Colin's Sandbox

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to Minecraft.

by on Mar.18, 2013, under #diffimooc

Instinctively my left and right fingers find the little nubbins on the “F” and “J” keys when I sit down at a computer.  After this past week however, without thinking, my left hand has slid all by itself one position over to cover the “A”, “S”, and “D” keys.

For that is where your hand has to be to run around in Minecraft.

I’m totally hooked.  I really haven’t gamed much since I was an undergrad, about 15 years ago now.  Now I have to pull myself away from playing more than 30m-1hr a day, sometimes more.  The graphics aren’t amazing, and to look at it next to me you may wonder, what is so compelling about hacking away at rocks and trees and placing blocks?  Well if you ever sat around in your basement seemingly for hours shoveling through a box of Legos looking for that-one-piece and *finally* coming up with it, I think you may have the gene.

A couple of weeks ago the group I’m in for the Diffimooc started batting about the idea of using MinecraftEdu for the purpose of creating a virtual world for students to perform tasks in, reinforcing concepts in math.  I figured if I was going to take part in a unit where I’m helping to design instruction involving the game I better learn how to actual play it.  Fast forward a couple weeks and witness me sitting around playing Minecraft with my son in my lap begging for my attention.  Time to close the laptop lid, Colin, you’ve got an assignment to do.

So back to the groupwork I go.

These past couple of weeks I focused on differentiating instruction using Minecraft (and of course, MinecraftEdu).  Our group had its first couple of sessions using MinecraftEdu in the classroom, starting students on the tutorial level to make sure they have a baseline of skills necessary to navigate the environment.  An interesting aspect of the tutorial level is the inclusion of a couple of areas where students can choose an area to wokr on a task, working individually or in groups.

MinecraftEdu tutorial level shape building exercise

Each numbered area contains the same task (replicating shapes), and could be used by a different group of students.

Another important concept in MinecraftEdu is that of “stations”, which correspond to different places in the map.  The MinecraftEdu teacher role has the power to transport either individual or all students en masse around the map at any time.  In addition, the teacher can teleport themselves to wherever any of the students are at any time.  Combine these concepts together and you get a few possible scenarios to allow for differentiation and collaboration. Areas on a map could be created where students either work individually or in groups and which are only accessible via teleportation by the teacher.  When the students complete the task, the teacher can teleport there and check off their work.  If satisfactory, the teacher can then move the students on to the next station. Since worlds can be easily copied / saved in MinecraftEdu the teacher can save off the world that one class worked on to examine later and reload an unchanged copy of that world again for the next class.

One of the lessons that Nathan was interested in doing in his class was dealing with proportional logic, generating structures that are scale replicas of example shapes.  Think of the 3-4-5 right triangle, scaling that out, counting the blocks to measure area, etc.

As mentioned in a previous post, another area I’ve been wanting to explore in Minecraft is that of creating maps using actual Earth geography to make lessons more relevant.  A tutorial exists that briefly shoves you into this process.  I first learned of this workflow during an ASTE session given by Dan LaSota and Owen Guthrie – in their demonstration they recreated the beach of Normandy to simulate the D-Day invasion.  Lately I’ve been into walking on the Treadwell mine system trail on Douglas Island, so I thought it would be neat as an example to start in on that.  In pictures, the process works something like this:

Using Google Earth with a special plugin to find which satellite data set corresponds to your area of interest.

Using Google Earth with a special plugin to find which satellite data set corresponds to your area of interest.


Generate the height map using MicroDEM.  Lighter areas correspond to higher elevation.

Generate the height map using MicroDEM. Lighter areas correspond to higher elevation.

Initial generation of Minecraft world from the height map.

Initial generation of Minecraft world from the height map.

Flying around the generated world.  Note the exaggerated elevation.

Flying around the generated world. Note the exaggerated elevation.

I have only started dabbling in the world creation; a few things remain, such as figuring out the elevation scaling (it seems very exaggerated), and working on the actual biome to have realistic trees and such.  Since I’ve been walking on the Treadwell trail on Douglas quite a few times over the past year, the thing that comes to mind as a history lesson would be having students work on recreating some of the original Treadwell mine complex and fleshing out information for each portion of the site.

I think this really hits on the NETS-T 1a (Promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness) and 1d (Model collaborative knowledge construction by engaging in learning with students, colleagues,and others in face-to-face and virtual environments).  If teachers and students worked on publishing their output using screenshots, videos, or even open Minecraft servers where people could login and walk around in their created world, I think this would hit various aspects of the second NETS-S standard, where “Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.”

3 Comments for this entry

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    Hello Amanda, hope your weekend is going well, I’ll bet it goes without saying that you had a good night. Look forward to seeing you soon. One more thing on Monday nights show you answered my query regarding Tiff, can you please again assure me and others that and i’m assuming here that your former flatmate will be returning to BS soon, your big sis mentioned something last night but I missed most of what she had to say.Keep yourself and Jemma safeMatty xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Nathan Adams

    Hi Colin,

    Boy, this opens up a world of possibilities for getting students to interact with their own landscape in a digital media/game, kind of like a SIM. Extensions can include investigations into traditional ecological knowledge and cultural standards and investigations. With regard to the vertical exaggeration, I think linking this or getting your base maps from a GIS application such as arcGIS would help. It would also allow you to do a lot of things to the base map prior to importing into minercraft for the digital play. I don’t have his email (nor would I post it here) but I suggest contacting or showing this to Richard Carsten at Discovery Southeast. I can get his email for you if you’d like. Other good people to connect with could be Kathleen Galau, a science and GIS educator at Thunder Mountain High School, and Ray Imel as a middle school technology educator. All of these people are local Juneau folks.

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