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.

GBL is not about games, it’s about mindsets

Games don’t want to bow to the will of education, as every game designer knows, as soon as the fun stops – you’re dead. For example, kindergarten kids are supposed to count to 30 by the end of the year (I know, it’s crazy). Setting that as a limit in games would appear to the designer as ridiculous. Imagine if all games for young kids abides by the rules of the syllabus, not of the players. No game could score past 30, they could only use one of 50 sight-words and only ever discuss basic social-concepts and toilets.

Education likes to use competence before performance as it’s under pinning view, so that you have to have the mark, the qualification before doing something else. It’s how we have built the leveling system, and it’s broken. Very broken.

Games are the opposite to this – performance before competence. You have to level your way to mastery and understanding constantly to be relevant to anyone else in the game.

You can’t have a so called ‘flipped classoom’ until you have performance before competence – and to do that, you need an entirely new way of working and assessing – which is exactly what you get with Xbox Live, not blogs or wikis – unless you design them that way.

This is game based learning. You don’t need a game you need a new mindset.

Enter the failure gap, honour your vomit to identify problems worth solving

I was asked a few days ago about whether students can, or should be able to set their own assessment tasks. It’s easy to think they can – but the number one activity of young people online isn‘t problem solving, it’s information-seeking. They are not alone, most adults want the answers – show me where, give a link to, how do I … and get upset if you don’t vomit up the answer.

So back up a little, put down you’re techno-back pack and look around the room that you’re in.

 Where are the problems to solve? How do student’s know what they look like? Are the problems projected or written in a rectangle and how is this different to looking at the world through a flat web-browser?

If a student was asked to set their own assessment – I’m pretty sure they’d set one that fits inside some sort of rectangle.

Before deciding yes or no, it makes sense to know how good they are at identifying problems worth assessing – and what the teachers role might be.

What happens if they solve a math problem using World of Warcraft, or find a passion for drawing by playing Animal Crossing, is that a rectangle too far?

It’s likely student identified problems won’t line up to with current scope and sequences or standards or pass through the scan-a-tron useful to mass cattle-grading systems. Likewise, large portions of syllabus’ concern themselves with content. The idea being that this is important stuff to know (and there are types of knowing). Students assume that as you’re teaching it, then to someone thought it was important, so it’s likely to be on the test. This makes students who are good at the test appear knowledgeable but strikes me as a big problem in a world bursting with information, and ever more complex problems that information itself can’t solve. At what point in the day does a child get to identify a problem, and work creatively to solve it. What is there in the classroom that might spur them to do it?

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish someone had told me…All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste…But there’s a gap – that for the first couple years you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good…it’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game…is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you…A lot of people never get past this phase…they quit.”

Technology is growing, which is a big problem if it’s only maturing outside of formal education. In the classroom, it seems students can’t begin to learn to solve problems, without firstly learning how to identify them and then to develop strategies – which of course involves failing.

It therefore falls on leaders, to allow teachers to put students into places where they can identify problems and work on them creatively. Along the way, they will still need structure, information and skills, but I don’t think teachers would argue with that.

I have always had a dislike of the idea of ‘integrating ICT’ into classrooms as though it will create better or more meaningful work. Most of the people I’d list as being ‘great’ teachers using ICTs are learning that if their latest project fails it will spur new ideas and helps them gain necessary skills, and should view it as a success, as it may inspire something better down the line and is worth doing.

This idea was somewhat explained by, of all people – Lady Gaga who talked about ‘honoring your vomit’. This might sound strange to look to Lady GaGa over Sir Ken, but interesting people are often interesting because they are not talking about education, but about a process of learning, especially film makers, musicians and artists.

The creative process is approximately 15 minutes of vomiting my creative ideas…And then I spend days, weeks, months, years fine-tuning, but the idea is that you honor your vomit. You have to honor your vomit – you have to honor those 15 minutes.”

So if we mash this up in the classroom, what we might try is to kick off the day with 15 minutes of creativity, just trying ideas on for size and seeing what problems we can identify from it for another 15 minutes.

If you are fortunate enough to have an IWB in your primary classroom (my kids have no such access sadly), then go and buy a Nintendo Wii and a game called Animal Crossing. It won’t break the bank and doesn’t need a network engineer, just plug it in and let kids play on rotation for 15 minutes at the start of the day. Then let them spend 15 minutes doing something creative.

That’s it – you’ve just put yourself in the gap – now you (and your students) can start identifying some problems worth solving … and you can spend 30 mins a day working on it everyday.

5 ways to get into game based learning for under $5

Thinking about Game Based Learning? this is a collection of games you can use in the classroom for under USD$5. Great for the primary classroom! Just grab them from Steam, and start thinking of interesting ways to use them. I’ve played ’em all my friends, with my trusty team of home test pilots. You just download and go. Easy as.

1. Simplz Zoo. http://store.steampowered.com/app/7470/

Combining two types of games, simulation and puzzle into one unique adventure, Simplz: Zoo puts you in charge to decide what animals to add, and where to place them in your own zoo. Filled with more than 90 comical animals, fun and challenging game play, upbeat music, hidden secret codes, and lots of make-you-smile goodness, Simplz: Zoo is roaring.

2. Toki Tori. http://store.steampowered.com/app/38700/

The gameplay in Toki Tori is a blend of two genres. While it looks like a platform game, it’s a puzzle game at heart. To progress through the game, the player must pick up each egg in a level using a set number of tools. Players will have to look and plan ahead carefully.

3.Fluttabyes. http://store.steampowered.com/app/23150/

Create matches of 4 or more butterflies of the same color to help them to freedom. The more you match the higher you score (It’s possible to create matches of up to 13 butterflies!). Increase your score by making matches in quick succession.

5. The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom – http://store.steampowered.com/app/40930/

Create your own paradox… for the love of pie Enter a macabre and comical silent world filled with mischief, time travel and delicious pie. Record yourself and harness your time bending abilities to cooperate, compete against, and disrupt your past present and future selves. Winterbottom’s debut misadventures present a whimsical spin on the notions of time, space.

Reflective Writing 1-2-3

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‘REFLECTION’ is a word closely associated with 21st Century Learning. I thought I’d write a post on how to improve critical literacy though a 3 step adjustment to read/write activities in the classroom.

Watson (1997) says “Reflection encourages students to – self examine, self-asses and evaluate their own practice. Without reflecting, the student is at risk of practicing in a manner if unquestioned routines, accepted directives and/or rote learning.”

This short observation highlights the need for students to question, not simply to recount or answer declarative questions with read/write tools. There is bountiful research that suggests talking about what they are doing, not just what they or others have done, encourages the conscious practice of discussing the consequences of their findings and actions.

We need to ensure that testing for prior knowledge is more than asking declarative questions at the beginning of a (lesson or tutorial) learning instance. The facilitator should be conscious of three stages of reflection and also consider selecting different tools to achieve this. For example: Use a combination of micro-blog, game and video. This also encourages students to explore a more diverse media landscape.

1. Reflecting before acting – preventing unnecessary errors. Making sure the student is aware of the outcomes being sought. Asking students to predict the activity, talk about their expectations and possible fears as the activity is revealed to them. What can they do already and show you? What skills are they missing that will help them? This can be though a series of microblog posts for example – as the teacher begins to reveal the activity though providing readings or given them mini-tasks to complete – not just delivering content.

2. Reflect during the activity – use methods to monitor their actions during the event in order to maintain contextually appropriate performance and effort. This is often though feedback from the software itself – such as sound, images, scores etc. In a game this is in-built, but in a MUVE it has to be designed. Teachers need to pay close attention to this phase, to ensure the learner is challenged but not frustrated by poor feedback, or not understanding the importance of it in the learning sequence/pattern – from the teacher or the software.

3. Critically review their actions and experience after. This last action is dependent on recall. Technology often allows recall to occur as events are recorded in some manner such as a blog post, or screen shot. Self and peer assessment to deconstruct the learning process should be combined with encouraging the student to record that event and use that evidence to support their critical reflection.

The outcome,  activity and the assessment should not be limited to a predicted performance. “I think they’ll be able to do it” or “I think I can teach using that”. Design the task so that the student can modify it (up or down), to negotiate their curriculum and perhaps explore incidental or peripheral ideas outside core curriculum content. This might mean making a video, interviewing people, performing a role pay together with text based activities.  Pacing the activity also helps, changing the emphasis from one activity to another to allow you to uncover more about the learner. Keep the tools VERY simple, look for ready-to-learn solutions, so that students learn to select their own tools to demonstrate their learning. Consider that when you first start using read/write media – you students will have little idea what to do and the social dynamics are all over the place. Most games will train you to operate effectively individually rather than in a group -which is much more complex. By default you have ‘groups’ of learners … but initially, this is a good way to learn more about them as individuals, which you can use later in wider approaches.


Ref: Watson S. (1997) ‘An analysis of concept experience”. Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol.16 pp 1117-1121.

The captain has turn on the seat belt sign

While gaming environments may provide experiential learning spaces, they do not necessarily provide students with scope for reflection and application of their learned knowledge and skills to the real world. Activities such as debriefing and structured reflection are essential to ensure appropriate mastery of specified learning outcomes, and these activities can be structured outside the virtual world.

Targetware develop a range of flight simulators for both Mac and PC, which you can download and find more about from their wiki. There are a range of classroom activities you can devise following a quick scramble and dropping some bad guys into the drink. Google, of course has a flight simulator – mashing up Google Maps, so rather than looking at maps – how about creating an air race, or a recon mission game?

Looking for something fast and simple or have younger kids – try Matica, a flash-game that will allow little kids to navigate a plan around a race track – and then use the game editor to make a better track. (My 3 year old loved it). The game you choose may not be ‘the’ best graphics and AI, however look for games that are mod-able; and has a community interested in developing a simulation based activities rather than arcade-style shoot them up. This again is an opportunity to draw students into a comparison; commercial verses community development etc., or explore related concepts such as mathematics.

A flight sim can be used as the backdrop to driving questions such as “Do pilots make better leaders“. And when I say ‘pilot’, the distance between between real and virtual is shrinking. Virtual pilots from around the world will have the opportunity to compete, using Flight Simulator X, to win a spot on a TV reality show code-named “American Topgun Challenge” – acording to internet radio station Blue Sky (a Flight Similator orientated radio station)

Simulators are great ways to engage students and lead them to deeper and wider interest. There are plenty of opportunities to make a wide range of products based on outcomes – but also to allow students to be engaged in something playful.

Uncover some hidden treasure in learning

GAMES are part of the mash-up, and effective, motivating, accessible resources for the classroom. Many are free to try or peanuts to buy – saving the teacher a great deal of time and giving them a motivation power-up that ignites learning.

While many continue to explore ‘web2.0’, they are often not exploring the diverse and rich media being produced for playful learning.

Picture yourself as a student – about start using this game to learn.

“Fresh from a successful exploration of the wreck of the Titanic, the Hidden Expedition Club will pit one of its stellar members against a formidable group of opponents in a race to the summit of Everest. Other groups will battle you to be the first to summit Mount Everest. Expert Everest climber Ed Viesturs will assist you along the way. Explore mysteries of the world as you find hidden clues. Race to the Roof of the World!”

Sound exciting? – Maybe exciting enough to do a couple of hours work deconstructing this text? Using Google Earth, History sites maybe drawing the character; writing a story even. My point here is that games often have an instant narrative, instant motivation to which teachers can subtly add outcomes. It almost doesn’t have to feel like learning at all.

Hidden Treasure is a very slick example of hundreds of games that are available to teachers online.  The demo alone has been downloaded over 8 million times. The game itself allows for a lot of classroom fun, but also allows wider exploration of some of the under pinning themes and concepts that a skilled teacher can weave around it. For under ten dollars; there are numerous puzzle, adventure and discovery games to explore online – allowing playful learning. Just like Web2.0, we have to adapt games into learning as a mash-up. We don’t need to use an instructional CD-Rom, just go online.

Games online have perhaps made leaps forward than ‘websites’ yet are often still viewed with a prejudicial 1990’s lens – where games were predicated violent behaviour and arcades were for drop outs and gangsters. Games, like the rest of the web have come a long way and await discovery in the classroom.