What I loved most about this course was how often I would find myself in a state of flow while working on our assignments. Whether it was watching James Paul Gee’s video, researching mobile apps for inclusion in my group’s rubric, or my current fascination with trying to harvest crops in minecraft, I find myself spending a lot more time than I initially planned on this course. It has been challenging at times, but mostly a fun and engaging experience that I will be striving to replicate with my students in the future.
I had a major “aha moment” while watching James Paul Gee talk about the “pleasantly frustrating” principle of games design, that hard to achieve level of difficulty that makes a problem hard to solve on the first playthrough, but becomes easier as players become progressively more comfortable with the particular challenge they are trying to overcome. MineCraft has been pleasantly frustrating to me for about 2 weeks now, with no sign of the frustration abetting. It started with simple things such as how to set up my keyboard so that I was able to access the “use item” key (I don’t have a right mouse button, which is the default button for this option). Once I got that sorted out new problems kept coming up: How do I turn on the switch? How do I make a craft table? How do I make an axe? How do I get access to my axe? Where do I go at night? How do I plant crops? How do I harvest crops? How do I get my food meter back to full? The food meter problem is the one I am currently grappling with, as there are no animals to eat, so I have to wait for my crops to be ready. It has been quite a process, but no matter how annoying not knowing can be, I find that I keep coming back better prepared and more fluent in the minecraft world each time. Any concept that I need to know is just a youtube video, or wiki entry away, and because each problem is a pressing concern in the moment, I am very motivated to seek out the answer on my own.
My grade 4 and 5 students think it is absolutely hilarious that I am learning about minecraft in school. Whereas my approach has started from a place of academic curiosity, theirs has come from a place of pure fun and exploration. I was playing with my whole class in a mine craft world last friday in the computer lab, and it was the funniest thing watching them build and explore, help and annoy one another. It was like being with them at recess. Students more likely to get into disagreements on the playground had the same struggles in the minecraft environment. Students who were able to compromise and work in groups created some amazing things with their classmates. There was a lot going on, and it was hard to keep track of half of it. It was really neat to see how easy it was for some students to self organize and tackle projects with a division of labour that I didn’t think them capable of in the classroom environment. Sometimes all it takes is the right motivation and the right environment I guess.
I can see myself using Minecraft with my students in the future. I love how it encourages you to explore and create, with very few limitations on what you can do within the virtual world. I am excited by the premade worlds on offer through MinecraftEdu, and I plan on exploring these resources more in the future. I would love to contribute my own worlds at a later date, but still need to figure out how to harvest my crops at this point!