Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Jamestown- Minecraft Style

Could the colonists have experience Utopia when they entered America? Could the students recreate that colonial experience of starting a colony with little resources?  Mr. Fletcher, 8th grade American History teacher, certainly thought they could and provided a creative environment for students to explore. In this Utopian assignment, students were asked to build small colonies in a sparse future USA. The premise was that the country had collapsed centuries ago and had no electricity, buildings or any other sign of the modern world. Their task was to re-colonize America.

Not only did they build a colony, but they had to first apply for a royal charter to get funding, ships and equipment for the colony, and create a constitution for governing the colonists. Colonies were to be well fortified and be constructed in an area with resources amiable to humans and lastly not conflict with other colonies.

The first step was organizing the various groups. Then they met and constructed a planning document and sketch of the proposed colony. Only after completion of those tasks did they begin the Minecraft building part. They spent 3 days working on their virtual worlds.  I'm sure they would have happily spent a week or more on this project. Several students came in before and after school and during lunches and advisories to work on their creations.  

We had begun the project in Edu mode where they have to chop wood and find resources, but we quickly found the building time for beginning crafters was just too great for the class time allotted for the project. After switching to creative mode, builds went quickly and students were able to concentrate more on the context of what the project was about.

The final step of the project was to give a tour of the colony and describe the features of it as well as decisions made while working on it.  Some of the students gave me a quick tour during the last day of the build. Here's  a brief sample.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Math Triathlon - Minecraft Style

Mrs. Downs teaches 6th grade Math and came to the MinecraftEdu Camp that was previously mentioned.  She had played Decimal Island during Camp which sparked ideas for more math oriented game playing.  She teaches TAG (Talented and Gifted) math classes as well, and some of those students have also been in my video game club.  She asked them if they would like to create a math world for the other students to go through. For them - they had just been elevated to Minecraft Masters. They worked for weeks creating a world in which kids would go through a mini tutorial world on MC navigating, and on completion, students would venture into their math world of proportion and probability. They created a working spinner and other games of chance as well as a large building area for students to complete proportional replicas of models.  This was the first world for the classmates to play on Day 1 of this 2 day blast of math. The students made it through the tutorial and created their models.  We even had a guest come to watch - an Instructional Coach for the district. Thanks to him for taking time out from his busy schedule.


Day 2 was our last day of school.  Mrs. Downs and I decided to try one of the worlds on the MinecraftEdu World Library by MisterA called Decimal Triathlon. Even though these particular problems were easily computed, the kids thought this was an outstanding way of doing problems. Students enter the world and quickly begin working on a math problem.  

They ran to the nearby building. Signs containing the answers appeared above 4 holes. Students jumped into the hole with the correct answer.  For this they received chicken; incorrect answers were worth rotten flesh. So it's like answering a multiple choice question with a virtual body.  

From there, leg 1 of the race began with a swim across a lake. Once across, it was on to the next question and the same scenario of jumping into the correct hole.  Leg 2 brought the player to get a saddle, stick & carrot, mount a pig and take off to the last question. You would have almost thought the kids were riding real pigs - they enjoyed that immensely.  One last question and then they spawned boats, jumped in, and rode the rapids to the finish line. They were greeted with a round of spectacular fireworks as they crossed the finish line. What a wonderful way to finish the year! And what a cool world - it has now sparked ideas for me to create some other engaging worlds too.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Spanish Villages and Villagers

Mrs. Garcia had visited the science classes creating body systems using Minecraft and was curious to use it for her Spanish classes.  So we talked about options and she came up with a project!  Seventh grade students had been learning family & party vocabulary. She decided to have them create a dwelling, then populate with several NPCs.  Each NPC would 'speak' a Spanish phrase telling who they were in relationship to the party person. 

We learned several things from this project.  First they spent one class period focused on creating dwellings.  Since all classes were using one world, each class had to build in a particular area.  A mayor of the class village was elected to determine an appropriate building site for the class.  

Day 2 was putting in the translations. Most students had written the phrases to be said on paper. Students first tried creating the NPCs and typing the phrases directly in MC, but the special characters were not available. We found it easier to type the phrases in Word where it was easy for them to insert the special Spanish characters, and then copy them into MC. 

When all phrases were created, it was time to create the NPCs. I found 
they had to be in 'teacher mode' to accomplish this. I changed the teacher password temporarily for this to happen and we carefully monitored students so they would not abuse this power.  

They had such fun creating characters to look like all sorts of things and it was easy to add the conversation. 

At the end of day 3, they had finished the project.  Mrs. Garcia then took the students back to the classroom where they presented their fiestas to the group.

That's only half the story.  Now Mrs. Garcia had come up with a plan for the 8th graders - the second year Spanish students. This project involved creating Spanish villages. Certain city buildings were required to be built (to match vocabulary) 

Again, a mayor was selected from each class to select a proper building area. The students then created their community buildings - some were very elaborate. 

Then they used the sign feature to label their dwellings and their contents. After 3 days of building, students presented their work to their fellow villagers.

 How about the view from this hospital?
Beautiful gardens and libraries in the cities.

Minecraft Camp for Teachers

Several teachers from my campus took an afternoon to learn about MinecraftEdu. We began by looking at some projects our students had created as well as looking at other student creations on the Internet. Teachers had a sense of what could be created. They then delved into our very own tutorial world where they learned how to navigate and build in the virtual world. Pretty soon, they were pretty competent in walking, jumping, swimming flying and simple building.  I decided to keep things in creative mode for this initial dive. For the most part, the teachers wouldn't initially need mining or crafting skills, but we did go over terminology such as 'griefing', 'mods', and 'NPCs' so they would what students would be referring to.

They learned how the Edu panel works - how to freeze students, mute them and most importantly how to transport them to another location if they get stuck. 

Then it was time for a trip around the world with the World of Humanities. There, they interacted with NPCs and went on quests into virtual versions of human culture - from Greece to Mesopotamia to MesoAmerica and beyond.

They explored a couple of worlds from the MinecraftEdu World Library pertaining to math and science. 

As they left camp, they all had ideas of using it in their own classrooms for next year and could see how the students could really benefit from using it. I can't wait to see what we do with this tool next year.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Body in Action

Here are a few of the body system videos.  I am amazed at how the students use resources they have to demonstrate science - sweating, digesting, eye dilation, circulation and digestion were a few body systems that our seventh graders modeled.  We had over 400 kids in 2 weeks creating projects in MincecraftEdu.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bodies in Motion

I had mentioned in an earlier post that 7th grade science was doing a second project in Minecraft.  This time, they have been tackling the entire human body. Students have been studying various systems of the body and are now modeling the concepts they have learned about in Minecraft. 

The assignment was to model at least 3 systems (nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, etc.) together. They first planned the models on paper and then began implementation.  We found that it helps it the students know a bit about Minecraft tools, especially redstone.  This knowledge enables them to add interaction to the models and allows them to work at a quicker pace.

We started this project last week.  We have only one computer lab so classes had to double-up to get in.  But it's been working - teams of 2 or 3 work together on one computer.  Two classes (Mrs. Arcaya and Mrs. Collins) met for 3 days last week and 2 more classes (Mrs. Taylor and Mr. Bedford) are meeting for 3 days this week to build the models.

The students are engaged and we have had very few incidents of not being on task.  It helps to lay the ground rules for behavior in the virtual world before they get in.  Otherwise some might know it only as an entertainment device rather than an education tool in school.

The final piece of the project is to use a web-based tool called Screencast-o-matic to record a tour of the project.  It's so easy to use - just click Record, select the area of the screen to record and start talking.  It saves to your disk drive. This allows the other students to look at peer work, and learn a little more about Minecraft and it's capabilities. It also assists the teacher in grading the projects.  The videos are stored where the teacher can grade when time is allotted and the teacher can then share the videos with other teachers.

Mrs. Arcaya has been sharing her work in Minecraft with other teachers in our own school as well as schools in the district and out. Also, other teachers have stopped by the lab to see what it going on.  Look for an upcoming Spanish project where the kids will be building villages incorporating Spanish vocabulary. It is with great pleasure I can post our successes with this playful learning tool.

One thing to notice from looking at the pictures, the kids are focused.  They are helping each other. Quiet kids open up.  They work together to get tasks accomplished.  They ask to come in to work extra and have asked about doing other projects with Minecraft

Friday, April 11, 2014

Breaking it Down

Mrs. Arcaya
The Digestive System project completed a couple of weeks ago, and I am remiss for not posting earlier, but the teacher, Mrs. Arcaya, was so happy with the success of that project that we started another one right away. And it was her eagerness to try new things in the classroom that prompted us to buy MinecraftEdu in the first place. She is truly an early adopter.

But this post is dedicated to share some pictures of the digestive system in Minecraft.  The teacher had surveyed the students and found about half had Minecraft experience. The students made the decision that a team of students would build a model and the other students would take a tour of it.  

Enter through the chomping teeth in the head.

The model creators

The four young men decided they would turn it into a scavenger hunt. They built teeth into various places of the body where you would not expect to find teeth.  They also relocated stomach enzymes in other places.  It was up to the classmates to find the teeth, return them to the mouth and return the enzymes to the stomach. (Return areas were chests.) The boys put signs everywhere describing the kinds of digestion one would find in each area and they placed chests of books for their tourists to read more about digestion in the model. 

One problem though - we found out that MinecraftEdu in single player mode deletes the text off signs.  It is a known bug. They really want students playing together.

We ended up playing in multiplayer and the students just listed on the accompanying worksheet where they found the teeth instead of digging them up and taking them to the chests. As they went through the system, students completed a worksheet about the various forms of digestion, and what kinds of digestion took place in each.

The four young men who created them model monitored the student 'tourists' to get feedback on their creation.

Mission Message.

Saliva is represented by water. Climb the ladder to the brain.

Users rode the rails to get to the body.

Students taking the 'tour'.

Informational Signs inside.

Let me also introduce you to my biggest helper getting started with MinecraftEdu. Ryan is an 8th grader and has started many servers in the public sector and has been an avid player for many years. He showed me many possibilities of what this sandbox game has to offer.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Friday, February 28, 2014

Computers Galore

The video game programmer club is a group of talented students. They now know basic logic and construction of video games, so the next logical step in our Minecraft journey was to experiment with the ComputerCraft mod this week.  I loaded it on the computers and they noticed it right away.   They were given 20 minutes to create a simple shelter. Then, armed with my own computer science background and some great tutorial videos of ComputerCraft, the kids learned a bit about early computer operation, good old DOS, and how to craft computers, disk drives, and diskettes.  You could feel the excitement in the room.  The task was to create the famous "Hello World" program as all good programmers do for their first task in a language.  They finished and some went on to modify the startup program to specify a welcome message when the computer booted up.  Not bad for an hour of work.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014


The build on the school is well underway and floor 1 is complete. 

Some broke into another team to build a welcome center.  The welcome center is similar to the tutorial where kids will learn to navigate through MC. They learn to swim in a nearby pool.

And I like that they want to add public transportation!  They have added a rail line between the welcome center and the school.

Project number 2 is from our first brave teacher.  The digestive system project is being crafted by a team of 4 hard-working young men. They are spending extra hours on this project.  

They are creating a scavenger hunt tour where students will have to find parts in the world that are either missing or in the wrong place of the system.   The rest of the students will 'play' their creation along with reflecting on the process - if they make it past the chomping teeth.

Friday, February 14, 2014

It's Beginning to be Digested

One of the 7th grade science teachers (Mrs. Arcaya) and I are embarking on a project with her classes. They are about to start a unit on the digestive system.  We brainstormed what would be best to do with Minecraft for a limited number of class periods, and we finally decided to let small groups build their own.  They are reflecting this weekend and coming up with ideas on how to model it.  Then at lunch, some kids came in from a morning class ready to start on the project that doesn't start until the end of March.  I have a feeling the lab is going to be busy during advisory, lunch, and anytime else they can squeeze in. It almost brings tears to my eyes when students are this excited about doing school work.  I'll keep you informed.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Load Testing 2

The past few days have been very insightful.  Yesterday one of the math teachers brought in classes to see how many students we could put on the system.  We had 23 people on Tutorial World and had no issues with playing.   Our goal is 32 people.  Not only was the testing successful, but the reaction of the students to using Minecraft in the classroom were exciting. Some had never played before, so using the tutorial turned out to be a wise decision.

Day 2 - One brave advisory class came in to test.  Two classes were supposed to come so we could fill the room, but that didn't happen this time.  This turned out to be a stress-test on the server.  I opened them to creative mode and little by little turned on every feature.  We were totally pegging the system with survival mode on and the system was complaining.  It didn't lag during play though.  It may be time to move to the virtual server.  With upcoming projects to build, we will need power for everyone to complete their projects.

The last test has been a full load - 32 in creative mode on a random seed - "Texas".  We only made it to 22.  The rest could not connect.  Now it's time for a bigger server.

For all classes involved, there was a resounding "When can we come back? During advisory?  Can we stay for lunch?  How about after school? This was fun!".  They were already talking about ways to use it for projects.  That's what I call successful.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Students had been asking all week when they could get started on creating their virtual school. We attempted that Friday.  Sixteen eager students entered a flat world and decided who would build which part of the building.  They recorded everything in a Google document to be shared and decided on measurements for the building.  Since we had some visitors who specifically came to see this new phenomena, we wanted to show how they could build.  All in all it went pretty well.

I learned several things - create a behavior contract for the students. One student made potions, became invisible and started griefing (destroying the other player's works). (I did not even know you could become invisible!) Conversations were had and that stopped, but I want to make a formal declaration of the rules and consequences and have them sign it.  Second lesson - probably best to have a planned world to demo. 

Now on to other things.  One of the seventh grade science teachers and I are brainstorming how to use MC for the digestive system.  There are several videos of such projects online and I have downloaded one digestive tract world from Planet Minecraft. The question is - have each student or pairs of students each create a digestive system or have one they just go through? We will be discussing intent of the lesson and the amount of time to be allocated, as well as pros and cons of each method. (I don't want to see anyone's projects destroyed.) Also next week is a load test - we are bringing in several math classes to test how many people we can get onto our little server.  We are planning to create something similar to decimal island for the kids to try.

On a personal note, I have learned how to install mods and where to get them.  The wiki seems to be the go to place. I tried a commercial site the kids told me about and along came other ad programs.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Test One

The new machines are in - Dell 7010s.  Shannon came over and helped install the software with me on the 32 machines in preparation for Monday's first Video Game Design club since the new year.  The students bolted in the door asking about Minecraft - "did we get it, is it installed, can we play it?"  I couldn't blame them - I was ready for the first test as well.

We ended up getting 16 people on client machines and had no lag, even though the graph was pegging usage at times.  We ran tutorial world as several of the students had not been on before.  I had forgotten to modify the folder so that it would run in our district, but that was soon remedied. The problem was I had to configure each machine while kids were screaming "me next".  

We all were on and able to play together for about 15 minutes before club time was over. Chants of "Can we come during advisory, lunch, or before school" were prevalent.  The students were mostly male, but 2 females played with them.  We have decided that our first project is going to be constructing a virtual model of our school.  We are having a meeting tomorrow after school to plan and decide how to divide and conquer this architectural endeavor."

On a side note, I have been exploring the building tools for the teacher.  They will definitely help build worlds quickly and I am excited to start building a world for an upcoming science lesson soon.   I also had an ice day to experiment with qcraft.  The world built with that mod is truly amazing.  You really need more than one person to make it work correctly, but I made it through by myself.  This could really be an eye opener for middle school students to start to understand quantum physics.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


The new computers are in so we will start loading the new version 1.7 on the computers next week.  The students are really excited to start learning Minecraft and developing Apps this semester.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lesson Time

Update on the world investigation.  Ryan (my tech aide) was just here and got him to help me figure things out.  He played with Decimal Island and in a matter of a few minutes he was in the store.  (See I knew it would take a kid )

When asked how he got in, he broke down the door. (of course - I think I follow too many rules!)   Once in, there were little slots divided by glass panes with holes in the floor of each section.  There were signs above each one.  It was like a multiple choice question with the answers above.  If he jumped in the correct hole, it told him the gave the correct answer and gave him chicken.  If he j umped in a wrong hole, it told him he was incorrect and gave him rotten flesh.   (will work for food )  You have to play this in survival mode so you have health and get food.

Then he showed me how to use command blocks to create such a device.  There is much potential with this.  A semi-programming tool to create if,then situations.

Adventures in Minecraft Worlds

I tried playing some of the Minecraft EDU  worlds this weekend.  I was totally lost in Mathlandia.  There really aren't any instructions.  So I tried decimal island - that one was better - a few instructions and you can get the worksheets to fill out too.  However, I could never get into the store to buy the equipment to do the math. It has a huge treehouse that has a signs of all the items and prices for each, but that's it in the treehouse. I found another building which looked like it should be the store - with iron doors. It looked like the steel plates should be active, but I couldn't make them work.  There were no levers or stones to activate the doors. Those 2 were included in the new build  (1.7)

I then tried downloading Path to Percentages world from world templates. That was going pretty good.  This web site at least explains sort of what's going on.  My husband says I'm missing the point of the game - to discover what to do.  But as a teacher, I don't have hours to play to figure out what to do.  I guess I need some kids to play these worlds to figure out what to do.  

If we create worlds, I think we should create a 'cheat sheet' for the teachers to use to know where the things are in the world to help the kids who are newbies like me or for our training of the teachers.  They won't use this if they or the students are lost and they can't do an activity.  For example - I couldn't find chests to open to get food, so I drowned on Decimal Island.