Friday, 11 May 2018

Animal Cell Map Is So Close to Done.

I am getting very close to a release for the Animal Cell map for Minecraft: Education Edition, there have been some tests run by other mentors, and most of the map seems solid so far. I just spent about an hour making it a void world, which makes it look a whole heap better than the surrounds that used to be there and has bugged me for years!

The outside is pretty much as it always was, except for the void bit, the real work has been done on the inside. There is now a secret code to get flight capabilities.

Custom NPC skins and models, they were supposed to look like lab technicians in the colours of the organelles, but they appear to be more like ninjas, I am yet to decide whether to rename them or not.

The teleportation mechanic is quite neat, and the visual experience is every bit as good as it used to be in the older version of the map.

Now I just have to finalise the external links to videos I want, and then re-write the 'real life' companion booklet and get it live on the lesson site. It is so exciting to be able to spend the time on these forgotten children of mine and get them available to the community in a working fashion again.

Very quick visual update today, thanks for reading, as always feel free to leave a comment below.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

New Role, New Exciting Times!

I have been sitting on this for a couple of months now, for various reasons, but as of Monday this week I have officially started in my new role, and it no longer has to be kept a secret.

The Victorian Department of Education has provided Minecraft: Education Edition for free to all schools, students and staff at government schools across the whole state. Which is a huge win, and a very exciting project to be involved in. We are talking over 1500 school sites, 600,000 students and 44,000 teachers all now with access. The potential for innovation, and new exciting lessons in Minecraft is huge.

So what is my role in this. I am supporting the implementation across the state. So currently I am looking at providing PD opportunities for those just beginning, those who have dabbled, and those who are experts. I am also running specific projects within schools, with what I hope to be somewhat intensive coaching and support so that these teachers are able to continue to grow their practice.

We are also building a state-wide team of educators using Minecraft in their classrooms, so that we can all support each other, kind of like what the Global Mentor program is, but more tailored to our teachers and using local expertise.

So what does all of this mean? It means, that post a few months back where I said I was back, well, I am. Minecraft: Education Edition is now my '9 til 5' job, so producing content is well and truly back on the cards, pushing the boundaries of what we can do and teach in Minecraft is back on the cards. I have a lot of work to do building and collating resources to support our teachers in their journey, no matter where they are along it.

So, what maps are on the go I hear you asking? OK, so I didn't hear you asking, but I still want to share and feel that I haven't been able to share, because I was bound to secrecy on the new role and roll out of M:EE across the state.

The Animal Cell map is nearly complete and ready for M:EE, the teleport mechanics have all been sorted out as have the textures, the only thing I have left to do is decide on the best method for providing the 'text' in game for students to explore and reflect upon, and then of course getting the information in there. Although I have all the text from the old map, sorted and ready so that shouldn't be too onerous once I get the basics sorted.

Energy Transfer, was always a 'gonna do when I got time' map, and I am excited to say that is certainly getting there, streaming that live on Twitch from start to finish is a side goal, so work is somewhat slower than if I wasn't doing that, but I am really enjoying sharing my process, experimentation and building it live online. Even if very few people watch it :D.

The command block mechanics and such in this map are very intense, and exciting to incorporate to create what will be a 'game' where students have to try and manage the energy and molecule flow throughout a cell and try to keep everything running. From DNA synthesis, through RNA synthesis and protein production, as well as exporting enzymes and breaking down sugars.

Contour Maps, again is just about ready to go, there are a few 'starting' things to be worked out, and formal lesson plans to write ready for release on the site but the basics are all there. This will be run in a school hopefully this term with a couple of groups, so stay tuned for updates on that.

Maths in Space, is a new take on an old map/concept. A few years back I used Minecraft to help students learn percentages in the "Path to Percentage Perfection" and this newer version of that is actually an adventure type map, based in a choose your own adventure style and is actually more of an assessment of knowledge than an acquisition of knowledge map, which is something new for me and an exciting project.

Also, for the base of this map, I was able to design in a 3D design package (123d design) export that to stl, and then get it into a void world in M:EE. Which is HUGE! It also means that we now have a way of working backwards too, build in EE and export to stl for 3D printing, that is not restricted at 32x32x32 blocks. Which is also HUGE and very exciting. Speaking of which, I really should do the long promised tutorial on this.

There are a heap of mechanics I need to sort out, so this map is likely a couple of months away from being anywhere near ready for a classroom, so think 'early planning' of the story and mechanics I need to use to keep the story relevant and in the game.

Transcription and Translation, will be released for M:EE at some stage, I have to rebuild it from scratch, using the new game mechanics rather than the old CCEdu mod. The lag issues that abounded from using 300 turtles to keep an eye out for block updates should be resolved with observer blocks. I plan on building on the Resource Pack for the Animal Cell, one pack for all 3 current cell maps, and possibly more in the future as I have the ideas and time to build them.

I am also writing a 'random chance and choose your own adventure' story for my daughter. I hope to release that to the public at some stage, but that all came about because I burrowed further and further into a rabbit hole of choose your own adventure, and what that might mean for interactive maps. Getting students responding to questions in, and out of the game, while having an impact on how the story plays out, and having the Minecraft world change accordingly.

So this is a huge area of interest for me, and once I get settled into the role, and have some more time, I hope to explore this and create some highly interactive maps in this style. Think about having a companion world to a choose your own adventure book, where both work together to create a learning experience for students. A place that reading, as well as experience in the virtual world support each other and neither is fully complete without the other, and neither can you complete it fully without using both and your brains.

OK, apparently not posting for a while leads to blabbering, apologies. Hopefully I will share more on each map as I move forward, as well as sharing the progress and uptake of M:EE across the state. As always it will be a 'warts and all' approach to sharing, so keep an eye out for the successes, and the not so successes in future. Thanks for reading, feel free to leave a comment below.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

How Important is Fun in Learning?

So yesterday was my first Minecraft Education Edition Teacher Starter Academy, as part of my new role, which I am still not fully able to share the details of just yet (sigh). However this day was set up as a 'taster' for Minecraft in Education, taking attendees through things like "What is Minecraft?" and "How can it be used to reach educational outcomes?" as well as giving them the absolute basics of logging into M:EE using their O365 account, the basic controls and what is available to support them to get started and use it in their classrooms.

It was a great day, and there are more coming up over the next few months that I am very much looking forward to. However, throughout the day there were people on social media, helpful people, sharing ideas that they thought would support me in the workshop I was running. This raised some kind of conflicting thoughts for me, that I am going to try and 'decompress' here into something coherent as it has been weighing on my mind for the last 24 or so hours. OK, so if I am being honest, I was awake a fair bit last night trying to resolve an issue, and I don't want to do that again tonight. Selfish? Yes, but hopefully worthwhile for both me, and you!

The problematic thought kind of centers around the title of the post. How important is fun in learning? A lot of the resources shared were around ensuring that the lesson was fun, and game like. In a lot of respects I understand that is a key part of what Minecraft CAN offer in a classroom, however when are new to Minecraft educators 'ready' for that change in thinking? Because if I think honestly, it is a very big change in thinking, a change in the way you design lessons, a change in the way you assess outcomes and consequently a change in how your classroom operates.

Should brand new teachers to Minecraft, (notice I didn't say Minecraft in education there, just Minecraft since over 60% of the teachers in attendance at the academy yesterday had never set 'foot' in the game.) get introduced straight away into this whole idea of making learning tasks in Minecraft like a game? Part of me thinks "Yeah, why not, start as you mean to continue." But the realist part of me sits back and scoffs at the other part (Can you tell I am in quite a bit of conflict internally over this?) and thinks "Think back to how you started, you started with 'teacher controlled' demonstrations, how much 'game' was in that?"

I look at the change in my lessons over the last 7 or 8 years and think about the development I went through as an educator, the changes in the way I thought about education, games and assessment. Is it right to say to teachers starting today "Trust me, this is where you should be trying to get" or should we be a bit more 'open' to the idea that getting them to start will mean that teachers will develop over time and in future their Minecraft lessons may, or may not, incorporate the 'game' parts of Minecraft based on their own specific learning outcomes, expertise and students?

So I guess this leads to the next question, does every lesson need to be fun or should every learning activity be fun for students? I enjoy creating maps, I enjoy 'crafting' playful learning tasks in Minecraft for classrooms. But if I look at, for example, the Animal Cell map I am currently re-configuring for M:EE, that has very few elements of what I would classify as 'fun' or 'game like', however I think it is a highly valuable lesson/experience for students. Feedback from students who did the map with me, and from teachers who have used the map in their own classrooms has been very positive, but is it a fun activity? I am not entirely sure.

Conversely the Energy Transfer map I am currently also working on, is highly based in a game type situation and I would expect that to be fun for students. Does that mean the Energy Transfer map is more 'valuable' than the Animal Cell map as an educational experience?

I cannot, despite my newer thinking processes around fun activities in Minecraft, (since the map was originally created in either 2012 or 2013, probably over both of those years given how many hours it took to create it.) think of a way to make this Animal Cell activity 'more fun'. I guess you could possibly look down the scavenger hunt aspect, but that might destroy the 'immersion' that I think is a really key aspect of that map and in reality what is the goal of the scavenger hunt?

So we come to yet another couple of questions. How essential is it that every experience students have in Minecraft in school be 'fun'? How much do we risk 'schoolifying' Minecraft if they don't have fun? I don't think I 'ruined' Minecraft for any of my students by incorporating it in my classrooms, in the many changing forms it has taken since 2011.

So should we let teachers develop along their own path, or should we be pushing them towards a particular path?

Having written that last question just above has certainly clarified why I have been so conflicted over this. I have always tried to let educators find their own path, supporting as much as I can, but trying not to 'dictate' the path they take. Letting them try, fail, reflect, learn and try again, with support where needed, has been the way I have tried to operate since the beginning.

I think that trying to tell the people I am supporting, whether they are beginners, or whether they are experts, that one particular way of using Minecraft in their classrooms is 'best' is definitely not what I want to do, nor do I think that is what the helpful tweeters were indicating I should do. Having more options for development, and more access to information that will support each teacher in their own developmental journey in using Minecraft in their classroom is going to be the key that shifts their thinking and hence their classrooms, hopefully schools, and really hopefully systems.

If I am going to share resources around, I need to make a conscious effort to ensure that I am also telling those I am sharing with, that what this resource depicts, or talks about is not the only path forward, but might help them define their own path. That whole sentiment of try, fail, reflect, learn and try again is the process of learning, why should we step in the way of those who are along that path?

Wow, if you got to here, despite my ramblings, thanks so much for reading. I am certainly feeling better in myself, and hopefully sleep will come easier tonight now that I have resolved the main conflict I was having. Thanks internet (and faithful readers) for being a sounding board for my thoughts! As always feel free to leave a comment below if you want, I am open to any and all thoughts around this and think that a discussion may help us all in our respective journeys!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Workaround for Custom Skins

I have not been this excited in a fair while, I just need to share a great success I had earlier today. I have managed to figure a way to get custom skins for students in Minecraft Education Edition. Which means that teachers can collate a 'skin pack' for the class (or classes) and students will be able to choose these skins in game.

Check out my very excited 'tutorial' that doesn't really show you how to do it properly here.

I will record a 'proper' tutorial showing the steps to take the skin pack available in the video description and make it your own. It is simple, but likely to be time consuming, so don't let students change their skin every week. Or if you do, you may want to keep file names consistent between changes.... hmmmm.... more info for the tutorial.

Thanks for reading. Comments are welcomed as always.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Limitations and Workarounds

So, I have been doing a fair bit of map making over the last week or so. I have almost completed the Animal Cell map, I am working on a Reaction Times recreation, with more automation so that anyone can pick it up and run with it, and I also, just yesterday converted my Contour Maps world from Java to EE. A huge shoutout to Joel Mills, @iLearningUK for the tutorial showing how easy it is to do it. Here is his playlist of support videos if you are interested.

I keep running into limitations within EE that I don't expect. Don't get me wrong, this is not a complaint, I am really enjoying hitting these walls. It brings back memories of 'the good old days' when we used to run into limitations in MinecraftEdu and we would work together to try to find workarounds to achieve what we wanted. I am very glad to still be part of the community that is still supporting each other to find those workarounds.

The biggest limitation I have right now, and the thing that is holding up the Animal Cell release is simply there is no 'great' way of getting relatively large amounts of text into the world without breaking the immersion I want in that map. The NPC's can have a bit of 'front facing' text, and then you can use commands to /whisper or /say the information to students nearby, but this just feels 'unclean' and has a few problems associated with it if it is a multiplayer experience, not to mention the 'wall-o-text' that students will have on the 't' screen after they have visited a few of the NPCs.

I would also like to be able to 'know' when students have gone to each location in the cell, but I am running into issues there also. Without scoreboard like commands, I have no ability to 'tag' players with extra data. So I had a look at using /give to give students named items, and then detect when they have all those items in their inventory, but can you believe it, there is no way to /give named items in EE/Bedrock edition without a whole heap of other mess involved. So I can do it, hence the workaround, but it is a very messy process that involves cloning chests on top of players, then destroying chests and hoping the item that was in the chest jumps into the correct players inventory. Which would be fine if this was only a single player experience, which it can be, but if a teacher gets multiple students in the map, a lot of things could go pear shaped with that solution.

Coupled with that, it appears that I cannot detect when players have particular things in their inventory. I could detect when those blocks are placed however, and that would be the next workaround. Essentially what I wanted, was once students have spoken to each NPC, they get swapped to creative mode and can fly around the cell having a look from different perspectives and being able to take more pictures if they so desired. I know that the teacher can do this manually, but for some silly reason I have it in my head that these things can/should be automatic, making it easier for others to use the map.

The other limitation I am working around is the lack of build tools. The /fill command, using relative coordinates is pretty neat, the lack of undo is a bit of a pain though. I have taken to grabbing a copy of the world folder before attempting any /fill (or /clone) that could take a while to undo manually. I haven't had to use the backup yet, the /fill with air command has been an adequate undo so far. I have also begun having a bit more of a crack at the /clone command, but this confuses me more times than it makes sense. It depends on which 'order' you put the coordinates in, and I am yet to see why it picks the particular corner it does for the start of the clone. I am sure there is logic there, and one day I may understand, but it is going to take some more trial and error.

The other workaround I am trying to get happening is the "execute detect setblock" group of commands, which is super helpful at swapping out large groups of blocks for another type, without ruining a structure. I used this to change the ER from netherrack to red glass in this video. I am thinking that this could be a very powerful tool if we get the ability to /summon command blocks with commands already in them, but until then, it is a tool for use in particular situations, rather than an auto-build tool. I can see this setup being able to 'auto build' almost anything for you, depending on what block you place down, but I am a long way from having that fully functional and easy to pick up and use.

I have also been streaming my lesson creation when the house is quiet enough to do so and I really enjoy it. I have been exporting these from Twitch to YouTube, so check out my YouTube channel if you want to watch my madness in almost 'real time' or follow me on Twitch if you want to see the madness in real, real time while throwing questions at me and trying to confuse me even more.

Thanks as always for reading, feel free to leave a comment below if you have another workaround I should try for any of the limitations I have mentioned, or if you have anything to say really. :D

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

I Am Back.... For Real This Time!

Hey there! I know I have said this multiple times over the last few years, but I am serious this time, I promise! I don't know how many of you follow my YouTube channel, I did release an update video a few weeks ago saying that I was actually finally returning to this space in a more active capacity than I have been for the last few years. Make no mistake, I have still been a part of the community, I am still a Global Minecraft Mentor and keep my fingers on the pulse and my thinking processes active in thinking of new maps or lessons I could create, but I acknowledge that have been quiet in the public space, mostly due to time constraints with 3 young children and new jobs and associated travel where Minecraft did not quite fit fully.

However, the great thing is, in my 'personal life' I have been beginning to find the time, limited of course, and energy, to work on converting some of my old MinecraftEdu maps like the Animal Cell to work in M:EE. Not only that but I have also been working on developing some new ideas, some in collaboration with multiple other Global Minecraft Mentors which is super fun and very exciting. I would like to thank to my youngest child for finally starting to sleep through the night multiple nights in a row. It is due to this somewhat regular unbroken sleep that the time and energy have started to return to my life. I am very pleased to say that I have been able to stream my thinking processes and decision making via Twitch when making maps/lessons in Minecraft Education Edition (thanks new computer and faster internet).

I encourage you to drop by and collaborate on map creation with me if you have time by interacting with me via the twitch chat while I am creating lessons. I know that the more ideas and perspectives we have incorporated into a map, the more students the map will be suitable for, and the greater the end result will be for the community. So far I have found this experience very enjoyable, is the place to find me live if you are interested, but I am also uploading these to YouTube afterwards, because, why not, so you can watch them there afterwards if you want, you just miss out on the interaction with me and the others involved. A word of warning, I am learning the process and software involved in streaming, next step is to figure out how to get the Twitch chat as an overlay on the YouTube videos so that my one sided conversation makes sense. I am also streaming my 3D modelling process there as well, so if you start watching and it doesn't look quite like Minecraft, feel free to watch, or disappear if you want and try again another time :D

All that being said, I can see you sitting there if you are a long time reader saying "Yeah sure Elfie, you have said this like 5 times over the last 2 years alone." and you are right, so what is different this time? I am super excited to be able to be more active in this space in a professional capacity over and above my personal passion. A change in role has meant that Minecraft is a part of my job again, rather than an add on and entirely passion driven volunteer activity. I cannot announce the full details just yet, but I will once it has all been finalised and made official. However I can tell you that a large part of this role will be coaching teachers in the use of M:EE in their classrooms and developing projects/lessons/maps to support them in this. Which of course means that these projects/lessons/map development is likely to be shared here, as will the reflections.

So, while I know I have said this several times in the past, and once already in this post, expect more regular and meaty updates from me around Minecraft in education, the projects, successes, failures and everything in between. The 'good old' days of me brain dumping here on a regular basis will be returning soon. So stay tuned!

Thanks as always for reading, feel free to leave a comment below. I look forward to posting more in the coming weeks and months as my new role picks up speed.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Minecraft: Education Edition; 2 Years On.

Nearly 2 years ago (20th Jan 2016) I wrote a blog post detailing my concerns about Microsoft acquiring MinecraftEdu and planning on releasing their own version. I read that post again today while I had a spare few minutes, I sometimes revisit old posts to see what I was thinking at the time, and that one happened to be the one I read.

What is interesting is I had 5 concerns, and looking at the current version of Education Edition 3 have been, to what I would consider, fixed. This is the list of initial concerns from that post.

1) Licensing
2) Ethos of the team behind MC:EE
3) Mod support
4) OS support
5) Lack of features in code base

Licensing is still a mild concern for me, $5 per head per year still stings, but I think I have mentioned this before, in my new role I work with a lot of school leaders, and to them, this is not a huge barrier. So while I as a teacher have concerns, it may not be a huge barrier to some others.

The ethos of the team behind MC:EE, I have zero concerns here now, having worked with them over the last 12 months as a global mentor, and throughout the beta the team in the background are absolutely on the right path. They definitely have the right ethos, in my opinion at least, take that as a recommendation or disregard and make your own mind up.

Mod support, still a fairly significant concern for me. I am beginning to explore "Addons" and I know this allows me to change the textures of blocks and items and such, but interestingly in my explorations so far also the behaviours of existing mobs. I am not entirely sure how far these addons allow customisation of the game, but it is at least mostly functional for the kind of lessons I like to build and run with students.

OS support, again from a selfish perspective, this has been resolved. Mac and Windows 10 are all I need, I am still a little disappointed they have not given Linux any love, or any previous versions of Windows, as I can see that schools might still utilise these OS's thus limiting their ability to get involved.

Features in the code base. Now this is perhaps where the biggest shift has happened, at least for me. It was always going to happen, but upon reading my previous post, I realised just how far it has come. There are now comparable commands and command blocks. Most of the basic features in the current Minecraft Java version are now available in the Windows 10 edition, which means they are available in EE, so all my desired redstone contraptions and command block magic can now be created.

So what does all this mean? For me at least, it means I am beginning to look at re-creating some of my maps/lessons/activities/experiences in MC:EE. Currently I am still not in the classroom, so I cannot use them with kids myself, but it is time for me to begin exploring just how far MC:EE has come in terms of helping me to create the kinds of lessons and activities I really enjoyed crafting and teaching with. Also within my role I may get the opportunity to trial some of these activities in schools, various schools, which would be an awesome opportunity, both for me, and the teachers and students involved.

I also have a few untested ideas that I would like to play around with, all I need to do is find the time. I think that some of the ideas I have been sitting on for years to try and implement, still the have the time issue, but the functionality is now there, as some of them were still not possible in 1.7.10, and 1.8.9 was not quite stable enough for full scale implementation within classrooms.

So, fingers crossed, I will start sharing more posts about my MC:EE creations, both here and on the MC:EE lesson site as I begin to develop and re-develop some of my thoughts and ideas around educating students using Minecraft game mechanics.

Thanks for reading, I hope to not be quite so 'absent' in the future and as always if you have any comments, feel free to drop them below.