Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Future

I'm working on several new game-based projects. I'll sketch out two of them here and keep you updated as things progress. The next few months are going to be extremely exciting.   

Summer Camp
I am organizing a game-based summer camp for 8-12-year-olds. It's looking like it will be held in West LA. We're going to do Minecraft, Portal, basic computer programming, and numerous fun/nerdy outdoor activities. This is in the very early stages, but I have a fair amount of the curriculum planned out already. It will be educational, challenging, and hopefully by the end of two weeks kids will leave as better digital citizens, budding computer programmers, and all around more awesome and educated human beings.

A lot of details will be sorted out by the end of this weekend. Many more details to follow next week.

Game Theory
We've started up a new round of after school programs, and this time I'm teaching a class called Game Theory. No, not that game theory. We study video games.

I'm approaching this the same way I approach a media analysis class -- if you don't analyze the media you consume, it will mislead and misuse you. Going into the first class, I expected discussions to be a fight, since the kids would want to play games the whole time. I underestimated them. These kids genuinely want to learn more about how video games work and affect them.

Throughout the course, we're going to play like game designers. Videos from the fine folks at ExtraCreditz  will be our guide (though with caution, since some include profanity). I'm extremely excited to get this rolling and start analyzing games, so I'll start including Game Theory updates on this blog as well. I think the students are going to make some powerful connections and observations.


Worksheets: Character sketch, GRAPES

The kids have finished their exploration and settlement in Eric's World of Humanities map (screenshots of houses will be posted once I get around to taking them), and have spent the last two weeks focusing in-depth on the civilization they chose to live in. With much protesting, we've turned off creative mode and gone back to straight-forward exploring, information collecting, and writing.

I'm slowly scaffolding toward two main projects:
1. Create a narrative in Minecraft. I've been having the students develop different aspects of a story centered around the house they built (setting, character, etc). Ultimately, they'll be writing a story starring the protagonist who lives in their house, but I want to push it one level further. A MinecraftEDU update is coming out soon that will let us use mods, including NPCs. These mods, combined with some clever red stone use, should allow us to actually create part of their story within the game. I'm thinking a straight-forward quest involving secrets hidden in, around, and under their house. Dungeons will abound.

2. Create their own civilizations. In groups, students will create their own civilizations and then interact with the other civilizations their classmates created. To this end, students have spent the last two days in class focusing on GRAPES (Geography, Religion, Achievements, Politics, Economics, Social Structures) for the civilization within which they live. This will provide them with a reference for the different elements that need to be present within a civilization, and which they will need to create.

The exploration has gone pretty well. I'm also experimenting with some different structures, so I've had them work two to a computer rather than individually. I've actually had to do less redirecting since partnering them up.

Things overheard: After we'd wrapped up class, the students had a few minutes to talk among themselves. While walking past a group of girls, I overheard them talking about life in the Fairy Tale Forest (Medieval Europe). These are not normally girls who talk about school work in their spare time, being much more concerned with boys, makeup, and making loud noises, but they weren't just talking about their houses -- they were genuinely discussing life in the Middle Ages. In the three minutes I eavesdropped, they talked about the pros/cons of living close to the town walls, waste disposal, threats of invasion by other kingdoms, and the different uses of the town commons. Awesome connections. Eric, I cannot thank you enough for making this map.

Character Sketch:


Code of Conduct

I promised to post it, then did not. Finally, in all of its blazing glory: the Gaming Code of Conduct.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Class, three weeks in.

I'm now about three weeks into using Minecraft in class, and I'm extremely happy with how things are progressing. The end of every class is filled with groans and shouts of dismay as I shut down the server, which I think is a good sign. And they might even be learning something.

I'm basically splitting out Minecraft usage into three units: A humanities unit using Eric's World of Humanities map, a redstone unit, and a society-building unit tying all of the previous lessons together.

For the World of Humanities map, I put together a handout that requires the students to explore multiple civilizations, taking notes along the way, before deciding which civilization they want to settle in. It's primarily a way to keep them focused while they explore the world and get used to the game. The final task is building a house in the style of the civilization's architecture and writing a 'book' about what life in that society would be like. I'll copy the handout at the end of this post.

Things I've learned:

It's okay for girls to be gamers. This project was probably the most poorly received amongst the girls in my classes (a little more than half of my students are girls), but after a day or two of just exploring the world and getting used to the game, many of these girls have become avid fans. More than one parent has approached me saying, "You cost me 25 bucks," because their daughter went home and asked for a personal copy of the game. More girls have also started attending my after school Minecraft club and playing during my open session on Fridays after school. This might be what I'm proudest of so far.

It's okay to be a gamer. Last week, one of my more video game-obsessed students looked at the 'popular' group in class and said, "You used to make fun of me for playing this, and now you ask me questions about it all the time!" They laughed and agreed.

In all of my classes, the kids who are Minecraft pros have taken the initiative and help out students who hadn't played before. Social groups that normally don't interact are mixing freely and discovering that they all have something to offer. I'm paying close attention to this, as I hope its effects continue to trickle outside of just my classroom.

It's hard to quantify learning. The parts of this unit I'm happiest with so far have nothing to do with content -- it's all either social or general problem solving skills. That's the stuff I blog about the most, and it's the stuff I care about the most. I believe those are the two most important areas to focus on with middle school students, so I'm okay with the inherent ambiguity, but having concrete evidence of skill and standard comprehension is, for better or worse, still a necessity. The students started building their houses and writing their books this week and, so far, it looks like they are genuinely absorbing information about the civilizations they've explored and decided to live in. I'll post screenshots next week and you can decide for yourself.

I need to model better. I should have made my own house and written my own book at the beginning of this unit so the students had a constant example to return to. I didn't, and I think it has led to some unnecessary inconsistency and confusion in their work. 


_________________’s World of Humanities Travel Log

Greetings, traveler! You are about to undertake a journey into a world unlike any place you have ever been. As you travel through past, present, and future, you will explore the civilizations of Ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, Japan, and Mesoamerica, to name but a few. You will train with Spartans, explore long-lost sea caves, scale Big Ben, and visit a towering city of the future.
Like any young Marco Polo, you must write down your adventures for the sake of posterity. This document will serve as your travel log. In it, you will document the civilizations you visit (at least 5), a monument from each civilization, and at least three facts about each culture.
Eventually, you will weary of your travels and decide to settle in one of these fascinating lands. After much deliberation and reviewing of your travel log, you will decide and document where you want to live and why you chose that civilization. Hoping for successful integration with the land’s people, you will then build a house in the style of your chosen civilization’s architecture.
Enjoy the many wonders of the world, brave traveler. And good luck. 

Exploratory Phase







Settlement Phase

Congratulations, intrepid traveler! You have explored and documented at least five civilizations in this vast World of Humanities, and now the time has come to choose where you will make your home. This is not a decision to be made lightly, and so you must consider the following: which culture do you find most appealing and why?  
Your three-paragraph response should include at least three facts about the civilization, a paragraph comparing/contrasting your chosen civilization with another culture represented, and a paragraph explaining what you think life in your chosen land will be like.
You will also need to build your home in a culturally sensitive fashion, so your materials and design should match the local aesthetics. Below, please list the materials you will need to build your home and sketch a blueprint of your design.