minecraft servers

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.

Minecraft: Cityscapers is a Go!

Yesterday, I held the second meeting of Minecraft: Cityscapers. I have changed things around this year with running a club in general. I took a max of 20 kids, due to space and licensing issues, but also because it makes management and grouping a lot easier. I had students fill out interest forms, and then drew names from a bucket, taking 20 students. I knew there would be many unhappy students, but with my distance from the school, once a week is all I can really do for meetings.

This year, I have also developed more of a curriculum and lesson. I knew I would need general lessons before we started on the main goal of the club, which is to build a gigantic city. I prepared a Google Classroom for this task. I wrote up a basic lesson format for club meetings. It’s not strict or lengthy, but it is flexible and follows a set pattern:

  • Take attendance
  • Review previous week
  • Lesson
  • Google Classroom instructions
  • Minecraft
  • Google Classroom reflection question

I planned out my basic introduction for the first meeting, which was similar to that of my workshops – build a realistic home. I wanted to see building skills. We wouldn’t really start anything new that meeting because it would be hectic enough getting everything started and going.

Well, I was certainly right. Things did not go as planned, and they were rough. Because I didn’t assign the students seats right off, I couldn’t log them into their computers. Instead, I waited until they arrived to log in. That wasn’t a problem, but the issue came signing into Minecraft. For whatever reason, the school computers have issues signing into an account. It seems to get worse after school lets out. We avoided this issue last year with a shared account, since so many students were in the club and were coming every other week.

That issue probably created more chaos than I would have liked. We did what we could, but only 10 of the students were able to be on at a time because the rest of the accounts wouldn’t log in. It was not a happy time, but we made it through. I had written down where each student had sat, so I knew I’d be able to log them in before the club meeting the next time and hopefully avoid this issue, just as I had last year.

In addition, I had a couple of students who wanted to test my expectations. I wasn’t happy, but knew I’d need to stick to my guns on this one. After the meeting, I developed a Code of Honor for the club. It’s basically just a fancy title for the club expectations, and the students sign at the bottom. It lists the consequences of not following, and repeatedly not following means being kicked out of the club. I don’t want to have to ever do it, but I want the students to know that they have consequences for their actions.

I did my usual planning for the next lesson, and began laying out the activities for the topic of the meeting: color theory. The day of the meeting, I decided to change the room we had been using. I had been using a lab, the same from last year’s club. While the layout of the computers was nice, it lacked a projector and a board to write on. I switched to a different lab instead so that I could project my work, and have the white board just in case.

With all of those things in place, I started the second meeting. Things went much more smoothly this time around. We took the attendance, I went over the Code of Honor, and then we settled in to work. I was amazing that the students stayed on task so well, and they worked very hard. We were able to pretty much finish everything we had started that day. Some of the students asked if they could free build sometime, so I have decided to work that into our meetings as well.

Check out some of our work from yesterday:

When we don’t have club days, I leave the server open to the students. Only about 4 students have personal accounts, and they like to get on and build. This is fine with me. I logged in last night to check on the day’s work and to take images for documentation. One of the students happened to be on, and he wanted to show me his work. He told me his plans and ideas. Everything came from his imagination, and he thought it was easy for anyone to do. He soon had to log off, and so I took screenshots of the things that had been built on free time. Our chat gave me a glimpse into the student’s head, and if anything were to ever arise, there are always chat logs kept on the server.

I am now thinking ahead to the next meeting. I am thinking about starting shapes, but I also think I want to explore color some more, and so may also work with color palette selection to add to what they’ve already done. I will think some more on it before deciding for certain.

In the meantime, check out some of the free build work:

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!