Sunday, September 04, 2016

Learning with Minetest Part 2: Activities and Aims

This blog post is part of a series of posts exploring the concept of using the Minetest game as a learning platform in a primary school. Click below to access the other posts:

Learning with Minetest Part 1: Rolling out Minetest in Pre-Primary
Learning with Minetest Part 2: Activities and Aims
Learning with Minetest Part 3: Impact on the Students

It's been 3 weeks since I set up Minetest in the computer lab at school. I wrote more about the installation in my previous blog post here. In this post I want to discuss the various activities that I organised, the worlds that I hosted and what aims I gave my students.


Before we started, each class and I formulated rules about our Minetest experience. It was important to spend the time having conversations about appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, and for the guidelines to come from the players themselves. This all helped to facilitate student buy-in to the rules agreement. All of my classes settled on something similar to the following:

Genuine IT Teacher handwriting, folks.
Use your real name was a rule that I added, we had a great discussion was had about nicknames and personal information but since I do already know their names as their teacher this was for practicality more than anything else. If someone broke the rules, they were not allowed to play any more of Minetest that session. Most classes brought up the idea of accidents. We discussed about how something was accidental or on purpose, and what to do if you accidentally broke a rule.

The Training Centre

All of my students aged 5 - 9 started off Minetest life in a custom-built obstacle course which I called the Training Centre. Taking ideas from what I've seen of the MinecraftEdu tutorial online, the students had to follow the blue line through tutorials on movement and interacting with the world. Signs were littered everywhere so that students who wanted more information could read them as they went along. About a third of my students were able to race through the training in record speeds, as they were avid Minecraft players. For the rest, the Training Centre was a valuable slow transition that gave them time to get used to moving with the mouse and keyboard at the same time.  Out of all my +/- 190 students, only 2 or 3 struggled with the controls by the end of the first session. All students were able to complete the training course within half an hour, with most kids finishing well before that. The Training Centre world was just a randomly generated world, and outside the structure that I built the students were free to explore the world proper.

An area of the Training Centre.
Building in the Desert

For my Grade 1 students, their next lesson started in the middle of a desert. I had built a blue rectangular path around the area for guidance and as a landmark. The aim of the lesson was to build structures primarily using sand. The students already knew about the unusual property of a sand block, that it will fall down without another block underneath it. We talked about strategies to solve this problem. Many students took it upon themselves to explore further and find other blocks to decorate their structures with. What was important about this session was that with each class I was able to have a discussion about appropriate online behaviour in a shared space, which I will talk more about later in the next post. Each group of children managed their task in a different way, and it was fascinating to see how some formed group structures and some built their structure away from the shared area.

Top: before students. Below: Three different classes, three different creations.
Building in Groups

With my Grade 3 students, I flattened a rectangular area in the middle of a forest. I split this area up into 4 numbered areas and split my students into small teams. As they had recently started with the concept of perimeter in their classrooms, on the suggestion of their classroom teachers I worked it into the lesson. Each team had to work together to build a structure on their area of land, and I gave them a basic perimeter guide for it - with one class, for example, I said their structure had to be 6x6. We talked about how we could check our measurements, whether the 6x6 would look rectangular or square and so on.

I prepped this grade for the group work, I gave each group 5 minutes of planning time off of the computers (in the 'real world') to discuss how they were going to tackle the challenge. I pointed out that everyone on the team would have different skill levels and it was up to the stronger players to help the new players with the job. Quite a few students got hung up on the idea of digging down to get better resources so I nudged them in the direction of building with dirt and wood then upgrading their structures when they were finished.

Arial view of the 4 build areas and the variety of structures.
The speed of their builds was impressive. Even though these were young children, they strategised their plans and built up their areas rapidly. Each group tackled the challenge in a different way. I loved the communication that I could hear within the groups: asking permission, suggesting plans and ideas, asking for help. Each team built a very different structure and when the time came to an end every class wanted me to keep their world safe so that they could continue building another time. Some classroom teachers suggested we keep Minetest installed as a reward activity which I think is a great idea given the high motivation of the students.

Team 2 used a variety of materials to build their gravity-defying house.
My students simply didn't want to stop playing Minetest. A number of them have asked how to get the game at home, even though they already play Minecraft. They are enthusiastic about the idea of using Minetest in a class to complete a common goal, and get deflated when I explain that our Minetest game can only be run locally, in the computer lab. Their next question is when the next time to play Minetest will be!

In the next post, I will be discussing the impact of using Minetest in the lab. I noticed many different areas of learning that I hadn't even anticipated so I'm looking forward to sharing those with you.

Next - Learning with Minetest Part 3: Impact on the Students
Previous - Learning with Minetest Part 1: Rolling out Minetest in Pre-Primary

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