Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mincecraft Quest-Survive the Night

For this assignment the task was simply survive the night.

   The rain beat down on the cliff that shot into the sky in front of me. I was alone, and taking in my surroundings. It was a strange world but I knew I had to get over the view and adapt quickly. The rumors that surrounded this world were full of tales about creepers and zombies. I found a set of trees and went to work harvesting their wood to hopefully create useful survival items, like a pick axe, shovel, and ax. It seemed like I was only harvesting material for a short while before nightfall began to ascend. I spent so much time hoarding my material that I hadn’t begun to build actual shelter.  My first move was to dig into this cliff I was scavenging around. I would dig in and then close the opening behind me. This idea I had was full proof; until it wasn’t.  I quickly realized after ten real life minutes of digging, it was very dark. Then I heard the most terrifying noise anyone can hear lost miles underground. The dull low roar of something inhuman.  I continued to dig, turning around every now and then to stare in the darkness that was my mountain tunnel. After a half hour of being lost inside a cliff, I struck coal. Coal allowed me to craft torches. It was an interesting feeling in real life. I felt a sense of relief when I lit up my first torch. A sense of pride washed over me and I yelled to my wife and ten month old, “I MAKE FIREEEEEEEE”! I said, “I make” instead of “I made” because when I become excitable I talk like a three year old apparently.  Both of the women in my life stared blankly at me with concern. Their stares did not take away my pride. Fire was a game changer for me, no longer digging in darkness provided some hope that I could figure a way out of being lost inside what seemed like an endless abyss.

   With fire and a new stone pickaxe I was making some good progress. I decided to start digging up. Dig, step, up, dig, step, up, repeat.  Twenty more real life minutes click by and I’m starting to think this is how it ends for my minecraft character. He’s getting hungry, and running out of coal.  What started was for me to focus on building a shelter now turned into an adventure of just finding my way out of being lost. Then something incredible happened, the block I mined did not have a block behind it, it actually opened into what seemed like an underground cave network! Finally, I thought something I can work with. Then the dull low roar seemed louder and closer than before. I swung around my torch in time to see two green zombies making their way towards me; I retreated and started running through this cave network. I found a room, threw my final torch into the wall, and built up a wall to protect me from the danger chasing me. I successfully blocked the zombie attack, to turn around and face something much more deadly. My first encounter with a creeper. I swung my ax once, and tried to retreat, only to hit the wall I had just built, I was trapped. Then the screen went dark after a small explosion. It was all over.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Blow up the Grade Book!

Blow up the grade book. I agree with it. However, I find myself sharing similar traits and personal connections to the idea behind the concept. If I asked an instructor to theoretically blow up their grade book  I feel the push back would eventually leave me with a box of my office goods in hand; looking for a new position. So I asked myself after watching this video, how can you spread this idea? Is this  a generational idea? Meaning, will it inspire only a select generation or personality of teachers who are comfortable using new approaches in the classroom? In my opinion, there are far less teachers willing to try new approaches than those who fight to hold on to historical learning practices. I also feel there are some who have mentally checked out of the game completely. These are my concerns, these are what I fear an incredible idea like blowing up the grade book is up against. This is an idea that needs to be championed by change agents.  I am not trying to be negative, I am a reflection of the frustration I see in my local districts. Those thoughts are by far not a full world view of education as a whole, only other educators can tell me if they face similar issues within their  industry. The goal to spread blowing up the grade book starts by creating an honest dialogue among fellow educators.  Dr. Haskell does a great job of starting this discussion. Below, I want to share some thoughts and continue the dialogue.
What are the issues of fairness/equity in curricular design?  According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, equity in education has two dimensions.

 "The first is fairness, which basically means making sure that personal and social circumstances-for example gender, socio-economic status or ethnic origin-should not be an obstacle to achieving educational potential.The second is inclusion, in other words ensuring a basic minimum standard of education for all- for example that everyone should be able to read, write and do simple arithmetic"(Field, P.2 2007).

So what has the quick fix been in the past to ensure educational equity? Well, if you are familiar with “tracking” some institutions incorporated a way to divide students by ability. The only problem with that is it's a perceived ability or inability in some cases. As Dr. Haskell points out present schemas  are frustrating the attempts to overcome those perceptions. They're very existence is the problem. Pam Fisher who is quoted in NASSP’s(National Association of Secondary Principals) article referring to equity in educations  states “ We’ve grown up in a system that urges us to believe that some kids are smarter than others and that somehow we can accurately sort this out.”(Fisher, P.1 2004). This in its essence is a problem with the system. It is a breakdown in the rules of the game. You see, Dr. Haskell spent time stating that students view the classroom as a game. He is right. The winning condition is an "A" or passing the class, and students know this. They proceed to play the game regardless if it is a game they are good at, enjoy, or loathe.  I suspect teachers play the “game” as well. The rules of our game are no different. The winning condition could be stay under budget, raise standardized test scores, leave no child behind. Again, much like the students, this is a game we must play, but feel helpless in. In the theme of games I see educators as game characters trapped in a level they cannot get out of, a glitch in the system. A glitch in the code that is suppose to make the game work for everyone.  What happens when the rules of the game are being broken on the student side as well as the teacher side? Well what we have is an idea like “tracking” and grouping the students with an outcome that does little to help the original problem.  Studies show that it is not possible to place students into ability-grouped tracks, that when tracked with other low performing students, they have lower self-esteem; and the tracking produces no positive results. It actually polarized students into pro-and anti-school camps, creating a “caste system” of elite and struggling students. This encourages segregation and stereotyping. Teachers that are in the classrooms for the lower level track also have lower expectations sets. (Field, 2007).  

What is the cheat code to this unfair game being played against the ability to produce a fair and equitable classroom? Quest based learning and differentiated instruction is the cheat code. Differentiated instruction engages all types of learners. Differentiated instruction can be produced seamlessly with a blown up grade book and quest-based learning. The core of Dr. Haskell's idea, is student choice and empowerment to drive learning experiences. This type of learning will have students asking “Did you finish the Planned Economy monopoly game quest? It's crazy to think one entity can control an entire economy” instead of the “What did you get on Mr. Marconi’s economics exam? I’m sure I bombed it, I have terrible test anxiety”.  If the goal is truly student learning I would prefer the students quoting or discussing information gathered rather than exam grades received.  What about due dates for assignments? Get rid of them. The social and cultural contexts of our students have changed. Students may need to spend their time working after school in order to support a family with their additional income. Dr. Haskell points this out by stating that it is unfair to assume every student has the same after school lifestyle that can benefit from drill and practice and other homework structures. Let us not be ignorant to the fact some students work part-time as head of household or enter into a post school day environment that is neither conducive for homework learning or set up for success with what is intended by the homework.  

With diversity among learners in our schools at levels that are higher than ever, many teachers continue to assign the same homework to all students in the class and continue to disproportionately fail students from lower-income households for not doing homework, in essence punishing them for lack of an adequate environment in which to do homework. At a time when demand for accountability has reached a new high in its intensity, research fails to prove that all that homework is worth all that trouble.(Vettertot, 2009)

 How big of a problem is homework? Big enough to have rows and rows of books at your local bookstore dedicated to parents titled "How to Get Kids To Do Their Homework". Again, I point out is that the goal;  how-to books on building incentives in order to ensure children complete their homework. The completion should never be more important than the journey.  Being dropped off on the top of Mount Everest, is NOT the same as climbing Mount Everest. A student centered, student empowered, quest based learning environment will allow students to dictate how they learn. After all,  they are the players and characters in this game, why not let them choose how they achieve their own victory and perhaps the game educators play will change its winning conditions because of it.

 whether some feel blowing up the grade book is right or wrong, I couldn’t help but think of the famous Steve Jobs commercial for Apple “The crazy ones”.Blowing up the grade book, I think fits this mold perfectly. In the words of Steve Jobs;  “Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do”. The crazy ones in education would call for the demolishing of the grade book and everything it represents that is wrong with the industry, but remember if you might think they are truly crazy, those misfits, rebels, and troublemakers, might just be crazy enough to make it work. 

“Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they born in a different time" -Chinese proverb

Dimartino, J., & Miles, S. (2004, December 1). Equity in the Classroom. National Association of Secondary Principals. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from http://www.nassp.org/Portals/0/Content/48814.pdf
Field, S., Kuczera, M., & Pont, B. (2007). No more failures: ten steps to equity in education. Paris: OECD.
Vatterott, C. (2009). Rethinking homework best practices that support diverse needs. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Minecraft Quests-Acropolis and MineDraft.

 Why do I feel Minecraft is an educational ninja's favorite tool? Well, it sneaks around and drops educational ninja mind nuggets all up in your business! Before you know it, you've learned while playing. .  How many outer columns does the Parthenon in the Athenian Acropolis have? 46-whoooshhh NINJA! BOOM, learned something new ninja-learn.  At least that is how I felt.

I found myself researching, the number of columns and measurements and I also started to look at the Minecraft units of measurement and found a great site on minecraft.gamepedia.com

I originally wanted to undertake this lesson and build a scale version of the Acropolis. I decided that bite was much more than I could chew. If you search buildings that are to 1:1 in minecraft like I did you become wildly obsessed with how far some users are going. For example http://www.techspot.com/news/55914-developer-creating-11-replica-model-of-manhattan-with-minecraft-blocks.html this is an article about a 1:1 replica model of MANHATTAN! I am inspired by the time and dedication. So inspired I spent more time looking at their work then producing mine ha. Simply amazing stuff out there.  So, I was not going to be undertaking the 1:1 scale but I did want to represent the signature columns with accuracy.  The columns are 34.1 ft tall, and a Minecraft block is approximately 3.28 feet in length. I found myself with a calculator undertaking measurements and math like a modern day Minecraft Bob the builder. Bear in mind, math was/is the weakest of my subjects, so weak I was put into remedial Math in grade school. Beyond econometrics for economics, I'm lost so lost I may count on my fingers under the dinner table at a restaurant to figure out a tip. (when I write "I may" do that, it is a safe assumption, that I do that ALL the time ahah).   Here I was doing it b/c it was fun and I wanted to! I day dreamed I just heard Mr. Kurchurak my high school math teacher spit out his coffee in a really long drawn out spitting of coffee like action when I wrote "I was doing math for fun"..                        
← like that. Not Mr. Kurchurak. hahah.  

Here was what I used as a model:


Here are my images from the quest:

Firs the Draft from MineDraft for the MineDraft:

Here are the results:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Landrush of 1889 circa 2014...

While this post is going to be used to complete a Creativity Quest in my class, I also want to use it as a sounding board for some of my first thoughts on using MineCraft in the classroom. This is by no means a complete breakdown of everything going on in my mind, but a quick glimpse of what I was thinking about after my first experience. 

There I was, a block version of myself in a weird block land called Minecraft. I was with 25 fellow classmates, virtual avatars, and pretend settlers.There was a moment, where I had to stop looking for the best piece of land, and start looking for ANY piece of land. It was a shotgun start and the only difference between the supply and demand of land in Minecraft compared to Oklahoma in 1889 was the ability for our virtual characters to hover and fly.  Given the historical context of the "sooners" and "boomers" if this was a capability in the real life Oklahoma Land Rush, the results may have been much more interesting!  Allow me to get back on topic, as students in a virtual space we came as close to reliving the Oklahoma Land Rush as is possible in 2014. Short of a teacher taking students into a field and having them build makeshift "Soddies". (which does sound fun the more I think of it) Minecraft allows for reenactments and virtual lessons second to none for hands on learners(or those of us that like unique learning environments). What we found was the immersible feelings students can have with history(in this lesson) or in a virtual environment is a formula for success other instructors can use.  It is one part teacher as the scene director. Our professor challenged our knowledge of the event in 1889 and provided context and correlation for the journey we were about to embark on.  The teacher is also the "control". As an instructor any lesson plan worth using needs us to fill in the blanks for the students. Just because this particular lesson was in a virtual environment doesn't mean the instructional process is crumbled up and thrown out. I would argue when you ask the students to enter into a virtual world like Minecraft it is even more important to have a structured plan of attack.  With that said, the enjoyment learning about the Land Rush came from the failure-for-fun environment. Making mistakes was forgiven, and essential for a better understanding of the lesson itself. Failing in a virtual environment allows for a powerful teachable moment where real life consequences could have been far worse.  For example, I wanted a lot of cows, it seemed to be a historically accurate recreation to have cattle. So I crafted and created cows and went back to building my home that I staked a claim to in the Land Rush. My cows were then gone. Poof. I made a mistake in not building a fence, I would have been a terrible settler. The light went on, I would have been a terrible settler indeed, but also how much work went into those homes and lifestyles in 1889 was lost on me until I realized; what if I needed those cattle to survive?  I'd be doomed, I never pretended to be a settler before, I felt like one for the first time in my life, after I left my cattle run free. These types of reflection and thought brought the power of the lesson to life in a virtual world.

Another formula reminder is students as respectful participants to the fun, but still having fun.   At one point I accidentally dug a hole, trapped a chicken, and then covered the hole with a rock. People threw eggs at each other, stole horses, punched things, tamed horses as pets, created a Tardis and built lava pools of doom on top of their houses  We weren't scolded  for goofing off or that not being part of the lesson and"learning". It happened. It was funny. We all moved on. The ability for the students to have fun, but tow the line of staying on task is an important function of the class environment(virtual or real). I know and have seen instructors that have NO control of their class. There is a low level of respect from the students that gets demonstrated when they start having fun and they generally do not understand when the line is crossed. What makes that situation worse is the instructor cannot successfully bring the students back across the threshold.  This type of instructor will lose control in the virtual world just as easily. That is not a virtual world problem, that is a teacher problem. The students will respond to the environment they are used to. A teacher in 100% control will be able to keep that control in the virtual space.

Creativity and learning should always go hand in hand. Thankfully Minecraft does both very well. Allowing for individual expression centered on a learning objective or theme. What makes this even better is the controls are not hard to figure out and accessibility is a highlight for educational use. My only concern the more I dive into the world of using virtual spaces and games in the classroom is still the idea of the digital divide. It pains me that the students who could benefit the most from an experience like mine in Minecraft might not be able to. Still, as educators we should continue to explore these incredible educational tools.  Below are some screen shots from our adventure I will be turning in as an assignment for our creativity quest in Minecraft. I expect to be posting A LOT more this fall semester.