Friday, 5 December 2014

Surprises are Nice!

You know one of the things that makes teaching such an amazing job, and what most teachers will look forward to most (apart from holidays) are those moments where students surprise us. Those moments where students are completing the assigned activity at a much higher standard or engagement than you expect. Where they are able to show characteristics like leadership, or teamwork that they normally do not display, or even supporting other students in ways that they normally do not.

I was lucky enough to have one of these moments yesterday with a group of year 8 students. The majority of year 8 are not at school this week, either on a school camp, or choosing not to attend. There were about 10 of them here yesterday, and on Wednesday when I first had the year 8s for the week, I explained that I wanted this group to be the experts for the planned activity next week. So I gave them Wednesdays class to just play and then yesterday we stepped up the 'game' a bit.

I set up some command blocks to detect when any player died and when detected freeze all the students. I also put in a circle of border blocks to limit space and resources. I explained that this would then mean the server would be reset and everyones progress would be lost when the first player died. This meant that they were a team and they needed to work together to survive. Their first attempt was as you would expect, 'little' teams all worked on their own, building their own shelter for the first night. Surprisingly they all survived the first night, but a creeper did what creepers do and snuck up on one of the students and blew them to the afterlife….

Server reset to a new random map after a quick discussion about how effective teams operate. Attempt 2 had all the students in the one 'team' building the same house, it was ginormous, more like a house for 30 people. This time students worked much better, to the point where they were supporting one student who had run out of hunger by going out to get him some food. Again they survived the first night, but a skeleton in the water and students lack of hunger caused the server to reset again.

Attempt number 3 ended in the first night, a student got caught in a cave with a skeleton and died early in the first night. This time however the students made a much more modest house and again, their teamwork and planning was much improved. Food was sought and shared amongst the team, as was the gathering of wood and other resources. Unfortunately many students were relying on the knowledge of others in terms of building tools and other crafted items.

Attempt number 4 is where fantastic things started happening, after a quick discussion about what had happened, and how to prevent it, I restarted the server again to a new random world, and this time set the difficulty to hard, to make food a higher priority. Again the teamwork and planning was excellent, however it was during this run (which is going to continue today) that the sharing of knowledge began. One 'non-crafting' student called out to one of those that knew the recipes, "I need a pickaxe". A third student then said to the first, "You cannot rely on him all the time". Now this third student is probably where the title of this post, and the feelings associated with it come from. This student is normally one who will sit back and let others do the work for them, and yet here he was, in this team situation trying to get others to do their own work.

It was after this comment that this same student began asking others for the recipes to create things, instead of just taking those that were given to him. I think he had realised that being part of a team means that all members of the team need to support each other, and when this other student called out his need, he realised that perhaps only having one or two students with the knowledge of tool crafting was not the most efficient in this situation. This was a nice surprise, and gives me a great deal of hope for next week when I run this with a lot more students with the goal of encouraging teamwork and a less fractured, more cohesive class group.

So on that note, I have decided to just run with this activity, I know I felt that the decision was a worthwhile addition to the beginning of the lesson, but seeing what I have this week, I think it is far more beneficial to complete this activity, and the learning and teamwork that comes out of it will be far greater than a collaborative build with no consequences for a lack of team work. So now I need to work out the right balance of space restriction and life restriction for a whole class instead of a small group.

I am still leaning towards 5 lives for the class, and I think an initial space of a radius 100 blocks that doubles on the dawn of the 3rd day. Given this small group I am currently working with is unable to survive past the second day I think it is a good target and I wish I had more than just 90 minutes to run this program with the students as I think 90 minutes will only scratch the surface of the possible outcomes for this activity.

This brings to mind the video Shane and I produced a while ago, talking about the problem solving process while playing Crash Landings. The goal of that 'series' (we have 2 recorded iterations currently, but more planned) is to discuss the potential for teaching the design process and problem solving processes. Having done this activity I really think there is massive potential for that sort of teaching within this space, be it in modded Minecraft like Crash Landings, or vanilla Minecraft with specific restrictions.

Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to leave a comment below.