geometry

Final Teacher Thoughts: Polygons & Minecraft

Today I met with Mrs. Kerr and Mrs. Hogue about the Polygons lesson we’d completed in Minecraft with 4th grade students. I feel strongly about reflecting on new lessons and tools after they’ve been completed/used, and this is no different. This is the first day that all 3 of us have had available to sit down and discuss our thoughts.

We began with the pros of the lesson. Both teachers really loved the creativity and engagement seen in students. This comes from observation during the initial play and learn lesson, as well as the polygons lesson. They were amazed to see the different ways that students responded to the tasks provided. They also felt that Minecraft provided chances for a lot of discussion and teaching. Students talked to classmates and partners as they designed. We also had students who knew a lot about Minecraft that assisted classmates as the need arose. Kerr and Hogue were easily able to see how students could assist in the teaching process, as well as allow students to take on more of a leadership role.

Another positive that both teachers enjoyed was how we had structured the lessons. We had set up the first assigned task to be more rigid and strict. There were certain things that needed to be done in a time frame, in this case 3 designed polygons with a sign. The second task was more open ended, and allowed students to be more creative and daring. The second task for this lesson had them designing a home using polygons. Assessing this piece was done in class, as students explained the polygons in the designs to their teachers.

A final pro was that kids without access to internet or computer games at home got to try something new. Minecraft isn’t something default on every computer, nor is it free to get. Students were able to try it in school as part of their learning, and gain experience with a program they may never have seen before.

Not everything can be a pro, of course, so we delved into the cons of the lesson. These will lead to improvement with future lessons. One of our cons was figuring out who wasn’t doing what they should be. Some students enjoyed getting off task and ended up being destructive with classmates. We have since corrected part of this with a good seating chart that lists which account is signed into which computer. Kerr and Hogue are also learning how to recognize characters in game.

Our second con was the invisibility potion. Students find a way around being detected by using the invisibility potion to wreck havoc. I have to say that this isn’t something that I considered when putting together the lesson, though I’m not entirely surprised. I have club kiddos who love utilizing this trick. Since we can’t get rid of the potion itself, we’re going to take some time to work on classroom management techniques in Minecraft. I also informed both teachers that drinking milk makes the potion wear off, and that /ban and /kick commands existed as an option.

The final part of our quick meeting was to focus on needs to cover this summer. The three of us are going to do some in depth work with Minecraft, including me teaching them how to run and manage the server. They want to learn to be independent, so that I don’t have to visit the school to get them set up. We’ll do a lot of practical run throughs to give them practice. Ideally, I should only have to design and upload templates from afar.

We would also like to create a cheatsheet of basic commands, and create at least 1 lesson per subject area for teachers to utilize. Both Kerr and Hogue would love to get more teachers on board with Minecraft in the classroom. In order to do this, we’d like to have a lesson that could be easily implemented into each teacher’s curriculum. As for the basic commands cheatsheet, this is to be used as a refresher/guide for teachers as they work with students. Students are still expected to learn the game through play and problem solving. We’re going to look at potentially meeting in the beginning of July for all of this training.

So far so good with Minecraft use! Our next topic is to tackle science. We will be taking a lesson where students are designing a plant and using Minecraft as the program to model in. It will also give students some more experience using graph paper. Can’t have enough of that!

Minecraft, Polygons, & 4th Grade

January 25 was a crazy day, and I have dubbed it Minecraft Thursday. I spent most of the day teaching Minecraft related lessons or activities. There was the Ideal School introduction before lunch, and then Minecraft: Cityscapers after school. I started my day off with 4th grade, and this time we were tackling our first geometry lesson in Minecraft.

Previously, the students had been introduced to the template I had designed, and we had completed a play and learn session. This had given us a chance to set the class boundaries and give students who hadn’t had a chance to play Minecraft time to get used to the game.

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The class first began with introductions to the lesson, and a review of the classroom expectations. Students were asked to build 3 polygons in Minecraft. Only one of the polygons could be a quadrilateral, and the students were not allowed to build triangles. If they finished early, they could move to a different location and build a house using polygons in their design.

During this first session, once students were in their homeroom zone, they were allowed to pick a space along the wall to build. This turned out to be a mistake, but I didn’t realize that until later. Once a spot was selected, students placed a sign with their name, and began to build. Overall, the session went as expected, and the students stayed on task.

There were a couple of issues with this first session, and I changed them for the 2nd lesson, which was completed today. First, having students pick a space along the wall was a bad idea. I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have created a fenced in space of some kind. Trying to take screenshots was a nightmare without this, and students didn’t do so well at creating their own boundaries.

Examples of what happens without a fence. I cannot believe I let this happen, but I have learned from this mistake!

Secondly, students sometimes had trouble designing their shape in Minecraft. It would have been easier if I had made sure to have graph paper available to the class as they worked. Then any student struggling could take a piece of graph paper and design their idea first.

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Students in the Tuesday group using graph paper to design polygons

Fast forward to today, Tuesday. I had another crew of students to work with. The lesson was still the same. However, this time I had made sure to create 20 x 20 spaces of white wool for students. Each student/student pair was to select a space. They placed the sign with their name/s on the front of the wool fence, and were then constricted to that space for building. This worked out so much better! In the future, I will edit my original template and create a version with 20 x 20 areas for building.

Graph paper was also made available for students, and this helped quite a few when it came to designing their polygons. Students were allowed to get the graph paper at any time. If anything, some had trouble creating a design to transfer to Minecraft, but this is something I have seen with all ages. They have to be taught this skill. However, since our designs were simple polygons, it didn’t matter too much.

With our two issues fixed from last week, you wouldn’t think we had many issues. However, one thing that the teacher noticed was that students sometimes determined the sides of their polygons differently than what the teacher interpreted. This led to a discussion on how we could fix this issue. We knew students knew how many sides represented each polygon, but they sometimes interpreted the blocks differently.

Thus, in the future, students will need to create their polygon design on graph paper, with appropriate labels. This way the teacher can see their original design before it is transferred into Minecraft. The teacher will also be able to explore the designs with students, and have them complete explanations in class, or as a written part to this project.

Examples of student work from Tuesday’s group. Notice how easy it is to see where each student completed their work.

Overall I feel that the lesson went well for a first go. I am impressed with the things I saw from the students, and I look forward to doing it again in the future, with the rest of our changes implemented. I am so lucky to work with two teachers who are very flexible and expect things to be imperfect on the first go round. They realize that things don’t always work out as well as planned. It makes reflection and redesign a lot easier to accomplish.

Reflection: Introducing Minecraft to 4th Graders

Today I found myself back in 4th grade. I used to teach in this age group, so I was rather excited. Even though there had been setbacks to our original plans (thanks snow days!), we were ready to get started.

My job was to introduce Minecraft to Beverly Kerr (@tblkerr) and Julie Hogue’s (@HogueJulie) math classes. We did not plan to jump right in with lessons. Instead, I would introduce the game and class expectations before doing an explore and build session. Originally, the build was to relate to the 100th day of school, but because of snow days, our time was limited so we simply let them build whatever they wanted instead.

Prior to the class, I had set up the server the school had purchased with a 4 quadrant template of my own design. I logged the accounts into the program, and they all spawned in the center at what we eventually dubbed “home base”. The template is pictured below, and is also available for download here.

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4 Quadrant Template

First, the kids were given assigned seats and asked for their attention. I started by introducing myself, and then the game of Minecraft. As I had suspected, most had played, but only in survival mode. I started with the sandbox explanation and how the game had no given instructions. I did share the basic keys and what they did with students.

From there, I gave our class expectations and rules. I explained the rules of home base (always return there at the end of class), and what each quadrant was for. The kids were then told to spend a few minutes exploring, and the rest of the time building whatever they liked within the quadrants.

We then let them set off to work, and some kids tried to do other things, but we always went back to the main 2 instructions: Explore and Build. If we noticed someone spending a little too much time exploring, then we gently reminded them to build something. I think the next time, I would use a timer to designate how long to explore. This might be a bit more concrete for these students.

The kids built different things. Some built random shapes or objects, and others built homes or bases of some kind. We did have some kids “accidentally” use TNT, which I figured would happen, but I wanted to wait and see.  I am probably going to switch the server to run the Spigot version of Minecraft so I can install the antitnt plugin. This will take care of that issue easily.

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TNT oh my!

At the end of class, students did well with returning to home base. They weren’t allowed to line up to leave the lab until their character was safely inside, and I was pleased with how quickly they followed the instruction. Having students return all characters to home base makes it easier for the next group to get started right away. At this point, I am not sure if I’ll install the EssentialsX plugin. I’m still testing how it runs on my club server. If I do install it, it will make returning to base easier, as I can teach them the /warp command. This would be especially handy if the student was located far away in the assigned quadrant. They would simply have to type /warp base in the chat box and then they’d be instantly teleported back.

The teachers wanted to give the students more time to build in the game, so they returned with their classes after recess. I was not at the school at this time, so it gave the teachers a chance to handle running the game without me around. They had a couple of issues, but nothing major. Because of this, I am planning to meet with them after we complete the first lesson with all classes, so we can go over any issues they may have had, and help them learn how to run the server on their own. My goal is to eventually be able to have them running the server and program completely on their own, with minimal support from myself. This will definitely take time, as it took me awhile before I was completely comfortable running my own server.

Overall, I believe the lesson went over very well, and I am inspired to do a writeup of a lesson plan that will work for teachers introducing Minecraft to students in a classroom setting. I strongly believe that teachers need this first lesson before doing any actual curriculum work, as it allows them to set the ground rules and expectations for using Minecraft in the classroom.

4th Grade & Minecraft

I’ve been able to find many ways to use Minecraft since I began playing a few years ago- workshops for littles up to middle school, literacy, and more. However, I had yet to get a chance to use it in the classroom with the curriculum. That’s about to change this as the second semester begins.

A fellow colleague and Minecraft lover alerted me to the fact that two 4th grade teachers at Carysbrook Elementary were interested in learning to use the program with their math classes. She invited me to help set up one of the labs to play the game, and also to meet with the teachers yesterday. They would like to use it with some of their upcoming geometry unit.

We have so far planned to get the server set up and a basic quadrant layout for the world maps. I’ll also set up the server with Spigot and some add-ons to make the management easier for the teachers. They have a few ideas already for projects, but nothing completely solid yet. I have showed them how they could work in Minecraft, and they’ll decide in which order to proceed.

For now, they are working on learning to play the game themselves. I gave them access to a couple of the school accounts for this purpose. I have answered any questions they’ve thrown my way, and told them that learning to play the game is meant to be a learning process, but that YouTube is very handy, as are wikis.

For the students, we’ve decided that a play session will be vital first, so we’ve scheduled their classes to get some time with the game before diving into curriculum on the 18th. They’ll be doing this during 100th day of school activities, so the plan is to let the students explore and play before assigning them a challenge to build the number 100 in as many ways as they can think of.

After that, I will return the next week to begin the first math lesson with the students. I am only able to do the morning classes, so they are going to watch what I do and how I troubleshoot, and apply it themselves during the afternoon classes.

I am excited to take on this task, and to see what part of their unit they decide to use first. They are excited to try it with students and find a new way to bring engagement to their classes. I hope to provide a new update soon!