This year I have been experimenting with a new tool for my minecraft math class. The tool is called Beton Quest and it is a plugin for my server. Paired with a second plugin called Citizens it allows me to create NPCs (Non Player Characters) that my students can interact with. The Non Player Characters look like normal minecraft characters – like players, villagers, animals or monsters – but when a person clicks on a NPC a little text conversation begins. The player gets to see a number of multiple choice responses which he or she can click on or type the number of, and their responses direct the conversations. The plugins work through the server so there is nothing for the students to worry about loading onto their computers.
The NPCs can give players items, take items away from players and use the setblock command to trigger complicated redstone machines. I can use them to send the students on little quests and to reset boards for mini-games.
My current project is writing out conversations for elves that use a ternary number system (a number system using a base of 3 instead of 10). Each NPC will explain the ternary number system in a different way. Two of them will give students new crafting recipes (added to the server using a different plugin) that will allow the students to practice using the ternary number system. One of them will send the students to teleport to coordinates that will require them to practice converting numbers between different number systems. I enjoy figuring out each different character’s personality, trying to think what type of explanation or puzzle they will offer. I am trying to keep the flavor of minecraft within the NPCs conversations, having the characters reference to the minecraft world around them rather than simply be a math textbook interspersed in the game.
The elven NPCs are meant specifically to supplement a unit that I am just starting with my current minecraft class. Other characters exist because one student or another suggested that I create on a particular topic or in a particular building. Many exist because I had a random idea. I like the idea that the characters will stay there on my server. As the time goes by my server will be filled with more and more NPCs exploring math concepts.
In general I dislike multiple choice options. I do not believe multiple choice tests are accurate assessments of a student’s abilities. One thing that makes the NPCs different than a multiple choice test is that they respond. I can write into the dialogue a wrong answer and then an explanation about why that answer is wrong and how to go about finding the better answer. The conversation is still very limited, but it does not have to be as limited as just being told the answer is wrong.
The downside of the NPCs is not knowing how the students are using them. I have started to write into their programs a little line to give the students points when they correct answer a question or read to the end of a conversation. The students cannot see the point system, but I can check it every once in a while to get a sense of how used the NPCs are. Otherwise I am stuck trying to ask the students about their experience. Lucky for me the students have generally expressed excitement about new NPCs being added.
The NPCs are a fun tool to supplement the weekly class where my students and I log on at the same time with microphones, our online classroom and the server. They don’t replace the class time, but I am hoping it provides a fun supplement.
The plugin is not hard to learn to use. The biggest issue is making sure to use all the right punctuation and spacing since a single apostrophe will prevent a conversation from being able to load. I will be teaching the students of my next class how to write their own character conversations as part of a unit on graphs and networks.
My minecraft classes are offered through Cobblestone Academy.