26 March 2016

Chocolate, Broccoli & a Minecraft ECA/CCA

No doubt many parents are wondering, "Why would a school offer a Minecraft activity as an after school activity? There are many reasons why, but a short answer would be; for the same reasons we offer a Chess Activity. Of course the main motivation for this is the cold hard fact that I am a gamer, I love gaming - contrary to popular opinion I do not believe it is 'addictive' - although it is extremely adept at creating a 'flow' state that can easily be interpreted as addiction... I definitely believe that gaming has a great deal to offer. But this is not the post for this subject, this one is:


So where was I? Oh yes, that said, if I'm honest, Minecraft is not my kind of game, but it is a rare kind of game that both my son (Grade 5) and daughter (Grade 3) LOVE. It is a game they can play together, but very differently, and therein lie the benefits... I'm very wary of attempts to try and make any game 'educational' - this kind of gaming invariably has the attraction of what is known in the industry as 'chocolate covered broccoli'.

Chocolate covered broccoli... via edutopia

Despite this, as a teacher, I could not resist the desire to attempt this anyway. For example I persuaded students to build a virtual maths museum, with exhibits that showcased ratio, basic 3d shapes, right angled triangles etc. but... But no matter how much metaphorical chocolate I covered it with, it was still broccoli - and I thought, do we do this with Lego? Channel their creations? "Hey kids why don't you build a Maths museum out of Lego?" No. We let them play, and let them take it where they want, just let them play, be creative, cooperate, collaborate, and that's good enough for me...

Therein lies the power of Minecraft, the kids aren't being duped, to extend the gaming industry analogy, Minecraft is not an 'educational (game)' it's an 'educational' GAME; or to put it another way, as far as the kids are concerned, it's chocolate covered chocolate.

Minecraft: chocolate covered chocolate

All that said there are some great examples online of teachers who have been able to kids to create some delicious chocolate broccoli with it, even without realising it. A colleague of mine in the UK let some of his students model homeostasis in Minecraft, But the essential element here is that it was their idea, the teacher didn't even know what Minecraft was. He does now.

And that's what I love about it, it was student centred; their ideas, their motivation, he was the catalyst... That's what I'm looking for. That in a nutshell is my rationale for Minecraft, when people inevitably ask 'Why?' - almost all the reasons you could give me for the value of playing with Lego, can be said of Minecraft.

Or to quote a sentiment commonly being expressed about '21st Century Learnng', we are preparing students for a future in which the 'three Rs' are embedded within the 'three Cs', communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving *(Thornburg, 1998). Minecraft is one example of students doing precisely that.

Think Lego, but with unlimited bricks, space, and best of all, no need to demolish it all at the end of each session.

The Minecraft game is available on almost all game platforms, even iOS. In fact playing Minecraft on an iPad (or even iPod touch or iPhone) is the easiest (and cheapest) way to play it, and multiplayer could not be simpler, up to 4 players, in the same room, on the same wireless network, that's it.

Minecraft on the iPad, a great way to introduce kids to this game.

Nitty Gritty for teachers/parents who want to know how MinecraftEDu works:

Minecraft EDU runs on a computer and is very similar to the full Minecraft game, but allows the teacher to have total control. The students in the classroom play within an arena contained on the teahcer's computer - and the teacher governs the game, with total control over what the students can and cannot do.

So, how does it work?

Launch MinecraftEdu, by clicking the icon once it is installed on your computer

Then you will be presented with some options:

First you will need to create the 'playground' or arena (map) for the students to play in, by clicking 'Start MinecraftEdu Servertool' And Start the server...

Now a window will open with an IP Address the students can enter to gain access to your playground. Something like this:

Now Students can launch MinecraftEdu, only they choose the top option 'Start MinecraftEdu' (not Minecraft!) Then they will be prompted to login with their own Mineraft account - if they do not have one, we have some school accounts they can 'borrow'. They click through, choose Multiplayer, and then Direct Connect, where they will enter the IP address above.

That's it! Your role is now primarily pastoral, medicating disputes, quarrels, 'griefing' (vandalism) etc. Let the technology fade to background and allow the focus to fall on the freedom to create, communicate and collaborate*.

Of course, once the kids are playing, it would be nice for you to visit as well - you can join the game as teacher - nice. Just click the MinecraftEdu launcher again, and choose the top option 'Start MinecraftEdu'.

Most important? Despite your own proclivities - take an interest in what they are doing - just as you would if they were playing Lego.

* David Thornburg, Director of the Thornburg Center and Senior Fellow of the Congressional Institute for the Future, suggests that the familiar "Three R's" of education be supplemented by a new set of "Three C's." Thornburg (1998) writes that the skills of communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving are all critical in this new information age. But even these Three C's are not enough, for, as Thornburg adds, other equally important skills include technological fluency and the ability to locate and process information.

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