I started using Minecraft within a Project Based Learning pedagogical approach whilst on my second practicum up at North Star Public school back in 2013. A group of year 3 kids used it to build various life events in order to tell the viewers their life stories via screencasts. Since then, I’ve used it in various projects, spanning across the K-6 curriculum, ranging from maths games and life cycle screencasts, to building a city with year 1, some extreme environment bases with year 4, and sharing a class server with kids from Wooranna Park Primary School, Newlands Intermediate School in Wellington, New Zealand, as well Lake Shore Tundra up in New York and Marco in Rome. I have also used the game as part of an after school Coder Dojo to help teach kids from year 2 and year 4 the basics of coding. My latest class project, which we have just finished and I am about to describe, is perhaps the project that has challenged me the most, both as a player of Minecraft, and from a classroom perspective. It was also, however, way cool!
The project, which was guided by the driving question, “How can we use Minecraft to help endangered animals?” was focussed on having kids learn about human impact on the environment, sustainable living practices and animal conservation. It started with a hook lesson which took the format of an excursion to Taronga Zoo, where kids learned about the legacy species of endangered animals that this organisation is hoping to raise money for as part of their centenary year celebrations and beyond. We didn’t go into great detail here, because hook lessons are meant to be fun. We simply noted the fact that the zoo was 100, and there were animals that needed our help.
We then arranged a video conference with an expert from the zoo, who told my class all about the animals, showed us some cute little critters and fielded some questions from the kids. The class were then given one of the legacy species to collaborate together and research in groups of 3 to learn about the following in order to present to the class:
Their animal’s habitat.
Their animal’s diet.
The threats to their animal.
Ways in which we can help.
We also did quite a lot of explicit teaching around global warming, deforestation, ocean pollution, and other threats to these animals (such as chytrid fungus and how humans might spread it), sustainable living practices and other environmental stuffs.
Students were also given a plot of land on our shared Minecraft server, on one of two islands which were directly adjacent to the MEPS Book Review Zone on the server where my class has recently written in-game book reviews and character descriptions as part of a global book review project they were working on just prior to this one.
Anyway, on these plots of land, students built enclosures for their endangered animals and used the above-mentioned research as the basis of scripts which they later narrated over some screencasts. Pretty much business as usual, right?
Yes, except that their screencasts were recorded in 360º, so that when they were uploaded to YouTube they’d be viewable from all angles with virtual reality headsets such as Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard. This is where things got a bit complicated.
To make our Minecraft worlds compatible with vanilla Minecraft, we had to use version 1.8. We also had to run with Forge Mod Loader 1450 so that we could run the Replay Mod in order to record the 360º VR content. The editing of the videos, which is the relatively simple part was done in Adobe Premiere Pro, which I had pushed through on several of my class PCs during the holidays. To learn how all of this stuff worked, I was guided by the awesome Nick Patsianas, who basically sat with me in Google Hangouts and TeamViewer for about four hours for a holiday PD session and made sure we had everything installed and running properly and that I knew how it all worked, lol.
Let me just say that the process of recording is quite tricky. The kids took a while to master it, but they totally got it and the videos look and sound completely awesome. I’ll post them below, but I’ll just explain the recording process as quickly as I can.
You basically record the screencasts using the Replay mod in first person and then record a recording of your recording in third person by hovering within the recording on an invisible Minecraft camera dolly. I’ll add a photo below, in the hope of making this easier to understand.
You also have two timelines for recording; the first person timeline and the third person timeline. You play the first person timeline ahead of the third person timeline to some degree before adding a ‘time zero’ position and time keyframe and then catching up to the other timeline and adding new position and time key frames at different points in time along the third person timeline which creates camera pathways between different times and positions. This is all recorded in 360º via a setting on the Replay mod.
If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is a bit at first, but with a bit of practise, it all becomes a lot clearer and easier. I must admit, I think my class got it more quickly than I did.
The mod is also quite CPU intensive and only three of the computers I put the software on ended up being up to the task. This made the recording sessions quite hectic as we all had to negotiate sharing the limited computers within a short period of time (we had a deadline to share the videos with Taronga Zoo by Week 5, which I had miscalculated as week 6, whoops!). Technology fails are great. Check the photo of the recording process below. The top timeline is the first person timeline and the bottom is the third person timeline.
OK, so we made our videos and we have shared them with the zoo. We were hoping on getting to and end of year event at the zoo called ‘Kids Teaching Kids’, where kids show other school kids at the zoo some of the stuff they’ve made after learning about these animals. I’d be tipping that none of them have made 360º VR content, lol, I am pretty crazy.
We didn’t make it to ‘Kids Teaching Kids’, but to finish off the year, we’re going to hold a 360º VR Cinema Day where all of the classes get to come to the library and watch our videos. The Commonwealth Bank recently visited our school and left a bunch of Google Cardboard style headsets, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I have 7 cardboard headsets set up like the one pictured below, so kids will get a chance to strap them on and view our videos in VR. I can’t wait to see their reactions!
We’re going to sell a little bit of popcorn, fruit skewers and stuff and have the option for kids to leave a single/silver coin donation which we will fling to the zoo as part of their legacy campaign. The class is heaps excited about putting on the event and recently taught them how to use Canva to make posters advertising the event and invitations for the other classes. You can see some of them below. They are screenshots of .pdfs, so they may look a bit pooey.
If you would like to view our videos, they are embedded below. If you have headsets like the ones above, you can totally experience them in VR. Thanks for watching!