minecraft

3 Tips for Teachers Getting Started With Minecraft

If you’ve been to conferences over the past few years, there’s a chance you have seen someone presenting on Minecraft and its application within the classroom. You may have loved the idea, and want to get started, but you have no idea what to do! You had a lot of new terms thrown your way, and wait, the game doesn’t come with a lot of directions?

Before you can even dive in to getting the game into your classroom and locating funding, you need to step back and take a deep breath. This is not something that can be implemented at the drop of a hat. It’s also something you can’t rely solely on students to teach you about, though they will be super helpful if you get stuck!

Tip 1: Learn to Play!

One of the first things you need to do is learn to play the game yourself. There are many ways to accomplish this. If you have children at home and they have the game, have them help you to learn. If not, then you’ll need to purchase the game. It’s available on many platforms, but the cheapest will be the tablet version, for around $7. Download the game and jump in. If you don’t like playing on a tablet and would prefer the PC edition, you’ll pay a heftier fee upfront. This is fine unless you later decide that the game isn’t for you.

That’s right. Minecraft will only give you a simple hint as to the basics- how to move, how to jump, and even how to access your inventory. Beyond that, it’s up to you to learn. As a player, you are expected to teach yourself to play. This is why so many young players turn to their friends, to books, to wikis, and to YouTube for guidance. Put yourself in the shoes of a player and explore these resources. There are a lot out there. Playing the way your students play will give you ideas of how they search, how they can improve searches, and suggestions you can provide to them.

It is during play that you’ll learn about some of those terms that got thrown your way at a conference- mobs, creative mode, survival mode, mining, and more. Through play I learned which mode would work better for my classroom needs, and how I could use the sandbox nature of the game to accomplish goals. Once I had a basic grasp of the game, I began doing some educational research.

Tip 2: Research and Explore Lesson Plan Ideas

The educational research will give you another step in the right direction. There are lesson plan ideas out there, and most are free to use. These lesson plans can spark ideas for new plans. Try some of the activities or goals out in your own Minecraft world. Microsoft has the Education Edition version of the game, and there are a lot of lesson plans on their website.

Here is one thing to keep in mind when searching for lesson ideas: some of the lesson plans have game files that only work for certain versions of the game. If you don’t have that edition, then you may have to recreate the world file, which may not be feasible. Keep this in mind while you complete your research, as it will help you to decide which version of the game to use in your classroom.

Tip 3: Learn about the different versions available.

After you’ve played and done some research, you’ll want to begin considering the different options available. Here are some you will come across:

PC Edition – This is the regular game with no extra bells and whistles. Some districts prefer to pay the upfront $27 per account and then share the accounts between students. They often create their own servers in the district or rent server space.

Education Edition – This is Microsoft’s version for schools. It is $5 per year per student. It has extra features, such as a coding component, built in server, classroom controls, camera, and more.

MinecraftEDU – This version no longer exists for purchase, but you will find lessons and world downloads still available online. This version featured classroom controls and the ability to rent cloud server space.

Look into options available, and talk to other teachers who already use Minecraft within their districts. This will help you to make an informed decision about what will work best in your classroom and district, especially when it comes time to look into funding resources.

Take your time and work through these tips. You’ll feel more prepared to use the program with students. Contact fellow educators who use the game if you have questions. You may even find that it’s not the right fit for you or your classroom, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, you’ve still learned something new!

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 & the Ideal School, Day 2

When you let your imagination run free, you’re sure to come up with some amazing ideas. That’s exactly what some of my students are doing with the Ideal School project.

Day 2 began with students picking up where they left off. Many of them had completed half of the work with the 3 different Padlets. They spent some time today working on their School Design questions, which many enjoyed, and of course, some got distracted with all of their ideas. There was definitely some great discussion between students about the facilities they would offer, and how they would design their schools.

Once work was completed on all 3 Padlets, students were able to begin Task 4- Sketching their School Design. Prior to the class meeting, I had modified this section of my original lesson plan. I wanted students to be able to messy sketch and just get an idea of what would be in their schools and where it would be located. I didn’t want them to have to worry about carefully plotting the design layout just yet. I had made my own samples of a messy sketch and a good sketch to share with them in Google Classroom. My samples only show a small section of a school building.

This is where many students ended class. They were laying out the messy sketch designs. Some will have a school with multiple floors, and others will have a single level school. I even had some students want to come down during dismissal time to continue working on their sketches. This is perfectly fine by me, and I love that they are eager to keep working outside of class time. Students will be able to move on to the second sketch when they show me their completed messy sketch and I make sure that the requirements for the school are met. They will not get to the end of the project, only to be told they are missing something.

Overall, day 2 went well, but I think that was mostly because I spent time before the class tweaking the lesson plan again so that it was more specific, and really got students to put some thought into their work. Originally I just had them graphing their sketch with all measurements and such, but I realized that this was not a good idea because they would have had no idea how the overall sketch of the school should look. I felt that this could lead to mistakes and frustration. I also added into the lesson that the messy sketch needed my approval before the good sketch so that I could make sure that all required pieces were included.

This revision led to me creating my own examples of both the good sketch and the messy sketch. I wanted students to see a model so that it would be clearer to them, and many did appreciate it. I am really hoping that the graph version turns out well, because I have so many students who struggle with this when it comes to Minecraft. They have trouble creating their design on graph paper so that it transfers easily into Minecraft.

I am certain that my changes to Day 2’s part of the lesson made the difference in how the activity proceeded. Day 3 is meant to be a continuation of Day 2, and I expect most students to finish the messy sketch and be working on their good graph copy. Below, you can see the work from Day 2 from some of the students:

Very much looking forward to Day 3 next week. I am looking forward to seeing what the students come up with for their ideal schools!

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: Minecraft & the Ideal School

I was recently tasked by one of the FMS administrators to design an enrichment activity for students involving Minecraft. This activity would be worked on once a week during the Genius Hour slot. I would end up with students 30 minutes each week, and the students would be selected as candidates by administration. Students would have final say in an interest meeting- if they didn’t wish to participate, they didn’t have to do so.

I love Minecraft (which you’ve seen from reading this blog if you are a repeat visitor), but I didn’t want to just sit the kids down to play. I wanted them to be challenged by a problem, so I set out to research. I ended up finding various projects on the Ideal School, so I decided to give the project a Minecraft twist.

The final version ended up with a few parts:

  • Part 1- Discuss issues in today’s schools and brainstorm ideas for structure of the school day, learning and lessons, and ideas for school facility.
  • Part 2- Draft a design of the school on graph paper
  • Part 3- Use Minecraft to create a model of the ideal school
  • Part 4- Complete a series of questions to provide information about the Ideal School
  • Part 5- Present results to administration

Today was the first day for our group to meet thanks to unfortunate timing of snow days. Students logged into their computers and joined the Google Classroom. I had displayed the class code on the projector. Once students were in the classroom, I gave them an overview of the project and all the steps that would be completed.

We first began by discussing the issues that they felt kids today faced in schools. I got some really good answers, and wrote them on the board as the kids took turns speaking. I had answers like:

  • lack of educational tools (calculators, books, etc)
  • not all schools have enrichment programs
  • lack of engaging learning

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Students were then directed to view the Google Classroom. I had created 3 tasks to begin with that focused on Part 1 of the project. Each task was designed to be completed in Padlet, which I have used in the past and loved. Students were able to each answer the question in one location. They could also see what their classmates were writing. I gave a quick overview of how to create a post on the Padlet. Students were asked to use their first name for the title, and then use the space to answer the questions on each Padlet.

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While they worked, I observed and asked questions about their plans, sometimes playing devil’s advocate, but mostly just to hear their ideas and thoughts. For example, through discussion one student realized that the way he set up his school year would give students a break in January and February, avoiding some of the potential snow days.

As students finished each Padlet, they marked the assignment as done in Google Classroom. Because we are limited on time, not all work was finished today. Students were told that they would finish this work the next time we met. However, they also have the option to work on the remaining pieces outside of class on their own time. Some students said they would do it, others said no to that idea.

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I am looking forward to seeing what the next class meeting will bring, and what kind of designs will develop when these students begin working with graph paper. Eventually, I will share the lesson plan here as a resource. It will need to be tweaked as the project is completed.

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 Resource: 4 Quadrant Template (Grass Version)

In a recent post, I mentioned beginning to work with some 4th grade teachers. They wanted a world where they could have multiple classes working, but each class separately contained. Thus, this template was created.

Name: 4 Quadrant Template World (Grass Version)
Creator: Rachel Moravec
Description: A downloadable world with 4 grass quadrants for PC editions of Minecraft. Students should spawn in the central building, and teachers using add-ons can easily set spawn points. Signs are posted to divide each class into their zones. Each zone is laid out with grass to make natural builds easier. Each zone is 402 x 402 square blocks.
Notes: This world works great on vanilla versions of Minecraft. However, it works best on versions running Spigot with the EssentialsX add-on. With this add-on, the spawn point can be set, as well as different warp points for each class. Please note this isn’t required, but optional.
Link: 4 Quadrant Template (Grass Version)

Preview Images:

Need help importing world files into your Minecraft? Check out this tutorial for more information.