Saturday, July 27, 2013

Touring This Land

A Minecraft server has been set up to house several educational groups that explore virtual worlds: SIGVE, Games MOOC, Inevitable Betrayal guild, and others. Today, a tour was offered of This Land, the section that belongs to the Inevitable Betrayal guild.

This section was created over the course of four days by two girls, ages ten and twelve. It includes a village and castle surrounded by a huge wall with towers at the corners. The village has a variety of stores, a park, a jousting area, and more. The castle has a throne room, banquet area, kitchen, and a hall of bedrooms. Adults on the tour were rightly impressed by the detail, scale, and design of the project.

The leader of our tour, Kae Novak, pointed out the numerous professional skills that the girls had used. They had been asked to create an outpost for Inevitable Betrayal and went above and beyond in the scope and quality of this outpost. They met a deadline. They did research on different styles of castles, choosing one they had seen but building it with different materials.

The girls reported that one of the biggest challenges was to come to agreements about how the outpost would look. Apparently there were many conflicts of opinion, but the final result shows that they were able to get past those. This kind of negotiation in a group project is a crucial skill for the world of work.

One of the questions that arose after the main tour was, how do we recognize children for the skills like negotiation that they are developing in these virtual worlds? So often the larger culture and educational institutions see games like Minecraft as mere entertainment. But clearly children are practicing and developing many important skills in these collaborative game environments.

My first thought was to develop badges that kids could apply for. We could outline some requirements for the Negotiator, Research, Problem-Solver, or Designer Badge. Our two Minecraft creators could document the project that they worked on and share examples of how they met those requirements. This could be done with text and screenshots or a screen recording or a live interview with an adult who could award the badge.

I do wonder if the idea of getting recognition or credit for their learning is more important to us as educators than it is to kids. I suspect that the kids mostly just want to play the game. But the badges could be used to prove to schools and society the value of what is happening in these virtual worlds. If that value is recognized, schools might give more time and resources to allow students to play these games.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Coaster Crafter

One online game I recommended to fifth grade science teachers last year for their force and motion unit was Coaster Crafter. It doesn’t require any downloads or installations, it’s free, and kids can sign up for an account without an email account.

Coaster Crafter Sign Up

The game has a Design Challenge section that asks kids to fix some poor roller coaster designs. In the process, Brunette introduces relevant science vocabulary: velocity, gravity, acceleration, friction, momentum, etc.

Coaster Crafter 2

Once Level 1 is completed in the Design Challenge, students can try the Coaster Challenge where they get to design their own coasters that meet certain requirements. Completing the Design Challenges also makes different design elements available in the Free Play section of the amusement park.

Coaster Crafter 1

As a teacher, I might introduce the site by having us complete the Level 1 of the Design Challenge as a class. Then I’d let the kids spend some time working/playing through the site either individually or in pairs. I can imagine some kids getting stuck and a classmate helping them out. Eventually, I might have them do a screencast that shows off their favorite coaster design with a voice recording that explains the design using force and motion vocabulary.

By the way, I discovered this game site through Common Sense Media, a web site that offers reviews of books, movies, video games, web sites, etc. for kids, parents, and teachers. It’s a great resource!

Common Sense Media

Sunday, July 14, 2013