Minecraft in Pender

Most of this blog post was written several days ago

Lucas is explaining how fifth graders are using Minecraft to develop writing skills

This morning, the first info-bit to really start my motors was this Twitter post from

@dwarlick Please elaborate about Pender County and Minecraft. I’d love to hear your opinion on this.

..which resulted from a tweet that I posted from the MEGA meeting at the Friday Institute yesterday.

Pender County’s using Minecraft with 5th graders. Why am I not surprised? #ncsu_mega

Pender County is one of the quieter, flatter, more humid and scarcely populated counties in North Carolina. It consists of seven towns, none of which have you heard of, including two beach communities on the Onslow Bay. But they’ve got some interesting things going on in their schools. I’ve written about Lucas Gillispie before. He’s a young educator and a gamer — and one of a handful of teachers who have been, for the past couple of years, asking, “Might I use this video game experience to reach some of the harder-to-reach students in my school?” Teaming up with New Yorker, Peggy Sheehy, and now others, Gillispie is exploring the potentials of using multiplayer role-playing video games to help learners develop problem solving, collaboration and reflection skills, and to become story tellers.

Markus Persson (cc) by Navaboo

So, at yesterday’s MEGA meeting, he had a booth set up demonstrating Minecraft, and talking about fifth graders who are using this tamer (my supposition) video game to develop some of the same skills. For those who are not in the know, and I learned this from my son, Minecraft is currently being developed by Markus (Notch) Persson, a Swedish game developer who left gainful employment to work independently. With proceeds from the hundreds of thousands of paying Minecraft players, he has formed the company, Mojang.

The game is a 3D sandbox-style game where you mine for materials or resources and use them to build stuff. More recent versions of the game involve health points and other game dynamics, but it remains, essentially, a sandbox.

I asked Lucas where this gaming activity belongs in an elementary school, and after giving some really good answers from a rethinking how we do schools perspective, he finally said, language arts. They have only started this with 5th graders, but their plan is to have students play, build, experience the adventures and then write to audiences about those experiences.

Cool!

Pano of one room of exhibits at MEGA Mtg – May 4, 2011

Also, this is my first test of Blogsy, a blog editing app for the iPad. I like it!

Learning about World of Warcraft in Education with Lucas Gillispie

Here are some fairly rough notes from a workshop I attended on video games in education, presented by Lucas Gillispi. My comments are boxed and italicized.

On top of everything else that was new to me with this session, I got to operate an Alien computer.

I’m sitting in a session about World of Warcraft, being facilitated by Lucas Gillispie, from Pender County Schools (far eastern part of the state). His blog is EduRealms, where he talks about games and learning. Lucas has worked with Peggie Sheehy, who started with SecondLife and is now exploring the learning that happens in games like World of Warcraft.  Their guild in WoW is Cognitive Dissonance.

“Education needs a Cataclysm,” he says. There’s double entendra here. See this. In the traditional classroom, its about teacher, textbook, and workshops. WoW has built-in resources, fan sites, blogs, facebook, and twitter feeds, WoWWiki (second largest wiki in the world), custom apps, etc.

I wonder how many of those game-resources would work for formal learning. – dfw

In formal education, mastery must occur within allotted “seat time.” Achievement is constant in games such as WoW. The traditional classroom is about “No Talking!” In the game it’s about collaborating and sharing. Everyone’s talents bring something to the team. Slackers will fail and will fail their team.  Guilds provide a larger community. Plus the game is differentiated. You choose the style of play (learning) that works for you. “World of Warcraft players crave assessment,” rather than dread it. In the traditional classroom, failure is punitive. In games, failure is expected. Failing at a quest means you re-try, as often as needed.

So what makes it engaging. Gee says that its in your regime of competence — hard but doable. (see this summary of Gee’s principals of learning.)

So “What if school was more like a game?” Gamification is term being used to make. Look at Epic Win, as a way of turning everyday tasks into a game.

Hmmm!  But isn’t school actually like a game?  Students who do well are not always your brightest and most resourceful, but they’re the ones who play the game well.  I’d rather suggest that we change the rules of the game, and perhaps even the rule of the schooling game, to include some of the pedagogies of WoW and other compelling and deep games. – dfw

Gillispie and team were recently contacted by a philanthropic organization from Washington state who’d been watching what they were doing through his blog and twitterings.  They asked him to submit a proposal for funding for gaming laptops (Alienware). “look kids,” he’d told the students, “Here’s someone who is paying attention to you and what you are doing.”

It occurred to me, then, that Pender County is not, to these students, the same place that their parents grew up.  For many of them, it was a padded world that was effectively insulated from the outside world (I speak from experience from having grown up in a similarly rural area.)  Because of their experiences with WoW and other networked learning experiences, Pender County is a gateway to a much broader and richer world.  ..and that richer world is available to them, even if they choose to always live in their rural community.

The theme of their project is “A Hero’s Journey.” Students are “Heros,” teachers are “Lorekeepers,” and grades are “experience points.” Interesting that experience points, which are is almost like currancy that is accumulated.  You start out your experience with the game as a poor and weak character, gaining in strength and skill, resulting in more wealth.

A question immersed from the conversation that I think was quite important.  Why do we not grade our students in the very same way?  Why have we not always graded our students in the same way?  Why not have grades (or what ever we’d call it) that reflect learners growing wealth of knowledge and skill, rather than measuring discrete sub-knowledge and sub-skills? We couldn’t answer that question. – dfw

Here are some of the things they are doing as part of the class:

  • Character Tweets: Students tweeted from the perspective of non-player WoW characters. They’re projecting into another character and determining perspective For instance, there’s a girl who wonders a specific road selling bread. What does the world look like to her.
  • Propaganda/Ads: Students used photo editing to create ads aimed at WoW characters.
  • Research and argumentative writing: So what would happen if Hobbit characters (which they’re required to read) were living in WoW.
  • Fan Fiction: Writing a story from inside the plot of the game.

Very cool session!