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Module 6: Innovation, Gaming, and Minecraft

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Jesse Huseth

on 26 April 2014

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Transcript of Module 6: Innovation, Gaming, and Minecraft

RECAP/Part 1
Throughout our time spent working through our many modules, it was our mission to discover new and interesting ways to reach out to our current and future students. We have been looking for ways to encourage a thirst for knowledge and nurture stronger, more effective methods of learning. These missions call back to a reading we all did in the beginning of the semester concerning “visual thinking,” a tactic used to present real world markers of progress for both educators and the educated. However, visual thinking is only a part of a much larger missions, one entitled “innovating with intelligence.” In part one of my three part presentation, I will be explaining innovating with intelligence, referring to project zero, and explaining its components and overall mission.
What is “Innovating with Intelligence?”
Innovating with intelligence is a byproduct of visible thinking, reinforced with four pillars, or “thinking ideals,” being truth, fairness, creativity and understanding. Each of these ideals is considered a leverage point for intellectual development. By introducing different learning strategies focusing on these pillars, it is the hope of the good people at Project Zero that they will be able to encourage self motivated learning as well as a more fluid process of learning. Each of these pillars possesses a thinking routine in order to enable the students to grow into more passionate and adept learners.

Truth is a tricky thing in education. Students are bombarded with information inside the classroom, and in most cases they are expected to be able to regurgitate said information on a test or for an assessment, but where does truth come in? Students aren't being encouraged to consider where truth plays a role in things such as history, politics, and their own personal lives; Project Zero hopes to change that. By changing the language and the thinking routines in classrooms, Project Zero hopes to encourage young learners to integrate another thinking step, truth, into their process of problem solving.

How do we know this is a fact? How can we prove this mathematical equation? How accurate is the information presented to us? Is true for everyone, or just some people?

These kinds of questions represent different examples of thinking routines for the truth ideal. By inserting these thinking questions, educators hope to add more depth to learning as well as encourage students to think about and present information in a different way.
What does it mean to be fair? How does fairness impact those around you? How do you measure fairness?

These are questions you will rarely hear in a traditional classroom. History is written by the victor (such that it seems all good to those of us born in the U.S. of A), but is what happened fair? Focusing on such questions once again add depth to a learner's education but discussing fairness also has a direct impact upon the life of said learner. Discussing fairness is a good way to nurture and encourage empathy as well as develop a moral compass into young people. These questions also encourage learners to be considerate towards differing viewpoints of others. All in all, this ideal aid in aiding the learner achieve a balanced, informed out look upon life and his or her own education.
When students learn how to complete tasks, there is almost always some sort of structured format or process to accomplish said task. The ideal of creativity, to Project Zero, expands upon these processes, encouraging the student to strike new ground in their own educational processes. How can this even be looked at differently? Can this problem/task be reframed to make it more accessible or yield different information? Such questions serve as encouragement for students to explore their current assignments and challenges, encourages students to expand their view of the situation and think with more fluidity and creativity. There isn't just one path to the answer nor to learning in general. Creativity focuses on the journey towards finding the answer and new information that can be discovered along the way.
When a teacher says that a student understands the material, the educator likely means that the students is able to manipulate the information in such a way that he or she passes an assessment. Understanding to Project Zero goes a bit further. Understanding is the culmination of learning that comes from combining the previous three ideals. Students who master understanding have the ability to take information, synthesize it in a multitude of ways, and are able to extract information beyond merely what the educator requested. With prompting, students are able to understand the processes that led to their answer as well as other processes that can enrich and add depth to the exercise. They can organize and present the information in a multitude of fashions. Understanding, in short, is the mission of Project Zero. Not merely presenting answers, but understanding the steps that it takes to find the answers as well as appreciate the effort it takes to get to them.
Sum It All Up!
Innovation with intelligence is not merely a focus upon learning, but the focus upon the processes of learning. Innovation with intelligence is the hope that educators can enrich the learning processes in such a way that there is spillover into the learners everyday life; there is the hope that the student will take these newly acquired skills and thinking processes and not only learn on their own but synthesize new information in a more in-depth and enriching fashion. There are new and innovative ways to encourage this type of learning emerging everyday. In the next two parts of this presentation, we will be discussing these methods as well as giving examples of successful execution.
Part 2: Gaming
“Get off the TV and do something productive!”

If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, it is very likely that statement was directed at you. The rise of gaming occurred during the end of the twentieth century. It gobbled up hours upon days upon weeks of the time of young people. Studies were run that stated gaming reduced attention span, damaged work ethic, and make kids less sociable. Gaming became taboo in educational circles, and the damage done by those studies still holds on strong grasp on people today, but what if I told you there was evidence otherwise? What if I told you that there were innovators in the gaming industry that were taking this medium and molding it something different, something better, something... educational? Now, gaming is not just a reference to video games. We will also be looking at learning through gaming, which will include multiple platforms and types of games. In Part 2 of this presentation, we will be looking into the innovations of gaming and some of the benefits it presents to learners, specifically benefits that fall in line with the four pillars of innovating with intelligence.
Learning Through Gaming
When we discuss learning through gaming, we are talking about a highly differentiated teaching style that turns common practices upside down. Major innovator in this field are the educators at the Institute of Play. At this institute, they believe they are “showing, not telling.” The institute is run by a group of game designers out of New York City, and the main drive of the group is to create a design pack that will allow educators to design curriculum for multiple subjects based around an array of games. But why? Why would you remove the teacher from the equation and leave the learning to some kind of disorganized activity?

Outside looking in, that is a reasonable question, but not one that has any bearing on the Institute of Play (IP). At IP, the hope is to reformat the learning environment, removing the teacher as “the one with all the knowledge you need” and shifting his or her role into the one that will facilitate a student's learning. IP has taken great effort to design games that put students into the drivers seat, empowering them to self teach through these games as well as keep their focus on the game. Games are fun, right? IP is focusing on the creativity and the understanding portion of the four pillars in innovating with intelligence. By creating this system, IP has found a way to get learners to see their education in a new, and fun, light.
Here is a video describing the purpose of one of their designed games, Histroia, and what it offers the students at IP:
Gaming with the Sticks
But not all gaming is classroom oriented. Sometimes, when we say learning through gaming, we actually do mean the gaming that falls in the same genre as such gaming franchises as Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Madden. Now, I am not making the claim that these games teach children life lessons and skills (though I'm certainly not denying that... at all... these games totally teach document-able skills!), but there are certain games within the console era that are expanding the minds of children.

Enter, Little Big Planet!

Little Big Planet came from the production company Media Molecule. On the surface, Little Big Planet (LBP) looks like an updated version of the classic 2-D platformer Super Mario Brothers. Doesn't that type of gaming format teach kids plenty? Platformers revolve around moving a character from surface to surface, dodging enemies and pitfalls in the process, in hopes to reach an end goal. Platformers have been documented to teach children simple ideas such as cause and effect as well as spacial awareness; the avatar the player controls needs to control its jump height as well as running speed in order to get to a safe platform. This sounds like fun, and it sounds educational! Let's pat Media Molecule on the back!

Not so fast.

The purpose of LBP was not to simply emulate an already exhausted genre but to add to it. Within LBP, Media Molecule attached a level editor that allows gamers to create their own levels, with enemies, pitfalls, and all, and share them with other gamers. Levels are put on worldwide servers and accessible by all who own the game. Through this level editor, gamers, some children, are learning how to manipulate software tools, exercising their creativity by creating lush and intricate backgrounds, all the while remaining fun and engaging, keeping the attention of those who might otherwise find this type of construction boring and monotonous. These gamers, or learners, are once again exercising their creativity by manipulating this system as well as understanding systems such as interlocking mechanisms and further enhancing spacial understanding.
Here is a short video from the makers of LBP, talking about the level editing portion of their software:
Wrap It Up!
Gaming presents a diverse and limitless method to teach young learners. Be it through gaming in a classroom setting using a specifically designed game in order to move through a curriculum, or maybe you want to plug in your XBOX Kinect and let your child play some spacial games (yes, those exist too!). There are many tools in the chest when it comes to gaming. Of course, just like when selecting any tool for teaching, some tools serve better than others. I am by no means making the claim that any game disc holds a plethora of knowledge for young learners, but the evidence is there that there is an untapped resource at the fingertips of many educators!

Having discussed the assets that exist within learning through gaming and having shown a video game product designed specifically to encourage the imaginations, we move into part three of my presentation: Minecraft.
Part 3: Minecraft
If you haven't heard about Minecraft, you have found a very sturdy rock to hide under.

Before we discuss the educational applications of Minecraft, lets us first define what Minecraft is. Minecraft (MC) was designed by Markus Persson and published by Mojang in 2009. The game was labeled a “sand box game,” or a game that encourages the player to play as she or he sees fit; it's not a game with a defined outcome. Sand box games tend to tether themselves to a core game mechanic and let the players move on from there. In the case of MC, everything is designed around the core mechanic of building things. The concept was simple and the artwork of the game was considered passe. MC chose an odd art direction, having everything be presented in three dimensional, textured cubes. And by cubes, I do not mean interlocking pixels that create some of the gorgeous artwork of the modern game industry. I mean cubes.
Minecraft Continued
So what was the draw here? What made MC so ground breaking that it eventually became an educational tool? MC's simplicity and game design attracted literal millions. The game was readily accessible to those of all ages and ended up being very popular due to its ability to be modified by the gaming community. It's grabbed the hearts of so many young people, educators started to look at it in another light. Was there something there? Was there something accessible to the educational field?


MC's first educational tap came from its base design: those ugly cubes. Because MC is all cubes, the whole of the game falls into an isometric design. Shapes were easily discernible, and space was easily measured. Taking advantage of this, some educators started to use MC as a tool to teach geometry, two dimensional and three dimensional. Where graphs and diagrams were failing to show students how area and volume functions, educators could now instruct their students to build a room with the dimensions 6x6x6. The isometric design of MC made the translation simple. Students started to grasp complicated designs using this new learning tool, a textbook that only costs twenty dollars!

But the learning doesn't stop there. The blocks players are using to build their homes is not a stock object but materials that are gathered by the player. Sure, a player could just build a house out of dirt, but what if he or she wanted to use wood, stone, or metal? MC introduced multiple textures representing different building materials of the real world. Not only that, but these materials also required players to process raw goods into usable blocks. Educators were now using MC to teach students the process of the production line. Once MC introduced farming, another aspect of the real world was easily reachable by struggling students. MC exploded upon the educational field to those willing to dip their toes into unexplored waters.

Bits, Bytes, and Bots
Eventually, MC made its way into certain curriculum of certain programs. Once such program is Bits, Bytes, and Bots (BBB). This program is designed to motivate young learners into the fields of computers, programming, and game design. BBB uses games, such as MC, to give a representation on how real world things function but present the information in a fun and engaging way. I had the opportunity to sit down with a new hire of the company, Steven Strang, and talk about the what BBB is doing with MC.

As it turns out, BBB uses MC to explain to young learners the process of simple circuitry. How, you might ask? MC has a material called “Red Rock.” This material, when processed, emulates similar characteristics to real world copper wiring; it's a conductor that is used in everyday housing circuitry. By processing and placing this “Red Rock,” players in MC are able to create opened and closed circuits, manipulating their creations from afar with a flick of the switch.

Talking about circuitry might not seem daunting to adults, who have a functioning knowledge of real world circuits, but the class is targeting young learners starting at the age of 6. Because MC is so simple in its design, these lessons are accessible to children of such a young age. After this summer camp, can these children explain to you the complexity of circuitry? Of course not, but they can show you. Children exiting this camp are able to create multi-leveled opened and close circuits, moving on to such complexity as creating certain “if checks” for their circuits (ex: if this door is open, do this, not this.)

If you would like to know more about BBB, here is a link to their site: http://bitsbytesbots.com/bitsbytesbots/

What Does It All Mean?
Minecraft is a perfect example of what we have been discussing concerning visual thinking. Educators are taking a game and employing it in such a way that children are systematically moving though exercises in a very visible and structured way. The isometric design applies to mathematics, the processing steps touch on science and social studies, and the development of farming does the same. MC came so far that even groups interested in computer science, a class not taught in all public schools, are tapping the game program in order to teach the basis for electrical circuitry and doing it in a manner which children can see and control how they learn.

Not only does MC facilitate an curriculum need for educators and students, but the program also has even deeper mechanics, allowing learners to solve problems in a multitude of fashions. This diversity of choice encourages the imagination and demands a deep understanding of mechanics to truly master the game. Once again, we look to the ideals of creativity and understanding within innovating with intelligence.

Games aren't just for fun anymore, they aren't there just to blow fifty dollars, and they aren't there just to waste a lazy Saturday morning. Gaming is seeping into the educational field, inside the classroom and out, more and more each year. New and innovating ways to encourage (and sometimes trick) children into mastering what we once considered complicated and beyond the reach of young learners.

As educators, we talk about needing new methods to teach and engage students concerning multiple subjects; we need ways to keep students interested and engaged. Places such as the Institute of Play, Programs such as Bits, Bytes, and Bots, and platforms such as Little Big Planet and Minecraft are offering innovative and, more importantly, fun ways to get students back into the learning game (pun!).

Here's a short video concerning Minecraft in the classroom. Bonus: Digital Citizenship!
Citation and References
Bloom, Dan. “The Minecraft Cell: Biology Meets Game-Based Learning.” Edutopia. 10 December, 2013. Web. 22 April, 2014. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/minecraft-cell-biology-meets-gbl- dan-bloom>

Brennan, Rick. “Historia: Game-Based Learning for Middle School History.” Edutopia. 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 22 April 2014.<http://www.edutopia.org/blog/short-happy-history-of-historia-rick- brennan>

Edutopia. “Fostering Creativity and Community with a Platform Video Game” Youtube. 8 April, 2014. Web. 22 April, 2014. <

Edutopia. “Using Minecraft as an Educational Tool.” Youtube. 10 December, 2013. Web. 22 April, 2014. <

Farber, Matthew. “Game Based Storytelling.” Edutopia. 28 March, 2014. Web. 22 April, 2014.

Games, Alex. “Play It Forward: New Xbox Games for Learning.” 24 October, 2011. Web. 22 April, 2014. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/new-xbox-games-for-learning-alex-games>

Miller, Andrew. “Ideas for Using Minecraft in the Classroom.” Edutopia. 13 April, 2014. Web. 22 April, 2014. <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/minecraft-in-classroom-andrew-miller>

Project Zero. “Project Zero.” Harvard Graduate School of Education. 2014. Web. 22 April, 2014.

Project Zero. “Visible Thinking.” Hardvard Graduate School of Education. 2014. 22 April, 2014.

Salen, Katie. “Katie Salen on the Power of Game-Based Learning.” Edutopia. 30 July, 2013. Web. 22 April 2014. <http://www.edutopia.org/katie-salen-game-based-learning-video>

Wikipedia. “Minecraft.” Web. 22 April, 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minecraft>
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