Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

My class is digging Minecraft. I’m digging ‘stealth assessment’.

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Ever since my kids started playing Minecraft a few years ago, and beginning my teaching degree, I’ve been wanting to use Minecraft in the classroom. Way back in 2011, when my son was in his final term of year 1, he made this epic video on how to make a cannon in Minecraft.

For me, this clearly demonstrates how Minecraft can be used in and outside of the classroom for kids to meet a wide range of syllabus outcomes and, more importantly, demonstrate their learning in a way that’s clearly engaging and enjoyable for them. I wrote a blog post about this some time ago, and looking back at it, there is so much more that this game allows students to do that I didn’t even go into in that post. Anyway, like I say, I’ve been thinking about Minecraft in the class for a while and, luckily for me, I was given a folder towards the middle of last term which allowed me to get Minecraft up and running on the school computers.

At first I just kinda used it in a carrot on a stick fashion to motivate student writing. I set up a K/1L Minecraft world in which students were able to begin building their own houses, all linked to each other along a K/1L world cobblestone pathway. Students had to write blog posts for me, telling me what they were planning to build in our world, drafting them in their books for me to mark before posting them on their individual KidBlogs. This was fun and was quite effective in getting them to write and in increasing the volume and quality of their writing, but this term I wanted to do a little more group work with Minecraft by including it in this term’s project-based learning.

Some of my students are also in their final term of year 1, just like my son was when he made a screencast of his Minecraft work back in 2011, so I know that they’re capable of doing something similar. They’ve been doing #PBL for a while now, so their teamwork is pretty good, and I’m confident that my year 1s can help their kindy peers do what they need to do in order to get through what they need to do for the project, too. The project outline is below.

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 9.21.44 pm

Initially when I floated the idea of ‘sharing their learning’ in Minecraft with them, they all kinda looked at me with blank faces like, “What?” I tried speaking with them about what we’d been learning in class and all of the stuff we’d been doing in Minecraft. We spoke about what some of the other classes we have connected with have been doing and they were still like, “What?”

The thing that finally made it click for my students was sitting together as a class and watching a whole bunch of Youtube videos of kids that had used Minecraft in school and what they had done. I don’t have the links handy, but if you have a bit of a search around, you can find some cool stuff. We then had another discussion about what we had been learning and I asked my class if they now thought they might be able to think of something they could build.

Immediately one of my students said, “I could probably build equal groups”. Great! She is now in the Equal Groups team building stuff with her peers. At the moment I have 6 teams for this project, and the things they are building are 2D and 3D shapes, the silkworm life cycle, dragons, castles, the equal groups I just mentioned along with something that I think is really abstract and awesome – a maths game.

The game goes like this. You walk into a house and you are met with a series of signs telling you the instructions for the game. You walk on and find another sign with a maths problem. Behind the sign are 3 doors, each with a sign above them displaying a potential answer to the problem. If you choose the door with the right answer, you are allowed to pass through into another room in which you are met with another maths problem. The questions get harder as the game progresses. If you choose any of the doors with the wrong answer, you are locked inside a room in which you get attacked and killed by Minecraft nasties! It’s evil, sadistic and I love it!

So far this project has been really fun, and as an added bonus, it’s allowed me to formatively assess the kids on a range of topics in a non-obtrusive and engaging manner, without them really even being aware that I’m testing them. For example, with the maths game group, one of the students said, “At first the questions will be easy like 1 + 1 and then they’ll get tricky like 20 + 20”. I explained to the student that people should be able to answer that easily just by counting by tens and that so should he and he was like, “Oh yeah!” and we decided to come up with questions that would challenge students of his age at maths. Now I have a really good idea of where he is at with addition and subtraction and how to extend him.

This is called ‘Stealth Assessment’ in the research literature – the notion of embedding good assessment within video games. You can read about here and here, I think it’s great.

Below are some screenshots of some of our builds, including our developing dragons and maths game! I can’t wait wait to get started on the screencasts and uploading them to Youtube. A cool way to end the year.

IMG_3247 IMG_3248 IMG_3245

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