In Fall 2014 my students in EDET 693 Gaming and Open Education rose to a challenge to create an OOC that integrated new Language Arts Standards and Minecraft for K-12 students. The result was #Givercraft – an experience which attracted (with the help of @coolcatteacher Vicki Davis and @verenanz Verena Davis) over 700 students, some twenty odd teachers, and a whole lot of enthusiasm in this corner of Alaska.
We’ll call the OOC configuration for grades 6-12 students that resulted a “walled sandbox”. There have often been references to the “walled garden” (England, 2010) which scaffolds an intermediate stage of social media use for students. A “walled garden” is generally a password protected Content Management System (CMS) , in which students learn and socialize protected from the rest of the world. We call our own experience a “walled sandbox” for a few reasons. First of all, the password protected space in which students socialized was a game server provided by allgamer.net. So – it was much less a garden in which pre-formed ideas were being cultivated, and much more an area to play and create. Secondly – it was FUN. Learning was fun for students, and monitoring was fun for teachers. We were learning, but it just felt like healthy play. Finally, a garden implies hard work and toil. While we engaged for hours (and hours and hours) in the Minecraft experience, and we learned a lot, the work we did wasn’t hard. It was intrinsically rewarding and something we looked forward to each day. Rather than being the toil we needed a break from, it was the ongoing break, that continued in our minds even when we weren’t playing.
Within our walled sandbox teachers and students who had signed up for the experience played, learned and created. The focus of this experience was “The Giver” by Lois Lowry. In the first week of the experience students built Jonas’ community as seen through the book, and lived as the community lived. They didn’t have to worry about survival or transportation or anything that wasn’t “pleasant”. In the second week of the experience, they found memories and explored beyond the community to see what the wider world was like. In the third week, they built memories and lived in a freer but far more challenging world: for instance, they experienced weather in Minecraft; they experienced day and night; they experienced hunger and a requirement that they hunt and cook to survive.
It was such an amazing experience. You can read some of the research that resulted here: http://www.mvlri.org/Blog/ID/77/Simply-Engaging-and-Utterly-Consuming-Givercraft-2014 but to be brutally honest, the experience was so complex, and the data so plentiful and rich, I have yet to fully analyze it and come to final conclusions. I have some unanswered questions. I am hoping with some deeper inquiry this semester we’ll be able to get better data on exactly how students engage according to the scenarios and how they adjust to meet the expectations of the rubrics. We did learn that teachers need to have discussions with students before and after the experience to bring them back to the literature and to the way that what they built reflected the author’s words. In discussion with teachers who participated, I was glad to hear about the number of reluctant readers and other students who didn’t do well in other scholastic areas, but did do well in this experience. I heard reports of students leafing through the books and re-reading aspects of the book to ensure they got the details right. I read reflections of the themes through student Wiki postings, and saw representations of them through the screenshots posted on the student Wiki page. Finally, I read student surveys in which students shared that they understood the literature far better than they would have without Minecraft because they lived the book!
When the #givercraft crew had a Hangout with Newbery Medal Winning Author Lois Lowry, they described to her the things they had been doing in Minecraft which related to her book. She said to them that they were doing what she did as a writer! They were creating a world with rules, and making characters and settings for those worlds…
So I think our “walled sandbox” was a great success and we are going to repeat this experience in March and April for other groups of students (and even for some of the same!) This time, I have two groups of students who are in-service teachers, who will be helping me monitor and prepare teachers for the experience. We are all really excited for the new attendees and we want to see how our new experiences based on The Maze Runner and Lord of the Flies pan out! Those are aligned with #CCSS as well, and like in the first #givercraft, students will be building scenarios according to the texts, and then living within those scenarios. In the Maze Runner scenario, they’ll actually live in the communities built by others and try to solve the Maze (along with surviving all of its challenges)!
I did have a little fun with making trailers for these experiences! These trailers give a taste of each experience to the students or interested teachers.
Trailer for The Maze Runner
Trailer for Lord of the Flies
Trailer for The Giver
If you wish to sign up for one of these experience, you may do so here!
I hope to see some of you there! Come play with us in our “Walled Sandbox”…scaffolded by #CCSS, surrounded by other teachers and students with like goals, and ultimately just having a blast.
Let me know what you think about this concept and our experiences in general!
England, A. (2010). Open content: From walled gardens to collaborative learning. Incite,
31 (1/2), 10.