Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bridges over the River Lava

Just under two weeks ago the TDSB opened a port allowing students from Highland Heights, Agnes Macphail, and the Girls Leadership Academy (GLA) to access the multi-school Minecraft server house at Ryerson University's Edge Lab.  Liam, Diana and I went on to the server and set up our class meeting areas, Liam set up a central square with ports to our different school areas so we can go between playing among ourselves or together.  The fun has just started!

My grade 5 students (GLA) had a task to design a model bridge that was suppose to span 30cms and be able to have 2 cars travel across at the same time in opposite directions.  Since the server was up and running I decided to give the task a bit of a tweak.  I told my students that their task would now be to build a bridge that spans approximately 20m (in Minecraft one block equals 1m squared) and go over a river of lava.

What surprised me was how seriously -most- of the students considered the materials they would use, the height they would have to make the bridge (so that people would not be effected by the heat from the lava), and the dangers of travel in Minecraft (zombies, skeletons, creepers and endermen).  Before students entered the space they made detailed sketches of dimensions and materials they would need.  One of my students even went back to her drawings after starting to build to update them with changes she had made to her structure after actually being in the space because her original drawing did not match the terrain of the actual lava river.  Another student, continually went back to add new features and more detailed dimensions to her plans.

The problems solving, communication, and the sense that their construction actually mattered was incredible.  There were problems that were connected to the task: "How do I make an arch?" and problems that were more social: "You're building too close!"  These problems led to conversations, conflict and compromise and both type of problems led to great learning opportunities.  The students are still working on the finishing touches to their structures, but I included a video (below) of what they have done so far.

 I plan on writing up a lesson plan for the task and posting it on

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