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.