Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Minecraft is Blocked????!!!!!!!!!!

I sat down with my 11 and 10 year old colearners (oh, let's be honest, teachers ) at Nutrition Break today only to find out that Minecraft has been blocked. I don't know why quite yet, but my students believe it is probably due to discussion forums using inappropriate language.  Discussion forums?

My learning was stymied. This was very frustrating, but led to an important question: if we are going to open our classrooms to multi-player collaborative on-line gaming, can the games not be designed from the outset to accommodate a school's needs.  Could there not be word recognition that automatically logged out players who begin using inappropriate language?  Surely with all the analytics being gathered a simple tool could be designed with this purpose in mind. If this happened, would it change the nature of the gaming experience?

Fortunately, my board has a fairly flexible unblocking policy.  I have sent in a request to have the site unblocked for my school and am optimistic this will occur.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rousing Cheer: Blocks in Place - Oh Yeah!

Got it!

I've placed several blocks by accident thorough experimental use of key sequences,  but this is the capture of the first time I understood and deliberately placed blocks.  In hindsight I have no idea why this seemed so difficult, because it is really quite easy.  I suspect my students have found me somewhat peculiar as I asked for yet another demonstration of how to place blocks. Once I understood the logic and was able to complete the task,  I let out a rather loud cheer.  This was way more satisfying than any external prize could be.

Implications for teaching:  learners must be allowed enough opportunities to repeat a learning experience until the knowledge and skills have been internalized.  There really is no point moving forward to a next step when the previous step has not been solidified. Perhaps learning of skills needs to broken down into much tinier steps.  This is where I see a true usefulness for blended on-line learning. In-class time could be devoted to rich, highly engaging higher level thinking activities;  on-line time could be used for the individualized practice of  skills and concepts.  Just a thought.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Insight # 4: Gaming Alters One's Understanding of Location and Movement in the Real World

I hope this makes sense.

I've been very caught up with simply moving through space in Minecraft.  What I wasn't expecting was for this to alter the way I experience movement and location in the real world.  Suddenly, I'm not just driving in my car, but I am on an xy axis  within a cube and I can easily visualize myself at exact locations within it.  I am relating to my world in a different way.  I don't know if this is truly a new pathway in my brain or that it's simply that it has never occurred to me to relate to my world in this way.  Whatever has caused it, I am relating to and thinking about space differently. And, it seems very natural; I'm not being "taught" formulas for the cube;  I'm not using manipulatives to make discoveries about cubes; mentally, I am visualizing myself within the cube and that is new for me.

My hunch is that children who have grown up as gamers experience space and location in a different way from non-gamers.  They probably are not aware of this difference, but it has enormous implications for teaching.  If gamers experience space the way I am now experiencing it they should easily be able to understand concepts like area, volume, vertices, angles. They should have a natural ability to visualize these concepts and teachers need to approach learning by tapping into that innate knowledge. Does that make sense?


Oh, there's a hashtag for #Minecraft?   Sigh. I'm such a beginner.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

To Proceed in Minecraft I Need Some Brain Construction

Trying to orient myself and move through space in Minecraft feels odd, unfamiliar.  I haven't experienced space in this way before and it is difficult to connect the movement of my fingers to my brain and then to my screen.  I almost feel as if there is a pathway missing in my brain and that once it gets built I will able to move effectively.

 I am becoming somewhat better, but my primary strategy for movement is to blast things out of my way. A life skill perhaps, but one with limited benefits. I haven't yet figured out how to move up to higher terrain. Tried jumping with the space bar. Up. Down.

I've blasted out a hollow cube and now can only go round and round which means that I'm trapped.   Why isn't the tree falling on my head? I've taken the base away.

Why doesn't the tree fall?
Insight number two: gaming forces me to problem solve.  There are no shortcuts, no easy ways around the problem.  I can't even pretend that I've solved the problem and go on to do other things.  If I am to proceed, I must figure this out. Abandoning this process is an option, but not one I'm prepared to take.

I will need to develop strategies, and I really do not have a great deal of schema to apply to this situation.  My main strategy so far has been to ask my students for assistance, but I would prefer to figure this out on my own.  Where do gamers go to get assistance with their problems?

I looked at a video for beginners on Youtube, but it wasn't truly a beginner video.  The producer had made all kinds of assumptions about the viewer's knowledge that did not apply to me.  Again, I think of my own teaching practice.  What assumptions do I make about my students that prevent them from learning?  That is truly an uncomfortable thought!

It seems I need the prequel to the introductory video. The one that shows the keyboard and how to use it to move through space in Minecraft.  Does it exist?  

Insight # 3: Teaching Math Through Physical Movement, What Lies Ahead

I am fortunate to live with an innovative thinker.  In our discussions on my recent foray into gaming we realized that mathematical instruction has the potential to radically change if it adopts gaming technologies. It can break free from two-dimensional expression using pen and paper into the multi-dimensional world of virtual reality and movement thanks to tools such as  microsoft's kinetics and Nintendo 3DS. Children will be able to understand complex mathematical expressions even at the kindergarten level.

In traditional learning we use abstract terms, for example: multiplication, addition, division and subtraction. We symbolize them two dimensionally with  pen and paper or perhaps or even three dimensionally when using manipulatives.  A cube is a x a x a.  Tools like kinetics allow us to take our expression from two-dimensional symbology into a 3-D interpretive medium based on movement.  When a child is moving, the movements can be interpreted by kinetics to carry mathematical meaning.  An arm pointing diagonally means multiplication:  3 X 4. A movement horizontally is addition or subtraction. As the child moves,  their movements becomes interpreted  as a series of mathematical expressions.  A child can use his or her body to write a mathematical story.

A child can also receive immediate feedback on whether they have used the most efficient expression to articulate mathematical thinking. The number 24 could be expressed as a series of 12 horizontal gestures of 2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2.  Technology can provide them with immediate feeback that a more efficient expression of 24 might be a diagonal movement of 6x4 or 2x12.  Technology interprets and  records their mathematical thinking.

We know that children learn best when moving.  A dance becomes a series of  mathematical expressions.   Lending this idea to creative arts, at its most evolved level an interpretive dancer becomes a free-thinking mathematician.

Thank you Jeremy!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Minecraft is in My Classroom Already? Oh. Embarrassed Face

My First Day of Minecraft.

All I Can Do is Make Holes!
Can't even remember how to choose and place a block.

Some of you may find this amusing, but I actually have gamers in my classroom at Nutrition Breaks playing Minecraft.  Students from one of the classes I teach turn up regularly and ask to use my computers. Not once have I thought to ask, "What are you doing?"

I regret not having asked sooner.  All it took was a simple expression of interest on my part for them to welcome me into their world. They sprang into engagement, happy and eager to demonstrate; articulate, expressive, knowledgeable and skilled.  With me as the learner and my students as the teachers, we have forged a much more interesting relationship. We are on new ground - shaky for me, firm for them.  I am the new kid in the class, uncertain how to proceed and desperately attempting to understand norms.

One student helped me open my account and showed me the fundamentals. I now know that W, A. S, and D are not just letters on a keyboard.  This small step represents enormous learning on my part. One student showed me how to move  and how to choose and place blocks.  Another showed me her world: breathtakingly beautiful and full of surprises.  I must thank them for their patience as they attempted to instruct me.  I think I'm one of  "those" students.

My first insight into gaming is that I'm not just learning to play a game, I'm learning to think differently. On my first day I struggled tremendously to complete a very simple range of motions: move through the terrain and place blocks.  In my students' eagerness to help me understand the amazing world of Minecraft they overwhelmed me with information - information that was completely logical and self-evident to them, but which was an alien language to me.  As I sat there I wondered how often have I done this to my own students? How often have I moved through what I perceived to be simple tasks and left my students in the dust?  Probably more often than I would care to admit.

I've realized that as I move forward in my teaching practice, there really is no point in conducting lessons unless I have first determined the next step of learning.  That process must be participatory.  If a student has not been involved in identifying the next step, learning most likely will not occur.

I went home at the end of the day and attempted to replicate what I had learned.  I could move through the terrain, but could not for the life of me remember how to place a block. All I could do was dig holes!  Very frustrating. Unable to accomplish any of my goals, I blasted dozens of holes into the terrain. Take that Minecraft!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And So it Begins

A second blog? I need a second blog? Who knew that my journey into reinventing my teaching practice would bring me here?

Melanie McBride, I hold you fully, well ... maybe not fully ...  responsible for this outcome.

Back in January, my students decided that the unit we were studying would be an excellent basis for a video game.  I agreed and set out to determine how we could accomplish this.  My first thought was to go to the top. I want game design?  I might as well speak with the experts.  I tried contacting a prominent gaming company in Toronto for advice, but alas, my email was ignored.  In hindsight, this was probably a wise decision on their part.  Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

I came across an interesting article by one Melanie McBride, a Canadian educator, researcher and writer focused on situated emergent learning, transmedia and affinity culture in virtual learning environments and gaming spaces. Perfect, I thought, she can point me in the right direction.  I contacted her, requesting some advice on teaching my students how to design video games.  

And so began a lengthy series of emails between Melanie and myself in which she very patiently helped me understand why my approach to this task was incorrect.

 Melanie was adamant about three things: 

1.      Introducing game design into my classroom without having experienced the culture and world of gaming myself was bad pedagogy.  

2.     I needed to talk with my students who are gamers and let them teach me what it means to be a gamer.

3.    I needed to become a gamer.

And so it begins.  I've decided to become a gamer.  My game of choice is Minecraft.  This blog will document my learning process, insights and discoveries as I enter this alien world. I hope what I learn will be helpful to others.