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Last term I FINALLY got my wish to support a Minecraft project in a classroom. I worked with a talented and dedicated Year 3 teacher, Lorraine Hillas, to explore History and Writing tasks (Persuasive and Descriptive) through the building of a Minecraft community. What an amazing experience! The project was part of our school’s contribution to Serious Play (which you can read about in another post). The rather lengthy post that follows describes all you’d need to know about the project to try it or modify it for your classroom.

Many thanks to my esteemed colleague, Lorraine Hillas, for permission to describe the project here in detail.

For a more complete background on Minecraft in Education than I could offer in one post, check out my Tumblr site: Minecraft 4 Learning.

Learning with Minecraft on Tumblr

Learning with Minecraft on Tumblr

The Geek Speak

After an less than satisfactory attempt to set up an old Windows machine as a school Minecraft server (due to our school’s network setup I couldn’t get the IP address to stay put between sessions!), I ended up purchasing Minecraft EDU Classroom Edition for US$41 and 8 game licenses at US$18 each*. It works out cheaper per license to buy a pack of 25 game licenses (US$335) but I didn’t have funds to splash around… and this was an experiment after all. We just needed enough licenses to have the teacher’s MacBook Pro and six student machines running the software at the same time. I have not regretted this decision. I love the extra control the EDU mod gives you, without having to know any programming and other fancy stuff. It’s VERY easy to use.

You can read the finer details and get everything else you need including support, advice and all the necessary technician-speak at the Minecraft EDU site:

Screenshot from the Minecraft EDU website

Screenshot from the Minecraft EDU website: Purchase page

*Note: you can only purchase game licenses at this discounted rate if you also purchase Minecraft EDU. Also, at the date of this post you have to be purchasing for a school, youth centre or other educational institution to qualify for the Minecraft EDU Classroom Edition. Apparently a “Personal edition” is “COMING SOON”.

Setting Up

Our trusty technician installed the EDU mod on our Mac server and away we went. We created a separate world for each group. EDU gives you the option to make new worlds flat. We chose to leave them natural as we wanted the environment to be as realistic as possible. It was a great opportunity to discuss different biomes and the challenges that the natural landscape posed for new settlers.

The slight inconvenience of this setup was that as the server can run only one world at a time, the teacher had to log in and switch worlds for each new group rotation. Having separate worlds prevented the possibility of groups sabotaging each others’ communities. (Guerrilla warfare is not covered in our Year 3 curriculum).

Aside: What I DON’T know about Minecraft EDU would fill several encyclopedic volumes so any experienced users who happen to be reading this, please comment below with any suggestions of better strategies!

I took the groups out for one session each just to familiarise them with the game. Thankfully Lorraine (bless her heart) sent me the group with the couple of veteran players first up, so they could get ME up to speed! I just love it when the children are the experts! Only five (all girls) of the 28 children had NOT already played Minecraft at home. The aim of the first session was to gain an understanding of the school’s modified Minecraft conditions. It went something like this:

“OK you’re in creative mode here everyone, multi-player, and you can fly. But sorry fellas, there are NO zombies, NO creepers, NO spiders, NO monsters of ANY kind. 

[chorus of whining, whinging and complaint follows] 

…Sorry, boys, it’s just NOT happening.”

Seven minutes in, I learned that I should have turned NIGHT off too. A quick fix in the teacher control panel remedied that little oversight so that groups didn’t have to worry about setting enough torches to work in the dark. We simply didn’t have the time.

When players log in, they choose a male or female avatar and enter their name. The children got a huge kick out of seeing each other onscreen. Thankfully they purged all the pounding and jumping on each from their systems in that first play around session. They were too busy to bother mucking around after that anyway. They very quickly learned that they had to wait for each other and remember the spawning point, or they could easily become lost.

The Project

In a nutshell: six weeks, six computers and five groups of students rotating through their Minecraft sessions all worked very neatly, though as Lorraine pointed out, the noise generated in the Minecraft corner was not for the faint-hearted teacher. Lorraine is a very experienced and creative teacher and organised the class around this, ensuring that other groups were engaged in activities that did not require intense concentration or low background noise.

Before groups began building, Lorraine and I conducted an initial whole class session on exploring our local area using Google Earth (just LOVE that team teaching gig!). The children could point out the differences between the residential pockets, industrial area and commercial zones around the school. The students could see how arterial roads divided the area and carried the bulk of the traffic. We made a list of the services that they thought necessary for a community (and tried to locate these on Google Earth). They appreciated the large proportion of parkland in the area. Google Earth was also the perfect tool to illustrate the “birds eye view” that is used for mapping and town planning, although this took some time for the children to grasp in practice.

Creative Commons License
All gallery photos by M. Mead, licensed under
a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Each Monday, Lorraine conducted a whole class session using a slideshow and discussion to cover some local area History. During the following week, each group planned and worked on their building tasks, attempting to recreate European settlement and development in the local area. Each group member operated their own computer but they worked together and interacted in the Minecraft world.

Due to the reality of school life (you know how it is!), several sessions were sometimes squashed into a day but groups usually spent 40 – 60 mins in their Minecraft world. The students very quickly found that they had to work together in a coordinated way to make the best use of their time. After each session the children recorded an entry in a Learning Log. They did some group reflection about their process and team work and set goals for the next session. Lorraine used the experience for writing stimulus and a variety of maths activities.


Creative Commons License
All gallery photos by M. Mead, licensed under
a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Lorraine’s English focus was persuasive texts, so once the students created a Minecraft community they had to persuade others to settle there. Their target audience was a diverse group of staff members, including the sports-especially-football-loving Principal, the Parish Priest, the Art specialist etc. Hence the prevalence of football fields, churches and art galleries in these communities (they’re not silly!). Once all students and the invited guests had voted on which community they would choose to reside in, votes were tallied and the winning team  rewarded with a hot chip lunch and free Minecraft time. High stakes!

The Learning Sequence

Using historical photographs, we also looked at what the first dwellings in the area looked like. Fortunately we have a local historical society which has published several volumes of local history so we could share those stories with the children and build up a narrative around how the area was settled and why. We roughly divided this “story” into “Stages”, focusing on one each week.

I prepared a slide show for each stage to kick off each week of building. Unfortunately I can’t post these here as the images I used are not copyright-free but I have put together a modified version so you can get the idea of the process:

Here’s an outline of the learning sequence:

Learning Sequence:

Session

Activity

Resources

1

  • What do we know about our local community?
  • Explore our area in Google Earth – natural and built environments – landforms, types of buildings, roads, recreation areas etc.
  • Discuss: What does a new community need? What is required later as the population grows?
  • In groups, students plan a new community in a Minecraft world. Students name the community.
  • Include elements such as: legend, title, north pointer, labels etc.
  • Introduce evaluation strategy: S.W.I.M. – Strengths, Weaknesses, Ideas, Method (for improvement)
  • Large paper sheets for drawing plan
  • Google Earth

2

  • Groups access their new Minecraft world and explore locations for their community
  • First group reports to class on challenges and offers recommendations (e.g. look for water source, landmarks, appropriate sites for different aspects of settlement, select appropriate building materials)
  • Assign tasks to group members and begin building
  • Write an entry in Learning Logs. Reflect on group process and team work: what was my contribution, what we did well, what I will do better next time etc…
  • Plans
  • Minecraft laptops
  • Log books

3 – 5

  • Students continue to build community (Stages 2 – 4)
  • Record an entry in Learning Log following each building session, to show progress and explain plans
  • Reflection on group process and teamwork skills
  • Plans
  • Minecraft laptops
  • Log books

6

  • Groups write and record a persuasive tour of the community in Quicktime (New Screen Recording)
  • Prepare advertising fliers for presentation day
  • Minecraft laptops

Australian Curriculum Alignment

In addition to the English focus, this Minecraft project allowed the development of skills and understanding and assessment of achievement in the following learning areas:

HISTORY

  • Sequencing historical images showing stages in the development of the local area. 
  • Using historical terms such as settlement, exploration, and development.
  • Posing a range of questions about the past. 

GEOGRAPHY

  • Describing characteristics of different [Minecraft] environments (such as climate types, geographical features and resources) and the similarities and differences between the characteristics of different places.
  • Describing similarities and differences in individuals’ and groups’ feelings and perceptions about places, and how they influence views about the protection of these places.
  • Representing the location of places and their features by constructing large-scale maps with conventions such as scale, legend, title and north point).  
  • Describing location using simple grid references, compass direction and distance.

MATHS

  • Measurement: Perimeter – measuring buildings, fields etc. (1 block = 1m)
  • Measurement: Length in metres (roads), height of buildings (1 block = 1m)
  • Explore symmetry in buildings, sporting fields and other structures
  • Making models of 3D objects and describing key features
  • Making simple grid maps
  • Collecting data from different communities to create tables and charts

OPPORTUNITIES FOR ASSESSMENT:

  • Walk through Minecraft communities with Quicktime screen recordings with audio
  • Persuasive writing samples: Why should you come to live in our community?
  • Descriptive writing: What is our community like? How did it change over time?
  • Observation of team skills
  • Maths investigation tasks
  • Learning Logs
  • Feedback task about learning opportunities in Minecraft

The Presentation

After five weeks of building their communities in their respective Minecraft worlds, groups prepared a guided tour using QuickTime’s screen capture facility. Lorraine compiled these OVERNIGHT into one video presentation, in iMovie (her first iMovie project – clever lady!). When the “VIPs” arrived at the classroom for the presentation we were almost bowled over at the door with enthusiastic little campaigners thrusting fliers and voting cards into our hands. The room was decorated with flags (for each world). These ideas were generated by the children. One group even had a “National Anthem” – so cute!!

Here’s just one of the five Quicktime Tours, as a sample of what students produced:

Project Evaluation?

For some detailed reflection and feedback from Lorraine and her Minecraft students, check out the followup post, “Learning with Minecraft: Project Reflection“.

_______________________________________________

Featured image: “mrbman11999’s Minecraft avatar!” [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0] by Corefire1528 on DeviantArt

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4 thoughts on “Mad About Minecraft

  1. This is brilliant Maria. I have a friend at school who has also worked with Minecraft. I would love her to be able to see what you have done. If you have a link to the actual project outside WordPress, can you send the link to me school email c.grant@staidans.qld.edu.au
    I am going to be teaching Year 3 next year so would LOVE to undertake a MInecraft project. Once this subject is done and dusted I’d really like to link up with other teachers who have successfully created Minecraft projects. We are really lucky at school….all the girls have their own laptop and we are able to access the relevant server with no problems. Well done to you and your colleague Lorraine! See, we oldies (ie teaching more than 20 years!) sure know how to design super creative learning activities. My other project (for another subject) is to plan the implementation of Edmodo in our Junior School as an effective OSN!

  2. Pingback: Learning with Minecraft: Project Reflections | The Grapevine

  3. Pingback: Mad About Minecraft | 3DLE | Scoop.it

  4. Maria, I absolutely love the detail you have gone into in this post. It gives all teachers who are interested in attempting such a project in their school the right amount of information to assess whether they have the time, facilities and funding to get themselves up and running. The inclusion of the learning sequence, the Australian curriculum alignment and presentation gives a great basis to build ideas upon, and what a perfect age group to be learning all about early settlement and building a community. You have inspired me to learn all I can about the potential use of minecraft in the classroom.

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