Thursday, June 28, 2012

School-Year Reflection

Well, the school year has finished here and the kids have gone home.  Not for long, though.  Our summer program starts in 2 weeks, and I have the chance now to figure out how to make Minecraft a part of it.  As I've been working on ideas for how to use Minecraft this summer I realized I never took time to appropriately reflect on how my use of the virtual space went these past few months, so here's some thoughts:
  • Take advantage of kids' natural excitement -- I struggled this year between setting up a structured activity in Minecraft with concrete goals, and giving kids opportunities to just be creative and explore unbounded in game.  I had successes and difficulties in both areas.  At times it was difficult to get students excited about something I had prepared; they just wanted to put some more work in on their house.  Other times they would get bored if I didn't give them goals to achieve.  Part of this is probably me over-thinking everything as well.  I wanted to make sure that "learning" was happening, and it can be hard to determine whether this is happening or how this is happening without measurable, specific goals.  This summer I'm entertaining the possibility of creating a list of achievements for students to work on together.  One possibility is having in-game rewards, such as free resources or tools, for completing achievements.  But this would only work in survival mode; if the groups want to be in a creative mode server, what could I use as rewards?  Or would it be enough to just make a chart or something on the wall of the classroom to track progress? 
  • Too many boys -- Because using Minecraft in this way is so new to me and our limited resources, I put a lot more effort in designing the club as opposed to advertising it.  As such, the only students involved were ones that were self-motivated to be part of the club.  And for our program, that meant that only boys were part of the club.  I did have a few girls express interest in it by the end of the year, but by that time all the spots in the club were filled up.  The boys in the program (for the most part) were at least somewhat comfortable using a keyboard and mouse to navigate in a 3D environment -- not the case with the girls.  This created a barrier for them in getting involved.  I hope this summer to have at least one all-girls group in Minecraft so they can all tackle this barrier together and not be worried about falling behind other students that already know how to play the game.
  • Technology limitations -- Being entirely grant-funded means we have to improvise with what we have a lot of the time.  Our technology budget is not that big.  So the Minecraft club had to make do with our somewhat outdated laptops.  We do have a few desktops as well, but the software will not run on them.  This limited the club size to 4 students at a time.  The simplest way to increase student collaboration would be to buy more computers, but that won't happen anytime soon.  Other ways would be having all the students building in the same server, maybe having them create different villages, figuring out ways to develop relationships between separate tribes, or something like that.  Another way is to get connected to an outside server, get them involved with students around the world.  That would be great.  Also, I need to figure out why the laptops running Vista and Windows7 are lagging so hard.  
Any other thoughts out there about fun summer activities in Minecraft?