Posted in Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

Getting going with MINECRAFT

NB. A Lot of the credit for the work talked about in this post go to Dave Warren from Otago University and also to the Yr 10 boys in my Science class who are teaching me as they go. They are awesome and I am really hoping we can get this to work.

Minecraft has been making more and more noise lately for lots of good reason. Last night I connected into to the live stream from the Microsoft Educator Exchange in Budapest (You can watch the event here) and was totally inspired by the talking around makerEd and gamification and what people are now doing with there classes. I am not sure why I had not come across Stephen Reid before but I LOVED his presentation on games and how he helps teachers and students use them in a meaningful way for learning. (I stayed up way tooooo late reading his blog and will def go back to it)

I have been thinking about how I can use Minecraft in the classroom for a while now. I used the hour of code last year to kick start my own learning about it, and had some super helpful year 10’s teach me the basics of it.

I bought the game (my students laughed at me….) and started having a play. I accidentally killed a lot of chickens, figured out how to put them in a whole and feed them, then build a fence to keep them in and build a little garden (somewhat ironically my own garden got sadly neglected). I have visited some worlds and had a look around in the Molcraft world which is RAD.

At the moment I am exploring two different avenues for using minecraft

The first is my year 10 Science class.

I am really lucky to have a super awesome class of students who are willing to give things ago. To this end, 4 boys (I’m going to try and get some girls involved too but won’t push it if they don’t want to) are building a ‘body’ for the staying alive unit. Other students are making videos, putting together presentations or making some resources for students to learn about – the idea was everyone in the class should become an expert on something that helps us ‘Stay Alive’ that they could present to the class in some way at the end of the topic.

yr 10s getting their minecraft on building a body 🙂#scichatnz #MIEExpert @noisyteacher @nzannet @Doctor_Harves

— Rachel Chisnall (@ibpossum) March 1, 2016

This is the progress they have made for so far (they started with a poop machine but have moved on to what we are learning about)

2016-03-10 10.19.39

They have made a heart – the blue is deoxygenated blood, and the other side will be red. When this is live, the ‘liquid’ pulses to simulate a beating heart. They are working on connecting the heart to the lungs via the correct arteries and veins – hence they had the diagram of the heart up next to their model to check they were making it right.

2016-03-10 10.15.35Here is the lung next to the heart. The grey box is air – they couldn’t have it empty so have settled for grey but we wondered about colourless… but then how would you ‘see’ it. And wen this is running, the blood pulses through the arteries and veins. If we get time, there are plans to look at building a model alveoli too.

Because these students are keen and already have the software, setting this up was really easy for me as I didn’t have to do a thing. They have taught me a lot about mods (I still need to learn some more) and also how easy it is to set up a server in a cloud somewhere. At the moment the world lives on a memory stick and on the shared drive at school – but we spent time today talking about how we could set up a school server with the robotics teacher.

The Second is with what Dave Warren has done.

Dave has pretty much built a Chem lab in Minecraft. It is AMAZING. (I think his son helped). I know Dave both through his Chemistry outreach (which Dunedin is soo lucky to have access to) but also through Hands on Science, and we have kind of talked about this project off and on for a while, so it was really really AWESOME to see it for real today.

2016-03-10 10.33.34What he found (I’m sure others might know this but I didn’t) was if you smash up the rocks, or the dirt or whatever using a particular mod, you can break down the substance into the atoms that make it up – ie you can get silicon and oxygen from rocks, or carbon, oxygen and hydrogen from trees. Which you can then manipulate into different molecules.


So they have built this lab to do this in. There are microscopes and all sorts in there. Which you could then make up a quest book and follow some instructions to figure out some cool chemistry

2016-03-10 10.36.53Which is awesome – but so is the ability to just have a play around. We spent some time today talking to the boys about what they would like, and how we could make it manageable for teachers too (I think the students might like to just play, but teachers might like a quest to follow to give some more structure).

There also needs to be a bit of a juggling of some code to make all the molecules we want to (for example, to be able to build ionic compounds so students can ‘see’ the stoichiometyry behind the formulas and equations) – so next week Dave is going to try and get one of his students to come out and have a look with my students and see what they can come up with. Already, my students have had some solutions to a few of the issues Dave had with his set up – such as using an app to combine all the mods into one mod for a more user friendly set up on each machine. He has done all of the ground work, so I am really lucky to be able to jump in and test the proto type 🙂

So my students are going to work with Dave’s students to kick the whole thing off. We talked about servers, to which they replied, oh, that is easy, we already have one set up. But I would still like them to teach me,  hopefully I can keep up, and maybe we can make a bigger one.

So at the moment I am feeling really excited about where this might go. I am certainly not ready to roll this out to my whole class, but probably could do so by the time chemistry comes around in term 2. I will also extend the invitation to other interested students and maybe (with the awesome Kevin who teaches robotics and is WAY more skilled in this than me) set up some sort of lunch time coding club. Kevin has some arduino gear that I am really keen to get my hands on as well.

If you are interested in joining in or following our progress, or if you have some tips or ideas, please do get in touch (@ibpossum). In talking to Dave he is looking to spread it round to. I would love any feedback, willing test subjects or technical expertise

Have fun – I sure am 🙂


Posted in Professional learning

Twitter has a new level

So, #scichatNZ has really taken off. Matt Nicoll did an excellent post on how he sees it, which has inspired me to do one too, but as more of a relfection of my journey to get here.

I got signed up to twitter at a school PD day – it was a novelty, I tweeted some questions, felt cool following some people I looked up to, and then promptly forgot about it.

Then when I joined the organising committee for ChemEd I thought I could use twitter to help advertise the conference. So I jumped back on, and made a ChemEd account, and it was really useful. Some of the speakers we had coming were on twitter, we picked up a couple of sponsors, and it helped get the website out (the website is a whole other IT journey, I learned a lot making it and even more about how to get search engines to find it!!)

After ChemEd I still dabbled, mostly enjoying the updates from New Scientist and the like, and slowly connecting with more teachers.

Then I set up the account for SciCon, and really started to see a bit more of what twitter has to offer, spending more time on it, and connecting with more and more people.

And then I shifted schools. Don’t get me wrong, I love my current school and think it will be great for my teaching long term, but moving from a integrated decile 10 BYOD environment with a big focus on e-learning to a state co-ed with no BYOD was a shock to my system. It made me think about why I taught certain ways and why. It made me go back and think about excellent tools I had forgotten about like picture dictation or barrier activities or a whole heap of others. Making differentiated lessons took on a whole other level of challenge (I don’t do this well) and utilising the laptops and other tech available to me well rather than to be flashy has taken some time and practice.

But this is where I have found twitter amazing. There are so many ideas, supportive people, resources and help. Dunedin has a relatively small Science teaching community, and being able to connect to people all over NZ has really broadened my horizons. @NZSciencelearn made pinboards of resources at the flick of a tweet. People had practical and kind suggestions for lessons and topics. I have learned more this year than any of the earlier 4 years in my teaching, and will be a much better teacher for it. That and boys love to set fire to things, and I can always count on them to be into a prac.

I was reflecting on this at a core PD day with Karen Melhuish Spencer as she was talking about twitter. I had been tweeting throughout the day and we had a lovely ‘oh, you’re @ibpossum/ you’re @virtuallykaren moment. I said I was really enjoying twitter, was getting an enormous amount out, but wished there was more science specific content. Rather than say, ‘oh, that is a shame’ Karen told me to make it happen. She would help, and we could target October for connected educators month

So I did. I was going to Scicon, thought about it a lot, checked out and disregarded VLN, and decide to do a presentation on twitter and introduce the #scichatNZ hashtag and get some people on board. NZ Science teacher kindly did a piece to advertise it was starting up. It was a success of sorts, a few more teachers got signed up, the #scicon14 hashtag was well used and provided lots of feedback and discussion, and people started using #scichatNZ. So I thought I’d sit on it, and wait till October for some events around connected educators.

I hadn’t counted on Matt Nicoll and Chhaya Nayaran. They weren’t prepared to wait till October, and they grabbed the bull by the horns and together (with help from Danielle MyBurgh, and also the #engchatNZ starting up) we got it up and running week 2 of term 3. Despite the fact I have never meet them (and some of the humour/sarcasm of my comments gets lost in typing) it just seemed to come together and we all did what we needed to. It didn’t seem like a chore, or even work.

And it was awesome. Just mind bogglingly awesome. As the most experience twitter tweep, Matt hosted, and was amazing. We had such a wide range of tweeps, and I was so stoked to see so many primary teachers got involved. I made heaps of new contacts, got some new resources, ranted about teacher education, and it was just amazing.

So twitter has a new level for me – self generated content, not just by me but by others almost specifically for me. And I feel like I am contributing rather than just participating. Although I have a lot to learn, and a long way to go.

Hopefully #scichatNZ will continue to grow, and I will continue to grow as a teacher with it.