Minecraft Student Letter…Chills

Below is an email from an eighth grade student. This is the third year of the Minecraft Exploratory at Brentwood School. Looks like the kids might take this to the next level. Three has always been my favorite number.

Mr. Kahn,                                                                                                                     When you sent me the email about league of legends, I happened to notice you had your blog link in the signature, so I decided to check it out. I am planning to join the [Minecraft] exploratory again this year, and had a few ideas about Eaglecraft.

I have recently been experimenting with a terrain generation program for Minecraft that allows you to customize your world map. I think it would be fun to have a game where we put everyone in a variety of environments with varying difficulty and see how well we can survive as a team. I have also found plugins that can add a harder survival environment, such as adding thirst and seasons, as well as things like heat, increasing the need for fire.

I think it would be fun to have Dylan (See previous post) help run the server as well. I took a java  corse over the summer, and have done some experimenting with plugins for Minecraft, and would like to learn more. It would be great to have someone with experience in plugin development manage the server. I look forward to meeting him, and having a great year in the Minecraft exploratory.

I hope you like my suggestions,
-Sander

The more I think about this letter, the more moved I become. Being a middle school (within a k-12 school) with only a 7th and an 8th grade, there has sometimes been friction between the two grades. After all, the totem pole only has two levels, the top and the bottom. This year, a considerable effort is being made to stymie this friction and turn the tide. Indeed, the eighth graders this year do not even see a totem pole. The letter above speaks to this point as well as to the power of Minecraft.

Furthermore, this takes me back to a post from March of 2012, the day “Minecraft Ends.” I wrote,  “I am now even more determined to provide a safe place for the “geeky kids,” to be, to play and to explore their interests. And I thought I was just getting into Minecraft.”

Minecraft is not only a wonderful game, but also a conduit for creating incredibly valuable human interactions and friendships, ironically born out of a virtual reality environment.

What if Sander and Dylan strike up a friendship centered around Minecraft that lasts a lifetime? Who knows what, together, they may create.

I have the chills.

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Minecraft Exploratory Restart

Last week I received an email from a new Brentwood School 7th grade student:

Hello Mr. Kahn,

When I came to Brentwood School I was very excited when I heard that there was a Minecraft class. I have been playing for quite a while and recently started coding in Eclipse. I was wondering how I would sign up for the class. Hope to see you soon.

Thank you,                                                                                                                            Dylan

This is perfect because each year I hope for a 7th grader to help me run the Eaglecraft server that has been on somewhat of a hiatus as of late. I met with Dylan on Friday and he is rearing to go. He knows about servers, mods and is even using the coding software Eclipse to write code for Minecraft. I have a feeling Eaglecraft may have a long term manager. Stay tuned.

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Opportunity Clicks: STEAM Through Minecraft, Teacher Wanted

As a new school year ramps up, I have been preparing for my usual eighth grade physical science course. In addition, I am teaching the first ever robotics elective course at Brentwood School. My plate is full, and that is why I am passing the following email on to the Minecraft community. I believe it is indicative of the present paradigm shift in education away from “stand and deliver” instruction towards more technological and experiential instruction. My question: why not take an environment that kids absolutely love playing in and use it to create learning about the world they are living in? I can’t think of reason. The email: Minecraft teacher wanted “to engage [kids] in topics of geometry, biology, physics, architecture, etc.” Hmm, I think Minecraft would work for that.

MINECRAFT TEACHER WANTED- Ojai/Ventura/Santa Barbara area

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Measuring the Speed of Minecarts in Minecraft

MinecartThe topic for my third meeting with the Sammy Y group was measuring the speed of minecarts. While for the genetics of sheep session I overestimated the knowledge of my audience, this time I underestimated. The night before, I reminded myself how redstone worked and created a couple of starting gates and such. When I asked the kids if they knew how to use redstone, they erupted with knowledge and described some of their builds. In fact, they had already began laying down rail and running a continuous cart around the base of our location beacon. They certainly knew more than I did. A tinge of concern gurgled in my stomach as they took off laying down power rail before I could even pose the question we were to investigate.

Please forgive the digression from Minecraft while I write about teaching in general.  I believe many teachers fail to provide authentic learning to their students because of their belief that they should always know more than the students. Teachers are often fearful of their students knowing more than they do about a topic. Embracing what students know relieves teachers of this pressure and allows teachers to capitalize on a student’s knowledge or expertise in order to take the student’s learning to the next level. Moreover, students love teaching the teacher, and adults for that matter, (see Kids Teaching Adults Minecraft), and ironically, this makes teaching the real students easier. End of digression.

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Genetics in Minecraft: Wool, Mendel and Brownies

Last week, I met with Sammy Y and the guinea pigs again for another session of Science Through Minecraft. Being our second time together, we were all a little less guinea piggy. We thus moved on to sheep genetics. The night before, I prepared a Google Doc with some concepts, terms, video links, all related to simple Mendelian Genetics: inheritance, DNA, chromosomes, genes, alleles, dominance, recessive, blended inheritance, Punnett squares, probabilities, P-generation, F1, F2, test crosses, Mendel, pea plants, etc. I had forgotten that this was a non traditional lesson so to speak and I had forgotten my audience. Better to be over prepared.

I arrived on time at 11:30 and found the four kids climbing the walls of the living. Sammy Y told them that they could not go on Minecraft until I arrived. As I opened the screen door  the kids bolted to the table and booted up their laptops. I guess they enjoyed our first meeting using feathers to investigate whether or not air exists air in Minecraft.

I began the session by asking the three third graders and one fifth grader what they knew about genetics. I quickly realized four clean slates eagerly sat before me. My preparation the night before was overkill and more appropriate for middle school students, but I was totally fine with that. In fact, I found this to be more exciting. Continue reading

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Science, Minecraft, Feathers and Guinea Pigs

“Science through Minecraft.”  It was Sammi Y’s idea.

Hi Mr. Kahn,                                                                                                                              I am a parent of an avid 9 year old Minecraft fan in Los Angeles.  I have been reading your blog about your middle school students with great interest….Since my son has become a MC fan (and has pulled his friends into it as well), I have gradually become a fan, too. I even some how managed with my son to set up a multiplayer server via Hamachi by viewing youtube videos….Anyway, my son and his friends are quite proficient in all things MC.  I am very pleased with all the creativity, math, engineering, computer skills (typing, commands, understanding of internet/servers), designing, architecture, and surprisingly, social skills and friend-building that MC has to offer…The reason why I’m emailing you today is because I have been looking for someone who could teach my son more about MC from an educational point of view…. [maybe] a class called “Science through Minecraft”–like that cool way in which the kids on your blog used MC to design their interpretations of a cell.  If you could create a simple lesson about a topic in science and then let the kids do something with that theme in MC, that would be a show-stopper.  We are willing to be guinea pigs! BTY- MC user names have been modified.

The guinea pigs, myself included.

The guinea pigs, myself included.

Today was our first meeting of “Science through Minecraft.”  I spent some time thinking about a good topic to start with. I came up with a question that I actually did not really know the answer to. I think Papert would approve of this as authentic learning. I drew inspiration for my question from a video called Gravity Lab produced by MinecraftEduElfie. My goal however was not for the kids to investigate gravity, but to investigate if a feather falls faster than sand or gravel. My intention was for the kids to find out whether or not there is an atmosphere in Minecraft. Continue reading

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Minecraft: Structure or Free Play?

The Pepperdine server has been updated, and one of three teams of students in my Exploratory has completed the Underwater Mine Rescue Challenge thus far. The remaining two teams have had difficulty organizing and completing the challenge.

Watching the kids during today’s Exploratory, I realized that it is a challenge to direct kids in an open sandbox game such as Minecraft without employing a specific mod such as MineraftEdu or being a drill sargent. The latter of which I do not wish to be and would defeat the whole purpose of playing the game in the first place. Continue reading

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