Why Minecraft is really cool

What’s so cool about Minecraft? On The Verge, Ben Popper explains why parents and kids are hooked on the game.

In Minecraft, users move around a virtual world, harvesting resources like wood, gold, and iron ore that they can use to build whatever they like. Everything is made of textured 3D cubes. The graphics are extremely low-fi. There are bad guys to watch out for and defeat, and technically a dragon you can slay to beat the game, but what has captivated millions is the total freedom Minecraft offers to wander around and build, often collaboratively, a huge world of you own.

Steven Sorka, a 36-year-old software developer from Toronto, plays with his 20-year-old stepson and 11-year-old daughter. “Minecraft seems to be a perfect storm of Lego and adventure,” Sorka says.

Parents see Minecraft as a teaching tool. Players learn about architecture and use “redstone circuits” to create “simple mechanical devices, even entire computers.”

. . .  the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from “mods”, modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming . . .

Minecraft is “more than a game,” writes Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post.  “Minecraft is also an ecosystem of dedicated fans who play, create and share within and beyond the game’s open world.”

Last week, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, which crafted Minecraft.

Core quest

A screen shot of an Amplify game under development

“Really cool video games” may turn out to be a benefit of common standards, reports Benjamin Winterhalter in The Atlantic. By creating a national market, the Common Core has created a huge incentive for ed tech companies to develop learning games.

Amplify may be “the frontrunner in this Common Core-driven gold rush,” writes Winterhalter.

During a unit on Shakespeare, a student can watch a short video of actors performing the “out, out, damned spot” scene from Macbeth, which appears side-by-side with the passage’s text. Or the student can have the software quickly provide the definitions of unfamiliar words in reading assignments, which are added to a custom database of new vocabulary.

In a game called 12, “the universe is under attack by the largest known prime number, and the player, assuming the role of the number 12, must battle to save it.”

. . . the number 12 must combine itself with other numbers using “operation gates,” which look like sci-fi warp portals, representing +, –, ×, and ÷, and reach a desired result.

For instance, suppose the desired result is “54.” The player can track down a 4, go to a multiplication gate, become 48, and then track down a 6, go to an addition gate, and arrive at 54. This system can present puzzles as simple as order of operations and as complex as differential equations.

Lexica, a multiplayer literary game, lets players explore a “game world that looks and feels a lot like World of Warcraft.” They complete quests by talking to literary characters, such as Jane Austen’s Emma, and reading the classic books in the game’s library. “The game’s characters will talk to you about what you’re reading.”

Some games let kids be designers and coders, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report.

In Globaloria, students learn how to code Flash, said Shubha Tuljapurkar, director of Globaloria West.  “That’s an important skill. But that’s not necessarily something a kid wants to do, but they do want to create their very own monster.”

Zulama, which lets students design and built games, was developed by Nikki Navta, the mother of teenage boys obsessed with Minecraft and World of Warcraft. Students work collaboratively to master 3D modeling and mobile game design.

http://www.joannejacobs.com/2014/09/49443/

Virtual ed works in Florida

“Virtual education” is working for Florida high school students, concludes a Program on Education Policy and Governance working paper.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students taking Algebra or English I earn do as well or better on state math and reading tests as those in traditional courses, report Matt Chingos of Brookings and Guido Schwerdt of the University of Konstanz.

FLVS has expanded access to Advanced Placement and other courses, the study found.

Technology can support at-risk students’ learning concludes a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). “Well-designed interactive programs allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations.”

Teaching math through dance

Malke Rosenfeld uses percussive dance patterns to teach math to her elementary students. Math in Your Feet teaches concepts such as “congruence, symmetry, transformation, angles and degrees, attributes, pattern recognition, symbols, and mapping on a coordinate grid,” Rosenfeld says.

Subtraction made mazy

Via Eric Odom:

Eric Odom's photo.

Math reform on steroids

Common Core standards aren’t supposed to tell teachers how to teach, writes Barry Garelick in Education News. However, Common Core math is “a massive dose of steroids” for the math reform movement.

Reform math has manifested itself in classrooms across the United States mostly in lower grades, in the form of “discovery-oriented” and “student-centered” classes, in which the teacher becomes a facilitator or “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage” and students work so-called “real world” or “authentic problems.” It also has taken the form of de-emphasizing practices and drills, requiring oral or written “explanations” of problems so obvious they need none, finding more than one way to do a problem, and using cumbersome strategies for basic arithmetic functions.

. . . math reformers believe such practices will result in students understanding how numbers work—as opposed to just “doing” math. In fact, reformers tend to mischaracterize traditionally taught math as teaching only the “doing” and not the understanding; that it is rote memorization of facts and procedures and that students do not learn how to think or problem solve.

“Forcing students to think of multiple ways to solve a problem” doesn’t guarantee they understand what they’re doing, he writes. Students’ explanations often “will have little mathematical value.”  They’re demonstrating “rote understanding.”

Nations that teach math in the traditional way do quite well on PISA, even though the exam reflects “reform math principles,” writes Garelick. “Perhaps this is because basic foundational skills enable more thinking than a conglomeration of rote understandings.”

In this video, a teacher shows how to explain why 9 + 6 = 15 by “making tens.”

LA teachers don’t use iPad curriculum

“In the first formal evaluation of the troubled iPads-for-all project in Los Angeles schools, only one teacher out of 245 classrooms visited was using the costly online curriculum,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

District staff focused on distributing devices, rather than helping teachers figure out how to use them effectively, the analysis concluded.

Teachers used technology to display documents, replacing an overhead projector or whiteboard.  In a few cases, researchers saw students using the iPads to do Internet research, take notes or create PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.

However, teachers said it was difficult to log in to the curriculum and no high school math curriculum was provided. Four out of five high schools reported that they rarely used the tablets.

Adjunct faculty eye unionization

Tired of low wages and no job security, adjunct faculty are considering unionization. Colleges and universities rely heavily on adjuncts, who earn a fraction of the pay of tenured faculty.

What’s the best way to teach teachers?