Sometimes I am not sure who is learning more here at the after-school program, the kids or me. This week I very intentionally used what I learned last week about different kids having different needs in planning what we would be doing in Minecraft. I gave each student in the first group a journal and let them loose in survival mode, while I started an architecture project for the second group. Planning separate lessons does mean extra work, but I like what I do and it gives the students a better experience (at least that is my hope).
For the survival group I first found an area in our creative map far away from any student's previous work to strand the students and let them have at it. Because the vast majority of our time in MC has been spent in creative mode, most students needed a refresher in crafting and gathering resources. I wanted to give as little guidance as possible during this time to keep as true as possible to the survival theme. A couple of the students were asking me to just give them tools and resources, but I had to tell them they needed to pretend that I wasn't there.
This was working well for a while, until night fell. The students were braced for a zombie apocalypse, but it never came. Lesson number one for me of the day: Always test EVERYTHING beforehand. Sure, there is a button that allows monsters to spawn, but does it actually work? Maybe it didn't work because the world had already been started in creative mode. After that disappointment I had a brief conference with the students and they decided that they would be ok with starting in a new world to get the complete survival experience. So I restarted the server in a fresh world with monsters enabled from the beginning. Things were going well, night fell, but still no monsters came. I couldn't even spawn monsters into the world. Not to worry, I was able to release the hoard simply by disabling and enabling the “Spawn Monsters” option in the MinecraftEDU option box. As I was saying above, I was giving kids as little guidance as possible. They were not prepared for night in Minecraft. Luckily, they didn't stray too far from the spawn point so they could recover most of the resources they had gathered during the day. Day came again and they started right away on a shelter. We ran out of time at this point, and I had the students pull out their journals to make Entry #1. I hadn't planned the writing portion of the activity particularly well ahead of time, so I gave the students a chance for a free written response to what happened in the game, at least three sentences. I was not sure at all how this request for extra writing would go – I braced myself for complaints and whining, but there was none. They all eagerly wrote their names in the journals and started on their entries. Granted, they were pretty short, and I didn't really have an idea of how confident any of them were with writing. The thing that surprised me most during the day was when one student, bent over his journal, asked, “Mister, how do I spell zombie?” Believe it or not, I had given them something to write about. Sure, they got destroyed in the game, but they all had something to say about it. I'm excited to see where things go from here with the group, and what else I can do with the journals.
This is getting to be a pretty long post. But here is how things went with the architecture group. Looking back, I put way too much into this lesson. In preparation for the lesson I printed off pictures of famous buildings along with their measurements; found pictures of work others had done in MC; made a blueprint and started my own reproduction of the pyramids of Giza. In order to finish the project, students need to do historical research on their building, make a building plan on graph paper, scale the dimensions appropriately, and spend a good amount of time just placing blocks in-game. This was too much for one day. I did understand that the project would take time to complete, I just did not appropriately space out the content for the project. Instead of working on one element at a time (first researching a building, then figuring out how models and scales work, then working with graph paper to make a plan, etc.) I expected them to just go and do it all elements simultaneously. Needless to say, it didn't go as I planned. I realized this fairly early, and was lucky to have a smaller group than usual (some kids were out on a field trip), so we focused on the buildings I had already researched, and the students ended up starting their own interpretations of the lighthouse at Alexandria. Once they got going, they were fine, and we were able to talk about the lighthouse, why it was important, and what happened to it. I'll have to do some more thinking before next week comes on how to proceed with this group.
Well, thanks for getting through this lengthy narrative of what happened yesterday. Comments and new ideas are always welcome, especially any thoughts on how to better run the architecture project.