Thursday, April 10, 2014

Area & Perimeter Connection: Part II

The one thing I really LOVE about using Minecraft in the classroom is the fact that the kids get to do ALL of the creative work.  I can give them guidelines and suggestions, but they always have their own ideas and thoughts that they want to follow.  They are able to build, modify, and create whatever they want.

But, what I love even more than letting them just create, is watching them plan, discuss, and then see the plans come to life.  For some reason, there's just so much more payoff for the students when they are able to watch a few scribbles on a piece of paper transform in to a 3D building right in front of their eyes, and the fact that they are the ones making it happen.

After my students spent a couple of days drawing up their architectural plans on paper, it was time to take them to the lab and bring the plans to life.

Before going to the lab, we did our voting system on selecting a name for the "world".  As a class, the students nominated three top contenders out of a list full of suggestions.  They then, privately voted on the name they wanted out of the top three.  The winner was....

Noel Jersey

A spin off of New Jersey and our town name of Noel.  I'm not sure why or how one of my students came up with it, but the rest of the class seemed to like it.  And, one thing I made sure of was not allowing anyone to know who came up with the name suggestions, so that the class was voting on what they wanted, rather than who they wanted.

The students also decided that they wanted to start a completely blank world, versus having a world that already contains some buildings and various terrains.  It was against my suggestion, but I honored the students request and went with the completely flat and empty world.  

Building day finally came, and the students took off...

Cobblestone was a popular material among the students

In the process of measuring the current perimeter around her base

Some students opted to build one room at a time to make calculations easier 

Some students realized that as long as the dimensions matched, they could get creative on the design

It always amazes me how focused they are when in front of the game

Height was a subject we had just started to discuss, so that was a hot topic of discussion
This student turned his plans sideways to match how it was coming along on the screen

The town view projected on the SmartBoard so the class could see how others were doing

We were in the computer lab for about an hour, and the students realized that there was still plenty that needed to be done in order for them to complete their projects.  But, I think they got a really good start and learned SOOOO much in the process.  The connections they were able to make between learning area and perimeter from a text book and applying it to "real world scenarios" were amazing.  Not just that, but we explored the career of architects, discussed designing homes without becoming an architect, and even went in to some discussion on why it's probably not a good idea to have a bathroom in the kitchen, or only one door in a home.

Real world connection is what it's all about.  Really.  I may not be able to let my kiddos build houses in "real life" but Minecraft gives them the next best thing:  Simulation.  It's a life simulator, that they are in control of.  

So many exciting adventures to come.

Stay tuned!!

Ms. Hill

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Area & Perimeter Connection: Part I

It's that dreaded time of year when state testing is looming right around the corner, and everyone is starting to feel the pressure of what's fast approaching.  Teachers, myself included, are pulling out all of the stops to review, refresh, and ensure that our students are prepared for the test and have all of the skills they need in order to do the best that they can.

Over the past couple of weeks, we've really been focusing on measurement and geometry.  It's our planned unit of study, but we are also aware of the fact that measurement and geometry tends to make quite an appearance on the MAP test (which is our state test).

We've been learning standard measurement, metrics, area, perimeter, angles, lines, and 2D shape characteristics.  I figured there wasn't a better way to apply the learning that's been taking place in our math class than in Minecraft.  The whole game is focused on building with square blocks.  It would give me the chance to review the students' understanding, and it would allow the students a chance to apply their learning to a real world situation.

By why just build in the game?  Why not take it one step further and do a cross connection between putting ideas on paper, going through a process, and then applying the plans and ideas to the game.  So, we discussed architecture, the architectural process, and how one day they may ALL get the chance to build a house they want to build.  We spent some time looking at blueprints and learning some of the ways plans are drawn, such as showing doors, windows, stairs, etc.

I gave the kids their assignment and list of "requirements" for their plans:

Draw a building plan of THEIR choice
The plan MUST contain the following:

  • Measurements of all walls of the building in either standard units or metric units
  • Total area and perimeter
  • Area and perimeter of each room
  • A conversion key (their units of measurement per square block in Minecraft)
  • Scale ratio
And then, the kids were OFF....

A lot of math going on to figure out area and perimeter

Committed attention to detail

Color coding helps this student keep track of what she has and what she needs

Deciding on what else he could add

A great plan in the making

Early in the plan phase, but the architectural elements are already taking shape

Looks busy, but that's a lot of planning, and expression of math on paper

Once the plans were finished, it was time to get the part they'd ALL been waiting for.  Turning the plans into actual buildings.  That would have to take place in the game.

That's where Area & Perimeter Part II comes in to play.  Stay tuned!!

Ms. Hill

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Developing a Plan of Action

My students have all completed the MinecraftEdu Tutorial.  They are now ready to start playing the game and diving in to the learning that can take place.  But, before they can ever start working on building their new world, there has to be a plan of action.  Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will our class's world.

Today, we began the process of planning.  The students are in the driver's seat with this whole project, so it was only fair that they come up with the ground work before starting.

They were given the question:  What's going to happen when you arrive in The New World? (The New World is the temporary name, until the class decides on a name for their nation.)  The students were then broken in to groups to come up with ideas for how they will answer that question.

It's a very open ended question, and one that can take the students off in many different directions.  What I overheard was conversations about forming a system of government, the jobs that need to be given out, the needs that will have to be met straight away such as shelter and food.  The whole classroom was buzzing with strategy and ideas.

This group is deciding on government officials that will need to be elected

This group is coming up with an extensive list of jobs that will be needed and made available

The starting stages of a plan for jobs

One group's approach to breaking down jobs by the "departments" that will be needed

I let the students work in their groups for about thirty minutes, and I was shocked when they grumbled when the time was up.  So much to discuss, so many ideas being thrown out.  I'm sure they could have sat there for the rest of the afternoon, if I'd let them.

But, it was time to move on.  Once all the groups had an outline in place, I designated a spokesperson from each group to join together in the middle of the room for a "fishbowl" conversation.  The rest of the class sat around the designated officials, watching and listening to the group in the middle.  The representatives went back and forth to their original group to ask questions or get clarification on a topic, but the group members in the middle had to make all of the decisions.

The designated officials were given the challenge of taking all the ideas provided by the four groups and consolidating them down to one list of ideas.

The designated officials sharing their plans and consolidating

Some students were having a blast (hehe)

It's amazing how empty my classroom looks when the students are spread out so much, but don't let all of the empty chairs fool you.  There are four students in the center, and 14 students arranged around the outer circle.

By the end of the session, the group had decided that The New Nation will function as a democracy.  The government officials will be President, Vice President, and Mayor.  More officials will be added later, once the world has grown.  Officials will be nominated and elected by the class, and class members who want to be considered for such positions will need to prepare a speech in order to be eligible to run.  They decided that the only jobs that will be available, in the beginning, are miners, builders, and farmers.  They feel that once the nation develops, more jobs will become available, but in terms of getting started only three jobs are needed.  They decided that the whole class will be open to provide suggestions as to what to call The New Nation, but it will be the president who gets to slim down the choices, and then the whole class will vote on the selections the president makes.

The whole class then decided that they wanted to submit their ideas for the names.  So, they did that on little scraps of paper, and the papers are being kept in a "secret volt" (candy tub) until the president has been chosen.

The whole afternoon was so "official" feeling, but so much fun.  I was so proud of the professionalism and mature attitudes the students displayed, especially being that this whole concept of student driven planning is so new to them.

Tomorrow, we will be focusing on electing leaders, applying for jobs, and hopefully naming our nation.

Stay Tuned!!

Ms. Hill


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Learning Happens Through Engagement

This time of year, student engagement can be a little...urm..well. tough.  The weather is getting nicer, the approaching standardized testing has demands being raised, and students are entering in to their "I'm so done" mode.  

Yet, for some reason, I don't seem to be having that problem in my classroom.

Being that our Minecraft project is so new, student engagement and participation are at an all time high.  The students are itching to get in to that lab to try out new things, and apply their learning from the classroom in to the virtual world.  

A part of me is kicking myself that we didn't start this project earlier in the year, so that we'd have so much more time.  And another part of me is thinking that starting it in the spring was the perfect time, because it's going to keep my kids engaged and learning up until the very last bell of the year.

The students are completely captivated by learning through Minecraft.  They are seeking out new challenges, celebrating the connections they are making from our class work, and doing everything I ask of them because they don't want to run the risk of losing out on Minecraft time.

Being that this project is in the beginning phases, and really my first run at designing a whole curriculum unit that will be put in to place at the beginning of the next school year, I opted to use this project as an incentive.  

I explained to all of my students that in order to play, they had to continue meeting the expectations of the classroom.  And, what I'm finding is that I don't have the normal "spring fever" developing that I would normally see this time of year.  Work is getting completed, behavior and engagement is still wonderful, and the kids are still eager to learn rather than forcing it for the sake of pleasing me.

The benefits to using Minecraft in the classroom will undoubtedly prove to be so beneficial to the students, but it will also be a blessing for teachers who choose to try it.

Yesterday, my kids were focused on building their first structure. Using dimensions, area, collaboration, and knowledge of the materials, they were able to build small structures.  They had to build a structure big enough to comfortably accommodate themselves.  I gave them all a bed, and they had to make sure there was enough room to place the bed, and have enough space to move around.

All of the students completed the task, and made the connection to using area.  There was no trial and error, students actually calculated the number of blocks needed a head of time before ever setting out to mine for their materials.  They went out with a plan, and followed it.  Some changing had to be made on the design shape or placement of objects, but they problem solved together to make it happen.

Together, as a class, we came up with a GREAT idea to connect our classroom learning to our computer learning... and I can't wait to get that underway.  But, you'll have to wait until next week to hear about it, because I want pictures and visuals to show what we're doing.

Stay Tuned!!

Ms. Hill

Thursday, March 20, 2014

MinecraftEdu Bootcamp

Today marked Day 3 of being in the computer lab using MinecraftEdu with the whole class.  And, already, the kids are fired up, identifying, and understanding the learning that's taking place.

For the first four days, I have officially designated our Minecraft time (and the first lesson that will be published under the "Lessons" tab) "Minecraft Boot Camp", and that's simply because we're going to spend about four hours using the tutorial to get acquainted with the game.

Some of my kiddos have used Minecraft before on a X-Box, PS3, or tablet, yet none of them have EVER played Minecraft on a computer before.  Not surprising, being that only a few of my students even have a home computer at their disposal.  The tutorial world on MinecraftEdu is very different from that on the regular Minecraft game, or the game console versions.

Our first day was mostly spent learning how to log in to the game, choosing a "skin" (or character), and figuring out the controls to make their mini-selves move around.  The first part of the tutorial focuses on navigating through a variety of obstacles to teach the player (student) how to walk, jump, swim, climb, etc. And, you'd be surprised how long doing something like that takes for kids that have never played the game before.  We took our entire first hour just making our way through the first phase of the tutorial, which is called "The Obstacle Course".

On the second day, the students were challenged to work together to figure out how to make their way out of a training area by finding a secret door.  It took a lot of splitting up, collaboration, and patience for them to walk around the yard area looking for clues to help them find the door.  Once they made it through the door, they were then moved in to an area to teach them how to mine for materials.

Today, we moved in to more challenging territory.  The screen shot that you see above is a picture of this area of the tutorial.  The objective of this area is to gather materials to duplicate the various shapes that are set out around the arena.  The students (and myself) broke up in to teams and raced to duplicate the shapes the quickest.

Now, upon first entering the room and reading the assignment, it looked simple enough.  There were piles of materials at one end of each numbered area, and so it was a matter of gathering enough blocks of material and making the blocks match the shapes already in place.  But, what we quickly learned was that the type of materials, dimensions of the shapes, and working together were also big pieces of the puzzle.

The students quickly formed their own teams by working with whoever was sitting close.  They worked together to learn about the different materials, and which materials were needed for which shape.  One of the shapes that has to be built is a standard arch.  There was a problem, though, the blocks the students were using weren't staying in place to form the arch.  The students quickly figured out that the blocks they had gathered were gravel blocks, and why the gravel blocks weren't working to build an arch.  As one student pointed out, gravel can't hold the shape to form an arch, a stronger block was needed.  So, the students found that cobblestone was a much better material for building the required arch.  A second student, not being able to figure out how many blocks he needed for his rectangular shape was assisted by his teammate when the suggestion was made to multiply one side by the other.

Student:  "There's 4 blocks on one side and 3 blocks on another.  That means we need 12 blocks altogether."   
Me:  "How do you know that's how many blocks you need when you can only see four down one side and three on the other?"
Student:  "I think we just multiply, it looks kinda like an array"

And, for the record, my class hasn't started really delving in to area and perimeter yet.  So, they are making the connections from learning about arrays, and that will help them immensely when we do start discussing area and perimeter.

The next obstacle was figuring out how to get up high enough to place blocks on the shapes that had high towers.  A few teams decided that they would need to build staircases out of blocks in order to reach such a high level.  They designated a team member to build gather materials strictly for staircases while the other team members got to work gathering and climbing the stairs to place the blocks.

Other teams experimented with building in layers, constructing a level at a time across all shapes, and building up as they went.  Another team designated single players for each shape, so that the group worked simultaneously on all of the shapes at the same time.

It was really fascinating to watch and listen to the different ideas that were being played out.  I joined a team and played along.  I offered no insight in to the ideas of how to build, I just asked to be told what to do.  The kids LOVED that.  Having me on their team was exciting enough, but getting to boss me around for a change?  Can you say BONUS??

The most rewarding part of the entire lesson was the last ten minutes.

Even though the entire lesson had been focused on a race, as the last few minutes began to creep up on us, many teams realized that they just weren't going to have time to complete all of their shapes.  Instead of the teams that were WAY ahead claiming their sweet victory, individual players moved to the struggling teams to help out.  In the end, there was no winner.  Each team just moved around and helped out anyone that needed it.  Once one set of shapes were complete, those teams joined together to help another team out, and so on and so on until everyone had completed the challenge.  There was no questions about who won or who completed the challenge the best.  It was just an hour of absolute, 100% collaboration, challenge, and fun.

This is what learning should be all about.  Helping each other.  Building each other up.  Solving problems.  Self-discovery.  Applying knowledge and concepts to real-world and fake world problems.

And we're only in the training stage.  Can you imagine how amazingly awesome our world is going to be once we start building?

We have one more "boot camp" session left before the real meat and bones start.  The first lesson, that will take place in the classroom and not the computer lab, will be called "Naming a Nation".  For that lesson, students will be working together as a class to first decide a good method for selecting a name for their world, before a single suggestion is ever made of the name.  It's also going to be when we start forming our "government" and committees.

I'm excited about it, and I will take plenty of pictures to illustrate the process.  I also plan on having some of the students vlog about their initial experience with the tutorial world, and their expectations for the game play as it unfolds.

I told ya, lots of fun happening around here.  Stay tuned for plenty more!

Ms. Hill

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Welcome to Our World!

Hi There!

Welcome to the page that is going to document a very exciting endeavor.  Creating a world of Minecraft in a classroom.  What a concept.  Especially for a 4th grade teacher and her students.  But that's EXACTLY what we're doing.

Let's start off with an introduction.

My name is Joanna Hill, and I'm a 4th grade teacher.  I teach in a highly diverse school in Southwest Missouri.  Our little town is a hub of many cultures, backgrounds, religions, and languages.  I am lucky enough to teach kids that come from all over the world, and it's an amazing place to be a teacher.

Which is why bringing the world of Minecraft in to the classroom is such an exciting opportunity.

My students will be working together to create their own world.  They will collaborate, design, create, and build everything and anything they need.  They will be using math, science, social studies, reading, social, and leadership skills to complete the tasks put in front of them.

This blog will be a way for me to share the fun and learning that's taking place in our classroom.  I am learning right along with my students, so this is a great place for us to document our trials and tribulations for bringing the Minecraft learning platform to life.

Many wonder how on earth playing a video game can help students learn.  I'm here to tell you that not only will they learn, but they will expand their educational horizons beyond any limits I could ever set for them.  In the world of Minecraft, they are the teachers as well as the students. They must work together, agree, establish, experiment, and apply many learning standards and content areas.  In a matter of a couple of hours a week, I can guide the students through traveling places they've only ever dreamed about, and applying all of their learned skills in the process.

This isn't just about playing a game.  It's about expanding their minds.  Challenging them, testing them, and urging them to think "outside the box" and become masters of their virtual destiny.

My kiddos are so excited to jump in and learn as much as they can, and I am too!!  We are also very excited to share our journey with anyone willing to watch, listen, and learn right along with us.  I will be sharing every lesson, every resource, and every piece of information that I can to help convince other teachers out there of the learning potential that the game of Minecraft has to offer.

So, visit often.  Feel free to post comments, ask questions, and make suggestions for anything you'd like to see.  This site will be a joint collaboration between my class and me.  I'll be doing the authoring, but they will be my editors and advisers, helping however they can to make this place informative and fun.  As much as they are very excited about being the only class in our school doing this project, it's important to them that they are apart of convincing other teachers to take part in such an educational opportunity.

Thanks for stopping by...there's plenty more to come!!

Ms. Hill