Friday, January 25, 2013

Minecraft Project - Stage 1

Stage 1 - Determining the Scale of Things

Students were allowed to choose grid paper (small, medium and large) and markers to create their floor plans. But first, there was a lot of discussion about scale to start off with. After explaining that every block in Minecraft is approximately 1 meter cubed, I lead with a few questions like this,

"What things are you very familiar with that are 1 meter wide?"

Good idea to have a few metersticks on hand at this time. Around the room we discovered that an average doorway was about 1m wide and 2m high. This means that a doorway would represent one cube on the grid paper. This lead into a discussion about planning for walls on the floor plans. Yes, you'd need to colour in the walls. I suggested using black to represent all walls.

"So how big is this class room?" Initiated a lot of inquiry. Some student jumped up and measured it and then applied this to conversations I heard around the room beginning with questions like, "How big is the school swimming pool? How big is the main hall? How long is our cafeteria? How big would you build a bathroom? How wide is the school hallway?"

After these great discussions, most students were ready to start colouring. "And I really hope you like colouring!" is how I set them off to this task. One of the rules to getting your blueprints or floor plans approved by the Governement (Stage 2) is to have all squares coloured in. No white space allowed!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Minecraft Project: Setting The Ground Rules

When I introduced this project there was a buzz in the air. Some kids were squirming in their seats just trying to control their enthusiasm, some kids perked up - interested and eager to learn, some kids rolled their eyes and let out a small sigh, but all kids felt the excitement. It was probably radiating off of me a little bit.

So I brought the kids to the carpet and we sat in a cluster to talk about the Ground Rules.

I introduced the project as a Ratio, Proportion, Scale and Spatial Awareness project. I explained that Minecraft can be a game and/or a tool for building things. I made it clear that we were going to use Minecraft as a tool in this scenario. Yes, it would be fun. Yes, it would be creative. Yes, it would be interactive. Yes, it would be challenging. I explained that I anticipated the biggest challenge being in store for the "crafters" (experienced Minecraft players).

"Why would it be harder for us?" Asked one of the pros with a confident doubt. 

"Let me explain the ground rules." I replied. "Imagine I give you a math task and everyone gets a calculator to help them do their calculations. The project is not about how well you use the calculator it's about knowing what to do with the calculator. It's just a tool to help you achieve a goal." Then I proceeded to ask the class, "Do you think it would be fair if every student got to purchase their own caliber of calculator for this task, or should everyone use the same one?" The class agreed that to be fair everyone should use the same one. I used this analogy to help the students see why we were all going to use the same "Ground Rules"in Minecraft. I did get a few moans from the crafters, but ultimately they approached the project differently. I often repeat, Minecraft ccan be a tool or a game. And this was starting to make sense to them.

1. Everyone builds in Single Player mode - offline
2. Everyone builds in the following modes
Creative: allows you to build using hundreds of different materials almost of which are identical cube formation, save for doors, windows and decorative pieces
Peaceful: This is the difficulty level. Peaceful means there will be no threats to the players (ie. creepers, spiders, etc.)
Super Flat: The world is generated as a flat grassy landscape
Cheats ON: Allows players to change the time of day and the weather (important when building for more than 12 minutes to force daylight and stop rain)
Generate Structures OFF: Just to stop the blobs and villagers from distracting you while you build 
3. No modifications or 'mods' - keeps an equal playing field for all 
4. Each student will have 200 minutes of class time to build and absolutely no building can be done outside of class. This could be flexible depending on certain circumstances, but is a general guideline and goal to work towards.

It took a little while for the ground rules to sink in and there sure were a LOT of questions. Eager to start, everyone quickly realized this was a much more complicated endeavor than they had originally thought. There would be quite a lot of planning and preliminary work to be done before anyone got their tapping little fingers into Minecraft. And this wasn't going to be a free pass to play, play, play whenever they wanted. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Minecraft in Math Class

So I had a crazy idea to use Minecraft as a tool in a Mathematics project with my Grade 6 classes. It didn't take a lot of convincing my team teachers, and I assured them that I knew exactly what I was doing and would lead them through the process. Truth is, I had a rough idea after experimenting with the 5D Dynamos last year and in my mind, there were sprouts of potential for what could be. I was excited.

We started off with a brief task outline which we shared with the students. The document covers the basics of what we proposed. Of course, the project has taken weeks of hard work and has experienced an evolution of its own along the way. Follow us on this journey to see where we end up.

What does the project entail?
1. Students create a floor plan of their dream building using grid paper and markers and a scale of 1:1 square units.
2. The "government", her majesty of Minecraft presiding, approves the blueprints (with official government stamps) and/or suggest alterations.
3. Mincraft is used as virtual lego to build a model of a planned structure.
4. Class discusses and creates the grading rubrics and checklists for the final video project.
5. A scripted video screen capture tour of the completed structure is filmed in Minecraft and edited in iMovie, encouraging students to think about how their "build" incorporates and uses ratio, proportion, spatial awareness and scale.

Desired Learning Outcomes (Ratio & Proportion, Geometry & Measurement)

- Mathematics Benchmark 6.RP.1 - Understand the concept of a ratio and use ratio language to describe a ratio relationship between two quantities
- Mathematics Benchmark 6.RP.3d. - Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units; manipulate and transform units appropriately when multiplying or dividing quantities.
- Mathematics Benchmark 6.G.4 - Represent three-dimensional figures using nets made up of rectangles and triangles, and use the nets to find the surface area of these figures. Apply these techniques in the context of solving real-world and mathematical problems.

Why use Minecraft?
1. To have fun and be creative - engagement factor and/or curiosity levels are high for most students. 
2. To be effective and efficient - Minecraft is a fast and effective tool that allows students to quickly create a visual representation, to scale and using different building block materials, from their blueprints or floor plans.
3. To apply digital technology modeling tools that align with out Middle School goal of "Improving student learning and assessment through the responsible and balanced use of technology".
4. To explore an essential idea in 21st century education. The idea that using technology to complete learning tasks faster, fancier, fitter is fantastic, but using technology to create new learning tasks in and within themselves for synthesizing and displaying our learning is where the true Bloom's Digital Taxonomy of creation comes into play.
5. To examine the use of play and student approach to game-based learning in Middle School.

Stay tuned because up next, you can follow the project stages as the students of Grade 6 explore the world of ratio and proportion through Minecraft.