Extra Credits, Season 7, Episode 06 - Competitive Storytelling
Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool? - Idea Channel
If you’ve watched past episodes of Idea Channel, you know we’re huge fans of Minecraft. This totally amazing video game allows you to build your own world from scratch, what’s not to like?!?! But it may be good for more than just fun and games. Some experts have brought Minecraft into the classroom, allowing teachers to customize lessons and students to engage with concepts in new ways. And while educational games aren’t new, Minecraft has some unique advantages that could usher in a new direction in education. In the future, students across the world may spend their class time punching trees.
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And yes, time for another transcript…
Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool? [transcript]
Here’s an idea: Minecraft is the ultimate educational tool.
You guys remember Minecraft! We made this other video about it that one time where we talk about how it is basically gonna safe us all. But in case you need a refresher: Minecraft is a computer game that can best be described as first person Lego's, with a dash of husbandry, a heaping helping of architecture and a pinch of Slay the Dragon. In ‘survival mode' you have to gather resources and materials and fight the bad guys - some of whom are very sneaky [makes a hissing sound]. In 'creative mode' you get to - ready for Nicolas Cage - go nuts. The pixelous [sic] sky is the limit: you can build whatever you want and then start a multiplayer game and invite all your friends, you can import and export 3D-models to make structures, even share your creations with your co-workers and palls… or your students towards the end of teaching them the finer bits of computer science, art history, engineering, civics, math, world history and maybe most things. [shouts: “say what?!”]
Now before we get to talking about Minecraft specifically, lets talk about computer and video games in general as educational tools. There is a long history of using pixels to teach kids about stuff. For about as long as there have been affordable computers there have been educational games to put on them. LOGO taught you how to program that turtle and Lemonade Stand taught you how to build your lemonade empire. Oregon Trail taught you: always ford the river. [whispers: “never ford the river”] Mavis Beacon , Reader Rabbit , Big Brain Academy… the list goes on.
They’re all great games, but they all share a common problematic shortcoming. What is you don’t want to teach typing or reading? Sure, you can use Virtual U to teach management or Zapitalism to teach economics or Roller Coaster Tycoon to teach roller coastering. But these games can’t be specialized or made immersive. They lack even the basic technology for fluidity or improvisation. Two things which are paramount in teaching. What if you want the game to be different every year? Or every class? Or collaborative? Or portable? Or what if you’re a grade school teacher and you teach ten subjects, each of many units and ideas to cover. If only there were a way to build a fully customizable network environment that was both fun and inexpensive?
Aside from being an exceptionally effective way to avoid doing you homework, as it turns out Minecraft is also an exceptionally effective teaching tool. [Remarks: “Sorry if I just totally ruined Minecraft for you.”] Pobability: build a Random Animal Dropper. Physics: measure the time it takes a block to fall and then talk about gravity. You can build Minecraft versions of famous bits of architecture or sets for Shakespearean plays. You can place works of art inside of a Minecraft gallery or use Minecraft's mathematically ideal blocks to talk about volume and area. Teach a foreign language with in-game signs or tell kids they can only communicate with each other on a collaborative task in - I don't know - Latvian. The possibilities of what you can get into and out of the game - which you thought was just for punching trees - are endless.
And kids respond because it’s a creative, collaborative, entertaining environment where they are in control of their own challenges - which can be… many. There’s something like a thousand Minecraft mods for all kinds of things. Like Computercraft is a mod which lets people write Lua programs inside Minecraft. There is even - are you ready? - an official Mojang licensed version of Minecraft for education called Minecraft Edu. Spearheaded by Joel Levin, a Minecraft teacher, Minecraft Edu is to Minecraft what the teacher edition is to your history textbook, except cooler. With 20 installs over a 1000 schools across 6 continents the number of students currently learning with Minecraft Edu alone is at least 20 000.
Now, am I saying that we’re gonna see Minecraft or even video games in general in every classroom? Probably unlikely. Setting up this kind of thing requires a certain investment in technology, time on the part of the teachers and a certain technical proficiency which… I mean we all know the chance a piece of technology will fail is directly proportional to the number of people watching it in operation. But should we hope to, eventually? I say: absolutely. Studies have confidently stated things like: data analysis shows that classes using the game had significantly higher means than class not using the game. Source in the description [source]. And the number of teachers documenting their overwhelmingly positive experiences using Minecraft in the classroom is huge. Another source in the description [source].
So the question might not be whether or not we use games in schools, but rather how far do we go? Game-designer and advocate Jane McGonigal thinks that we should go all the way. In her book Reality is Broken, she describes a school which does not use game, but is a game. She writes: “(…) every course, very activity, every assignment, every moment of instruction and assessment would be designed by borrowing key mechanics and participation strategies form the most engaging multiplayer games" [source]. Admittedly, we’re probably pretty far from that point, but as video games continue their search for legitimacy as forms of entertainment, art works, containers for narrative and now educational tools … Minecraft's use in the classroom is a pretty important step. A hugely popular game for entertainment used by a small but growing number of teachers to show that game based learning is in fact worth its weight in obsidian. And who knows, maybe someday there will be a Minecraft University.
What do you guys think: are video games the future of learning? Let us know in the comments and you should mine this block to subscribe. Go ahead, mine it up! Get your mine up!
OutThink Inc. points out that 100% of game apps in the Apple App Store are for preschoolers and 10% of that number also include early elementary school students.
The company is working to create a series of apps for middle school children that focus on science. The apps are tested with kids and parents to make sure they’re informative and fun. So far, there are three series of app in what the company hopes is a continuing project: Violent Earth, an app series which teaches children about weather and the earth; Bionic Builders, a series that delves into the world of robotics; and EarthWorks, which teaches children about biology.
Super Scratch Programming Adventure
Scratch is the wildly popular educational programming language used by millions of first-time learners in classrooms, libraries, and homes worldwide. By dragging together colorful blocks of code, kids quickly learn computer programming concepts and make cool games and animations.
In Super Scratch Programming Adventure!, kids learn programming fundamentals as they make their very own playable video games. They’ll create projects inspired by classic arcade games that can be programmed (and played!) in an afternoon. The book’s patient, step-by-step explanations of the code and fun programming challenges will have kids creating their own games in no time.
This full-color comic book makes programming concepts like variables, flow control, and subroutines effortless to absorb. Packed with ideas for games that kids will be proud to show off, Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is the perfect first step for the budding programmer.
This video shows how it works…
Here are some of the results…
Here’s a video tutorial on game programming on a different level…
Typical Simpsons’ style irony…
Can Dungeons & Dragons Make You a Confident & Successful Person?
There are some deeply ingrained stereotypes about Dungeons & Dragons, and those stereotypes usually begin and end with people shouting “NERD!!!” But the reality of the D&D universe is a whole lot more complex. Rather than being an escape from reality, D&D is actually a way to enhance some important real life skillz! It’s a chance to learn problem solving, visualization, interaction, organization, people management… the list could go on and on. Plus, there are some very famous non-nerds who have declared an affinity for D&D, so best stop criticizing and join in if you want to be a successful at the game of life.
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Gee on the relationship between books and games…
This is by no means a text of my own. This is, as it is so often on this blog, material I have collected elsewhere. Full credit goes to James Paul Gee.
(…) lots of people who understand games, don’t understand books and lots of people who understand books, don’t understand games. There are 10 key truths we know about books. They happen to be equally true of other “meaning making technologies" like television and video games. Thus, in these 10 ways, books and video games are the same. They are both tools suited for certain jobs and best used in certain ways. So here are the 10 truths (for citations to the literature, see my book Situated Language and Learning, Routledge, 2004):
1. Books are a powerful technology. They can lead to aggression and violence (witness the Bible, the Koran, and the Turner Diaries in the wrong hands). Nazi Germany was a highly literate society. Games, so far, do not have this much power, but some day they may.
2. Books can lead to peace, tolerance, and charity if (and only if) they are read in a society and in families devoted to peace, tolerance, and charity.
3. For good learning, books require talk and social interaction with others around interpretation and implications.
4. Books can make you stupid by not questioning what they say.
5. Books can make you smart by supplying vicarious experience, new ideas, and something to debate and think about.
6. Books are often best used as tools for problem solving, not just in and for themselves.
7. To get the most out of them, books require the reader to read like a “writer” (a type of designer).
8. Just giving people books does not make them smarter; it all depends on what they do with them and who they do it with. For young people, it depends, too, on how much and how well they get mentored. Mentoring is, in fact, crucial.
9. Connecting books to the real world and to other media is good for learning, not doing so is bad for learning.
10. Books tend to make the “rich” richer and the poor “poorer” (those who read more in the right way get to be better and better readers and get more and more out of reading; those who don’t, get to be poorer and poorer readers and get less and less out of reading. The former get more successful, the latter, less). This is called “the Matthew Principle.”
However, games do have some special properties that set them aside from books (and books have special properties that set them aside from games). Some of these are:
1. Games are based not on content, but on problems to solve. The content of a game (what it is “about”) exists to serve problem solving.
2. Games can lead to more than thinking like a designer; they can lead to designing, since players can “mod” many games, i.e., use software that comes with the game to modify it or redesign it.
3. Gamers co-author the games they play by the choices they make and how they choose to solve problems, since what they do can affect the course and sometimes the outcome of the game.
4. Games are most often played socially and involve collaboration and competition.
James Paul Gee speaks (for the first time) on the importance of affinity spaces for creating long-lasting games at the 9th Games For Change Festival.
“Real masters look for the challenge that will undo their mastery”.
In addition: “Beyond Mindless Progressivism” by James Paul Gee (2011-03-09)
It surprises me how often educators who know better lapse back into “mindless progressivism”, a theory that children learn best by participation and immersion in interest-driven activities. People can participate in an interest-driven group and still gain few of the higher-value skills that participation in the group leads others to attain. That is why an emphasis on production is important. Learning to produce the knowledge or outcomes an interest-driven group is devoted to leads to higher-order and meta-level thinking skills. (…)
Rather than mindless progressivism, I advocate what I will call “post-progressive pedagogy” and a particular variety of it I call “situated learning”. This requires well designed learning environments. They key features of such environments are:
1. Multiple routes to full and central participation for all members of a group, a group organized around an interest and a passion to which the interest might lead.
2. Multiple routes to everyone learning to produce the knowledge, dispositions, skills, and tools necessary to sustain, extend, and transform the interest and the passion.
3. Interest kindles motivation and the desire to explore. The interest must then be channelled into a passion so that learners persist towards mastery via a great many hours of practice. Otherwise learners need to find another interest that will lead to a passion.
4. Learning is well designed so that learners are immersed in well-structured, well designed, well mentored, and well ordered problem solving inside experiences where goals are clear and action of some sort must be taken.
5. Feedback is copious. Lots of data on multiple variables across time is collected and used to resource learners, assess their growth and development over time, and assess, compare, and contrast (for both learners and stakeholders) different possible trajectories to mastery, including ones that lead to innovation and creativity.
6. Learning and assessment are so tightly integrated that finishing a level of learning is a guarantee of mastery at the level, a guarantee that learners can solve problems and not just retain facts (but use facts as tools for problem solving), and a guarantee that learners are well prepared for future learning.
7. All learners must master one or more specialities at a deep level, be able to teach that speciality to others, and be able to learn new things when needed from others.
8. All learners must be able to pool their speciality with other people’s different specialities and integrate their speciality with other people’s specialities by seeing the “big picture” so as to be able to solve problems that no one speciality can solve.
9. All learners are well mentored by “teachers” and peers at various levels, as well as by the presence of smart tools and well-designed problem solving environments (both real and virtual). All learners must learn to mentor.
10. “Teachers” are designers of learning environments that meet all the above conditions and they resource people’s learning in an adaptive and contextually responsive way.
11. Direct instruction and texts are offered “just in time” (when learners can put them to use and see what they really mean) or “on demand” (when learners feel a need for large amounts of instruction or text in their trajectory of problem solving).
12. Failure is used as a learning device, so the price of failure is, at least initially, kept low so all learners are encouraged to explore, take risks, and try different learning styles.
13. Learners are shown through modeling and made well aware of adult or professional norms for the skills and dispositions they are developing and held to high standards based on these norms in ways that make clear every learner can reach those norms should they choose to put in the time and effort.
14. Learners come to see and be able to use the relationships and connections among different types of skills and knowledge, often “stored” in different people, as well as to understand the larger social, environmental, and cultural implications of any proposed solution to a problem.
15. Learners can integrate and see the connections among science, mathematics, social science, the humanities, ethics, and civic participation. In today’s world this often means seeing how the same social and digital tools can be used for different types of discovery and interventions in the world across the arts, sciences, and humanities.
16. Learners are well prepared to learn new things, make good choices, and be able to create good learning environments for themselves and others across a lifetime of learning.
17. All learners are well prepared to be active, thoughtful, engaged members of the public sphere (this is the ultimate purpose of “public” education), which means an allegiance to argument and evidence over ideology and force and the ability to take and engage with multiple perspectives based on people’s diverse life experiences defined not just in terms of race, class, and gender, but also in terms of the myriad of differences that constitutes the uniqueness of each person and the multitude of different social and cultural allegiances all of us have.
» This last bullet point is interesting: it stresses the importance of understanding how people argument and where their arguments come from (ie. contextualizing conversations).
Find the Future: The Game is a pioneering, interactive experience created especially for NYPL’s Centennial by famed game designer Jane McGonigal, with Natron Baxter and Playmatics.
Through a once-in-a-lifetime, overnight adventure played inside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, and an ongoing online game, Find the Future: The Game combines real-world missions with virtual clues and online collaboration — all inspired by 100 works from the amazing collections of The New York Public Library.
“The game is designed to empower young people to find their own futures by bringing them face-to-face with the writings and objects of people who made an extraordinary difference,” says McGonigal.
Find the Future: The Game kicked off on May 20, 2011 as part of NYPL’s Centennial Festival weekend, with a “Write All Night” event inside the landmark building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
Players (18 and older) explored the building’s 70 miles of stacks, and, using laptops and smartphones, following clues to such treasures as the Library’s copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand. After finding each object, each of the 500 players wrote short personal essays inspired by their quest — for example, how would they write the Declaration? Winning the game meant writing a collaborative book based on these personal stories about the future, and this volume will be added to the Library’s collections.
Find the Future: The Game can be played by anyone across the city and the world using your smartphones or computers, or on free computers at any of NYPL’s 90 locations. Start playing now!