If you have the recent Interface Magazine you will see a major feature on Minecraft. This is the article about our Crafting History project that is part of that

Inspired by the Gallipoli Minecraft collaboration between Alfriston College and the Auckland museum, I considered how such an approach could work in a fully online context across numerous schools. My own sons play Minecraft whenever they can and I have seen first hand the rich, informal learning that can occur as a result. In particular, an occasion where one son, inspired by reading Rick Riordan’s Cane Chronicles, started building pyramids in Minecraft. This in turn, sparked further questions and he went online and started researching Ancient Egypt to find out more, and then returned to his building to use what he found. I saw the possibilities with a course running along similar lines. The premise being that Minecraft could be used as a tool to explore and re-imagine historical contexts, and that the process of building would spark students’ curiosity about these contexts.

As I result I offered “Crafting History” as a new NetNZ programme of learning for students. It would run as an ongoing project that students could pick up and leave at any time during the year, and would be available to a range of year levels, including NCEA (back to that later). Students work as a research team to explore the contexts and build as they were doing so. Of course, the significant factor being that students would work entirely online, supported by a Google+ Community and a weekly Google Hangout session. No face to face here.

As a new trial course I only received a limited number of enrolments – eight students; one year 13, one year 12, two year 11s, two year 10s and one 11 year old home-schooled boy. Ideally a course like this should run with 15-25 students so this created some limitations, especially in the capacity to build within a reasonable timeframe, but also with respect to the gathering of research. We have taken an open ended, inquiry based approach to the whole course with very limited direct teacher input. This has worked reasonably well, but the limited numbers means that the flow of research coming in and the chance to work off other students is far less than what would happen with 15-25 students.

We have made our way through two modules of learning. The first linked to an exploration of why humanity first settled which then required students to rebuild what has been suggested as the first major human settlement – Jericho. This meant students had to find out about Natufian society, and what little research is around on early Jericho, then bring it to the build. The research aspect was fairly challenging, because not a lot is known, but the building itself is less demanding and worked well as an introduction to the course. Our second module (which we are currently still on) is focused building our own Ancient Roman town, and has therefore required significant research into Roman Society, and Roman towns. The complexity of accurate town planning, and then the building has been a major challenge for this small group, but very rewarding when you see some of what has been produced.

I was always determined that this course would link to relevant NCEA standards, and that I would not allow those standards to confine the learning. I have used a mix of History and Classical Studies standards for senior students, and approached assessment in an evidence based manner, tracking students’ evidence of understanding against the relevant standards. As a research based course, this works extremely well when using research based standards. The more challenging aspect has come in the communication of understanding which is evidenced by a mix of building, written work, and seminar based Hangout sessions. While at times challenging for me, the approach works and allows project based learning to flourish at senior levels.