Kids expect to learn differently

Thanks to Sarah for her take on Massively Minecraft. I was a little taken back by the responses from the metaverse, including Will Richardson’s post. [open invite to come thump a tree Will]. I thought I’d pick up on it, and expand some of the ideas we’re using and the things we are seeing.

De-sensitizing means we miss things that matter!

It made me realise how easy it is to get de-sensitised to kids who quickly build high levels of digital-literacy in games. We have posted some of this on our blog, but not as much as we should. Not all our kids have game-history. For many this is their first multiplayer, constructive game-word.

We’re planning it like this

Each week Jo, Bron and I get together for a few hours and we go over what they kids are doing, what they are asking for and the transcripts of what they have been saying (though many use Skype). We discuss game-theory and community – and look for what Bron calls ‘teachable moments’. From October we will be running Parent sessions to extend this.

The world is kid-ruled – and doesn’t intend to be a classroom

We are at great pains not to introduce lessons or activities. We never have. Massively Minecraft is the kids world – all of it. We are using game-theory, project based learning methods (perhaps), but most of all – it’s built on the foundations of what makes gamer communities work so well.

Kids are Self-Directed

We ask them to tell us their goals, and offer help, but 90% of the time they don’t want it. Even after a few days of playing together, they are more than able to tell each other what the goal of the day is and teach each other. Some days it is building games, others it is digging mines. We attempt to maintain a deep, but effortless involvement with their work – mostly by admiring it (very important) or handing them out resources which they might otherwise have to collect. They have learned in our game – being productive and helpful to others is more likely to get you somewhere you want to go faster.

Kids are conceptual planners and designers of their own learning

In the game, they often talk about wanting ‘stacks’. This refers to resources. In Minecraft a stack is 64. Each kid can ask for one stack a day. They learn to plan what they want, so they might want 10 pistons, 20 wooden planks, 12 glass etc. What this means is that they are planning well ahead – they are actively visualising their goal and know how to achieve it. An adult that can’t give them a stack is fairly useless, of little more interest than a tree. I think that is how kids see adults much of the time, especially when kids feel they have little control or right to ask for something. Of course the kids get more than one stack if they can explain what they want it for – so again we’re asking them to defend their ideas – not judge them.

Kids are risk taking and building positive Self-Efficacy

What we see is that the concern for themselves dissipates while playing, but the sense of self is stronger after they stop. We have kids that are typing, talking, designing and take control of their work at a speed which would to be quite honest, spin the heads of most teachers. In fact we have kids in the game – who, according to school – can’t do things we see them doing in their stride.

Kids are learning outside the game

What Sarah hasn’t seen (yet) is the out of game work they do. Quite often they Skype each other and talk about the game. This talk is usually about their ideas. The “skindex” Sarah mentions is interesting because we know how important identity is in virtual worlds. It is common for them to Skype each other to ‘go on the skindex’. They will spend vast amounts of time creating new avatars using Miners Need Cool Shoes, and checking to see if anyone has downloaded their creations.

Skype in itself is interesting. It is not used as a sit back technology, but more of a surround-sound ampitheatre. As far as they are concerned, what is happening on the screen is the only visual that matters, they only want audio – and they want it on all the time.

As Skype only lets you have so many people on at a time, if they run out of users, they just open another call on a different machine, they hate headphones – so what you end up with are dozens of voices all talking at the same time. Somehow, though the noise, they hold multiple conversations – and still text chat in the game – usually to highlight IMPORTANT things.

Compare this to how adults use Skype or even a webinar, we focus on it totally – we mono-task where the kids just see it as a convenient way talk about what is happening in and out of the game. They are acutely aware of RANDOMS, those ‘add me’ requests on Skype. I mentioned this to one player “let me know if anyone you don’t know wants to add you” .. “oh, they did, but we don’t accept RANDOMS, only players we know”. Ahead of me again. They also tell new kids to get their parents to Skype us, to ask permission. Some parents don’t, but amazingly, the kids will include them using chat, often reminding other kids – “she can’t hear you, type it”.

Sometimes they will Skype to ‘go on YouTube’. They like to watch Minecraft Monday among other things, but again they are totally engaged in exploring and discussing the video they are watching. The never – never ask to broadcast a video so others can watch in sync. To them it doesn’t matter if you are 10 seconds ahead or behind – its all about the connected moment.

Kids need game-sympathetic helpers

“Jo, can I please have 12 pistons, some redstone a switch and 64 slabs” – from a 5 year old. This to me to a major point – schools still do not have game/virtual world specialists,. Where  Jo knows what these things are for and can predict what will happen next – this isn’t something that a teacher is going to pick up in a training session.

If schools are going to use games well (and avoid novelty games-based-learning) they need specialists with expert knowledge of virtual worlds and game theory – just as if they are going to teach engineering, they need and engineer.

I don’t see this yet – and to me is a missing link in motivation and engagement, especially in the 9-12 year old bracket. To me, this is the idea age to get into project based learning or serious games … but I don’t see sufficient investment in these areas yet … and it’s one of the many reasons Massively Minecraft exists – to provide it and talk about it.

Kids want to play with their parents

What isn’t so commonly known is that Massively Minecraft is also about PARENTS. A place to come and play with your kids in a world where they have the power and you get to learn about games in their lives.

Where are we going …

Towards the end of the year, we will be organised enough to offer some games based learning workshops – using Massively Minecraft for teachers interested in games. These won’t be FREE, but not expensive either. I know the Mining Industry is supposed to be lucrative these days in Australia, but Massively Minecraft actually costs a lot of time and money – and none of what we do with the kids online is funded (but we’re open to offers). We are always looking for new Guildies.

We are also looking at running ‘school based instances’ of Massively Minecraft – as action research projects, lead by Bron.

Thank You.

I’d like to thank all the teachers who have visited our world, those who have kindly Tweeted and RT’d comments – and those who’ve taken the time to blog about it. Our game is Minecraft and we are recruiting brave teachers and parents to come and learn about kids who inhabit game-spaces.

Meet the Miners!

Some of the kids will be at the FREE Games For Change Symposium in Sydney on 23rd September, where Bron is helping them organise a teacher workshop, so you can come and talk to them, play their game and learn what #GBL is – or should be.  Other kids will be in the game world, so you are welcome to come and join them too. The whole day is about games and the line up of speakers and activities I think is second to none right now. Hope to see you there.


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