fluco game designers

Minecraft Success!

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Beyond the barrage of hyperdoc resources that I’ve been sharing recently, I’ve been finding more success in using Minecraft with my students in Fluco Game Designers. Even though there were many failures at first, I’ve finally gotten it off the ground and moving right along.

I solved the LAN issue that we were having with students. This involved me researching server space rentals and talking to some folks more knowledgeable than I. I learned a few things along the way. The biggest though was that cheapest isn’t always the best. Thanks to some smart feedback, I learned that cheaper sites tend to oversell their space, and cannot always provide the features they promise. I went with MCProHosting for this reason. They were a mid-range option, but I had good found good feedback and reviews on their service. I would be able to get up to 25 students on the server at a time for $10 a month.

We have now used this service for nearly a month, and it has been fantastic! I have not had any issues with MCProHosting, and would recommend it to any colleagues who are unable to buy the Education Edition through Microsoft, but do have access to the regular PC version. The students have all been on at once, typically around 20 on our busiest days, and there has been very little lag. I do make sure the students stay close together in a decent radius in the world so that also helps.

Their first task was to build a Minecraft base or home. I did not give them any requirements as to looks or materials, except that of redstone. I do feel that I would modify this task in the future because the redstone component didn’t get completed with some of the students, and others really rocked it. The designs that were created were rather varied, and added a lot of intrigue to the world. I’ve added some pictures below of their designs.

Our next task is a collaborative project. I believe I have decided on a collaborative village/city build. I am going to go into the server and create fenced off areas. The idea is to have students in groups of 4 that must develop their design within the space allotted. I believe that if I gave them an open space, they would end up running into each other’s builds and trying to build more than they can handle. I did the fenced space for my Minecraft Makershop last summer, and it definitely was a positive when it came to building plans. The students didn’t bite off more than they could chew.

For this project, I don’t believe the hardest part is going to be the building. I have a gut feeling that the hardest part for these students will be the collaborative piece and learning how to design together. I will probably use some ideas from Hyperdoc 6 of my Makershop unit and redesign it for these students, just in case some do decide to take Makershop in the summer during Kids College.

Until next time, happy building!

Minecraft Fail. Again. Abort?

So yesterday Group 2 met for Fluco Game Designers. Once again, we tackled Minecraft, as it was the first time for this group to log into the world. Since we could only get so many people on the LAN, the others were tasked to create a world and build on their own, especially with redstone. They have access to YouTube, so they were able to find any videos they needed to use. We had some students sharing accounts as well. We had gone over the rules for the LAN world, and I reminded them that they were also posted in the base camp cabin as well.

While I was assisting students with logging in, the first disaster struck. A student went to the computer where the LAN game was hosted, and changed it from peaceful to survival. He then proceeded to go back to his computer and summon a wither. Those of you who play Minecraft know that this is one of the most destructive mobs you can summon in the game. Players quickly alerted me, but not before the thing had destroyed a player’s watch tower and my giant pink arrow. I was able to make the switch back to peaceful and then was ready to kick the offending player in the behind. I took him off the game and had him sit out for a bit. Thankfully, some of the other kids worked to rebuild the things that had been destroyed.

Problem 1 solved.

Later on, I keep discovering the same group of 4 boys not following the instructions to build and explore redstone (wither boy included). They were more concerned with creating their own LAN and interfering with whatever the others were doing. Sure, they had some things with redstone, but they were constantly distracted. They were the only ones in the group not able to follow given directions.

Problem 2 was not solved before the end of the meeting. However, I did tell them we wouldn’t be doing LAN networks outside of the world I had designed. I also told them to begin thinking about their next challege- building a home that incorporates redstone into multiple aspects, minus things that are destructive, like TNT cannons.

I went home last night and thought about what had happened. I knew I could come up with something that would allow me to avoid some of these issues and my boys who wanted to circumvent everything. My first goal was to figure out a way to solve my LAN woes. Research told me that getting a Realm through Minecraft would not solve my problem, as it limited users to 10 at a time. That left only one option – get a server.

So far this morning, I’ve done research on the server websites that I can access here at school. Researching things related to Minecraft at school is tricky since most of the stuff is blocked because it’s marked as gaming by our cyber security. It seems I can find a server to meet my needs for under $10, but I still need to do some research on the server sites that I cannot access here at school, as well as see if I can find any reviews. By next week though, I hope to have a server in place and hopefully avert the LAN issue. I think things will go more smoothly if all of the students can be in the world at the same time.

The next two club meetings (1 per group) will also bring some more structure with the redstone challenge. I am hoping that the boys will stay focused on the challenge, and since being in the world I have created means following the rules for that world, they wouldn’t be able to kill or destroy each other. We will see how it goes though and I’ll adjust as needed.

Oh and that blog title? Yeah, I had no plans of aborting Minecraft. When technology plans don’t go as one wishes, it’s time to reflect and figure out why. I’m not one to give up easily and I know there’s going to be many bumps along the way. This was to be expected, and I can’t blame the students for all of the issues either. I am to blame as well. That’s why I work to figure out what I can do the next time to avoid them. Hopefully, next week will be smoother!

Well That Didn’t Go As Planned

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a teacher, it’s that one has to be flexible. Sometimes, very flexible. Teachers encounter obstacles and problems when a lesson doesn’t go the way as planned, and often have to think on their feet to create a backup plan in mind. This is particularly true when it comes to technology use.

Lately I’ve encountered a lot of issues in my Fluco Game Designer club with technology. Things just didn’t go as planned, and I’ve had to scramble to redirect the lessons. It’s frustrating, yes, but I also have to expect that if it can go wrong, it just might go wrong.

We first had issues with LearntoMod, which is all on our side. Our students have email accounts, but they cannot send or receive email from anyone not using a school email address. This has made it hard to get students to sign up to use the program, even though we have whitelisted the email now. Something’s still not right though. I’m going to push it aside for now. One thing I would suggest for the site is to make it so teachers can create the accounts for students without them needing an email address. That would make things so much easier. When we had issues with that, I set students to task on their Spring Showcase project on Gamestar Mechanic instead. They were not very happy, but it worked.

Yesterday I had a group that was ready to begin in Minecraft since we had put aside LearntoMod for now. I had everything tested- school accounts, logging in, connecting to LAN… everything was a go. Our students use regular PC Minecraft. They came into the lab about 30 minutes after I had gotten everything connected. I went around to help get folks online and into the LAN. I got myself in, and 2 other students before suddenly I was getting an InvalidCredentialException error. Well drat. Now kids couldn’t log in, and it had nothing to do with the school either.

Thankfully, many of the students use DailyCraft. They know I hate it and don’t allow them to use it, but it did accomplish the purpose of the lesson yesterday until we could get them logged into the school accounts. They were to explore and learn about using Redstone and build different items or machines that functioned. They had the ability to go to YouTube and search how to videos to help them as well.

We were able to get on regular Minecraft eventually, so they got kicked from DailyCraft. I got them on the LAN network to explore the world I’d set up for them. They were free to build as they wished.

I’m hoping that next week goes more smoothly, and I can go over LAN rules, such as “Be courteous of other builds”, aka Don’t destroy others’ work. I already had someone destroy the goofy arrow I built at spawn point, as well as part of a watch tower structure. I rebuilt both, and then located the exact spawn point. I’m working to develop a base camp style cabin, and hope to post things in there for students, as well as some nice decorations and things. It is my goal to use this world throughout the rest of the year, and then at the end of the year email students the world files so that they can have a copy themselves.

Flexibility is key!

VSTE 2016: Minecraft World Building

I am a huge fan of Minecraft. I originally started playing it in 2014 the summer before I had the last 4th grade class I’d teach at JJC. I knew that so many of them were into it, and I wanted another way to connect and build relationships with them. Fast forward to 2016 and I still play from time to time when I can. I’ve gone from enjoying survival to creative. I have hosted one workshop on building theory, and my current club, Fluco Game Designers is getting ready to tackle modding in Minecraft, a topic with which I am most unfamiliar, (right now!) but am learning about.

I chose to attend the session on World Building in Minecraft by John Painter (@zwaaa) for my own personal learning originally. When I do play creative, I love to explore designing and ways to make the task easier. I also build strange and random objects at times, like a giant pyramid…with one flipped on top of that, just because. I knew that John was presenting on some tools I’d heard about, but never really used before and I figured an introduction to them would be handy for when I was ready to explore them.

Without further ado, here are the tools that were discussed in the session:

World Painter – This tool makes it easy to paint in biomes for use in the game. It doesn’t provide a detailed look at the biomes, at least with what we were shown. It does make it easy to add in different biomes or blocks. There are different types of paint tools that can be used. This tool makes it easy to build up or depress land or to flood the area with water. The finished map can then be exported into Minecraft.

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terrain.party- This is a handy tool to use to get real world height maps that can be used in Minecraft. This is super useful to those trying to build a map based on real world locations, or creating a location based on the real world. One can use the site to get map data for any location and then save that file. Using another program, World Painter, import the map and make any changes. One that we were told to make was to set the water level to 10. Make any final changes and then export to Minecraft. Our presenter said that this was really handy when he needed to create a location based on Jamestown for a social studies unit that he was creating. Using this site, he didn’t have to worry about the land shape being accurate, and could focus on other parts of his build instead.

MCEdit Unified- There are different versions of MCEdit out there, but the reason this one was selected was because it also worked with Minecraft PE. For my own purposes, it wouldn’t really matter, but I’ll most likely end up using this one. This tool lets one edit a particular world map to suit their needs. It’s useful to bring in schematics and to build the world up or down. It’s a tool I need to learn to use so I can easily copy buildings as needed, too.

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Planet Minecraft- This particular site is great for inspiration, which is how I’ve used it in the past. However, it has tons of schematics that can be downloaded and brought into Minecraft using a tool such as MCEdit Unified. This is how our presenter brought the boats from Jamestown into his build without having to recreate them himself. During the session, we brought a schematic of the White House into the test edit.

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Spritecraft- This recommendation was more of something fun to do. Basically it’s a way to bring images of people into Minecraft, having them reconstructed as Minecraft blocks. Take a picture of someone and edit it in GIMP or any other photo editing software. Then use a program called Spritecraft to create the image in Minecraft blocks. Export it to MCEdit and put into the world.

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Needcoolshoes.com- This website is a website to find and edit your own skins for Minecraft. There are many sites out there that can also do this, so it’s really up to personal preference.

While I do want to use these personally, I’m going to attempt using Spritecraft, MCEdit Unified, World Painter, and terrain.party in my Fluco Game Designers club. I don’t want them to think modding is only about coding of course, and I want them to be able to create an inviting environment for their mods as well. I will introduce these tools after they’ve had some time to learn about the code side of modding though.

Positive Post Friday: 10/28/16

It’s Friday and that means it’s time for another Positive Post Friday!

Fridays mark the end of the work week. Fridays mark the start of the weekend. Fridays should end the week on a positive note. Therefore, I’m going to share 5 positive things that happened this week:

  1. This is not educational and happened last weekend. I got to go back to my hometown and visit with my family and my 3 favorite kiddos. I made sure it was kept secret from the kids, and it was well worth it!
  2. I have successfully split my game designer club into two groups, which will allow me to give each student more feedback and spend more time 1:1 with them.
  3. I have been working with the economics/marketing teacher again this week, and the students have had some fantastic thoughts about potential solutions to the problem that has been presented to them about student voices in social media. I can’t wait to see what they create.
  4. I made quite a few connections at the last game designers meeting. So many of my kids like Pokemon or Minecraft, so I can easily bring that up from time to time as we build relationships.
  5. I was able to complete another PD Google Classroom course, this time on using Skype in the Classroom.

Your turn: Share your Positive Post Friday.

Until next Friday! Have a great weekend!

#IMMOOC: What If?

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Recently I described my Fluco Game Designers club to someone else. I can’t recall if I mentioned if it was a club at the time or not. I was then thrown this question: How does it tie to the SOLs? (aka, Virginia’s standards of learning). I sort of bristled at this, but then realized I couldn’t recall if I mentioned it was an after school program, rather than something during the day.

I answered honestly. Fluco Game Designers is an after school club meant to help students learn about the video game design industry. While the beginning focuses on getting the basics down, the time after that will focus on imagining, designing, and creating. Yes, I am sure I could easily tie ELA standards to it, as there is reflective writing, feedback, and storytelling. However, I’m more focused on showing and letting students discover how those things apply to the video game industry. I want them to see the real world application.

I have quickly learned that SOLs are a huge target in Virginia. Part of me is glad I am not teaching in a classroom because I don’t think I could handle the constant assessment that goes on through testing. I don’t like it, and I’m sure I wouldn’t like my job much if I had to do that. I’m used to being able to do all types of assessments, not just pencil and paper or computer tests. I digress though.

The list of What Ifs in Chapter 7 of The Innovator’s Mindset got me thinking about all kinds of possibilities. However, the one that struck the biggest chord with me was What if schools operated as if we should all be “learners,” as opposed to students being the only learners? I am only in my 8th year in education, yet no matter where I’ve ended up, I’ve always found small pockets of educators who want to learn more outside of what the school day entails. It doesn’t matter if that’s book study, professional development, Twitter edchats, or personal research.

What if…. instead of a handful of people attending voluntary PD, the room was packed full?

What if… teachers shared the educational books they’ve read or found helpful?

What if… teachers attended a session run by students to learn something new?

I love when I can find educators who are eager to talk and share and discuss. I love edchats for this reason, though typically can only find time to participate in one per week. I love doing the #IMMOOC book study. What makes it fun though is finding others to talk to and share in the study, whether through blogs or the Facebook group or even Twitter. In fact, I’d love to see more book study groups like this one for other books.

It seems like it’s time for educators to show and model to the students that we are learners too, that we never get too old to learn something, and that we *gasp* fail and make mistakes. We are not invincible and we are not perfect. We are all human, and we all struggle from time to time. It’s only natural. A teacher does not have to stay on the pedestal to earn a student’s respect and admiration. There are other ways to do so, and it all starts with being a lifelong learner.

#IMMOOC: Empowerment & Fluco Game Designers

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“Our job as educators and leaders is not to control others but to bring out the best in them.” – Innovator’s Mindset, pg 98

As I have mentioned before, I recently started a game design club at the middle school where I work. I ended up with a large group of kids. I am supposed to have 66 if all kids show, and I had 55 last week at the first meeting. I’m crazy and nuts for keeping my group so large, but I do have 2 parent volunteers and as long as the behavior is good, we’ll keep the large group.

Keeping so large a group is a tricky little beast. The students meet in the library and are seated at tables that hold 5. I use one particular tool for most of my management, and that’s so I can get the students’ attention quickly and easily when I need to give guidance on the next topic. If you’ve heard of Kagan strategies, then you know about high five. Basically, the teacher holds up a hand, says “high five!”, and the student response is to hold up a hand in return, mouths closed. A bit of compliance, yes, but simply so the group can regroup and move forward.

The goal of the club is to teach game design, and a lot of that is done through quests (via Gamestar Mechanic) and then the students’ own projects. I want the focus of the club mostly on student designing, so I am carefully scouring the lesson plans provided by Gamestar and using that to create my own. I set up the week’s plans via Google Classroom so that all of the students can be on the same page. Gamestar uses 5 simple lessons to get things started, and then students can branch from there. The basic 5 lessons are meant to teach basic concepts. Once that’s done, there are many routes to take.

For example, this week, students focus on the elements of game design, the big backbone for all of their future work. Every game designed always features the 5 elements- mechanics, components, space, goals, and rules. I want to make sure to hit this one on the head, but I don’t want to make it all lecture. That’s boring and the students don’t get to do much with that route. The lesson I found details it as where I introduce it, then the students complete episodes 3 and 4 to play games that utilize it, and then we come back together for discussion.

Because this lesson is so important to game design in general, I want to add in some empowerment, and may extend the lesson further into the next week. I’m thinking of having the students first focus on one particular element and create a game in their workshop focused around that, asking them to blatantly ignore all other elements in their design process. Then I want them to design a game where they focus on all 5 equally. Since they won’t have finished the first quest in its entirety yet, they won’t have all the sprites from it, but they can still use what they  have to make something. I need to mull it over and put it into my plans.

Looking toward the future in the group, I want to have a lot more projects where students are given the basic parameters and then set free to create while I work on facilitating. It will help prepare them for the STEM Video Game Design Challenge in the spring. I also want to borrow the idea of an Identity Day for game design. I want to see what games students identify with and are passionate about, what their influences might be when it comes to their games that they’ll design. Influences are important, no matter what field, and I already know this crew loves talking about their favorite games.

I used to think engagement was key back when I was in the classroom. Oh, I was good at getting the students’ attention all right. I loved being a goofball, and using that to design lessons that grabbed the students’ attention, such as my Power Rangers Rock Cycle demonstration. Looking back now, that wasn’t all I needed to do. I should have engaged, yes, because that got their attention initially. What I failed to do was take that interest from being engaged and use it to empower the students to take control of their learning, which is what I should have been doing. I know better now. Engage first, but empower more than anything. I’m going to demonstrate that with Fluco Game Designers. I can’t wait!