Thursday, 21 June 2012


I wanted to introduce the topic of classification to my year 7 Science students today. Normally I sit in the room with them and tell them 'stories' about 'things' in my home, gradually adding more information until they get the name of the thing correct. An example is my dog, and the story goes something along the lines of:

"This thing is about 'yea' big"
"It is black"
"It has 4 things sticking out the bottom"
"2 things stick out the top"

and so on, until they guess that it is a dog, then we do another one where instead of using non-specific words like thing I use the classification words, like legs, or ears. We then discuss why we as people classify things, why we group them, what are the advantages. I really enjoy this approach as the students normally get a real good discussion and I think a very good understanding of grouping and why we do it.

However today I thought I would try something in Minecraft, I know that in the next release (1.3) of Minecraft they have 'sorted' the creative inventory to make it easier to find things, so as a class we went into a new superflat world, had a brief discussion about where they had heard classify before, and what they thought it meant, and then proceeded to classify them into groups, the first was boy and girl, the second was the hair colour of their avatar in the game.

Then I gave them the task of grouping all the items in the game, or to classify them into groups, place them in chests and give that group a name. I was yet again amazed at how quiet and focused the students were on the task they were completing. There were some amazing groups, the first to materialise was 'natural' followed by 'wool' and 'food', 'tools, weapons', 'diamond' and the list goes on. Each student was to come up with their own groups, then one student popped up with the questions I was waiting for.

"Mr. Elford, if I have something, can it be in 2 chests? Sandstone, it is sand, and stone, so should it be in the sand chest, or the stone chest, or can I put it in both?"

This was the moment I had been hoping would arise, I stopped all the students, and posed to question to all of them, they started arguing straight away, but not antagonistically. They were having a discussion about which it should be in. After the discussion died down, back to their own classifying they went. I must say I cannot wait to get back in there to let them finish of their classifying, and then get them to explain their reasoning.

That was the first MinecraftEdu lesson of the day. The second was with my year 7 Humanities class, where we were going to start discussing biomes, what better place to get a discussion happening about biomes than in Minecraft? So in we went, brand new world, no student building or flying, their task, to explore the land around them, writing down the biome name from the F3 display and also writing down what they saw in each different area.

This was a great lesson until they decided that they were bored of walking and wanted to fly, and I stupidly said fair enough, and changed them all to creative mode. The server survived no more than 5 minutes of that pressure before the lag got too much and I made the students log out so that it could try and catch up, and also so we could start a discussion about biomes.

I don't think the task itself was a successful as I would have liked, the main issue being that they were probably too excited to write enough detail down about each area. So I will giving them greater direction tomorrow when we enter a new world about what they are describing in each different biome.

If anyone out there knows a good 1.2.5 seed with a mushroom biome within easy reach please leave it in the comments below (I need it for tomorrow morning). As always thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Cell: Stage 1 Complete.

Well I have just finished the first stage of the Animal Cell map. Students have completed their booklet and we have had our discussions about some of the questions and why I asked them. They have requested that next week I wander through the cell on my computer projecting it on the whiteboard talking about the organelles, their roles and why I made them the way I did.

There were some amazing discussions around which organelle uses the most energy, and which uses the least that I will be uploading to youtube in the next couple of days, but the brief summary is that the students were connecting the energy requirements with the importance of the role, to the point where one student said "each organelle would use the same amount of energy, as they are all equally important for the functioning of the cell"

The further discussion about the issue with linking 'importance' with energy requirements was actually brought up by a student, she said "it doesn't make sense for the mitochondria to use the most energy, as it is creating energy for other parts of the cell to use, it seems a bit silly if it uses a heap of energy to do that." Amazing insight there that lead to a real teachable moment about what requires more energy, creating or destroying, something that I think the students understand better now is that building things up takes more energy then breaking them down, at least in relation to breaking down glucose vs creating proteins.

The feedback discussion at the end was very positive. The students thought that this lesson was much better than the neurotransmitter lesson when prompted for reasons the first thing mentioned was the visual was much better. Which is the same thing I was thinking about immersion in a virtual space, rather than immersion in the game of Minecraft. Another key thing that made this lesson better for them was the booklet, having to fill it out made them think about things more, so they felt that more learning had occurred. They also preferred the 'scripted/restricted' approach to the task, they couldn't just wander, they were restricted to the areas I chose.

Another interesting interaction occurred when students we finishing off their booklets, they were 'fighting' in the game and one student teleported away from the other using the teleport block, and the student left behind said "Yeah, you better run, I was about to pick you up and throw you into the lysosome to recyle you." I can tell you I have never heard that in any of my classes before, but it shows that he knew exactly what the role of the lysosome was, and he was going to use that to his advantage in the fight (even if it was not possible for him to do so).

There is a brief summary of todays Biology lesson, they students are very happy to continue onto the next stage of this map, which I am yet to build completely, about energy transfer in the cell. Where energy is used and also cementing the roles of the organelles as they go. Very excited to continue, and I have about 3-4 weeks to finish the building of Stage 2.

As always thanks for taking the time to read, and your comments or feedback are welcomed below.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Cell.

Well the first stage of the animal cell was completed at 11:30pm last night. The first lesson for students in the map was started at 10:00am today. I really should not leave things to the last minute. However the lesson is going to take longer than I initially thought, probably another hour or so, then there will be the discussion to follow to further embed the knowledge the students need to gain.

So how did the first lesson go? The students were somewhat wary after their neurotransmitter experience, but were willing to give it a go. The issues we discussed after the neurotransmitter map were mostly centered around the technical issues we encountered (telling them we are 'testing' the software doesn't seem to help) and the lack of direction in the latter part of the lesson.

So for this map it was very 'restricted' in terms of where they could go, and they had a booklet with questions to fill out as they toured the cell. This way they could see the outcome of the lesson and 'walk away' with something. I think that most students were focused on the actual task, and gathering the information. What concerns me is probably the wording of some of the questions in the booklet, perhaps I didn't clearly explain to them what the question was asking when they needed to describe the organelle, most were just copying the information from the game to their booklets, but I wanted the physical description. I also wanted them to think about how they are going to be able to recognise this particular organelle from other pictures, as this particular representation is mine, and how I think a cell looks in my mind, there are many more ideas and pictures out there.

The thing that really blew my mind was some of the discussion students were having with one another, and with me about their thoughts and ideas. There were also a lot of 'lightbulb' moments where something just clicked with the students, which, lets be honest, is the best part of teaching. I even had one student tell me that using a translucent block for the cell membrane was not what she would have done, instead she would have used water or lava with a customised texture to represent it as when she thinks of the cell membrane she thinks of it as 'gooey'. Those sort of discussion just have never happened in my biology classes before, and I have taught cells quite a few times now.

Well there are my current thoughts on what just happened in my previous lesson, as I consider the implications from discussions and edit the footage I am sure more will come and I will update you as we continue to use this map next week to finish of the introduction stage, and then in future tracking energy, creating proteins or even zooming in on particular structures inside the cell to talk about what impact these have on the cell and the processes that occur.

As always all thoughts are welcomed and thanks for taking the time to read.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Immersion and Adventure.

I never thought when I started my cell tour map that it would be this cool. To be honest I had never really thought about messing with texture packs to make it appear more realistic than 'Minecratfty', but I have got to say I am really impressed with myself. The cell and custom texture pack I am creating to go with it are coming together into what I believe is probably the best thing I have ever created for education. I keep using the word immersion when talking about this cell. What I think I have created is an environment that is a cell, or at least as close an approximation as I am able. It no longer 'looks' like a Minecraft world.

Is immersion important for learning? I think that it is, if you are 'lost' in the moment, isn't that when you have the greatest buy in, and in theory doesn't this lead to an overall better learning experience. A lot of educational research states that you need to 'engage' the students, so get them to want to learn, to crave the knowledge. So will this map create that engagement, and buy in with the students, time will tell, but given the effort I am putting in, and how cool I think it looks, I hope it will.

Below are some screenshots of the build so far, with the kind of lighting that I hope to use when students are in the map.

 The orange G's you can see are temporary, they are there so I know where the glowstone is placed, I will remove the G from the texture pack once the build is complete
 Perhaps one of my better 'inventions' the nuclear pore.
Since students no longer need to go into the organelles, I think the mitochondria (orange) is too big, so I will shrink it down a bit and with the new //copy, //paste and //rotate options available with worldedit I will place several throughout the cell.

Now I have decided to take a slightly different track with this map, with the model of the cell I am creating and that you can see in the screenshots above, it will be just that, a model, one that the students can move around in, learning about the cell as they go. However I have an idea where students will be able to 'zoom' in on certain organelles, get a closer look at them, gather some more knowledge about that organelle and its role in the cell. Further to this I am hoping to get the students to carry and deliver energy to different parts of the cell to embed even more knowledge about the role of energy in the cell, and what each organelle does with the energy it is supplied.

This means that there is an absolutely massive amount of work left, and some tricky texture pack alteration to get items to look like something else, as well as a path of item swapping using furnaces and dispensers to get to the final product. This has led to a request for a 'conversion' block to be included in the edu mod, perhaps one day in the future. So when placed, the teacher can put a certain recipe into the block, which when students place a certain item in the block, it will swap it for another, so instead of having to be tricky with double BUD switches (thanks Ethoslab), furnaces and dispensers, creating a sequence of events where students can trade one item for another will be simple.

So my basic premise is that students will start by zooming in on the cell membrane, and will get a better look at the 'fluid mosaic' model of the cell membrane, as well as being able to watch 'glucose' being transported in through diffusion, and also active transport. Then they will take some glucose and travel to the mitochondria, here they will give the mitochondria the glucose, and it will transform it into several ATP. This ATP will be the students energy to spend at organelles as they travel around the cell.

Next stop will be the nucleus, where they will trade some energy for some instructions (mRNA), they will then take the mRNA to the ribosome, where they will give the instructions, and also some more energy and they will get a polypeptide chain in return. Then moving on to the endoplasmic reticulum they will give the polypeptide chain, and more energy to transform it into a completed protein. They will then take this completed protein to the golgi, where they will again trade some energy and get a packaged protein. Then they will go back to the cell membrane, provide some energy and send their completed protein outside the cell.

That is the basic path students will follow, but there will be some 'flawed' proteins, which if a student gets one of these, they will have to take it to the lysosome, give up some energy and destroy their faulty protein and go back to the nucleus to try again. The students wont know they are faulty (I hope) until the get to the ribosome. I am yet to work out how I can tie the vacuole into this path so if you have any thoughts they would be greatly appreciated. I also need to make sure the students don't think that all proteins created by a cell are exported, so I am thinking perhaps that some students should be required to take their proteins back to the mitochondria, or even the lysosome, and deliver them there instead of exporting them from the cell, but again I am unsure how to tie this in with what I know Minecraft can deliver.

As always thanks for taking the time to read, and any suggestions or thoughts would be very much appreciated.