Monday, January 21, 2013

Peacemaking in PvP

A strange thing happened Friday. Normally during after school instead of homework time and focused enrichment classes, we have "bonus hour." I'm usually in the PE room refereeing capture the flag or soccer. This week, however, a lot of kids asked if I could play Minecraft with them instead. Ever the nerd, I found someone else to run sports and set up shop in the cafe.

Normally I'm in a classroom and the cafe is full of kids who want to hang out or play board games. As I brought in the computer cart and started up the server, I noticed something unexpected and wonderful. Many of the 18 kids lining up for a computer were the usual suspects, kids who were in my Minecraft Club or who signed up but didn't make the cut off. About half hadn't played before but said they kept hearing about it and wanted to try. A third of the group were girls.

I started up the server, decided that since it was Fun Friday I'd loosen up a bit and allow PvP (the first time all year I've done that), and logged in to happily hunt down my students as they fled across tree tops.

Soon, kids were learning how to play, kids were hunting each other, and I was wandering around lost and alone. This in itself was all very happy and fun, but then a student -- we'll call her S. -- walked up and asked what I was doing.

Now, S. and I have had our troubles. Multiple calls home, detentions and the like. In fact, I'd sent her out of my class earlier that week. I asked if she wanted to play and, after giving me a hard time for being an adult who likes video games ('obsessed' was her exact word, at which I took umbrage), she said yes.

S. and I spent the next half hour side-by-side, busily crafting iron swords and dueling with her classmates. Mostly, we lost. But when her ride came she didn't want to leave and, as she reluctantly shut down her computer, she smiled and thanked me.

I had to play the disciplinarian way too much last week. By Friday evening I was frustrated and tired. Some weeks it seems like mostly, we lose. Then along comes an iron sword, a thank you and a smile. That changes everything.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Teamwork works.

 My Minecraft Club started the new year off on a great note. We jumped right into team-based survival mode, something I was both extremely excited and extremely nervous for. Based on the vandalism and inconsistent gamesmanship before the break, I wasn't really sure if the kids could pull it off. I was wrong.

Groups organically discussed who the team leader would be, they assigned roles and responsibilities, they shared resources and the more experienced players took the novices under their wings, helping with anything from how to use blocks to distracting Creepers so their teammates could reach safety. It was beautiful.

 I split the class into five random groups with five students each. Using a world spawned from the Artomix seed, I placed a teleport block at the spawn site to act as the main hub. I then placed five teleportation blocks around the world and assigned one to each group. As soon as they spawned, the students went to the block and teleported to their home base. The five homebase blocks are blind -- student's can't use them to teleport anywhere -- so, as soon as they leave the spawn site, they can only get around by walking.

For the next few weeks, teams will be competing against each other to complete a series of objectives. The first day's objective was simply to survive the night; if the entire team survived, they got a point. Only one team didn't make it.

On the second day I gave four objectives: Make a suit of armor, a bow, a working minecart track, and a diamond. If anyone on the team dies, one point is automatically deducted. The plan is to build up to objectives that will involve teams working together and, of course, end it all with a massive PvP battle.

Two teams realized that I didn't forbid groups from working together, and so they have joined forces to complete the objectives faster. I didn't expect groups to combine this early, and I'm very curious what will happen as the competition grows increasingly fierce.

I don't think the students are even all that aware of what I'm finding most fascinating about this project -- the social aspect. Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are all working together to reach a common objective, and they're doing it peacefully and even, dare I say it, like equals. It is cool.

A few tech warnings for anyone else considering doing something similar: On the second day, someone's settings were on 'Peaceful' mode. This prevented monsters from spawning, since Minecraft runs it on the lowest common denominator. If an individual has different settings on his/her account, it will affect everyone on the server. Also, now that all of the students are actively building, mining, and exploring, my server is experiencing periods of major lag. I now have my computer solely run as the server, and I log into it using an extra school computer. This helps a little, but some students still get dropped periodically. All in all, though, things are running remarkable smoothly.

Jail, constructed with border blocks and build disallow blocks. It's on one of the highest points in the map, so jailed students must watch their classmates having fun.

Group Two's shelter. Nothing but the basics.
Group Four's shelter. The inside is a large underground bunker.