Young Aussie Miners

Hi, I'm Yvonne Harrison and I teach in a large primary school south of Perth in Western Australia. As an early adopter of technologies which allow students to design and create things I have always enjoyed watching the creativity of children flourish through many different media. Over the last 15 years or so I have been fortunate to have been able to work with extension groups making movies of various types and also programming robots through the Mindstorms platform. Lately I have been more engaged in immersing myself in Virtual Worlds and Game Based platforms and since I first experienced SecondLife in 2007 I have been thinking about how engaging these spaces could be for students in the primary years. My main concern has been security, thus the push for having in-house servers over which we have full control. When I attended some of the education conferences at Jokaydia in SL I heard about the quest based learning environment available online in Quest Atlantis. I trialled Quest Atlantis but our internet connection couldn't handle it at that time - we have only just upgraded to a 10MB connection this year. I also wanted to try and set up an Open Sim server on our network but I don't have the technical expertise to do so. However, I noticed some students using the free online version of Minecraft when it was available and saw potential in such a tool. It wasn't until last year that I took part in a Teacher Camp through 3DGameLab in which I was able to experience a multi-player version of Minecraft. It was also through 3DGameLab that I met the inspirational Lucas Gillespie who was very eager to pass on his unlimited wisdom to everyone taking part in Teacher Camp. Later that year, after I had set up the server and started my fledgling group of Young Aussie Miners in a school computer club, which runs one afternoon a week after school hours, I had extensive conversations with Bron Stuckey during another 3DGameLab Teacher Camp during which I came to terms with the many and varied ways in which we can challenge students through this medium. Her inspirational crowd sourcing of ideas gave my Year 7 students licence to develop a community project which they called Leisure Lakes. They collaborated on the project plan and explained it to the rest of the group. They also developed the starting space for the project and outlined the parameters for building. The steps we followed when we started up this group were:
1. Students experience creative and survival spaces.
2. Students build an art project.
3. Students build a house - alone or in teams.
4. Students complete the Leisure Lakes community project.
Woven throughout this plan was the expectation that students would learn how to behave in an online space. We had regular discussions within the group about what the students thought was acceptable behaviour and what was innapropriate. The learning curve for some was steep as they had not experienced a multiplayer environment before. However, we stuck with it and eventually they stopped accidentally breaking others' builds, building too close to others and shouting across the computer lab!

I have placed all of the screenshots of the Young Aussie Miners projects online. We also included a community session at the school fete so people could see what they had achieved and learn more about Minecraft and its potential for learning.

Following this initial foray we are working with several new members in the group this year and starting with a creative world so the students can learn their way around. My Year 7 students return to our school on Computer Club afternoons to continue in their lead role and to mentor our new admins who will eventually take over as the server administrators. We are planning to look at a Survival Achievements set up, similar to those I have seen run by Jo Kay and Lucas Gillespie, followed by a run through of the Escape To Morrow project developed by Marianne Malmstrom's students.

Young Aussie Miners Survey Results

I took the questions which were presented as starters for this blog and created a short survey which some of the students from the computer club kindly answered so that I could append their thoughts here. They are all boys (incidentally we have had three young girls join in the club this year and I was so thrilled about that!) and their ages range from 9-13.
Out of the 10 students surveyed, 8 had not experienced a multi-player environment previously. One of the students had run his own server and regularly played on those of people he knew and the other played on public servers with his parent present.
From the various projects we completed last year, the majority of the boys decided that the one they liked best was the Leisure Lakes Project. The reasons they presented for this were: they had fun building and working in small groups within the project space; they liked people around them in the group because they could help each other if there was something they were unsure of; it allowed them to be creative and all of the students worked together to achieve a goal. Only one student didn't enjoy the project as he was more interested in achievements and the survival aspect of the game.

When asked what they learned about Minecraft from their participation in our multiplayer space, the replies included:
- learning all of the controls because some students were new to the game.
- learning the controls of the game - e.g. inventory and how to organise it; command keys and figuring out how to use chat to communicate with the other players.
- learning how to use redstone from a mentor player who ran a tutorial during one of the sessions. Two students became very adept at creating flashing lights and showers as well as doors with pressre pads etc. This allows them to become mentors themselves.
- learning how to craft items from the resources in the game
- learning how to place blocks in the space.
- learning how to use the minecarts
- learnng how to administer the server

What has surprised you about Minecraft was the next question I asked. The students replies were again varied but included:
- the controls - specifically that they are different on the varied platforms such as iPad, PC and Xbox
- how many children enjoy it!
- It's really easy to play but sometims working through your inventory is hard.
- I was surprised I could make circuits with redstone.
- Horses and the amount of people that can play at one time!
- endermen when they teleported
- it's a bit realistic
- How fun it is compared to other games of its kind, as it has lots of things that others don't. Also how hard it is to decide what projects to do for a team and how to stop rule breaking.

Is Minecraft addicting?
This was an interesting question as I have heard that many of the students love playing Minecraft in their single player versions at home as well.
Answers were again varied.
- Yes, although not in a bad way as it's more realistic than other games of its kind as there is some physics in it.
- Yes! I just like to keep doing stuff like in survival - killing spiders with bows I have made!
- Yes because you have to adventure and you just want to stay on to get better at it.
- Yes, I love how you can design and build things and watch your progress while doing so.
- Yes because I like doing it with my friends.
- Yes! If I start playing I can't stop because there is so much to do and learn.
- Yes, because it's fun!
- Yes I found out that there are more types of stones and ores and I just want to keep going and find more!
- Minecraft is addicting to some students. Only if the REALLY enjoy their project.
- it's very creative and amazing.

The last word: What ideas do you have for further projects for the Young Aussie Miners?
I note a wide variation in understanding of the technical aspects of Minecraft already!
- Using mods. I like smart moving too many items, unbelievable shaders and easy redstone.
- I would like to make the Nether Portal.
- A castle or a fort.
- A PVP battle arena.
- Do survival a lot more and adventure more.
- Play survival easy with mods like castle defenders mods, zipline mod, better sprint mods.
- A fairground.

In closing this page I would add that I have very little to do with the server set up - we are using MinecraftEDU over a LAN so that bandwidth is not an issue for us. I am very grateful to the three high school students who turn up each week to support this endeavour which they were so interested in helping me to get started. I can see a lot of potential in this tool for class projects of many kinds as well as for supporting a living learning community.