Birchwood in Minecraft

The Minecraft Club at Oliver’s school, Birchwood Intermediate, set out last year to recreate the school in Minecraft. With a PDF of the floor plan of the school in-hand (courtesy of the 2011 Mould & Moisture Assessment), they created a large-scale printed floor-plan overlaid over graph paper, and then translated this to Minecraft blocks. The construction continues to be a work-in-progress; I was lucky enough to get a tour of it yesterday when Oliver and I helped reinstalled Minecraft on the computers in the lab where the club meets (the PCs had been re-imaged over the summer and Minecraft was wiped out; fortunately the Minecraft server wasn’t, so the virtual school survived).

Here’s a brief walk around, starting in the front entrance, walking into the cafeteria, up onto the stage, through the back of the stage and into the hallway leading to the industrial arts room, and then into several classroom and seminar rooms.

It’s an impressive model, even in this partially-finished form, and I’m eager to see the progress that Minecraft club achieves this year: they’re starting up again later this month.

Here are some more details notes about the process from Frances Squire, the teacher who facilitates the Minecraft Club at Birchwood:

The scaled map of our school was created by photocopying a graph paper graphic onto an overhead transparency, and placing the transparency over a 8.5 X 11” copy of floor plan of the school that was available online and printed. Sound easy? Blue graph paper does not copy very well which we learned has much to do with light and optics and the duplicating process. So we found a black-line master for graph paper online and printed it onto a transparency. We used 16 blocks per inch graph paper (you have to remember that the blocks get larger when you enlarge the image). With the transparency placed over the floor plan, it was placed face down on the copier/scanner glass. The “Image Send” was set and exported as a .jpg. Once retrieved, the .jpg file name was changed to something recognizable, and it was emailed to Kwik Kopy who copied it onto 36 by 48 inch paper.

Laying the foundation required considerable thought and mathematical skill! I had a few ideas but the students were far more experienced builders and soon realized that the school could not be constructed perfectly to scale due to the limitation of the size of the building blocks. For example, width of walls would impact the width corridor space and staircases and toilet stalls and “We need toilets”! The grade 8 floor was placed above ground rather than split-leveled so the foundation could be placed without the complexity of considering the differing ceiling heights in the school.

Observing the collaborative process has been quite incredible: and has not been without conflict that has required negotiation and problem-solving and a little bartering. While I am the teacher in the room, I’m not really the teacher in the room. This is a student-directed project and I am facilitating; I am very much the student and learning a lot about social interaction, collaboration, communication, and conflict resolution strategies that adolescents implement when left to strategize and to ‘work it out’, and they have, impressively at that! They also let me play with them which is very cool.

It’s difficult to read that and not understand that Minecraft can be a powerful educational tool, involving mathematics, engineering, science, design, drafting, negotiation. Oh, and it’s fun, too.

I’m in the process of writing up a short guide for teachers who want to duplicate the Birchwood Minecraft Club, showing how to download and install MinecraftEdu on school computers; stay tuned.

In the Tai Chi Gardens

My favourite place to eat in the summer is in the back garden at Tai Chi Gardens: it signals the start of summer when it becomes warm enough for Kenny and Winnie to put out the tables in the back. But sometimes it’s nice to sit in the front yard, especially now that they’ve renovated a little and installed new tables and chairs. Today was one of those days. With Ethan sprawled in the shade at my feet I enjoyed a Bamboo Rice and Vegetables on a late summer afternoon.

Lunch in front for a change.

Confederation Country Cabinet Installed in the Coles Building

Regular readers may recall that I spent a good chunk of my spring working on a commission to create six panels for Brenda Whiteway’s Confederation Country Cabinet. I was happy to receive this photo from Brenda yesterday showing the piece installed in its permanent home in the Coles Building. It’s an amazing collaboration, and Brenda can be proud of her Herculean task of marshalling the collected creative resources that went into it. Next time you’re appearing before a standing committee – or popping into the Provincial Archives – be sure to take a look!

Confederation Country Cabinet