This is the next-to-last week of school for this academic year in our district, and I’ve been planning a final MinecraftEDU lesson for several months for my students that is ready at last. I wanted to create a scavenger hunt, and decided to focus on developing student knowledge and skills of the Minecraft coordinate grid system as well as overall situational awareness “orienteering” in a virtual world. This is challenging on multiple fronts, and is a skill I’ve just recently started to hone myself as I’ve been playing more Minecraft on the weekends with my 4th grade daughter. To introduce this lesson to my students (and my Maker’s Club students who will “test drive” the lesson this Wednesday after school in our final meeting of the year) I used the iPad app Explain Everything” to create a narrated slideshow. I used 39 images, which are mostly MinecraftEDU screenshots, and the final video ended up almost 12 minutes long. This is a long video, but it’s much more thorough and speedy than what I could do if I tried to show these scenes and steps to students “live” in MinecraftEDU. I transferred the screenshots I captured with MinecraftEDU (function key F2) and with Skitch to my iPad using PhotoSync, which has an iPad app and Mac/Windows software program for transfers. (I updated the video on 5/19/2014 to include new screenshots of the upgraded “portkey central” house my son helped me with over the weekend.)

You can download this entire MinecraftEDU server world to run on your own server via DropBox, and access more resources about this lesson (including my student handouts) from my MinecraftEDU STEM curriculum page.

Here’s an image version of the PDF student handout I’m using for this lesson, which includes spots for students to record their group number, the server they are connecting to, their teammate names, and the coordinates of each “Checkpoint House” they are asked to locate during the challenge. I use two different computers as MinecraftEDU servers, and limit each to 16 simultaneous logins. I’ve found this helps reduce server lag / speed. I’m having students draw random cards (PDF versions here and here)

As I explain in the introductory video, the coordinate grid system of traditional math / geometry is different than Minecraft. The horizontal axis in both is “x” with left (west) being negative and right (east) being positive, but the similarities end there. The height/depth coordinate in Euclidean geometry is “z” but in Minecraft it’s “y.” The “z axis” is the vertical north/south axis, but up (north) is negative in Minecraft and down (south) is positive. I’m not sure why the creators made it this way, but they did, so it’s a different coordinate system to learn and get oriented to.

Even though the coordinate systems of Minecraft and “school math” are different, I think there is still a LOT of value to helping students learn to navigate using Minecraft coordinates. You can press the F3 function key to turn on the “debug screen” in Minecraft, which (among other things) shows your current map coordinates.

I’ve been working for about two months at the end of the day, once per week, with a 5th grade student who has taught me (among other things) how to use command blocks in Minecraft to teleport players to different locations on the map. The basic idea of this orientation challenge is that players start (spawn) near the center/origin of the map, and press a button (I’m using the metaphor of a “portkey” from Harry Potter) to teleport to the first of FOUR “checkpoint houses.” At that house, team members can get weapons, food, and other supplies (like torches) which are waiting for them in a chest. In addition, members can get up to 10 unique “treasure items” for that location. After collecting treasure items from all four checkpoint houses, students can return to the “Portkey Central” house where they started and deposit their treasure in their team’s chest to win the challenge. I’m hoping students will be able to complete this challenge in two class sessions of approximately 30-40 minutes each.

Here are some of the MANY other things I learned this past weekend when I spent about 8 hours creating this MinecraftEDU world, which today I moved over to our school MinecraftEDU server computers and tested further.

In MinecraftEDU, you can change the spawn point (the location where players initially enter the world) by placing a “spawn block” on that location. After it’s placed, you can destroy it, and the new spawn point will remain set.

To prevent students from destroying buildings, signs, torches, or anything else you place in a world and want to REMAIN for other players to experience, it’s possible to place “Build Disallow Blocks” underneath the other blocks you want to preserve. In the screenshot below, you can see I placed a square grid of “Build Disallow Blocks” first, before I built one of my Checkpoint houses on top of them. When you login to MinecraftEDU as a teacher, with your teacher password, you can create and destroy these “Build Disallow Blocks” as well as blocks on top of them. Students, however, cannot. What power we have as MinecraftEDU teachers!

Ideally I would have liked to use “treasure chests” which would not run out of treasure items, and I reviewed a few options for doing this with my 16 year old son as well as via some YouTube videos about complicated redstone recipes. In the end, I decided to just verbally limit students to taking only 10 of each treasure item, and filled up each chest with groups/collections of 10 items each. I’m sure I’ll have some students who try to take more, but hopefully this will work out.

I’m eager for my Maker’s Club students to give this virtual MinecraftEDU world challenge “a spin” this Wednesday after school! If you’re a teacher wanting to use this MinecraftEDU virtual world with your own students and would like the exact coordinates of all the Checkpoint houses as well as “teleportation points” (which are offset a little from the Checkpoint houses) you can download this completed/filled out student worksheet as a PDF.

Here’s an additional tip students may discover, and I may reveal to them during the lesson: I hid an additional chest of weapons and food supplies near each of the Checkpoint houses. :-)

I may submit this MinecraftEDU world to the official sharing site, after I make some additional tweaks to it based on student input this week and next week.

Let the MinecraftEDU orientation challenge begin!

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