Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Tag: games

Play’s the thing – part three

‘Most men have always wanted as much as they could get;
and possession has always blunted the fine edge of their altruism.’
~Katherine Fullerton Gerould

 

It took longer to make it stronger‘ was a phrase used in the last blog post in this series to indicate the value of engaging students in the construction of a Player Charter for a school Minecraft server. The time to refine the Charter worked to galvanise interest in creating not only a safe space for others to build and play but it also highlighted humanistic ideals of respect and fairness. The lengthy research project my partner teacher and I conducted concluded that game based learning spaces were ideal for developing skills in collaboration, connection, negotiation and creativity. With our school’s executive on board too, we were ready to open the ports to players.

We were all set to open the server to a core  trial group of 10 plus our senior school mentors who had worked with us for 18 months. The wider Minecraft Community at school were excited. Our enthusiasm was electric. The spawn point was ready to welcome the new year 5 students into its light filled hall. The orientation dungeon was filled with traps and treasure. The parent and student signed copies of the Charter were speedily returned to us. We opened the Server…and it all went ‘wrong’.

This blog post recounts some painful lessons on how our idealism came to grief as well as how we are building the community , block by block and quest by quest through employing Acronyms, highlighting Altruism and opening up to Adventure.


Lesson 1: The need for Acronyms

What follows is a simulated, but accurate in tone, transcript of our first few sessions with the girls. Imagine players dispersed about the room, engaged solely with their screens. When reading the script, please adopt a nasal righteously indignant whining voice – the kind that often is used when reciting the pre (and post) teen mantra of ‘It’s not fair!’. Alternate that with a frustrated shouting and you have the general sense of these early sessions.

PLAYERS run to a table, ignoring each other and login.
A few minutes later...
PLAYER 1: Who took my emerald! I stole that from an NPC village! Give it back!
PLAYER 2: I need food. Fooood!
PLAYER 3: builds a house quietly by herself
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie! Zombie!
PLAYER 1: Don't go into my house. That's for me and (name omitted) only!
PLAYER 2: Food! Food! Who has beef? Gimme food!I'm on one health!
PLAYER 3: crafts tools by herself and hides them in a buried chest.
PLAYER 4: Aaah! Creeper! 

Creeper explodes *Boom*

What were we expecting – immediate harmonious collaboration? Recalling the words of a Head of School I respected and valued deeply, this was an important F.A.I.L – a First Attempt In Learning how to create an effective play space. Rather than become dispirited: or worse, authoritarian, we employed two techniques that also involved acronyms to shift the discourse and encourage connection.

Acronym 1 : AAA or Triple A

To encourage connection with each other before connecting with the play space, we established a quick but effective protocol before logging in. Students, mentors and staff sit together in a circle and we go around responding to three brief prompts.

  • What’s been AVERAGE today? (by that we mean ‘dull’, ‘irritating’, ‘boring’ or ‘meh‘ over the course of the school day.) Curiously, this often prompts comments of agreement, clarification or even elaboration. Sometimes laughter.
  • What’s been AWESOME? (Usually they say ‘Coming to Minecraft!’ so we allow elaborations and brief comments on the successes and joys of the day.)
  • What’s on the AGENDA? (By this we mean what do you want to achieve today? Build? Explore? Collaborate? Craft?) WE’ve seen this inspire others who might lack an idea on how to proceed or even instigate a cooperative build.

Acronym 2: T.H.I.N.K

THINK

To encourage rather than enforce more ‘connecting’ or compassionate communication, we have another acronym that we are beginning to share more widely in the school context as a means of shifting the way we talk, type and text.

By referring to THINK before, during and after positive and problematic communication to draw attention to how the communication ‘feels’. How did you know that person griefed your build? What evidence do you have? How does it feel when someone inspires us to be better at something? How does it feel to hear kind words about your builds? Did someone help you to craft something and how was that for you? How was that for the helper? By highlighting our communication with meta-language, we are experiencing a significant tonal shift in our communication whilst we are playing. Also, drawing attention back to the Chat feature really reduces some of the more problematic discourse.

This is the sort of communication we are getting now.

PLAYER 1: Does anyone have any spare iron?
PLAYER 4: Sure, I've got some. How much?
PLAYER 2: I've been farming. Anyone want wheat?
PLAYER 3: Hey, you dropped your boots. Here they are. drops boots
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie Zombie!
PLAYER 3: uses bow and arrow to kill the zombie for PLAYER 4
PLAYER 4: Thanks!
PLAYER 1: Let's start making shops. Who wants a cake?
ALL PLAYERS: ENDERMAN! Aaargh!


Lesson 2: Valuing Altruism

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.14.33 PM

We build connections with sharing our stories as well as sharing our resources but the fact is, do most Minecraft players value sharing? Do they build for the common good or for their own sense of achievement? Are these mutually exclusive?

To encourage greater interconnection and foster a community spirit we have our Schoology Group where images of our builds, discussions about potential design challenges and the posting of entertaining Youtube videos occurs. But we also have the fantastic customisable Game Engine, 3D Gamelab in which we have crafted a series of quests that celebrates individuals efforts but pays even greater emphasis on actions for the good of others.

Got Your BackPlayers level up by completing community quests and personal ones, though the points awarded are clearly skewed towards altruistic endeavours. As a rule of thumb – if it helps more people its worth more points.  As students progress from DREAMER through multiple levels including CREATOR, MASTER CRAFTER, SUPER HERO and eventually SOURCE OF ALL KNOWLEDGE they gain in-world gear and increased abilities. (We are still ironing out the rewards at each level but I’m sure all the Super Heroes want to be able to fly!)

By adding value to altruism we are hearing very different ideas from the players – Can we earn points for creating shops? She saved me from that skeleton, she should be rewarded. Have you seen the farm we made, its awesome!  (Badges from symb.ly)

 

Lesson 3: Opening up to Adventure

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.44.43 PM

The players by this point had structures in place for them to choose their own direction  and work alongside others. We had protocols to assist in refining our communication, yet they lacked a common goal. As it turned out, their excursion to the 1850s Gold Mines of Ballarat, Victoria prompted an interaction between myself and one of the year 5 girls who wondered if she could use Minecraft to make a model of something she saw. This prompted our first design challenge.

Chaos reigned again until the design teams met with the senior mentors armed with large sticky notes and pens. Designs were drawn up and discussions were had. IT was fascinating to watch the shoddily unsymmetrical builds get revamped after only twenty minutes of face-to-face discussion and drawing.

After three weeks and multiple sessions, including some lunchtimes, the students constructed a number of intriguing designs. Again it must be noted that our Minecraft server is set to Survival (at their request) in order to provide greater challenge and reflect the reality that not all resources are infinitely available.  They needed to survive the nights, go on scouting parties to gather resources and keep each other live during that time. At the end of this period the students walked us through the designs, some of which were incomplete. This video (sadly unedited, so if you have a spare 23 minutes you may find them well spent by watching this) was recorded to show to the Year 5 teachers who were unable to attend but were keen to see what was possible.

The winning design recreated the aptly named Victory archway in Ballarat (shown below) which they constructed in sandstone. The team who constructed this was rewarded with 50 XP each and a full set of diamond armour.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.


Play’s the Thing – Endgame

We are still learning what is possible with Minecraft. We continue to explore the shifting boundaries of freedom and control when creating play spaces for young people. Thankfully we have the experience and insight of our senior school mentors to assist with not only the technical aspects of running a server, but also the broader vision for its implementation.  Thanks to them we have a Player Charter to guide the members towards forging a creative and collaborative community that values altruistic endeavour as well as self-expression. By sharing protocols such as the AAA and THINK acronyms, we are bringing awareness to the very building blocks of community – the content and tone of communication. Through inventing contexts for play in consultation with the players, we ensure their commitment provide opportunties to celebrate their ingenuity.

What is ahead for us? Look out for some pixel art galleries or our Machinema challenge where teams are given generic dialogue and select a genre of film to recreate – props, sets, skins and all! Or the UN-tervention challenge where rather than being raided, an NPC village needs to be repaired, maintained and defended from hordes of zombies.

Postscript

This series has drawn its title from Hamlet’s words ‘The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  from Act II, Scene 2. Perhaps we can be permitted a slight modification of this quote for use in the context of Minecraft. For in this kind of creative, reflective ‘play’ we may in fact, ‘build’ the conscience – the altruistic, self-reflective faculty – of the kings, queens and leaders of the future.

Or we could just go to the Nether and hack into some zombie pigmen. Up to them I suppose.

 

Play’s the thing – part two

“It is not enough to have a good pickaxe; the main thing is to use it well.” ~ Rene Minecartes

 

The quote above, posted by ChowderBowl on the Minecraft Forums, is a reminder that its not just tools that make us effective agents in the world, we need to develop skills in any particular field, be it in the social domain, academic arena or crafting Minecraft Redstone into complex circuits (or deadly traps) that is truly of greater value. We can extrapolate from this that no matter what educational technology tools your school invests in – one to one iPads, IWBs or access to applications like Prezi – its not having them that makes the learning significant but the way in which they are employed that is important. But even more than this, we need to use these skills within authentic contexts for specific purposes for specific audiences. And who better to set those than the students themselves?

In the first part of the ‘Play’s the Thing’ post you read summaries of research about the value of games and a personal recount of how we got our Minecraft server off the ground. In this post, you’ll see the firm foundation we built by constructing a student lead ‘Player Charter’ that firmly places the centre of activity (and the pickaxes) in the hands of the students.

Building the Charter

One of the attractions of Minecraft is that you can build and unbuild things. The relative anonymity that playing on a shared server means that one could be tempted to destroy other people’s constructions. From experience of interventions with students who have had their hard work damaged, it is clear that guidelines were needed – not rules per se, because anyone who has been a child knows that rules engender fleeting bouts of both fear and rebellion in sometimes equal measure – no, we needed something more than a list of commandments to which to adhere. What we needed was a Charter. Being a signatory on the Charter for Compassion gave insights into the structure and purpose behind such documents. A Charter is “…a document, issued by a sovereign or state, outlining the conditions under which a corporation, colony, city, or other corporate body is organized, and defining its rights and privileges.” (Dictionary.com) Our Minecraft server was to be, in essence, a ‘colony’ of the school. The students made it abundantly clear that our server was not something that exists outside and therefore had separate codes of conduct, yet neither was it a tool for school work alone. It was its own entity yet informed by the best aspects of our school community – respect being our only school rule. Therefore, seeing the Minecraft group as a colony served us well in defining further aspects of our Charter.

2012-12-11_16.38.08

The spawnpoint designed by students before we opened the world

 

To start it all off we shared the definition of a Charter with the students and broke it down into its components. The Charter needed to –

  • outline what our group believes is its purpose for existing – what we aim to do or be
  • state what are our structures and roles eg – jobs and leadership positions. Who can join?
  • describe our rights and responsibilities as members (this might include the sorts of acceptable and awesome behaviours)
  • define what sorts of behaviours are not acceptable and what happens should they occur?
  • explain how we govern ourselves and make decisions including how we change the Charter.

From this we began over several months (yes months! It took longer to make it stronger) to build our shared understanding of our purpose and core reasons for existing before we would make the server open to younger students and the wider school community. (We wrote drafts on Primary Pad and published them on our Schoology Group – an online community for our students.) We knew that if we were to lay these foundations with a shared sense of ownership, we had the potential to circumvent the difficulties we had observed on other Minecraft servers. We took the premise of Minecraft as the source and the students experience of navigating the tricky waters of interactions, ownership and compliance in external servers.

The Finished Charter

Firstly, Minecraft is a permissive space that encourages you to find things out for yourself – it does not come with a handy volume of Do’s and Don’ts to constrain behaviour. This permissiveness and openness if reflected in the details of the Charter.

Our Minecraft Community exists to

  • provide its members with a space to create, collaborate and innovate.
  • play and enjoy social time together
  • provide opportunities for students to design personal and collaborative projects
  • provide opportunities for leadership and mentoring

The group is not about leveraging Minecraft for educational outcomes UNLESS the students choose so to do. Our seniors were particularly clear that this was to be a safe space not solely an educational space. A lot of trust was gained in agreeing to this and it has been interesting to see the commitment our young leaders have shown to supporting the younger players as a result. From the outset the leaders understand that Minecraft is both social and private – it is about creating but also about engaging in discussion.

The members in our community are

  • ONLY students and teachers

This was unanimously agreed to though the students were intrigued by the opportunity of engaging in shared projects with other schools at some point. We have potential links to schools in Tasmania and New Jersey but would be keen to establish further links.

I agree to

  • Contribute to collaborative projects
  • work together when necessary and also play alone when required
  • encourage players to be the best they can be
  • be respectful at all times
  • participate in face-to-face meetings to make decisions
  • be imaginative with solving problems
  • share resources with other players

Our Charter recognises the need for opportunities to be together but also to pursue personal projects. Already, in the time we have been playing (only a handful of weeks) we have seen students design their own personal ‘houses’ whilst collaborating on farms, storehouses, resource gathering and construction of a historically accurate village based on the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1860s. Playing in Survival mode means that if there is no food, there is no hope of fulfilling your desires. More people farming means more food for all which, in turn, means more time for creating either together or alone. They are still learning that kind words while playing encourage others to come to your aid when in need.

And one thing we have learned is that players need to have facetime in order to connect with each other. These essential meetings to check in on the day begin with three questions – What’s been average? What’s been awesome? What’s on your agenda? These are the 3As that briefly allow is to meet, share and plan for what we are to achieve in that session.

I will not-

  • Demolish other people’s builds (Grief) without expressed permission. I understand that if this occurs I will need to explain my actions to senior members of the group and make necessary repairs.
  • Share the server address to any non-school players including family and friends outside of the school community.
  • let participating interfere with my friendships, classwork or homework.

The first two points are obvious, dealing as they do wit respect and safety. This last point has been particularly important and was inserted by teachers only after discussion with parents and the students. Curiously enough, the students understood that Minecraft was a distraction from other requirements that needed to be managed carefully.

I understand

  • That I may gain status and privileges if I engage positively with the activities set out within the Minecraft Community.
  • That I may be removed from the Community if I am seriously in breach of the Player Charter

It is here that the conversation with the players continues. What, for them, would constitute status, rewards and privileges? They set the boundaries and the prizes too with imaginative input from teachers.

Conclusion

It’s taken nearly two years but it has been worth it as the beginning builds have shown. More than that, the way plays share and encourage others is reward enough for us as educators.

It is at this point that we enter the realm of game mechanics. The Charter sets up the purposes and community values but what we needed is some way to encourage further interdependence and collaboration. How were we to engender and support the Minecraft players, the community, to galvanise itself around student lead projects and reward them appropriately? This is where we turned to 3D Gamelab and the next blog in this series.

Our 3D Gamelab game engine

Our 3D Gamelab game engine

Death on the Nile ~ Gamification and Mummification

‘In Cluedo it is so easy to be sucked into believing everything other players tell you. It is easy to start thinking that the suspect everyone is accusing must be the culprit because it has the opinion of many behind it. In Cluedo we should listen to others, of course. But we should also keep an independent mind. Is it possible that this person knows that the weapon wasn’t really the dumbell? Yes it is. In keeping an independent mind we have the power to challenge what we have been told and analyse it to be sure whether it is true or false’

~  Isabelle, a year 7 student

 

What dinosaurs are to early primary/elementary schoolers, Ancient Egypt is to early Middle Schoolers. Kids of all ages love the pyramids, exotic locations, accidental discoveries, the exquisite jewellery, mummies and alleged curses. But that can be where the fascination ends- Cool facts. The challenge for educators is to shift the learning from being the sort of study that resides purely in the ‘About’ domain of information, facts, figures and details into an engaging investigation in which critical thinking, synthesizing, problem solving, logic and application are demanded. We have attempted to bring the latter list to bear on the troubled life of Pharaoh Tutankhamun though imaginative play and a liberal application of Cluedo.

Note that in the introduction I did not use this year’s educational buzzword – gamification – but made a definite choice of the word ‘play’ Why? To be blunt, the word gamification is an ugly, ungainly hybrid that trivialises learning into mere entertainment and reduces games to a clever strategy that gets something across- a kind of a sleight of hand approach to learning – (*assumes condescending voice* ‘Guess what kids? You’re learning something and you don’t know that you are! Isn’t that neat?!’) I argue that existing games have validity in themselves. They can help us learn, practice, implement and normalise meaningful life skills as you’ll see below.

from http://www.mrdaley.com/wordpress/

Games and play have always played a part in Education and there is no sign of them leaving any time in the foreseeable future. This comprehensive infographic called ‘Gamification in Education’ presents the evolution of educational games. There is, however, a tendency to focus purely on computer games as being the most valuable in this *gulp* gamification revolution (educationrevolutionification?) and neglect some traditional gaming platforms that don’t need a console. Or an iPad, for that matter. Add to that the fad of offering badges for completing tasks (badgification?) and you could be forgiven for believing that 21st century learners are  virtual BoyScouts traipsing about the internet collecting patches. (Though many are, but these patches are the ones gamers are downloading for their MMORPGs.)

Where would be be without a CLUEDO?

Existing games can be a great vehicle for learning. With or without badges. Or, again, iPads. Here’s the associative thinking that lead to our choice of Cluedo as not only an initiating task but as a methodology for our investigation of Ancient Egypt.

  1. When you think of Ancient Egypt you think of pyramids and Tutankhamun.
  2. And the Mummy’s curse! Cool! Undead mummies lurching… No, Let’s not go there. Distracting.
  3. How did he die? What killed him? Where did it happen? Was it murder?
  4. Was it High Priest Aye in the Throneroom with a Canopic Jar?
  5. Hey that sounds like ‘Mrs Peacock in the Ballroom with the Lead piping!
  6. *Light Bulb moment* Let’s play Cluedo!

So that’s how we started- buying boardgames invented in 1929, not using Black Line Masters, or a Learning Management System that awards badges (though that would be a cool addition) or even iPads. Old Skool. Our aim? To see if the students could reflect on the skills needed to play and wonder if these could be applied elsewhere. After playing a few games in teams we asked them to consider what an historian was and then posed this question – ‘What can an Historian learn from playing Cluedo?’ Here is just one of the responses.

WHAT CAN AN HISTORIAN LEARN FROM CLUEDO?

By playing Cluedo, we developed many skills. From patience and persistence to making connections between completely

Students playing Cluedo

obscure topics and listening carefully, Cluedo is a whirlpool full of new knowledge. But is Cluedo really just a game that ages 9 – 99 can play? Or is it also a tool for historians and researchers to develop their own skills?

We are curious in Cluedo as we genuinely want to find out who committed the murder because we want to win!

We use patience and persistence in Cluedo, without even realising. When we feel like we are NEVER going to get the answer and uncover the truth, we tell ourselves (unconsciously) to be patient, and sure enough, the answer comes along soon if we persist.

We make connections between people, places and what other people have said, which also means we have to listen carefully as someone might let something slip by accident that might give us a huge insight into the answer. This also relates to the next point:

Keeping up with what’s going on in the game. Otherwise, you could completely lose track.

We definitely learn not to jump to conclusions, as if you do and you are wrong, your whole case will be wrong.

Lastly, we need attention to detail and precision, because you might waste your go completely if you haven’t paid attention to every last little detail.

But, when you think about it, people don’t just use these skills for Cluedo. Historians use them to help uncover the past. But really, are historians only people who call themselves historians? Or is anyone who has ever been interested in finding out more about the past a historian? Maybe the people who are historians professionally have had a bit more experience, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all be historians!

Firstly, historians need curiosity to set them off on their journey of discovery. One example of this is when my mum and I were clearing out my grandfather’s attic after he passed away, when we found his old World War II diary that he wrote in every day when he fought in Tobruk. This sparked our curiosity and we immediately wanted to find out more about this part of the war.

We used patience and persistence when we couldn’t find out any information straight away out of some books or the Internet. But it’s not just us who did that, as people all over the world practice all these skills, especially historians, when they are trying to find out information.

Yet, slowly, we began to make connections between the little things that we read in books and things we had heard off the radio, by keeping up with what’s going in the world through listening carefully!

We began to piece bits of information together, and learnt not to jump to conclusions, like when we turned up to an exhibition about the war at Tobruk to celebrate its anniversary and discovered how wrong we had been in some parts by jumping to conclusions with just a few bits of evidence. So we used the skill of paying attention to detail at this exhibition, making sure we looked carefully at each object.

We started off with a few clues and then discovered a whole part of grandfather’s life that we hardly knew about at all, through doing exactly what a historian would do, which is exactly what happens in Cluedo!

So, historians would learn how to use their skills from Cluedo in a way that could uncover a part of the past, by just playing a board game!

As you can see from the depth of this answer, that’s why we used Cluedo. True, this is a sophisticated response but it was one among many. Most pointed out ‘not jumping to conclusions’ or ‘checking facts‘ or even ‘listening’ were essentials skills that were needed to win the game, or if you were an historian, pose a credible hypothesis. Or, in the case of a detective, crack the case. And that’s where the imaginative play came in…

Crime Scene Investigators: CAIRO

detail from the forensic board

What was once a classroom is now set up with a slab in the centre. Around the edges are groups of desks with notecards and files marked CLASSIFIED. Behind on the wall are a series of boards with images hastily tacked to them. Some have captions that read ‘Deceased’ and ‘Location’ and ‘Suspects’ and ‘Cause of Death’. The students gather nervously around the slab and take in the gold sarcophagus (well, a laminated full size poster of it) that lies before them. At the head of the slab the person they think to be their teacher is lounging, hands in pockets and a strange fedora hat on his head. When he speaks it is not his normal voice but a gruff, bombastic one that is reminiscent of Gene Hunt from ‘Life on Mars’ (sans swearing). ‘I’ve heard from your teacher that you investigators know your way around an unsolved death. You’ve got your work cut out for you on this 3000 year old cold case. Are you up for the challenge? Who or what toppled Tut?’

Teacher-in-Role is a classic play-based method that has been used for decades, particularly in Primary/Elementary classrooms. Besides being a powerful way to introduce drama, role and performance codes to young children, it’s a great deal of fun for all involved – not least the teacher. It is sometimes forgotten that in the *shudder* gamification of education it’s not only the kids that need to be engaged and having fun as they learn. Playing the ‘Chief Inspector’ gave me an opportunity to push the boundaries of communication and keep each lesson fresh. Each student ‘bought’ the conceit that the mean-spirited cranky man was a role and he was good to talk to for some things but the teacher might be better for others. That was when I had to take off the hat and soften the voice. The ‘Chief Inspector’ belligerently demanded evidence and sources to back up their assertions whilst the teacher showed them how to find and cite them so the ‘Chief Inspector’ wouldn’t get mad. Team teaching this was also a great help- to extend the metaphor, we could then easily shift from ‘bad cop’ to ‘good cop’ if there were two of us in the space.

It was also delightful to see how quickly they appropriated the ‘Chief Inspectror’s’ forensic discourse, referring to Tutankhamun as the ‘deceased‘ and using terms such as ‘circumstantial‘ and ‘substantiated with evidence‘. Other students adopted a similar combative tone of voice and revelled in their role as detectives.

From there it was down to the grunt work of investigating the case. Students trawled through forensic data, historical accounts, watched Clickview videos and even ancient religious texts in order to find out what lead to Tutankhamun’s death. They took notes in their Forensic Investigator Notebooks – worksheets that, like their teacher, were also in role! What was so unusual in this whole investigation was that the students had a reason to be learning about the gods, the Nile, the role of the pharaoh outside of having to copy notes or study for a test – what they uncovered about the society might have had some bearing on the case. And it did.

One of the most startling discoveries occurred when the students were investigating education and entertainment in Egypt. Learning that few could write, it came as a surprise to find that Tutankhamun’s wife had written (or at least dictated) a letter that was sent to the King of the Hittites after Tut’s death. The details of this letter can be read here but my, how it fired up the case and shifted the investigation from gangrene as the main suspect back to cold blooded murder.

But it wasn’t all drama games masquerading as history. The fact that Tutankhamun’s body lacked a heart gave the students a significant reason to learn about mummification. This is where a web-based educational computer game (still in beta testing) was employed. Quest History uses the Unity platform to create smooth, effortless time-traveling experiences where students race against the clock to mummify a body under the watchful eyes of Anubis. Sure, it was gross and icky but each student was left questioning the absence of a heart in Tutankhamun’s tomb and some later developed intriguing theories to explain its disappearance.

The Hippo did it

Death by Hippo

The penultimate stage of the investigation was when each team stood in front of their peers and argued their hypothesis, citing evidence from multiple sources. They needed to be prepared to withstand the withering ire of their colleagues not to mention some significant questioning just like in History faculties the world over. The debates were warm, to say the least, as each group was determined to ‘win’ by disproving each other.

One of the most intriguing theories originally began as a joke explanation on how to structure a persuasive argument. Students successfully argued that Tutankhamun died from the result of injuries sustained in a hunting/fishing accident – he was, as they put it, mauled by an over-protective female hippopotamus. We sat through a dramatic re-creation of the attack and some hastily drawn but nevertheless engaging diagrams that captured the minds of their fellow detectives. Evidence from the tomb including the correct season of his death based on floral offerings found on the body as well as contemporary accounts of injuries inflicted in hippo attacks, were used to substantiate their case. Many students were convinced to the point of putting aside their own hypotheses.

Case closed

After testing their knowledge in the arena of their peers, it fell upon the detectives to submit a final report that argued a cogent case. Whether it was a hippo, a chariot accident, a disappointed wife, cerebral malaria or a power hungry vizier that killed the boy-king was not really the issue nor what was being learned. As Isabelle wrote in the quote that opened this posting, the game-like exercise was one that developed independence and confidence in challenging what is put before us- essential skills for any game or, indeed, for life.

Cluedo gave us the way in to play with the idea of becoming a detective. It highlighted the key skills we needed to employ and reminded us to stay open-minded yet critical of what the evidence seemed to suggest. And it was an enormously engaging eight weeks of fun with not a single badge awarded.

Next term we introduce Geography using the TV series ‘The Amazing Race” and a National Geographic board game called ‘Expedition‘. Get your passports ready, Year 7. Time for take-off.

‘You Can Be a Hero’

 “Play of the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.’
~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

 
Over the past five years, Quest Atlantis has become a significant part of the learning pathway of our Middle School students at MLC School. For some students it is a social network to make and hang out with friends, for others a rich investigation of subject matter that intrigues them. Some students are driven to compete against their own limitations or against the strengths of others. Some pursue the creative opportunities to build in virtual spaces whilst some discover in it a way to find their voice.

Above the authentic learning experiences and immersive worlds rich with curriculum is the potential QA has to inform character and to construct identities. These three short videos, generated over the past two years with one cohort of Middle School students, shows how Quest Atlantis experiences can be an opportunity to shape yourself and the world.

PART 1 

PART 2

PART 3

 

The Great Wall of Minecraft

“Play is the exultation of the possible.” Martin Buber

 

What follows is a short video shot on my iPhone that is less than 10 minutes in duration. It celebrates the passion, ingenuity, creativity, dedication and determination of a student who, when offered any way to present her findings in an integrated unit on the legacies of ancient civilisations, selected Minecraft as her method. She can see what is possible in such games. Pleas view to the end to hear her final remarks about what she likes about the game.

She built a huge section of the walll, did the research and learned an incredible amount about her topic. Then, feeling unfulfilled, went on to create traditional Chinese dwellings and then start construction of the Forbidden City. Her sources? Google Earth of course! One virtual model inspiring another. Why not books? She couldn’t get inside and work out all the proportions!

My role in this endeavor was just to encourage her to pursue her passion and question historical accuracy as you can hear in the video.

I’m downloading Minecraft even as I type this. There is so much to learn about play, dedication and creativity from these young experts.

Are computer games better than life? a reflection

 Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.
Michael Jordan

 

Like many growing up in the late 70s and early 80s bright boxy video games were a favourite way to escape from the tribulations of adolescence. They shaped my view of the world. But so did the novels I read, the late night deep and meaningful conversations, the big ideas raised in school, the ubiquitous hormone induced arguments I had with my parents and the hours daydreaming in my treehouse . David Perry in his TED talk elevates the role of video games to the status of some god-like omniscient being that has shaped the generations since Pong and space invaders landed in our lounge rooms. And created what?…

Before I say any more you might like to view the whole talk here…

Before you think me a techno-luddite, I confess to being a gamer myself who recently has joined World of Warcraft after starting with its far superior younger cousin, Lego Universe. I agree with Perry that games have (or will have) the power to move us creatively and emotionally. They do have the potential to engage us fully in increasigly real-world issues in ways that model consequentiality, reflection, community and imagination. A potential. Not a consistent reality. Also. it’s impossible to ignore the economic statistics Perry revisits – computer/video games are a growing force in the world’s economy that, contrary to public opinion, appeals to women and young adults far more than we think.

Yet I am troubled by his talk.

Well, its not the self-confessed ‘addict’ whose powerful life-story evokes the pain/joy of gaming that upsets me – I can relate to so much of it. If anything the honest addictive aspects drew me in to reflect more deeply. My issue is with the field of games her drew on, the examples, the content of the presentation. All the games that he presented were combative, aggressive and violent. (Yes, he remarks about not many games having adult content, but what did me mean by that?) Games, for whatever reason, seem stuck in this ‘Defeat something, get something’ model. Richer stories that dabble in character and cinematography seems to make this more palatable. Whilst the graphics and cinematic qualities are phenomenal, why is it that the discourse of this pinnacle of art is all about me and my mates getting things? If games are so creative, so powerful, so god-like why are they so stuck?

Now, again, remember I play games and enjoy them but am questioning about the values they present. For me, games are at their best when they allow people to connect and forge friendships. They are awesome when they are strong allegories. They are epic when the skills and perspectives gained within them transfer to the outside world. (Do driving games make you a better driver? Do basketball games make you a better gamer? Do ‘Gangsta’ games make you a better abuser of women?! WTF?!) This is why the new generation of games needs to evoke our emotions and cause us to question our fundamental self-cherishing notions. Games like Quest Atlantis remove combat altogether, choosing the conflict to be in the arena of ignorance vs wisdom. But how many do that?

So, as this blog post was part of my training in 3D Gamelab, it might be prudent to reflect on how this TED talk might impact on my use of this new methodology. Here’s the thing, when I discovered Gamelab, I was so excited. Racing through the initial quests there was early success and, proud of my achievements, I posted my scorecard on Facebook, tagging my fellow Facebooking Gamelabbers in it to roar of my XP and slap their faces playfully with my virtual glove.

Finding myself waking at 4am to complete more quests and stay ahead of my colleagues was an alarm that something was a but askew. Later I would sneak away at lunch time to squeeze in more questing time. Meanwhile morning teas and conversations happened around me. People sought help for various personal crises and I was barely there to hear. What began as a means of exploring game-based learning became a full on assault on beating the game.  Thus Competition wrestled with Curiosity for control. (By the way, this blog was written at 7am on a Saturday morning so I’m not out of the woods yet…)

Where in game-based learning is a recognition of a space to stop and get perspective. Why the constant rush to move on? Can the games reward pressing STOP or even PAUSE rather than having the thumb on PLAY all of the time? Or even worse, SHOOT. Is there more to be learned in not playing for a time?

Anyway, big questions aside. It’s 8am. I’m off to work out my frustration in WoW with Milarepa my 13th level Dranei Shaman. or I could meditate…

*sigh* Choices, choices. This time, I’ll press STOP.

The School of (Web 2) Morrow

‘I am reluctant to decide by myself what is important for you to learn because I believe that the most important aspect in learning is to choose what is worth learning. If I alone make that choice, every day I would be reserving the most important part of learning for myself.’ Dr Marshall Rosenberg – Life Enriching Education p 81


Visit to the Elisabeth Morrow School – September 27, 2010

In an affluent wooded suburb of New Jersey only a short car ride from the towers of New York City, is the Morrow mansion. Since 1930 it has been known as the Elisabeth Morrow School. The ancestral home of the Morrow family is now at the centre of a complex of specially outfitted school buildings that cater to the needs of 460 co-education students aged from 3 – 14.

It is a remarkable school in many ways. The facilities are outstanding, despite the necessity to adapt a sprawling ‘country house’ into assorted classrooms and offices. Their experiential science space is a notable highlight – it invites play and personal inquiry across multiple scientific domains. Not least of the reasons the school is remarkable is that it bases its entire philosophy on four keystone concepts that it terms ‘The Four Cs’

Consideration

  • consider other people’s feelings
  • help others when needed
  • invite others to join activities

Cooperation

  • work together as a team
  • practise self control
  • follow directions

Courtesy

  • Be kind
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Have good manners

Compassion

  • Be tolerant of small annoyances
  • Accept apologies
  • Be understanding of other’s feelings and needs

Learning from the wise

Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) is a technology teacher committed to engaging students in dialogue between these Four Cs and access to emerging social technologies. (I have written about her before in a previous blog entry.) She empowers her class to use safe and proactive practices online. Her method is simple – let the young people share what they already know and deeply value their contributions. In essence, she impeccably models the Four Cs in her interactions with young people.

At the time of my visit the school year had only recently commenced, so there was still much to learn about the students’ Internet use. Marianne surveys the class’s opinion and experience: on this occasion, she allowed me to frame the questions. Whilst the questions themselves, based around their online identities and eCitizenship, produced some interesting responses, it was a rare unplanned discussion that gave us a startling insight into young people’s attitude to online safety at school and at home.

As we were conducting the survey, it struck me that these students had no idea who I was or, for that matter, could I be trusted. I interrupted the survey and asked them, ‘How do you know you can trust me?’ They were initially troubled (one student said, ‘Oh, you are creeping me out!’) but then increasingly engaged as they explained why they felt I could be trusted. I scribed their responses in a diagram so that I, a visual learner, could best understand the data. This is a more refined version of the same diagram.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.21.47 AM

The students identified that they possessed specific Knowledge about online safety, Skills with the tools and, most originally, ‘Wit’ which I took to mean cleverness, humour and a sense of perspective. I suggested, and they agreed, that they also had the benefit of Experience. In turn, they knew that their teacher also possessed Knowledge, Skill, Experience and Wit which informed her choices. This understanding was then extended to the school. In summary, the students could trust me because all these factors would have filtered out anyone undesirable from entering the environment.

We then turned to look at the home environment to see if there was any difference in their perception of safety.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.24.06 AM

This diagram had less layers, more components and more ‘holes’ as one student put it. Firstly, the students identified differences between Face to Face (F2F) friends they also meet online and purely online friends (their ‘Peeps’) which was revealing. Interestingly, they cited Gaming Friends (World of Warcraft Guilds were mentioned specifically) as a separate category. Membership to these groups, it must be said, s not mutually exclusive. Siblings, they noted, had differing degrees of understanding about online safety practices due to age and education. Parents seemed to monitor their Internet use less than teachers did at than school. The lack of connection, as indicated by the orange highlighted gaps in the model, is indicative of the lack of communication or even exposure to the various aspects of a student’s online presence. Do parents or siblings know to what extent a child participates online? Is there open discussion and sharing? For that matter, do teens invite such interest from family members?

My reflections on this diagram are in accord with the recommendations put forward by Susan McLean in Australia. Four of her five top tips for safety online relate specifically to the whole family being united in discussing, knowing and planning for how the Internet is to be part of their communal and private lives.  (see previous Blog post Generation Next – the Next Menace.)

I then asked the students to tell me the questions they should have been asked in the survey. Their questions were insightful and reflected their need for guidance and support. Here are their unedited questions –

  • Do you think school should be involved in social networking?
  • Have you ever been in a fight on a computer?
  • Should some Internet content be prohibited?
  • Is it easier to chat with people online than with friends F2F?
  • How old or what sex are the people who IM or text?
  • Is it safe to friend anyone on FB or social networking sites?
  • Where would you go if you have a problem online?
  • Would you say stuff online that you wouldn’t say in person?
  • When you post something bad about other people do you think about your future when you post something bad? Do you consider the consequences of your actions?
  • Do you save your chats or do you delete them?
  • Has someone in a chat ever changed your emotion, for example made you sad?

These questions prompted the following interchange between  myself and a student that is worth reporting.

Mr Caldwell: Young people don’t really need teachers at all; they just know so much anyway. Young people like you, you are so wise –‘

Student: ‘So, then, why do we go to school?’

Mr Caldwell:To help…so we can help you see your own wisdom.’

Student: ‘Oh!’ *realization dawns and the student smiles*

What an amazing opportunity to hear the voice of young people and learn from their wisdom!

Conclusions and Recommendations

 

In a world in which children and young people are increasingly part of global online communities, a school’s Student Code of Conduct is being rewritten to reflect that shift from a purely school based environment. The Four Cs at Elisabeth Morrow School are increasingly becoming the ‘portable property’ of each student wherever they travel – whether in the physical or virtual world.  Whilst the reality of the Four Cs implementation is clearly apparent in the technology rich classrooms, the written policies have yet to catch up but are on the revision agenda.

Elisabeth Morrow’s Four Cs could be a global template for building positive connections online. For this to occur, however, schools may need to revise student Codes of Conduct to reflect the undeniable fact that students have existing online identities with associated behaviours. The Internet is no longer just an electronic library – a respository of facts. The internet is now an interlinked series of Places of Participation that encourage the creation of online identities through which one can gain and add information an any number of ways.

This brings us to the issue of control and security. At Elisabeth Morrow, the students feel safe and supported but want the opportunity to explore further. We need to respect that request. In order to enact the Four Cs fully we need to be understanding of the fact that young people need to take risks and that they need to make mistakes, but do so in a supportive environment. This shows consideration for their adolescent need to push boundaries. That said, no one would argue for putting young people in significant risk: I am not an advocate for no filtering of internet content; that would be akin to putting your child in the drivers seat of a Ferrari without a seat belt, license or driving lessons and handing them the keys. Instead, Marianne Malmstrom and I argue that if we do not engage students in active discourse around controversial content we are not making them more secure, rather we are enfeebling their ability to make informed choices apart from adult intervention.

I would suggest that schools take a more relaxed approach with regard to network administrators blocking Internet content but at the same time, increase the implementation of programs that empower students to critically evaluate content and engage in more proactive self-monitoring. This is a trend that is emerging at Elisabeth Morrow and, as such, is setting a standard in the United States.

Lastly, if students were to enact the Four Cs online they will be, in turn, adding to the societal norms of online spaces. By keeping them out we deny knowledgeable, skilful, experienced and witty young people the opportunity to challenge the existing paradigms. Were young people to bring the Four Cs to bear in online spaces with commitment and consistency, we may, in time, have a very different Internet. This would be the lasting legacy of the true School of Tomorrow.

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