Monday, December 31, 2012

Minecraft Possibilities Part 2

For the last few days I have been experimenting with various aspects of Minecraft.  I have discovered that the Minecraft ecosystem is a lot bigger than I thought.  The folks at Mojang have kept their platform open enough to inspire a faithful community of fans that mashup and repurpose their game.  Different server platforms have been made, hundreds of plugins have been created to change the game play, and complete worlds have been built for others to enjoy.  
I was impressed to find a wealth of fan created content, including texture packs, custom maps, even new ways of playing the game.  Some users use Hunger Games inspired maps to play their own version of this dystopian survival competition.  I was impressed that they even include Sponsors (interesting way to inspire fan fiction during English class, right? ) Other users have created maps with dueling pirate ships, complete with working cannons that have been created using the in-game machine parts.  I think building a working cannon with levers, pistons, and switches would be a nice complement to a simple machines or circuits unit.  
I was originally interested in providing a virtual environment for students where principals of government, needs and wants, community, and citizenship could be explored.  Ideally, students would have opportunities to let their imaginations run wild or explore and build places with a context, such as creating a colonial village.  When I discovered fan-created adventure games using Minecraft as a platform, I realized even more possibilities.  These games include involved storylines, puzzles, and quests.  I’m currently playing Inkstar and it is pretty amazing for fan content.  Could students write  collaborative story arcs that other students could play in Minecraft?  This could potentially take the Ant Farm idea to the next level.  
Minecraft's open-game platform has created an outlet for a dedicated fan base to repurpose the game in interesting ways.  I think this has also created opportunities for education, but I’m discovering that exploiting these opportunities will take some work.  The question I am currently wrestling with is, "Will the work be worth the return?"  Fortunately, this work feels a lot like play and I guess that's the big idea, isn't it?

Ant Farms

Photo attributed to ThrasherDave

One project that students and teachers really enjoyed that I would like to bring to my new district is the Ant Farm.  Teachers worked with students in ten schools to create an "Ant Farm" wiki (a.k.a "Choose Your Own Adventure".)  This lesson plan from "Read, Write, Think" describes one method for creating this type of story collaboration.  It is known as an Ant Farm because there are many paths (ant tunnels) for the reader to take.  Wikis are ideally suited for these projects and require students to work very closely together, negotiating, planning, and compromising.   This particular project was fashioned around the historical fiction genre.  Students researched the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony and then crafted an ant farm story about John White's return to the island.  The project was designed as a unit and provided opportunities to build background knowledge, provide immersion into the new adventures.

The Mystery of Roanoke Ant Farm

Monday, December 10, 2012

Minecraft Possibilites

I have been interested in the classroom implications of Minecraft since being introduced to the open world game by Gerry Ardito.  I'm curious about the possibilities of a virtual environment in education, especially when the virtual space is already embraced by students.  I've taken informal polls of my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades and found that about 25% of my kids play Minecraft at home.  That's pretty good for an indie game. Student buy-in isn't enough to make a game useful for teachers, but Minecraft has some features that I think make it different.

One of the things that separates Minecraft from similar sandbox-style games (such as Second Life) is the ability to host server installations.  This allows teachers to restrict participation to the school community and control permissions.  In addition, this also allows teachers to customize game servers with plugins.  These community built modifications allow administrators to set up towns, in-game economies, and even teach programming.

Having control over a school server has other advantages.  Outside of school hours can be established and game play can be restricted to those times.  Moderators can be chosen or elected from the student body, or from alumni.  Curriculum such as needs and wants, elections, community interdependence, the importance of laws, and introductory programming can all be addressed in a way that engages the learner and encourages independent exploration.

I really don't know what this would look like but I am excited about the possibilities.  I hope to experiment with the idea in an after school club and see where it goes.  Because Minecraft has an open-world approach, the possibilities are exciting.  Just check out the video below of the  Minecraft built 16-bit computer - Crazy.  I'll keep you posted.