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.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Factorio Day 4

I realised today, writing that previous blog post, just how much I miss trying new things in a classroom. Pushing my own limits in terms of what I do in my classroom is something I hadn't realised I had missed this much. Being in a room, feeling the passion and enjoyment that students (and I) have in these lessons/projects, the underlying tension I feel when I have no idea how what I have planned is actually going to play out.

Anyway, enough of that, how did today go? It was yet again a very interesting experience, I did manage to convert the multiplayer map into a 'creative' single player map for students to try and 'fix' or improve something in the factory we are currently working within, and I think that was a really fantastic choice, and I wish I had started that earlier in the week. It is something I will be repeating tomorrow, as I really feel that allowed the students to safely explore options for incorporation into the group factory.

After they worked on their improvement, I did a quick tour around the room checking what people had built, and then started 'grouping' people together that had worked on the same production. That worked very well also, as students already had ideas about what they wanted to build, so were more readily able to discuss and defend what they wanted to build.

Having learned a whole heap of new commands and manipulations of the Factorio world, we took the last 25 minutes of todays session to see what happens when the aliens attack. We are definitely not going to achieve the nuke by the end of tomorrow, today we basically started automating the third science pack, we need around 6000 more of the first 6 tiers of science packs to even get close. The students were so excited when I said to them, "I am standing in the middle of an alien base, you have 2 minutes to prepare, as I think my finger is going to slip onto the shoot button."

I manipulated the aliens, so that they were the hardest they get and let them go. It was utter chaos, and not the 'great' chaos I have mentioned in earlier posts, this was utter chaos. Students were having an absolute ball as they ran around trying, ineffectively of course, to defend themselves and the base. I do think however that I have more to learn about the mechanics of the game to make that scenario work better, and I think there is value in putting students through a 'defensive' scenario once they are comfortable with the game.

After about 10 minutes of students running around in the game, getting killed by aliens, some students were suggesting a concerted strategy instead of running around like lunatics, which I was very pleased about. They were also looking at what basic resources they needed to build both defences and offensive weapons. So I think, with some more planning, it could be a very powerful lesson in the future, not that the time spent in doing that today wasn't worthwhile, but I wasn't sure it was going to be at the beginning, and it was not the focus of todays session. What I am trying to say is, that in future I think that 'scenario' could be a whole session, instead of just a 'timeout' to give the students a break.

I have promised them that tomorrow, before the end of the session, I will put them all in creative on the server and they can go nuke the aliens, but tomorrows focus will actually be getting more raw resources into our factory, scaling up the third tier science packs or working towards the fourth tier science packs. I think I will suggest that students pick one of those options and work towards it in the first part of the session, in the single player copy, and then they can work as a team towards it once we start up the multiplayer server again.

I am certainly pleased with how the project has gone, and feel that I can say that my original learning outcomes have been met, however I am concerned that the parents will not see exactly what the students have achieved in the time they have spent in this workshop. I don't quite know how to clearly explain that, as a team, your child has created everything you see before you from nothing, and not only have they created it, they have researched and prototyped their designs before creating what you see before you. While doing this they have demonstrated a load of skills, leadership, communication, planning and collaboration are just a few. They now have a good understanding of how supply chains can be affected by not enough materials coming in, or by those materials being sidetracked and used to create other things.

Having written that, it does sound pretty good, but will the parents believe me? Will they truly understand? I hope so, and I also hope that the students will be able to clearly explain and show their parents what part(s) of the factory they had the biggest impact on, and how that ties into the rest of the factory and supports other students parts of the factory. I wonder whether a printed overall map of the base might be something worth having... hmmmm, will think on that one!

Given that the students took screenshots of their chosen area of the factory before and after their build today, and wrote what they did, I am thinking I might also combine these together into a powerpoint with the students images, name and text to show the impact that students had today also. Since we will be doing the same tomorrow, it would be good to put them in as well. I am not sure I will have time to do it, with tomorrows images, and it is already after 11pm here at the moment, but if the students work well in the group factory tomorrow I may be able to incorporate tomorrows images.

Ok, enough ranting, I feel like I have written more this week than I have for about the last 2 years, and honestly I probably have! It is great to have something interesting to share and reflect upon. As always, thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments down below.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Factorio Days 2 and 3

Alright, ready for another brain dump? I was trying to write a post each day after the session ran, but unfortunately the last couple of days have been super busy, so I am writing this a couple of hours before the 4th session is about to start to try and get what I have observed in the last couple of sessions down on 'paper' somewhere.

It is very surprising to me to see how focussed the students are, both in their own sandbox world and in the group factory. In the second session we started with a bit of setting up their own sandbox world with basic power and resource collection, with the goal of producing some automation of the red science packs and green circuits. Only a couple of students got to that stage, but many were still developing their basic gameplay skills.

Once we began in the group factory again, they had to try to get some of the automation happening, and they succeeded in automating stone wall production, and also setting up single machines to create 1 red science pack and 1 electronic circuit. We also progressed in the research tree and started producing steel in somewhat small quantities. One student also began building the 'main bus' for our raw resources to try and give the factory some kind of ordered shape, rather than the spaghetti that we had after day 1.

At the end of the session we discussed our progress and had a chat about scalability and how much of the items we might need in the future if we were to get further in the game. The students are keen on launching a nuclear bomb on the aliens in our final session. So with that in mind we finished the second session and I started planning a mode of attack the get them to see the scale of the factory they need to build.

So the third session begins and the task is to create a factory that can produce 1 red science pack and 1 green science pack per second. I showed them a small spreadsheet that gave them the raw requirements of each of the components needed to create these things and we discussed how we could create 1 per second and how much of each raw resource we would need to do so. We did some math, or at least we tried, the math can get quite involved if you want it to, but we got there in the end, the students understood that to do this, they would need to upscale their production.

I also explained why I had challenged them to produce 1 of each of these items per second, because that, in theory would get us to finish our nuclear bomb research before we finish the workshop. So now they have a long term goal, and some idea of how much production they are going to need to get there. Students were then let go for around an hour in their sandbox world trying to create a factory that would produce the set target.

Many students created working factories, that, according to the math we had done earlier, should be producing 1 item per second, however they were not, and some students even figured out why that might be. The investigative options, and the opportunities for problem solving are blowing my mind. I had figured they would be available, but there are so many different opportunities, and if I was to do a project like this again (which I very much hope to be able to) it would be great to record what happens to the factory in a time-lapse kind of way, with some kind of narration as to what is happening and why, as the thinking behind the build is not always understandable from the finished product.

I am also very surprised at the quality of interactions happening between the students. I have some students that are seen as annoying, very annoying, by others and even in my Minecraft workshop I have one of them and he is very frustrating. Annoying others, breaking their things and generally making a pain of himself. However put him in Factorio, and he is a completely different student. I think it is an 'ownership' thing, if I try and bring it down to the difference. In Factorio, he has a job to do, a fairly clear objective, and he 'owns' part of the factory, as he built it.

For example, yesterday, he wanted to mine a lot of stone, and he has a pretty good set up that he has built. The factory was running low on power, so we asked him to disconnect his stone for a while, until we could get some more power. He happily did this (to my surprise) and then went up to the power plant and started creating more power generation. He took the initiative to fix the issue that was preventing him from doing what he wanted to do, and in the process he was supporting the entire group by making more power.

Other students are also showing great leadership, team work and initiative. The students worked together to re-create some factories that we looked at that were 'optimal' science pack generation. There were 3-5 students working on these at any given time. Another group took the initiative to finish the wall, and then turn off the wall production factory, gather the resources and bring them back to the main factory.

I feel like I am struggling to explain all of the minor problems that are arising within the factory, that students just go and fix, no fuss, they might ask for help from other students, or they may just do it themselves if they know what to do. There have been no arguments, which I find very surprising for 14 13-17 year old boys in a multiplayer server together.

As in the first session, it is absolute chaos to the outside observer, students moving around the room, constant chatter, me constantly reminding the students to speak in English so that I can understand what they are doing and why. But from inside it is such a great chaos, a chaos of amazing engagement, learning and collaboration. A chaos of students fully engaging in a collaborative project with a clear goal in mind, and a single mindedness to get there if they can. Persistence and problem solving are all over the place. I feel alive when in the room, you know how sometimes as a teacher you just 'know' you are achieving everything (and probably more) than you wanted to in your lesson? That is how I feel when I wander the room listening and supporting, I cannot just sit and play with them, as much as I expected to, I just cannot do it, there is too much energy in the room, and so much to go and look at.

So, what is the plan for today and tomorrow. Well today I am going to (hopefully just after I finish writing this post) convert our multiplayer map to a single player sandbox one, so that I can put that on all the student machines and they can use that as their sandbox today to see what they can do to improve the factory. I will be asking them to go around the factory, and look at what might need to be improved, take a screenshot of it, take 30 minutes to try their best to improve it, take another screenshot and then reflect on how they did.

After that, we will have a quick discussion about the successes and failures of their missions, and then start the multiplayer building again. I have said that if they continue to work as successfully as they have the last few days, that I might let the server run for a while to try and help them get to the nuke stage before the end of tomorrows session, but I honestly don't know that we can do it.

If all else fails, I guess we can 'cheat' the nuke in at the end of tomorrow so that they can see what happens, and then they can take the save file home with them, and keep building the factory. I am assuming that many of these students will be buying this game, if they have not already.

I need to do a summary of the Minecraft project so far too, but I want to keep them separate in terms of my thinking here, so I will do that in a different post, and a different time. It is now time to go convert worlds!

Thanks as always for reading, and if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to drop them below for me. Hopefully there will be another post in a few hours 'brain dumping' todays upcoming session.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Post Day 1 Factorio

Wow, just wow! This is going to be a massive brain dump, so feel free not to read, unless you want a little bit of insight into what happened this afternoon in a muddled up, all over the place kind of way as I try to reflect on what happened in todays lesson.

To put is shortly, it was amazing, and although very chaotic, it was the best kind of chaos. The chaos of complete engagement with students going back and forth discussing what is going on, helping each other out while also focussed heavily on the task at hand.

I had decided a while ago after looking around and contemplating creating my own beginners introduction that the best way to introduce the basic mechanics of the game was to use the inbuilt tutorial/campaign levels, at least the basics one anyway. The concern I had with the tutorial levels, and students (at least the students I have dealt with in the past) is that there is reading, and if you have read any of my past 'rants' about students not wanting to read, well, you know how that has gone in the past.

It was not exactly the same today, it was interesting, I had a room of 11 13-17 year olds, almost completely silent for around 20 minutes while they went through some of the tutorials. After that the reading got too much for some of them, but they were still highly focussed and engaging with the tutorials.

I had one student who had played "a little bit" he said, but watching him work through the tutorial levels, he had played a fair bit, so I asked him how many hours.... he said 3 or 4, which is not a little bit, in my opinion at least. Although, that being said, it is not a huge amount of time in terms of what you can get done in regards to the gameplay. I asked him if he found the game addictive.... he said of course!

The difference in the time it took students to finish the first tutorial varied quite a bit too, from around 3 minutes to 13. A couple finished all three levels of the basic tutorial in the hour or so we had on that, but only a couple. The rest at least had the basics of movement, building, rotating and moving things around the map.

So after our break, we came back into the room, had a quick chat about what needed to happen. That the first priority was to gather the basic resources and get things as automated as possible. The tutorials did not explain the science and research mechanics, so I did a quick introduction to them. I felt that the basics was what I wanted out of the tutorials, and the rest of the mechanics would become clear as we progressed through our group build. I think that is what the tutorials delivered, and as we progress through our build, I will keep you updated on whether the other mechanics become clear or not and where I step in and explain some things.

I am glad to say that I walked out of today very happy with how it went. I did forget to save the game before shutting down the server (oops) and I thought we had lost a bit of our build, it turned out it was only about 10 minutes, but a student hung back at the end and he had made a save before he exited the server. So it ended up that we lost none of the work done today. I won't make the same mistake again tomorrow!

I am worried, today was all about 'play', learning the game, but still play. Tomorrow it gets a bit more intense and I am concerned that the students will turn off a bit. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens. The first hour or so will be looking into optimal power plant builds, as well as investigating how many items can fit on a yellow belt, and how many machines it would take to compress the belts, basically exploring the opportunities for optimising our early stage factory.

I might also do a small 'tutorial' on some of the belt mechanics, balancers and splitters and underground belts. Also how the inserters drop things on belts and how we can manipulate the sides of belts to help us get 2 different items onto a belt. I am planning on using a custom scenario I found on the web to help out with the exploration of these things. It is basically a 'creative' scenario in which we can have chests that deliver and 'eat' an unlimited amount of items.

The students are desperate to attack the aliens, but in this version there is no real purpose in doing so, since they removed the drops from the nests/bases that you used to need for the final tier science packs. So I keep trying to convince them that it is not a good idea, I don't know how much longer I can hold them off before they begin the onslaught. We are playing on 'peaceful until attacked' at the moment, but we are definitely not ready to defend our base from the horde, yet!

They haven't figured out that they can hurt each other yet, and I am keeping that little piece of information very quiet, but it may only a matter of time. It is one thing I would love to be able to turn off, but I haven't been able to figure out how, that being said, I did a bit more research and it is probably not something they are going to be able to figure out easily on their own. I do have some concerns with regards to the students killing each other on purpose, and it is something I am going to have to be very much on top of, with consequences for deliberate killing of others if it happens. Although if it does come up, I will negotiate the consequences with the group. The relationships between the students are a bit... haphazard, so deliberate killing is definitely not off the table if someone figures out how and shares their knowledge.

I am trying to be 'just another player on the server' but it I am finding it very hard. I 'stopped' playing today, and wandered around the room looking at what each student was doing, and I found that much more interesting than playing. I did help them get started, then I became an 'overseer' of sorts. Making suggestions with regards to the power, automating things and research while also providing support as students requested it.

At the end of the session, we finished up 15 to 20 minutes before the end, and I wandered around the server showing them what they achieved, showing some of the 'more advanced' automation areas. I also had a chat to them with regards to the kind of factory we should build. We are definitely in the 'spaghetti' factory at the moment, and I am suggesting we move towards the 'sectioned' factory, rather than the main bus style of factory. It takes a lot of planning to create a main bus, and I don't think we are there yet. I also made some points as to the things that perhaps we should work on tomorrow when we begin the multiplayer build.

I am hoping that after we do our 'creative' exploration in the early part of tomorrows session that some of those builds may transfer across into the group factory. I would also really like students to 'defend' their build, talk about why it should be in our group factory but I am not sure this group is up to doing that effectively. I may try it later in the week and see how it goes, because I think could be a really powerful reflective tool. I might also start that process tomorrow with them taking a screenshot of what they built, and explaining why it they built it that way, or why it is a good build.

Ok, I warned you it would be an 'all over the place' post, if you made it this far, thanks for reading, if you have any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Expect more brain dumps over the next few days as this project continues.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Factorio Day 1

So, in about an hour my first Factorio workshop begins. I have the nervous, excited energy I always get when starting something completely new and untested by me. Today is all about learning the game, how the controls works, the basics. Later in the afternoon we will hopefully begin our large group factory, once they have the basic knowledge of gameplay.

I have tested the connections to the server and made sure the machines are all launching Factorio, which is about the extent of testing I can do. The rest will depend on the students and how they move through the game and work together in the group build.

We will be looking at the most efficient ways to automate some of the early game content and build our factory within the game today, and we may even get into google spreadsheets to do some collaborative planning around the efficient use of resources.

For the group factory, I am going to have students in groups; miners, builders, defenders and researchers; to start with at least. They may swap, change and create new groups based on needs as they arise.

I will likely do a brain dump in another few hours after the session, but a quick update for now. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Back in Greece; Teaching

I have just finished teaching for the third day at the summer school in Greece. Like last year, I am having a great time, but the kids this year are, at this stage, much more motivated to create something good. They are steaming through, learning new things as they go and implementing these things into their maps.

There are three groups creating adventure/story maps, one group creating a dropper map and another creating a mini-survival game. We did some very early testing of some of the maps today, and it is interesting how quickly the students can build the components of their maps, but forget the basics of what a map needs to be functional for people to play. So the basic things like, a starting location, with a 'start game' button, or settings panel are not there.

Others, while just beginning to explore command blocks, are forgetting things like, when teleported to a new location, like in a dropper map, you need to set the players spawn point at the top, or they go back to the start and lose all their progress. What are you scoring people on, how are you going to provide them the feedback are also things that seem to be missed.

It is interesting, and something I will be working closer with the students tomorrow in our focus session, so I need to think about what it takes for a game to be 'functional' for others and also what feedback or validation do we need as we play. Also this group of students is not anywhere near as desperate to 'play' in survival mode, we did have a foray into it yesterday, but it was a 'limited lives' group survival scenario, where we had 10 lives for the server.

We had 2 attempts, each lasting about 20-25 minutes. It is interesting to see what leadership comes out, and also what 'selfishness' comes out in these situations. I think if we keep working on it, we should be able to get to a point where survival might last over an hour in these situations, but we really need to work on our group/team work and communication skills.

I love introducing students to the 'world' of Minecraft. One student played Minecraft for the first time on Monday, unsurprisingly, he has already downloaded something similar to Minecraft on his phone, created a big tree house, with multiple layers beneath the ground. He was quite proud to show his creation to me today, and rightfully so, considering he only found out about it on Monday.

Next week while the Minecraft workshop heads into it second and final week for the 2017 summer school, I am starting a brand new project, using Factorio, to introduce students to managing resources, optimising machines and trading between groups. Which will incorporate all kinds of great skill development for the students, critical thinking, communication, leadership and many more are the key ones I am focussing on.

This Factorio project is running only for the one week, and I am really excited to delve into using Factorio in an educational setting. I feel like I did when I first started bringing Minecraft into my classroom, nervous, excited and sure that everything will work out ok in the end if I keep an open mind, be flexible, reflect on each section of the lesson and adjust as required. I contacted the developers, and they were/are super supportive and helpful in getting me up and running.

I will collate some of the images of the students work so far and post them soon, thanks, as always, for reading, I am not dead, thankfully, and have been sitting on a post about what I have been up to for the past 12 months or so in my new role for quite a few weeks, I must finish it and publish it, and I will.... one day soon. For some reason I had it stuck in my head that people only read this for what I do in Minecraft, but that is not necessarily true, despite the name of the blog. Feel free to tell me below what you enjoy reading from me, but now that I have recognised this 'block' in my own head, I should be more regularly sharing the great projects I have been a part of, how we got these up and running, the wins, and the losses, even in this non-Minecraft related journey in my new job thus far.

Of course I am still involved in the Minecraft in Education community, and am still looking for some solid opportunities to bring my passion for this into my new role. Ok, I have blabbered enough for now, look forward to images of the students creations soon and some pretty large brain dump posts next week as I begin the Factorio project. Thanks again for reading.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Time for an Update

OK, I have been sitting on an update post for quite some time, but the time has come for me to finally let everyone know what has happened, is happening and why I appear to have dropped off the face of the Earth (again).

To put it simply, I have changed jobs, I am not currently a classroom teacher, at least not for the next 12 months or so at this stage. I now work with around 400 schools and it is my role to support them in their uptake of virtual learning. I have been in this role for about 10 weeks, am really enjoying it, miss the classroom a bit, but a change is as good as a holiday.

You would probably think that a role like this would give me great scope to get some awesome Minecraft projects up and running. Sadly, however, there are a couple of blockers to that at this current time. The first is that the role is tied quite tightly to video conferencing at this stage. Don't get me wrong, I am still hoping to get some Minecraft related projects up and running while in this role, I just need to get some other things going first.

The second, and perhaps the biggest blocker is software related. With Microsoft's continued persistence with the O365 accounts, Windows 10 and annual license fees, for what is currently a product I would not recommend for schools, I have no option for schools that do not already have MinecraftEdu to join in, which could be an equity issue that I would need to address. Not only that, my new work computer is still rocking Windows 7, which counts me out from even installing the software.

On the bright side of this particular coin, I know that Victoria was one of the biggest purchasers of MinecraftEdu in Australia (and the world) which means that there are heaps of licenses out there that could be used to collaborate on projects across the state, so stay tuned, I am not giving up, just taking my time to get it right!

In general Minecraft in education news, Microsoft is continuing to develop their version, with the upcoming release of the companion app in early November. It is called Classroom Mode and has some features that is getting MC:EE closer to the flexibility that MinecraftEdu provided educators in their classrooms, but they still have a fair journey ahead to catch up. I get the impression that the community in general is still shaking their head about the purchasing arrangements and I still live in hope that Microsoft will see that a 'game' is not something that a lot schools will pay $5 per head per year for students to use.

In my opinion one of the biggest reasons MinecraftEdu got such great traction in education was because of the pricing structure. A one off fee of <$500 to explore gaming in the classroom across an entire school of any number of students is something that many schools can afford without too many issues (or can fundraise for easily). What this one off cost got you was a great educational space in a classroom setting (Minecraft), as well as the great work that TeacherGaming did on making that space more flexible and easier to access by building many features into MinecraftEdu for teachers.

I still think Minecraft, as a base, is an awesome platform for learning, and it saddens me that many students may miss out on the opportunity to use it within their classrooms to learn because of the pricing structure when we know how powerful it can be for student learning. Will classrooms around the globe go back to being 'boring' with students disinterested in the learning because we are not meeting their learning needs or wants? I think Microsoft has dampened a brilliant opportunity to shake education away from the lecture, university style learning that has been the norm for countless years. I don't think they have killed it entirely, but I honestly believe they have slowed it.

OK, time to get off my high-horse, thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment below.