Essential Question: What tool did you learn this week to assist you in differentiating the learning process for students?
This week I began to learn to play MinecraftEdu and began to explore its power as an educational tool. Colin has been working with the good folks at MinecraftEdu to get one or two high school special ed classrooms set up with a server and seat licenses for our group’s Project 2.
I decided to try the Tutorial World myself to see what I could learn and to try to get ideas for how we could use MinecraftEdu for Project 2. I worked my way through the Tutorial World, discovering how to walk and steer my avatar, how to jump, climb, and swim, and how to dig and build. I learned how to collect and use some basic tools, and then I came to the Shape-Building Challenge:
As you can tell from the sign, the tutorial world is set up so that groups of students can work together within it. The Shape-Building Challenge is set up with twelve identical stations. I wish I had had a team working with me! I went to station 1 to work through the challenge by myself. The photo below shows my avatar looking at the four piles of raw material supplied for the challenge: dirt, sand, gravel, and cobblestone.
(I couldn’t figure out how to take a screenshot from within the game, so I used my iPhone to take a digital photo. Seems very low-tech after the last seven weeks…)
Here is a photo of one of the shapes I had to duplicate and the beginnings of my construction (the four dirt blocks on the lower left). You can also see some of the shapes and my matching constructions in the background.
I know my constructions don’t look like much, but they are the result of several hours of learning how to install and run MinecraftEdu and how to engage with the MinecraftEdu Tutorial World. It took a lot of experimentation and problem solving to get to the point where I could build those little block structures.
What are Minecraft and MinecraftEdu?
At its most basic level, Minecraft, created by Mojang AB of Sweden, is a game about breaking and placing blocks. You can buy versions for the Mac/PC, iOS and Android, and Xbox 360. You can play single-player or multi-player over a local area network or the internet. You can play in Creative or Survival mode in an infinite number of worlds. In Survival mode, you face hunger and hostile creatures, and you must gather your own resources. In Creative mode, you play in a peaceful world with instant access to unlimited resources. Since its inception in 2009, the game has been continually evolving.
MinecraftEdu is a collaboration between educators and programmers in the United States and Finland working with Mojang AB to make Minecraft affordable and accessible to schools everywhere and to provide unique tools specifically for classroom use. The MinecraftEdu custom mod is available to pilot schools that purchase Minecraft through MinecraftEdu. The custom mod allows the teacher to write assignments and instructions and add information blocks within the game, and it gives the teacher special controls within the game.
From the website: “The game is being used to teach more than just computer skills. It easily lends itself to science, technology, engineering and math explorations (STEM). But beyond that, language teachers are strengthening communication skills, civics teachers are exploring how societies function, and history teachers are having their students recreate ancient civilizations. It is not an exaggeration to say that the only limit is imagination!”
How can we use Minecraft to differentiate instruction?
Minecraft was designed to be open-ended and modifiable. Players can explore and create within the Minecraft worlds in infinite ways. I think it is an ideal tool for differentiation. In her blog post, “Massively Misunderstood Minecraft,” Kerilee Beasley lists these learning benefits:
- collaboration and teamwork
- creativity and innovation
- mathematical understanding
- leadership and peer learning
Kerilee writes about Minecraft being a “tremendous leveler.” She herself is a Minecraft novice, and she openly relies upon her students to guide and mentor her. Similarly, my son has been playing Minecraft for more than two years now, and this week he has been patiently amused by my clumsy efforts to learn to move around in the Tutorial World. He knows that he could just tell me how to do everything, but he also understands how much more empowering it is for me to discover things myself, with small hints and nudges from him when I am on the verge of frustration.
Minecraft allows an open-ended approach to challenges. Learners bring their own strengths and preferences to each challenge, and they can observe and learn new creative strategies from each other. Minecraft offers a great opportunity for metacognition; teachers can encourage students to share their thought processes as they solve the kinds of multi-step problems that Minecraft presents. Exploring Minecraft as an education tool is helping me to see the potential for game playing as a very powerful, motivating source of learning.
Life in the MOOC in Week Seven
This week I discovered that AR is not just Accelerated Reader (the annoying computer based multiple choice reading comprehension tests that are killing my seventh grade daughter’s love of reading). I explored some of the links Dr. Graham shared on Augmented Reality, and I feel like I got a little sneak peek at the digital future. (Minority Report?)
I think it would be great fun to try ZooBurst, and Tracie’s video tutorial on thinglink has inspired me so much that I really wish I had time to add thinglinks to one of my Minecraft photos instead of posting this plain old blog. And as you may have noticed, I figured out how to include links in my blog instead of just pasting the URL next to the text. And my autoposting of my diigo library seems to have worked after all, although I don’t think I like the list format, so I’ll have to decide what to do about that.
Chip and Colin shared some great resources from ASTE, and I finally got around to watching some of the YouTube videos of Minecraft, like the cell model. I also discovered some entertaining Minecraft music video parodies and two really amazing Minecraft creations: a CPU and a Minecraft musical note block construction that plays the theme to Skyrim. And so much more!
I think it was Nathan who created a webpage for our Project 2 group. I am learning more about how to use that space to collaborate with the group. In the mean time, we have another Google hangout scheduled for tomorrow evening. Now that I’ve explored the Minecraft world a little bit, I am very excited about seeing what students will do with it.