Colin's Sandbox


Getting Teachers Started with Minecraft

by on Mar.28, 2013, under #diffimooc

I’ve spent the past few weeks working with members of my #diffimooc group to help them incorporate Minecraft in an educational setting. I’ve found the process to be pretty involved and quite challenging to think outside of my mode of thinking. I’ve learned quite a bit along the way and wanted to share some thoughts on that and how I would approach this process differently next time.

In rough order of dependence, I believe this to be what I need to work on:

#1 Start effective documentation early
As an EdTech major, my emphasis is in the NETS-C standards; that is, helping to coach teachers in the use of technology in their classroom. That means that they’re likely very busy and it’s necessary to get information down in a central spot as soon as possible. Not all participants will be following along at the same pace, or at the same time, or at the same level of experience. If information is buried in email then it’s likely to get missed, or at least really difficult to find later (especially if the thread has been hijacked). Keep referring people back to the central documentation whenever possible. Discuss in email / IM / Google Hangout / Skype, whichever, then record the salient points in the documentation.

I was using Diigo somewhat regularly to record resources that I was exploring in the group, but this didn’t allow for a strong sense of order. A pearltree allows for that ordering although it’s important to keep on the organizing end or else the pearltree gets out of hand quickly. I found the best time to do organizing of the Pearltree was while I was writing up documentation as an iterative process.

As far as different avenues for documentation, I have a preference for using stills annotated in Skitch as a really quick way to add visual information to text without having to spend a whole lot of time. I use video sparingly since it takes quite a bit of time to edit, publish, double checking to make sure it’s playing reasonably, etc. When I did make videos, I found that ScreenFlow worked great. It costs money but was very easy to use.

#2 Give meaningful encouragement along the way
Implementing EdTech *stuff* is outside the comfort realm for a lot of teachers, and that’s OK – if you weren’t being challenged it wouldn’t be very fulfilling in the end. Give meaningful encouragement early and often to keep them hooked. Build small tasks for people as soon as possible so that they can test out what you’re working on and give good feedback. This can be hard to do if you’re in the process of learning it yourself. Kick off the module with a periodic synchronous component to it, find out where everyone is at. Make it easy for people to document their progress. See #1.

#3 Spend time figuring out the organization’s goals, as well as individuals’ strengths
I’m realizing more and more my own limits with self-determined groups, which may explain why for my entire working career I have eschewed any sort of management role; choosing instead to dive more into the comforting technical nitty gritty. And dive in I do, it oftentimes becomes an obsession. My usual modus operandi is to uncover some neat-o cool stuff to solve something in my daily work, and through some whim of Brownian motion I eventually bump into other people with compatible skill sets and goals, and somehow magically the boundaries for the group emerges. Put in the oven preheated to 350deg F, and 30 minutes later out pops your finished product. But people by and large don’t work this way. What I’m trying to allude to here is that I seem to gravitate towards “the tools” and I work best if others feel comfortable providing direction, a purpose, and thus a way of measuring progress. I need to work on my “distributed organization”-fu with people from a wide range of skills, time, expectations, etc., and I think if I take care of #1 and #2 in this list, #3 becomes a lot easier.

#4 Find ways to make it relevant
I didn’t feel much of a buzz among people, especially those outside the group, until I created a map of Douglas Island for Minecraft. As soon as I showed that to folks the ideas began to come forward quick, such as “Build the second crossing!”, “Mine Treadwell!”, “Create the Salmon Creek Dam / Reservoir!”, etc. Again, this was difficult for me to do in advance, as I was learning about the Google Earth to Minecraft workflow along the way. I think if points #1, #2, and #3 are adhered to however, hopefully you can get a feel for what will work for #4. Even if its some feature or aspect of the integration you’re working on you could create a stub in the documentation for what it may look like to the user in the future, and spur new ideas.

#5 Use synchronous avenues of communication regularly
If a person doesn’t know what question they should be asking, synchronous forms of communication including Google Hangout, instant messaging, even phone calls, etc. are a great way to create an informal atmosphere to explain what you’re working on and to get a feel for where they’re at / what may be hanging them up. I used both instant messaging and Google Hangouts a lot with the members of my group but didn’t do a great job of taking what was discussed and documenting it in that central spot.

For my participation in the class I’m following the NETS-C standards emphasizing my role in helping others incorporate this into their classroom (still ongoing). I think by keeping the guidelines I learned above in the fore I would be meeting the following NETS-C standards:

  • 2a. Coach teachers in and model design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning experiences addressing content standards and student technology standards
  • 2c. Coach teachers in and model engagement of students in local and global interdisciplinary units in which technology helps students assume professional roles, research real-world problems, collaborate with others, and produce products that are meaningful and useful to a wide audience
  • 2d. Coach teachers in and model design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning experiences emphasizing creativity, higher-order thinking skills and processes, and mental habits of mind (e.g., critical thinking, meta-cognition, and selfregulation)
  • 2e. Coach teachers in and model design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning experiences using differentiation, including adjusting content, process, product, and learning environment based upon student readiness levels, learning styles, interests, and personal goals
  • 2g. Coach teachers in and model effective use of technology tools and resources to continuously assess student learning and technology literacy by applying a rich variety of formative and summative assessments aligned with content and student technology standards
Leave a Comment more...

Distributed Concept Mapping with Pearltrees

by on Mar.27, 2013, under #diffimooc

A couple mal-aligned stars prevented me until this afternoon from really giving this week’s material much more than a cursory glance. I spent the early portion of this week with my wife (a teacher on spring break) and family, and then in a frenzied flurry of activity this past weekend fulfilling requirements for the Digital Storytelling class. Also, as a quirk of my personality, when I see a lesson is devoted entirely to using a particular tool (in this case, Pearltrees) rather than an overarching purpose / concept for which to use said tool, I tend to give it short shrift.

But I’m actually finding myself liking Pearltrees and wishing I had gotten into the material earlier this week. Here’s some of what I believe is driving that motivation for me:

  • The feeling of being behind in my work
  • Working with Anne in realtime over IM and seeing changes happening to our Pearltree for MinecraftEdu. I’ll touch on this more below, because I think it’s central to how I think it could work in differntiation.
  • Easy to use interface makes it easy to arrange resources in a logical hierarchy
  • Easy enough to manage social features, such as requesting permission to join a “team”. Since without being a paid subscriber your work is totally public, there is no expectation of privacy in any way, which is fine for our purposes.
  • Browser integration via the little “Pearler” plugin
  • Media integration (showing YouTube clips and text inline

About the only thing that I could come up with that I didn’t like was the Adobe Flash interface. It brings back my old question concerning Flash – isn’t there *something* out there that could reasonably handle interactive content with realtime updating that isn’t Flash? Before I get called a hater, here’s why Flash doesn’t sit well with me: 1) it’s not supported on mobile devices (yes I know there’s an iPad version of Pearltrees), and 2) Flash grabs your keys, discouraging me from some of my normal keyboard shortcuts like Cmd-~ to navigate between open windows of my Chrome application. I know that seems petty but I rely heavily on keyboard shortcuts, and things that get in the way of this annoy me. Oh and 3) It’s Flash. Well look at that; I guess I am somewhat of a hater after all. I’ll try to keep it in check to look at the greater good.

All that aside I think the concept is great: I think of it as Mindmeister + Diigo.

As I mentioned before, what comes to mind when using Pearltrees would be to differentiate instruction by first working with a group to build a rough skeleton of a concept / mind map, and then group up the students in some fashion to flesh out the different strands of the concept map. Since students can see, in realtime, what is getting worked on they have a sense of the class pace, what is lacking, and what has already been done, I would postulate that the wheel would not be reinvented as often by multiple people within the same class.

Not that they’re inherently connected, but I hope Pearltrees is able to be around for a bit longer than Google Reader. I particularly liked seeing this exchange today as I was starting in on my exploration:

Followed up a couple hours later with a response:

Kudos to Pearltrees for seeking out feedback in realtime, using Twitter, from folks that use their products. I sensed my opening to microvent:

Which makes me at least feel that someone will see it, and thus makes me feel better. Following this rush of good will to its hypothetical logical conclusion then, tomorrow perhaps I’ll smile in passing at a stranger in the street, who will then decide in a confident manner that it was high time that they take themselves out for coffee. Often one act of self-directed kindness will lead to more outward expressions of good will, and they would then drop a little bit extra in the Karma Kup, say, $0.99. Let’s suppose then that the barista would see this little tiny extra morsel as justification for the purchase of a song off of iTunes for their drive home. During this drive home, {she,he} having been fulfilled in their need for good music, they may actually drive safer, thus potentially saving others’ lives.

Thank you for making the world a better place, Pearltrees.

Leave a Comment more...

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.”

5 Comments more...

Differentiation through Augmented Reality

by on Mar.05, 2013, under #diffimooc

In my last entry I discussed the Augmented Reality galleries on display at ASTE 2013 and how they incorporated audio, video, and textual information to provide a starting point of sorts to other information. After the first two entries that I did however I found myself just reopening the links in Safari for later reading and just gathering links to all the resources and opening up the quizes for later submission. I’m almost sad to admit that I performed in that manner for almost 15 minutes before I sat down and pulled myself out of it.

I spent the past couple of days hiking with my sister who is visiting from out of town. I’ve been here in Juneau for roughly 8-9 years now so I have some very basic knowledge of the animals and plants around here (but nearly as much as some people) and I was wondering on how best to present this to a group of students.  What about crowd-sourced virtual geocaching, with audio, video, or textual content?  I would anticipate that many would simply lurk and learn from the existing submissions until hopefully they feel confident enough to publish points of interest on their own.

If you’re thinking: just the right number of buzzwords to encourage wide adoption, I think so too.

Coming back to that idea, where people involved in the project can submit points of interest for publication, think examples and surveys of certain kinds of trees, videos of squirrels or grouse, etc.  I think the technology is either there (with Feedgeorge Augmented Reality Plugin + WordPress  + Layar) or else I think it’s really close depending on how much of a hurdle it is to get students comfortable with the workflow.  Bandwidth is likely to be a sticking point; if anything requires an online component (and not simply post field trip submission) I fear it won’t be workable in many rural areas.

I thought how nifty would it be if it were possible to download Augmented Reality layers to students’ mobile devices before they head out on a field trip with limited cell reception and bandwidth.  I’m not the only one, but so far it doesn’t appear possible with Layar, Aurasma appears to cache data for offline use but I don’t know that if it is possible to assure the client that the entire subscription before heading out in the field.  So it may be a [short?] period of time yet before we could see it fully implemented or cell coverage becomes more widespread.  I would love to see a full offline solution but in a way that defeats the point in some ways of having things crowd-sourced.

This week I spent some time outlining some instructions for my group members on how to install a simple MinecraftEdu server and clients in their classroom.  We are discussing how we’re going to go about really implementing this on the ground; in Nathan’s school many of the computers are running with PPC processors so they don’t meet the minimum specs of Minecraft.  We’re planning on doing another Google Hangout on Wednesday and I hope that people like where this is going and have some cool ideas that this could be use to demonstrate real world concepts.  I would love to check out the Google Earth to MinecraftEdu world mapping to really bring the place-based piece into play.

I’m sorry: again with the buzzwords.  I’m trying to stop, honest.

6 Comments more...

Differentiating the Process at ASTE 2013

by on Feb.27, 2013, under #diffimooc, Digital Storytelling

ASTE 2013
I _just_ finished up with the ASTE conference and although I gained a lot from this, I’m a bit fried. I focused mainly on tools, products, and methodologies that deal with Augmented Reality, gamification of education, Minecraft (and it’s custom offshoot, MinecraftEdu), and sharing stories with all stripes of educators. It was the latter that I think had the most lasting impact: conversations lend value to those feebly formed ideas running around upstairs and suggest future project ideas.

Although throughout my experiences at ASTE the concept of “differentiation of process” could be demonstrated I’ll limit myself mainly to a few items that really hit home with me. Although I’m very excited about using potentially using MinecraftEdu as a portion of our group’s simulation project, I won’t get into MinecraftEdu too much in this post because I know that I’ll need more space and time to do it justice. I will say though that the two Minecraft sessions I attended were packed. If you were a presenter and you needed to fill some seats you could have just slapped “Minecraft” in your presentation’s title and you’d be fighting for air.
(continue reading…)

Leave a Comment more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!