This past week was chock-full of new learning moments for me. I attended and presented at both the 2013 Heartland eLearning Conference in Edmond, Oklahoma, and the 2013 Illinois Computer Education (ICE) Conference outside Chicago, Illinois. Since I use Twitter as a primary “information trap” for links and ideas now, my Tweet Nest archives of tweets using the hashtag #helc13 and hashtag #ice13 are good quantitative barometers of my externally visible learning during the week. What’s not as externally visible, perhaps, but far more important, are the new relationships which were started as a result of this week’s conferences. In this post I want to share briefly about my first lesson in Minecraft, which my son gave me tonight, and why I waited about a year to ask him to teach me about it.

It may sound crazy that I haven’t asked Alexander to teach me how to actually play Minecraft before this weekend. We all have different interests and passions when it comes to life and (for some) technology, and virtual world stuff like Second Life has never really interested me that much. I’m usually a busy fellow, with more on my plate than I have time to accomplish every week. One of the big reasons I haven’t learned to play Minecraft is the same reason I haven’t played a game on our family Wii in at least a year: I just don’t have much disposable time that I want to give up to gaming.

My 15 year old son, Alex, has been playing Minecraft for the past year or so and spends a HUGE amount of time both playing it and watching videos on YouTube related to Minecraft. Last fall he recorded and shared a presentation for the K-12 Online Conference, “Creating and Playing in Minecraft,” and while I definitely learned a lot from his demonstrations in that video I never actually tried to play the game myself.

I want to thank Zack Gilbert, the host of the EdGamer podcast (@edgamer) on the EdReach Network, for sharing his enthusiasm both for Minecraft and student presentations in the recent SIT (Students Involved with Technology) Conferences in Illinois. After the Thursday morning ICE keynote, I had a wonderful conversation with Zack as well as Dan Gibson, Joe Willmann, Jay Blackman, Scott Weidig and others.

Wes Fryer and Zack Gilbert at #ice13

Here are the main things I think “pushed me over the tipping point” of wanting to learn Minecraft and play it with my son:

  1. Hearing about the ways Zack’s 6th grade students are using Minecraft and frequently reveal amazing amounts of intrinsic motivation to create, build, collaborate, and share… especially when it’s “not assigned” or “not for a grade.” This reminds me a lot of Scratch and my recent experiences with elementary students in Yukon learning to create in it.
  2. Hearing about how much energy there was at the recent SIT Conference Zack helped organize, especially around Minecraft and cooperatively building in it.
  3. A recent podcast I heard or article I read (not sure which) the author discussed how video games were bringing together grandparents and grandchildren. The message was: Take advantage of the quality time together which gaming can present and provide.
  4. My son spends the majority of his free time these days playing Minecraft and learning about Minecraft from YouTube.
  5. My son is probably not going to participate in speech and debate next year, which has been a significant activity we’ve participated together in for the past three years, and I’m thinking about how much I’ll miss those times together.

Today I went ahead and purchased a Minecraft user license (20 Euros or about $26 US) and installed the program on my computer. Tonight Alexander gave me my first lesson. Here’s what I learned to do. This experience really reminded me of Karen Montgomery‘s excellent post a few years ago on Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning, “You Are Not A Beginner Unless You Have Begun.” It’s a GREAT thing as a teacher to have opportunities like this to become “a beginner” again!

Tonight created my first new world in Minecraft, with options to be in “survival mode” and not allow cheats set. (You can’t change these readily, apparently, after the world has been created.)

Minecraft - Create a New World

I learned the basic controls in Minecraft, although I’m still pretty clumsy actually moving around in the game. The main change Alex recommended was making the Command key to the left of my Mac spacebar the “use item” shortcut.

Minecraft Controls

I learned how to start a LAN World, which meant Alex could connect over our home wifi network and play with me in my Minecraft World. He had trouble joining me initially, but we figured out I had to turn OFF my software firewall so it would work.

Minecraft - Start LAN World

I learned how to make a variety of different items tonight by “crafting” them. These are all recipes Alex has learned by reading the Minecraft wiki as well as watching YouTube videos of other people playing. He counseled me on the order to place my items in the “hot bar,” which is the bar of items in your inventory which shows up on the screen at all times. You can switch the item you’re holding by pressing a number on the keyboard at the top, 1 through 9.

Minecraft - Tools

I learned that skeletons can kill you pretty easily when you’re just starting out and don’t have any armor, since they fire arrows from a long distance.

Minecraft - You Died

I learned it’s pretty cool to follow my son around in Minecraft, who has the “skin” of Jango Fett and is a very adept fighter. (Watch his K-12 Online Conference video and the skilled way he dealt with surprise mobs en masse for proof!) It reminded me a bit of the plot line of Will Smith’s new movie (which isn’t out yet) “After Earth.”

Minecraft - 1st Day

I not only learned how to kill cows and pigs in Minecraft, but also cook their meat into steaks we could eat using wood and a furnace I built.

Minecraft - Cooking some steak

I learned creepers are really bad guys you want to avoid at all costs, since they act as “suicide bombers” when they get close to you and can blow you up. I learned it’s important to know where your original spawning area is, since you return to that spot when you die. (Which I did several times.) After you sleep overnight in a bed (which you must make with sheep wool and wood) then you can change your spawning location. I learned you can also drown. You don’t ever want to look at the Enderman. Squids are harmless “mobs.” You need to hold down your spacebar to float at the top of the water when swimming across a river or lake. When you die, all your stuff gets dropped where you were so you have to go back to the same place if you want to retrieve it. (That’s why you don’t want to venture too far from your spawning spot / bed.) If too much time goes by, however, your stuff goes away and you can’t get it back.

Minecraft - Log

You want to collect wood and coal for fuel, which you can use in your furnace to change iron into ingots. This can be used to create armor.

Minecraft - Iron Chest Piece

You can wear metal armor for protection, and that will help you stay alive when you run into evil mobs like creepers and skeletons.

Minecraft - Iron Armor

You can also set a new “skin” for your character in Minecraft. That’s actually the first thing Alex taught me how to do tonight. I opted to look like Aragorn.

Those were some of the highlights from my Minecraft lessons tonight! Next time Alex says we’re going to go caving some more, looking for resources like diamonds and do more building.

Minecraft is an amazing world and I’m looking forward to creating in it more with my son in the days ahead. Thanks to Zack Gilbert for the encouragement to take this plunge! If your own children or grandchildren are into Minecraft, I highly recommend “jumping in” and asking them to teach you how to play together!

Jump!! by AnneCN, on Flickr
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  • http://twitter.com/colingally Colin Gallagher ?_?

    Hey Wes, welcome to the world of Minecraft! You’ll never leaaaave!
    As always, talking to other teachers is the best way to learn about what’s going on as you found out with Zack. On that note, I’ve started a Minechat weekly vodcast wandering around student servers and talking to teachers about Minecraft in education. Hope you find it worthwhile and maybe you might be interested in being a guest soon? Reach me on Twitter.
    Minechat playlist is here http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD3F726E583E57A00

  • jsprfox

    Wes,
    I enjoyed reading your post and appreciated how you have embraced being a beginner! I must admit, that I have had similar experiences initially with playing Minecraft, often barely making it through the night. My interest in the game was sparked by a students I teach this year. Playing, even at a very novice level, allows us to discuss the game and lets them be the “expert” something that is very rare for students to be able to be in schools.

    I also thought it was interesting that you mentioned the amount of effort that is put into this game by players, often for purely intrinsic reasons. So far in my experience, students will work much harder and put much more effort into assignments they can incorporate this medium into. Looking forward to the future I’m excited to incorporate Minecraft into my classroom more, and hopefully I’ll be seeing less of the “you died” screens!
    Jasper Sr.

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  • Vivian ??

    Dear Wes,

    Thank you for sharing such a detailed account. I learned a few things! I’ve the terms you explained from my boys (that play Minecraft) but never knew what they meant before.

    I’m impressed that you took the time to play with your son. That’s something I really need to do one day.

    I have a love/hate up/down relationship with Minecraft. As an educator, I really get all the positives that educators are saying about it. As a Mom, sometimes I want to delete their accounts because they are so obsessed with it. If I don’t make them turn it off, they won’t do it on their own. They would play it 24/7 if they could. I was really happy when I ran into this blogpost written by an educator/Mom who feels the same way I do: http://goo.gl/CXeOO

    As for myself, I was forced to reconcile myself to the game when I was on an airplane and was forced to watch one of my sons play it. (I had nowhere else to run!). I wrote a blogpost about it and it’s heavily-laden with black humour :) http://www.coetail.com/chezvivian/2013/03/30/cloudclassroom/

    Thanks for sharing. I will endeavour to play the game with my boys this summer. It would be a good way to bond with them.

    ~Vivian

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