education,  games,  homeschooling,  mathematics

my experience and plans teaching with Minecraft

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My kids and I are eagerly working on our minecraft server these days. We build scenes and then add non-player-characters (NPCs) the scripts of which we write using a plugin called Betonquest.a dwarven kingdom in minecraft

The boys built a fairy kingdom full of mushroom houses. With their help, I wrote up conversations for the fairies based on Shakespeare’s fairies in A Mid Summer’s Night Dream. We added a nine men’s morris board built of a grass path, like the “the quaint mazes in the wanton green” that the Shakespeare’s Titania had said was “for lack of tread are undistinguishable.” For each snippet of Shakespeare I had the characters quote, I added the option for the players to ask the quote’s meaning and wrote a plain-English explanation.

With the fairy kingdom finished (for now at least) the kids start building a Dragon world. “Add Smaug,” one child, “and put him near a volcano. He can have the ring of power.” I’ll need to think more about how to add another Lord of the Ring’s reference, but I know Lord of the Ring creatures were popular with my last math class.

I share my minecraft server not just with my own children, but with students of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Online. Students from my earlier math classes are invited to continue to use the server, and some will help me prepare the map for the next group of students. I want to build up a community there.

I’ve taught minecraft math classes for two years now. I try to divide the weekly class time evenly between time using the white board in our virtual classroom and actually interacting on the server. Homework can include following building instructions, talking with specific NPCs, and yes, some worksheets. For the start of the class I need my basic NPCs set up in an introductory village. A wool merchant explains his way of representing numbers through different colored blocks of wool. The alchemist talks of decomposing numbers. The mountain hermit provides strategies for multiplication. Better than the NPCs though, are the building projects. At some point during the class students will be:

  1. cloning and teleporting (using negative numbers)
  2. using the fill command (multiplying three numbers)
  3. making “flying machines” out of command blocks (a way of practicing using coordinates)
  4. making redstone combination locks (with which we will review finding the factors of numbers numbers)

This next year I will add a minecraft writing class. In the minecraft writing class we will not just be writing about minecraft, but also exploring the options for writing in minecraft. The NPCs allow us to make little role-playing-games, like the computer games I remember from my childhood, where a player has to wander about picking up objects and exchanging them to solve other character’s quests. There is no actual programming involved, but script writing is a good step towards programming. I’ll be asking my students to create a minecraft setting, develop a plot and several subplots and make the whole story into something their classmates can play. We’ll write up backstories in minecraft books, stored in the bookcases around the server. We’ll discuss adding foreshadowing and character development. We’ll look at examples of different literary techniques used in children’s books.

shakespeareI have a big Earth map on my server as well. My plan is to use the map as an addition to the history class I’ll be teaching. My history class, titled “Pirates, Politics and Poets,” will have only a very small tangential minecraft part. It could be a complete class without the minecraft at all, and the minecraft will be used only outside of class-time. But, we for those who do like minecraft we will use minecraft in three ways:

  1. Monthly building times to work together on building a historic setting.
  2. NPCs placed in the historic setting will discuss the time period.
  3. The Earth map will be a way of practicing geography.

I have had so much fun teaching the minecraft classes. I like working with the students. I like noting the students different building styles. I try to spend as much time as I can on the server, able to interact with the students or working with my own kids on things.

If there is interest enough, I think I’d like to do a Minecraft Shakespeare course in the spring. Students would be encouraged to memorize bits of Shakespeare. We would discuss the plots of different plays and write out minecraft character scripts, like I was doing today, based on his plays. I’ve always loved Shakespeare. It might seem weird combinging something that is so visual – minecraft – with the challenging vocabulary of Shakespeare. What I think would make it work is the interactivity.

Minecraft is so flexible, but it also has its own mythology. So in writing about Robin Goodfellow with my children today, we ended up talking not just about the pranks that Robin Goodfellow lists in his stories, but about what pranks Robin would play within the minecraft world. Is it Robin (Puck) who makes the dropped items despawn, and leaves the doors open for zombies to get in?


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