28 augusti 2015

Math with MinecraftEDU

Yesterday a 18 yo student came to me and asked "are we going to play Minecraft the whole course? You see, I've grown tired of play Minecraft (and now play CSGO)" and of course this student had arrived an hour late so he had missed my lecture. 

My first reaction:
Play Minecraft?! Am I really that unclear or don't you listen at all? The Minecraft part of this course is to have a real code project to analyze, problemsolve, plan, make pseudocode, flowcharts, document, test (inside Minecraft and ComputerCraft), evaluate and report. If you're only playing Minecraft you're doing wrong! And the first step to do right is to start listen.

Second reaction:
Unfortunately it came one hour later, but really? Do you have the guts to go to your other teachers and say the same thing? Hey you teacher, I'm kind of tired of using paper and pencils, I don't want to do it anymore!!! Good luck with that...

If you had followed my lecture you would have known there's two ways of practice this task, to learn make documentations. Either Minecraft or Codecademy - your choise! 

Everyone else who had choosen Codecademy learn php (as it says in the task) but this student learn html/css instead. Nope, 18yo and can't read nor listen. But still, he's doing something.

Minecraft in general
To use Minecraft in the classroom really is a challenge and because of two things 
  • Youth of today move between games really fast and this autumn CSGO (from 2012) is a much more popular game.
  • Teachers have just taken the giant step, from paper and pencil to a game learning enviroment.
Therefor, as the enlighten teacher, you have to make the students understand to accept a boring (?) game and to encourage the teacher to continue try new pedagogy ways.

Math with MinecraftEDU
We, the upper secondary vocational institution where I work, has this fall started to participate in a university study, we have the control groups and Åbo Akademi University (Special Education/Faculty of Education and Welfare Studies) collect the data and will present it in a master's thesis. Because there are no, or very few, studies it will be exciting to see what this leads to.

The purpose of the study is to examine how a game (Minecraft) in education affect students' math skills, interests and anxiety.

As I'm the one teacher with experience of the Minecraft environment I also participate in the classroom. It's a bit of a challenge and slightly exhausting, at the same time as I coach the teacher in the game environment I'm also an extra teacher, for the students, in the classroom.

Take advantage of computer games interest

Today, Friday morning, I realized I have some problems to get the class focus on the task. I also had to ask myself, what is important? what do I want them to learn (especially in this course)?

For a business information technican (datanom) (vocational students), of course a programming skill as PHP or Lua is far more important than to know how to play a video game. But again, what's the purpose of this specific task?

I want them to understand the importance of why you must do a proper documentation and they also have to practice 
  • analyze problems
  • information retrieval
  • plan
  • documenting
  • test
  • evaluate
  • report

Therefor I used a twist
I took advantage of their gaming interests as they anyway where playing both CSGO and Hearthstone. When they realized I saw, they tried to quickly change windows on the screen. Instead, I surprised them: continue play but start make documentations of your gaming.

When play CSGO: 
you must play as a team and the team must be classmates. You must communicate, must put up with a strategy and you must make a report of it. You must evaluate every match and you must evaluate your own learning.

almost the same but either you have a random opponent or a classmate. It's easier to evaluate when you play against a classmate as you both have the same experience of the recent game. But again, You must evaluate every match and you must evaluate your own learning. Same as above.

it was long ago it was so quiet in the classroom and focused students. Once I also promised that we can do the same thing another time, another classroom, if they just take the task seriously they also tried to make the best of it. 

It will be interesting to read their reports afterwards.

26 augusti 2015


I have one student who helps me with one server I rent. When school started this fall he asked if we should upgrade the server to an higher and newer version but instead I gave him a challenge:

I want a survival PvP server with ComputerCraftEDU and players on the server should not have building rights.

A challenge he took seriously and spent a bit over a weekend to get the server up and running. He had to figure out what ComputerCraftEDU was and how to configure the server settings plus server versions. I believe he read the reddit-thread to figure out how it should work.

When every new player joins the server he/she will get a start kit (a turtle, a remote control, diamond pick-axe, a workbench, 5 apples, 5 torches and an instruction manual). It's working but now he (my admin) tries to figure out how to launch the economy (shops) and ComputerCraft itself as he experienced CCedu be a bit limited.

There's a couple of things we want our vocational students to learn, alpha and omega stuff;
  • analyze problems
  • information retrieval
  • plan
  • documenting
  • test
  • evaluate
  • report

With no build rights on a minecraft server, but you have turtles, you surely have to use those skills. 

My admin student have been playing Minecraft for the last four years and he admit he start getting bored of the concept, but he found himself spend hours on this server to figure out how to program the turtles. He acknowledged the work process: to be able to survive on our server you had to use those skills.

If I can confirm the student's skills in the game, in an environment where they are safe, I might have a greater chance of getting them to do the same in the classroom and another subject...!?

Well, you don't know if you don't try, so let us try!

Now, I happened to have an ongoing course where my students will learn to document a project and it's difficult to make them understand the task. They don't see the big picture in the same obvious way that someone with professional experience does.

So obviously I put them on the server so they would understand the whole picture, why every small steps to move forward are important in the process. Moreover, by using ComputerCraftEDU (drag-drop code), we could also simulate a programming project.

I don't know if it's a Finnish mentality that you have to vomit blood before taking a deeper reflection or whatever it is, but of course they did the opposite way of what I tried to explain. Instead of analyze, search at YouTube, plan or document they have jumped right into the game and forgot completely what I wanted them to do.

Tomorrow I have to have them to focus on the quest, the mission, instead of die in forty different ways as they try to program the turtles... And most annoying, there is some great ways to understand what ComputerCraft is, like this YouTube playlist by FunshineX

14 augusti 2015

Pseudocode and the new languages L++ and M++

This fall semester has just started. I kept my plan to use the "I Wonder..."-lesson as some kind of soft start and I've had one class two days struggle with pseudocode. It was harder than they thought. Much harder!

My plan was to have them blindly do a simple task and afterwards reveal the big secret: what they actually practiced and learned.

I understood 
during the first sub-task (the building phase) when they looked at me as question marks I have to make them understand what is going on. All has now built houses, either in Minecraft or my old architect-LEGO. 

This is something useful to know, understand and learn. Besides, if this construct code is too hard you might should have a second thought about your education. Pseudocode is still much easier to write than "real" code.

But I had to enlighten my students the purpose of the task so they could put their souls into the task. LEGO when you're adult? 17-21 years old? Are you nuts??

Their challenge?
Break something easy (but still a final product) into small steps of actions that someone who doesn't have any background knowledge both can understand as execute. Harder than it seems, that's for sure!

To make it even more difficult, another group of students (practical nurses) has also a course on disability. These practical nurses students, have  often difficults to put into that role not to understand everyday instructions. These students will debug the Business Information Technican students pseudocode (written instructions).

Coding is basically a step-by-step guide for computer to accomplish a task. Now the computer will be a human being, another student with some knowledge of Lego and most certain no knowledge of computers or videogames. Worst of all, it will most certain be a pretty girl... Our own version beauty and the geek haha!

Some of the example (pseudo)code which we've been doing together look like this:

M++ (Minecraft OOP)

L++ (Lego OOP)

What kind of learning takes place?
  • Pseudocode
  • Understanding of object-oriented programming
  • Documentation
  • ICT Helpdesk
As it gives so much learning I will continue with my other classes (all Datanom / Datanomi / Business Information Technican students) and do the same concept as I start to believe it's a useful exercise.

10 augusti 2015

I wonder...

Today I got the very exciting news with zero foresight. For some months I will be a replacement teacher for my colleague (a dad!) who will be on paternity leave. But unfortunately, foresight and planning could have been better. On Thursday, I will launch two courses on the topic "Implementation of a prototype for the software" where students will understand the point of planning and documenting projects. 

We will for example be using UML (the Unified Modeling Language), Gantt charts and Entity Relationship Models. Also flowcharts and pseudocode as it will help our students both in this course as when they start with object oriented programming.

...what if I have them start in a completely different end...!?
What if I make them build something with LEGO (or Minecraft), have them to documenting their creations with camera, hand in that first task. And what if I make them to write an instruction how to build their creation? And that instruction needs to be detail in absurdity.

A LEGO creation (rather than Minecraft) would be something easy to build but advanced enough to write an instruction to, targetting group someone who has never built LEGO (or played Minecraft) before. The build phase itself is something you repeat or loop, will they figure that out?

So my students, who are they? Well, vocational students between 16-19 years old, all gamers. I need to catch their interest in a very odd way I guess, this could be it. They will all be programmers so they need to start think OOP way and I believe one important skill for coding is to break a series of actions into small steps that someone who doesn't have any background knowledge (like a computer) can both understand and execute. 

Coding is basically a step-by-step guide for computer to accomplish a task and to write a LEGO instruction of their creation might be harder than you think. And we could ask other students at our school to perform the task strictly following the instructions and I'm pretty sure there will be lots of steps missed. 

...and only afterwards I reveal what they have practiced.
  • Pseudocode
  • Object oriented programming
  • Documentation

They will also have an own example what to later do a flowchart or UML of. 
Am I nuts? 

4 augusti 2015

Learning with WonderQuest

The other day AquaVera got an old decommissioned iPad from her uncle, the tool can not be upgraded from iOS 5 so it was useless for him. But since Vera belongs to the YouTube generation, it doesn't matter as long as a browser works. When I look in my YouTube history (where she use to watch from) there's a lot of crap that I even don't know how she finds (as she can't write), but still look at.

So with this "new" iPad I could make a shortcut to the YouTube in the browser (safari) so she always starts from Stampys new show "WonderQuest". Adam Clarke told me the exciting news he would be a part of it half a year ago, at a time when I was stupid enough to not understand his excitement! I had missed the Stampy phenomenon! Stupid, but at least I had repaired it now :)

Anyway, AquaVera as many of her friends, has already two languages to learn as we live in Finland: the majority language is Finnish and Swedish is the minority language. As her mum is Finnish and I'm Swedish, she already speaks two languages. But keep in mind: that's nothing unusual in Finland, even if the Finnish themselves don't always count it as a qualification.

Thanks to the TV-channel NickJr and Dora The Explorer she has already learned some English. When we moved to this new neighborhood there was a family where the father is from Scotland, the children are also two speakers: but Finnish and English instead.

Combine those facts: 
Dora the Explorer, WonderQuest and English speaken friends and you will only have one answer - she now talks three languages... She has learned a lot during this summer (not only swim, bike and so on).

This morning we talked about learning as she has been watching WonderQuest over and over. She had loads of questions, both of gaming and learning. Why a quest line? Why do you need a mission? Why challenges and puzzles?

Different ways of learning.

And we agreed, learning is - or can be - fun. 
And when it's fun it's most often multplayer.

Two weeks ago AquaVera played Disney Universe, a co-op pvp action video game, with her second cousin W. 

They practiced collaboration and later took this new skill try to steer and navigate our boat (they took turns), not bad for two 7 year old children.

Again, all you (as a parent or teacher) have to do is show interest (you don't have to master the subject) and tie all together, enlighten the learning, get them to reflect (talk, discuss, write, chatt).

Learning is not any longer one subject at a time (the analog way, teachers and school), it's multi-learning (the digital way, our children and pupils).

WonderQuest is a shining example of multi-Learning, even without having English as native language! Why? The enviroment is safe, they have been (and can go) there themselves and afterwards you can download the map and experience the last episode (press buttons, solve puzzles) and learn more. 

The show also follow the USA common core of grade 2 in the curriculum and according to Wizard Keen they aim to create an engaging story driven content multi-Learning enviroment (science, math, literature etc)

And the makers reach a bonus learning that are so obvious that they don't think about it: language
English for non-English speakers. 

And just as important: courage
"Dad, call Wizard Keen and see if he wants to play Minecraft with me, English won't be a problem!" 
(AquaVera 7yo)

Suggestion to the makers: 
Make exercise books inside Minecraft that you could get access to after downloading the map, could be keywords (vocabulary) from the current episode.

This way of teaching is definitely on the fourth stage of the SAMR model. Tech has made the impossible possible, you can walk inside the exercise book and experience the learning in a 3D way.

Best of all: 
As a remedial teacher (vocational institution) I can use the small "I WONDER" episodes myself when I try to explain the basic stuff for my weaker students. Most often they rather learn from YouTube instead of a book. One of the frequent missing knowledge is measurements, metre, decimetre and centimetre. I believe I will have good use of this episode the upcoming fall