however, is also one of the most frequently overlooked: Video games. Games are pathways into other worlds, playful windows into which one can disappear for a while. They are chose-your-own-adventure par exemplar.

And then there is Minecraft. Minecraft doesn't just allow students to explore worlds, it encourages students to create them. Players become architects, engineers, hunters, farmers, artists, sociologists, storytellers and world-builders.

Minecraft is often described as a "sandbox" game. Much like in a playground sandbox, the only creative limitation is the creativity of the students themselves. And much like a playground, Minecraft acts as a microcosm of wider society. Yes, players construct castles and fight zombies.
They also learn to work together, to compete healthily, and to examine how their world is structured.

In my 7th grade classroom at New Los Angeles Charter School, my students will use Minecraft to learn about themselves, their world, and the rise and fall of civilizations, both ancient and modern. As they play Minecraft, they will intuitively explore how civilizations grow, falter, and co-exist alongside explorations of electrical engineering and logic systems.

I am developing a two-month course, during which students will create their own resource-driven society and then interact with the societies developed by other classes. They will face a stark choice -- interact and work together, or collapse.

The use of Minecraft will extend beyond this primary two-month course.  An after school club will be developed and Minecraft will also be used to convey specific concepts in core classes. These concepts can range from the development of trading routes in ancient Ghana to electrical switches to the architecture of ancient civilizations.

We will document this entire process through a class blog that will include postings and videos by both myself and the students. At its culmination, the entire project will be compiled in one comprehensive guide to using Minecraft in the classroom across curriculum. 

By the end of the school year, the 7th grade students at New LA will have used Minecraft to create and develop their own robust civilizations and world. Through Minecraft, they will experience a holistic and hands-on exploration of concepts that are simultaneously academic, societal, and moral.

Our culminating output will be twofold: The world the students create and the documentation of the project itself. The world will reflect what happens when 100 12-year-olds are given the power and the freedom to create and grow as they see fit. The blog of this project will ultimately function as a template for other teachers looking to either have a dedicated Minecraft class or simply incorporate Minecraft into their core subjects.

Our computers are in carts like this: