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7th grade Minecraft Project
The tl;dr version: Our 7th grade went on a field trip and re-created the visited city in Minecraft (learn about minecraft here). It didn't go as well as I hoped because I didn't plan well enough with all the teachers. Lots of awesome-sauce when kids started using the game (which is why we love games in education).
A slightly more thoughtful description of the whole thing:
Our 7th grade recently visited Zamosc (wikipedia-linkage here). It was a great trip. Everything about this trip was wonderfully planned; the learning prior, the planned exploration and interdisciplinary questions when the kids were in Zamosc, and the post-trip learning and projects. In many ways, this trip was a text-book example of how to really make the most of a field trip. One of the old post-trip activities was to build a cardboard building in the city. Here's the learning: Zamosc is a very rare (and is listed on UNESCO sites here) example of a perfectly planned and realized Renaissance town. The city was designed and built along the principals of the human body, with the brain or head being the palace, the heart being a cathedral, yadda yadda yadda - read more about Zamosc here).
After hearing me blather about games and education, one of the teachers approached me and asked if we could try minecraft instead of the cardboard paper towel rolls. This project was her idea, not mine. So we decided to try building a city in minecraft that echoed the principals that we learned about in Zamosc. The kids were given rubrics, parents were notified, pre-built minecraft servers were purchased (Hey multiplay, how about some love for educational and non-profit folks with some educational pricing?). We bought user licenses (thank you, minecraft EDU), installed the clients on the kids computers, and set off! This project was run with four 7th grades (2 teachers, 2 classes each). Immediately, I noticed one class was taking off whilst the other wasn't quite.
Coincidentally, I spent much more time planning with one teacher, and barely any with the other. Related to this, I didn't spend enough time with the middle school technology coach to plan this activity (I am the director of technology at our school). The coach was very helpful, but again, without clear planning, the project had some holes in the boat from the start. Right away we saw some some great stuff. In one class, kids learned very quickly, helped each other, and began building. Whenever we use computer games (or any game) in education, the enthusiasm and energy goes nuclear. Especially with our boys, their engagement and involvement was a wonderful thing to see. In the other class we ran into technical problems (I'll get to that in a moment), and some "what do we do now" questions. The kids built their cities fairly well. Based on our criteria, it was clear they understood the principals of Renaissance city ideals and had lovingly built their cities to reflect the same. By that measure, this project was a fantastic success. Here are four screengrabs that don't do any justice to the hard work of our kids. However, as noted above, I cant really walk away and hand anyone a trophy.
Next year? Maybe. But this project had all the classic marks of a first-time run. In the interest of sharing our success and failures, here's the list-o-things-you-should-think-about: 1. Classic: plan, plan, plan. I walked this through with one teacher, and not the other. It showed. I also didn't include the technology coach enough. Big oops. 2. Superflat world worked well for us, we used creative mode. 3. Using a company that rents pre-setup servers was a win for us (all we worried about was bandwidth) BUT.... 4. Better to have a separate server for each class - much easier to manage. So with four 7th grades, I should of had four separate servers. 5. The only plug-in's I used were noTNT and one that stopped lava. 6. I didn't whitelist, and I should have. We had some vandalism that took away from the fun. 7. Kids love games. like, REALLY love them. Watching the time, energy, and motivation they poured into this project was satisfying. If I had put even an hour of more planning time into this, it would of been a home run.
Other teachers noticed this project, I hope to have more takers next year!