Using Virtual Models #5

I have been using discussion activities throughout this year’s research of Minecraft Club in order to gather reflections from the children about the club. As before, this is inspired by David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ work. A small group of children build virtual models using a shared map in the iPad version of Minecraft.

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Yesterday I conducted two group interviews (#5 and #6) in school before the penultimate week of the club.

My intention was for discussion in each session to focus on three areas:

1. For the children to reflect on the nature of the club itself, with a focus on their motivation to continue attending weekly for a whole academic year.

2. For the children to discuss their perceptions of Banterbury, their ‘virtual community’. I asked them to describe what kind of place Banterbury is…

3. For the children to suggest some ‘episodes’, ‘events’ or ‘instances’ for me to look more closely at during my data analysis, based on what they felt had been ‘particularly interesting or important’. In order to prompt this part of the discussion I gave them two examples that I was already looking at – the horse funeral and the sheep song.

The following is a brief outline of the discussion session 5, centred around the models produced by the children, based on repeated re-watching of the screencast from the sessions.IMG_0470

Discussion Session #5

  • Model 1 created by Callum <Yoloface23jr> – A Place to Relax to convey the value of social gameplay

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Callum’s model represented relaxation in the game, which he suggested is one reason to play the game. He then began to focus on the importance of social gameplay, particularly for him as a new member of the class at the beginning of the year, who joined the group from another school: ‘It’s a really great way for me to join in….I’ve got to know people so well through Minecraft Club. I don’t think I’d know anyone this well or be this best friends with anybody without Minecraft Club.’ Asked why a club around Minecraft was a good place for this social time he replied:

‘People talk more, there’s a bit more chance to talk and demonstrate their feelings in what they build… so I think I’ve got to know them quite well… and what they like and stuff’.

I asked if, for example, a chess club would have helped in the same way. He replied that he wouldn’t have gone, neither would anyone else!

  • Model 2 created by Alex <Castaway112> – Mushroom House to convey variety in the game

Alex directed me over to his mushroom house and, after a bit of time establishing how to enter, he gave me a guided tour. This model was intended ‘to explain all of the places you can go’ (in Banterbury) ‘the forest… sand… mushrooms’. Above one of the doors was a sign reading ‘this is not a door’. Confused by this I asked why, to be told that ‘it’s clearly not a door’. Things are not what they appear to be.

As he led me around the house I saw ‘the most dangerous fireplace in the world, a baby sitting room, a room with a sign that says ‘do not enter because of chickens’ (we enter – there are no chickens) and a farm with cows with mushrooms on their heads’. He suggested that this ‘reminded him of the craziness of the world’ in Minecraft Club.

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  • Model 3 created by Joseph <Steve> – A Gallery to suggest ‘infinite possibilities’

Joseph created an art gallery as a chance to try out using things he had not used before. He said that this reflected that ‘there are lots of items that they don’t use in the club’ and therefore possibilities that they had not yet explored.

IMG_0469 IMG_0468 IMG_0465Additional points

Alex began by suggesting that I should look more closely at the events around the creation of Banterbury Library. This was interesting as this is already the focus of some of my data analysis. When asked why he suggested, ‘definitely when they were making the books… we were actually doing writing…. We actually tried to do something that is exciting’. Callum agreed and suggested that a focus on the library was important because ‘a lot of people think that Minecraft is just about building structures but you can build books and stories and stuff as well, which is quite good… It’s a feature that is in Minecraft all the time, and it’s part of real life… there’s books in real life…’

Joe discovered a glitch in the game where the doors were only half rendering. They then began to notice that it was possible to change skins in this new version – they left the game to change their skins: ‘Awesome! That is so cooool! Epicness!’

There was also some discussion over the legitimacy of the naming of the town Banterbury. Callum expressed frustration about the town being called ‘Banterbury’ – ‘WHY IS IT CALLED THAT?!’ He attributed its naming to one specific player’s particular interest in the word ‘banter’. Alex suggested a possible origin for the name Banterbury – a youtube video of another game ‘Terraria’ where a player names his world ‘Banterbury’ (I could not find this, however). There was a suggestion that there were some ‘power’ issues relating to the naming and the subsequent perceived ‘ownership’ of the town and control over certain activities was something that they found potentially frustrating and potentially led to the forming of groups within the club. They talked about how the girls (and some boys) like ‘all their stuff private and make a massive fuss when someone goes in’. I will pursue this more specifically elsewhere.

They also further emphasised the important of the social aspect of the gameplay in the club: ‘You can work together… sometimes we talk about other things, we talk about things while we are playing’. This ‘makes it more exciting’.

 

Using Virtual Models #4

Another lunchtime discussion session where four children built models using the iPad version, contributing to the ongoing map of models. This time I used some printed screenshots and photographs from the club as a form of photo elicitation to prompt discussion. I’m struck by how visually diverse the children’s creations continue to be – seen here are some new creations such as the massive spiral, the illuminated ‘FUN’ sign and a giant waterfall bridge. Again, I’ll keep this post text-light, based simply on some screenshots taken during the session.

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Using Virtual Models #2

I have written previously about my use of  David Gauntlett’s ‘Identity Models’ approach in order to discuss the club with the children, adapted to take place in Minecraft. This post relates to the second discussion session that took place before Christmas, the week after session #7 of the club.

overview

Four girls took part in the session, each accessing the shared Minecraft world on the iPads. I also entered the world, recording my screen using quicktime on my laptop, mirrored from the iPad. The children could also see my perspective on the laptop screen. I decided to continue using the same map used by the boys in the previous session in order to allow the players to see the models created by others. The idea of having an ongoing second world running in parallel with the whole-group world of the club was also appealing, not least as it would allow me to maintain some sort of historical record of the children’s models.

Again, I asked the children to create a model to convey their feelings about Minecraft and the club. Mindful of the seemingly default position taken by the last group of children who ended up producing very Minecraft-y buildings, I attempted (in retrospect, at annoyingly unnecessary length) to encourage the children to think of their creations as sculptures, drawing on their knowledge of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park as a point of reference.

The models

1. Molly’s model – relating to collaboration, togetherness and imagination

Model 1

Me: Are you going to show me around then?

Molly: Yeah. I’ll show you around. Ok, so basically…

Sophie: Nice one Molly, so is that your little castle? I can see it on Mr Bailey’s screen.

Molly: Ok, right, so basically, the signs are the eyes. The glass is the nose. The bricks are the eyebrows. Ummm.. the white stuff is the teeth… um…

Mia: Big grin…

Molly: Thank you.

Freya: Let’s have a look. Hahaha!

Molly: And, um, the torches are spyhole and I’m just gonna do brown things for hair.

Me: Great. And you’ve written on it.

Molly: Ummm… ‘I love Minecraft because it makes me feel happy’

Girls: ahhh!

Me: Can you explain… can you think about why?

Molly: Yeah umm…

Mia: It brings people together.

Molly: Cos it brings people together, its really fun to play and you’re doing it with your friends, So it’s basically your world, so you can, basically use your imagination, you can do everything you want.

Mia: [singing] ‘You control it / You the owner’

Me: So are you talking about Minecraft or Minecraft Club?

Molly: Minecraft and Club.

2. Mia’s model – relating to the social experience of playing with a group

model 2

Me: And can you explain why you’re creating a person?

Mia: To represent that people that are playing Minecraft.

Me: And that’s what you like about it? [sounding sarcastic by accident]

Mia: [Laughs]

Me: That wasn’t meant to sound bad, that was me trying to understand what you like about it!

Mia: I like how there’s people playing Minecraft and how everyone… and how other people are like brought together by Minecraft so that’s why I’m drawing a person / people to represent the people playing the game. [later]

…. All the people are extra important because if you didn’t have the people it wouldn’t be fun.

3. Lisa’s model – relating to exploration and the absence of restrictions

model 3

Me: Lisa, I’m watching your creation that you built. Would you like to talk to us about it?

Lisa: Yeah. Well, the animals represent people and it’s like having to explore? Like, together?

Me: So you’ve put a group of animals together and they represent people.

Lisa and Mia: [singing] ‘Together, forever, Skyfall’

Me: And it’s the exploring you like?

Lisa: Yeah!

Me: Can you say a little more about that?

Lisa: Well, you can, like, go wherever you want to and do whatever you want. There’s no restrictions.

Mia: [singing] no restrictions!

All: Hahaha!

Molly: The sky is the limit!

Lisa: That’s what [teacher] said earlier.

Molly: Literally the sky is the limit because you can’t get to the sun. I was trying to get to the sun in Minecraft, you go up there for hours and you’re looking down and moving but you can never get to the sun.

4. Freya’s model – relating to inclusiveness

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Freya: Basically I’m making a house to show… right.. .that like everyone is welcome in, cos people come into the house and it’ll show that everyone is welcome in minecraft, noone ever gets left.

Me: So you like it cos everyone’s welcome? What makes everyone welcome?

Freya: The people in it.  And everyone, like, is welcome cos everyone makes sure that everyone is ok.

Some initial observations and questions

  • Three of the children logged in to this session using their own names rather than their avatar names (the forth used the default name that had been input by a previous player). This was different to the usual club practise where they used their user names. Did this indicate a different approach to these sessions?
  • I wonder to what extent the children’s answers were still unconsciously framed by the traditional expectations of schooled behaviour – talk about everyone being included and everyone working together seemed to reflect more of an idealised version of events that the events I see during the club.
  • Text appeared on screen at various points during the session. Why did some things get spoken and others typed?
  • The responses emphasised the social aspect of the club as much as they did the children’s enjoyment of Minecraft.
  • Discussion around the models also extended to other areas, which provided a valuable opportunity to talk more widely (and also, at times, more specifically) about the club. The idea of gameplay as a social practice was raised on a number of occasions by the children, as they detailed their play at home where they often the game whilst talking with  friends over Skype.
  • At one point I referred to Mia’s statue as a male (Me: ‘Oh, your man’s taking shape really well’) At the time I missed it but when transcribing I noticed that she corrects me (Mia: ‘It’s a woman, if you don’t mind’).
  • There was often more than one focus, even in such a small group. For instance, while I was discussing Freya’s model, Molly was trying to catch our attention by ‘cannonballing’ (divebombing) from a great height elsewhere in the game.
  • Oh, and as I have come to expect, there was more singing!

Animated Storytelling

During a recent afternoon session, I taught a mix of Y4, 5 and 6 children how to create their own stop-frame animations using two apps on the iPads: ‘iMotion‘ and ‘iMovie‘. The aim was for the children to practise the basic skills needed to enable them to create their own animated stories – on themes linked with their topic work – back in their own classrooms.

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When introducing children to a new application or activity, I tend to try and keep the focus of the content quite open, aiming to give them time to experiment and make their own mistakes and discoveries. Being less prescriptive means that the children have to do more of the thinking for themselves and also gives them the opportunity to turn an activity into something that interests them. So, after a short demonstration of how the basic features of both apps work, I asked the children to go and create their own animations, the only brief being that they should use the animation to ‘tell a story’.

Given completely free reign, the range of stories that the children chose to tell was interesting. It is notable how many of these featured quite complex, mature and dramatic themes. For these children, the potential of film and animation as a storytelling technique clearly goes far beyond the ‘Wallace and Gromit’-style of storytelling that I might have (mistakenly) expected of a group of 8, 9 and 10 year olds. Stories included:

– A story about a couple who go to the seaside, only for one to be washed away by the sea and drowned.
– The tale of an individual who is sent away from home to live in South Africa (the reason is not explained).
– The story of an assassin sent to kill for money.
– A story about a group of friends who get knocked down by a reckless driver. [EDIT: How could I forget? This one also included zombies. There’s always zombies.]
– A retelling of the story of the September 11th attacks of the World Trade Centre.

 

I was quite surprised by the last example and was keen to check the manner and tone in which the pair were intending to portray this event. They said that they were eager to retell the story as one of them had an interest in aeroplanes and had recently seen a documentary about 9/11 on the television, which had stuck in his mind. We discussed how this event that is part of my recent memory actually occurred before they were even born – a fact that made me feel rather old, but also made me wonder how much of recent history is seen by children through a Hollywood / Fox News filter.

I wonder if, in telling these stories, were the children simply acting on the first entertaining idea that came into their heads? What influences their idea of what makes a ‘good’ story? Does the format of the storytelling influence the tone of the content (eg. a film vs paper based story)? And is it possible that their retelling of such dramatic stories – in their own voice – is a gesture towards capturing and making sense of their own anxieties and the perils they see in the world?

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Dissertation Reflection – Groupwork, Animation and ICT

I have returned to my Masters dissertation recently, partly as I have been asked to summarise my experience of enquiry into a few hundred words for another project, and partly as I’m in the position where I can now reflect of my findings in order to influence some teaching I’m planning to do over next few weeks that will also involve using animation.

I have used stop-frame animation in the classroom for quite a few years now. Here are some of my favourite short films, produced by classes I have taught:

With FS2:

With Y1:

With Y4 / 5:

With Y4 / 5:

I thought now would be an appropriate time to archive and share my dissertation here, in case it may be of use or interest to anyone else. The easiest way to summarise the focus is to share the abstract:

Abstract

Over recent years, much has been written about the use of ICT in the classroom to engage and motivate children’s learning across the curriculum. However, the scarcity of the time and resources available to a class often mean that children are required to work in groups. While there are certainly benefits to children working together, collaborative learning often becomes more challenging – and the group-work dynamic more complicated – when technology is involved. Using ICT with group-work, therefore, presents its own barriers to learning that prevent some children fully benefitting from these sessions. Using audio recordings of children working in groups with ICT, alongside teacher observations, the views of children and other practitioners, this case-study aimed to identify the barriers to learning and then analyse the effectiveness of two alternative strategies introduced to enable groups of children using ICT to work successfully. The study concludes that socio-cultural issues relating to children’s use of computers, as well as the limited interaction opportunities imposed by the use of ‘personal’ computers, contribute to the challenges of using technology in group-work contexts. The research also demonstrated the benefits of involving children in the process of their own learning and suggests that, although children’s comments may show emotional intelligence and knowledge of the theory behind group-work, putting these ideas into action can often pose a challenge for them. Finally, the research provides some recommendations that may help to promote successful group-work for children when using ICT in a creative, group-focused context.

The main point from my findings that will influence my future use of animation is this bit, right at the end:

‘ blah blah blah there is a convincing case to be made to recommend that, where availability of resources allows, a ratio of two children per computer is actually the most appropriate – particularly where the technology is being used to produce a creative outcome. Whilst it is in some ways disappointing to draw this conclusion, as the project initially sought to identify best practice for working in groups, it certainly goes some way to highlighting how vital it is to consider the organisation of a task where ICT is involved. In comparison with larger groups, working with a partner provides a greater level of access to the computer, whilst still giving the opportunity for discussion, shared support and shared learning. Working in pairs would minimise the ‘process of negotiating for control over the technology’ (p. 18) observed by Lomangino et al (1999) which is heightened by the number of people present when using group-work. The children involved would still gain the benefits of working with others – the ‘quality of interaction and dialogues taking place’ (p. 177) observed by Rojas-Drummond et al (2008) resulting in the ‘learning and improved understanding’ (p. 360) seen by Mercer (1996). From the emic perspective, paired work still engenders a number of the benefits of group-work identified by the children. It provides the motivational benefits of working with others, identified by children in comments such as ‘It’s fun because I can work with my friends.’ It also helps those who enjoy the supportive element of working with others; the children are able to ‘Learn to share and learn new things’ with their peers. Paired work would also fulfil the criteria for promoting ‘turn-taking’ identified by the children in the Group-Work Rules. Children could still be given clearly defined roles in their pairs, but these roles could either be swapped or both roles could more easily involve access to the technology. Paired work would therefore allow for the maximisation of the benefits of working with others, whilst minimising the effects of many of the barriers identified by the project.’

So, this forthcoming animation project will involve children working 2:1 with the equipment, rather than in small groups. Not only this, but the children will be using iPads with the ‘iMotion’ and ‘iMovie’ apps, instead of laptops with webcams, ‘Monkeyjam’ and ‘Movie Maker’, meaning that the interface will hopefully be slightly less temperamental than before.

Here are the links to the full text of my dissertation, should anyone want a long read:

Masters Main Text

Masters References

Masters Appendices

Proteus as a Writing Stimulus 2

Following on from yesterday’s post about using the indie exploration game Proteus in the classroom as a writing prompt, here are the children’s final pieces of work.

They spent an hour this afternoon – with Proteus again playing on the electronic whiteboard and over the speakers – using the iPads and laptops to combine their work from the previous lesson with images they grabbed from locations in the game. The aim was also to level-up their writing, following some work on noun, adverbial and prepositional phrases (yes, the dreaded grammar test looms).

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Proteus can currently be purchased here in beta, and gets a full release on Steam on 30th January.