Sunday, November 30, 2014

Presenting at the NH Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference

My sons and I will be presenting an all-day workshop tomorrow at New Hampshire's Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference on the utility of Minecraft in educational environments entitled "Myth, Mystery, & Minecraft — The Magic of Making". While I'm an experienced presenter, it will be interesting to see how my boys respond when they are the experts in the room where Minecraft is concerned. I am looking forward to the interactions between new learners and lead learners when roles are reversed.

This post is a little different from the last. Rather than share what we've been doing, we're calling for your questions. As an educator, what would you want to know about Minecraft? What questions do you have about the environment, about how it might help your students learn in a new way? Please leave your questions in the comments section below. We'll incorporate them into our presentation but we'll also work to answer them here in future posts.

We thank you in advance for your collaboration!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Building the Blockhouse

By Ethan Martin ~Son 
Our first building was the fort/blockhouse/chapel. The fort was not as big as I expected when I saw it for myself, but it did seem like it would get the job done. The fort wasn't just used for defense, it was also used for religious purposes. The fort had about four cannons but as you can see in the pictures, it had many windows to fire the cannons from. The reason they had so many windows is because the cannons had wheels so you could move them around. It took at least four men to move the cannons. The fort had large walls surrounding the village so attackers couldn't harm any of the civilians. The last picture you see is a recreation of an actual picture my father took of my class when we went to Plimoth Plantation on the sixth of November. Sadly, we are missing seven people.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thoughts on curricular tie-ins from my son's 6th grade teacher

Since I don't have a classroom of my own, although I could make a case that my school is my classroom, I tap into my network of amazing educators in my building, my region and across the world. I asked my youngest son's 6th grade teacher what he thought we might be able to include that would tap into his curriculum. Here is his response:
"...What a great opportunity! John (my son) and I were talking about the connection to electricity and circuits, the use of pistons and simple machinery. I have always been amazed with how my own boys have conceptually grabbed on to the concepts of area and volume without even knowing it. The spatial planning and math involved in the construction is awesome. I also see geology connections and the use of elements to make new substances. Let's talk more over the break."
I often hear folks bemoaning kids' focus on video games and yet I see some of these same folks happily turning their learners over to subscription sites like Study Island, Renaissance Place, and also to a number of free websites which have games that simply replicate electronic worksheets. This is not to say that some of those have a place however I believe that Minecraft offers educators a unique opportunity to put math learning into context. Estimation, area, volume, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, all of these are put into practice when building in Minecraft.

Now, throw Redstone into the mix and now you can start introducing complex concepts like circuits in a way that gets kids thinking about what they could create using circuits. Talk about moving higher on the Bloom's Revised Taxonomy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Plimoth Plantation Takes Shape: Terraforming Minecraft

My Minecraft gurus and I started our work on this project by creating a brand new world. We debated picking a specific biome such as a plains or forest biome, but in the end chose to let random chance and happenstance lead the way. We did, however, elect to use Creative Mode with cheats turned on so that we could focus on the build knowing that it would take a number of hours to complete.

My sons started flying over the new Minecraft world looking for an area near an ocean with a forest biome, a spot with hills rather than plains. It took a while but one of them finally found an area with a large bay that looked like a good start. We teleported to him and began surveying the land.

As we compared our research to the landscape before us we realized that the terrain in Minecraft would still need significant terraforming before it could be used to more accurately depict the Plantation site. The pitch of the mountains was far too steep and the valleys too narrow. Since everything in Minecraft is measured in blocks, we planned on a gradual pitch of 1:10, or 1 block up for every 10 blocks in depth to replicate the long slope leading to the fort sitting atop the hill overlooking the village.

The three of us started to work manually until we realized that this would be a long and laborious process. My youngest crafter mentioned that we ought to try using MCedit to do the large scale work and save the manual labor for the fine tuning. Now MCedit is not for the faint of heart, it is a powerful tool for enhancing what you can do with Minecraft worlds, so if you love the world you are working in and wish to ensure that if you make a mistake that you can recreate that world, it is best to make a backup copy of it. That can be done manually or you can have this happen automatically using a tool like MineBack. In a classroom setting, the automatic option may save you a lot of class time and heartbreak!

Other biome resources: How To Geek Guide To Minecraft

Monday, November 24, 2014

Primary Sources in Minecraft Projects: Reputable Websites & Resources

So our next source of information was the website affiliated with Plimoth Plantation itself. We knew the venue since we had visited it earlier this month, so we felt that we could rely on the information it contained with a fair degree of confidence. What was even better was the list of publications recommended by the historians who work to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the Plimoth Plantation experience. These documents and texts contain historical information and first person accounts of the lives of the Colonial villagers.

While I know it is heresy in some quarters, I also took a quick look at the Wikipedia page for Plimoth Plantation, particular in their Notes and External Links references. While I would not call Wikipedia a primary source for obvious reasons, I mention it because this resource served as a springboard to explore William Bradford, a name I had not previously been aware of. One of the page's external links was to a C-SPAN video portrayal of some of Bradford's writings. This in turn sent me to Project Gutenberg where Bradford's "History of Plimoth Plantation" was available in a number of electronic formats.

Other resources:

Primary Sources in Minecraft Projects: GIS Information

Recalling our experience, and reviewing the pictures, we realized that we needed to get a feel for the terrain of the area. We knew that the fort/blockhouse sat at the top of a hill overlooking the village and the distant bay. But the day was so busy that we couldn't remember the rest of the terrain in the area. Enter Google Maps and Google Earth!

A quick search for Plymouth, MA got us to the general vicinity. A bit of a zoom and a click on the Terrain button later and we had the image to the right to work from as we started to develop the landscape in our Minecraft world.

For more specific imagery, we then went to our Google Earth app on my iPad and took screenshots at different heights to get a better sense of the topography and village layout.

The image at the bottom gives us a nice perspective view of the village buildings so that could begin to map out our Minecraft replica.

In reviewing the imagery, we recognized a few other significant geographical features we would want to include in our model. The Eel River and its lagoon were important to the layout of the area as we are interested in later expanding our model to include the Wampanoag village which can be seen in the third image down as the open area below the center of the Eel River lagoon.

Primary Sources in Minecraft Projects: Your Own Pictures

One of our first steps as we started this project was to take a look at what resources were available to us. Luckily my youngest son and I had just visited Plimoth Plantation at the beginning of November. It was a grey, dreary, wintry day but it really set a dramatic tone for the experience! So our first primary sources were pictures that we took of the area.

The buildings were especially interesting, the high pitched roofs and the low interior ceilings. The sharp contrast between the elaborate chests and dressers and the spartan decor of the rest of the home was a shock to students when they compare colonial life to their homes of today.

Every home had its own garden, most often in raised beds fertilized by the manure of the animals living in stick barns next door. The difference between the thatched roofs of human inhabited dwellings versus the plank roofs of the animal enclosures was also striking.

In retrospect I wish I had taken more pictures of the spaces but at the time I felt it was more important to be present in the experience. This does give me yet another reason to return to Plimoth Plantation when there is more time to explore, ask questions of the character actors portraying Colonials, and to capture more specific imagery for this endeavor.