“Things could change, Gabe. Things could be different.”
Jonas to Gabriel in Lois Lowry’s The Giver
During the last two weeks of November, over 800 students from across Alaska to as far away as Florida began to appreciate just how different school could be. GiverCraft, a project put together through University of Alaska Southeast, allowed teachers and students from across Alaska, the lower 48, and Canada to participate in a collaborative learning event that studied themes in Lois Lowry’s The Giver, through the online sandbox of Minecraft.
Dr. Lee Graham of UAS spearheaded the project as a part of her class, EDET 693: Gamification and Open Education. ( Note: Dr. Lee Graham will be presenting during ASTE about Gaming and Open Education in k-12. ) The planned two-week unit encouraged schoolchildren in the GiverCraft Project to expand the book The Giver through Minecraft with their own thoughts and ideas, as well as to collaborate and explore with students around the world. Participating teachers were aided with a planned guide for integrating the technology into their classroom studies of The Giver, which allowed them to explore gamification in a safe, guided environment on a private MineCraftEDU server.
Students read the book, The Giver, and were then presented with a scenario in which they imagined themselves as characters within the story. Students then used Minecraft to create The Community from evidence in the text, and interacted within that environment making decisions and choices drawn on text inferences and themes.
One of the overarching goals of UAS’s Gamification course is to show how technology and game-based learning can align with the goals of the Common Core and enhance and enrich learning across the curriculum.
One very obvious measure of success was that after the two weeks were up, many of the participating students were begging to continue the project. Although the project officially ended at the end of November, as of this writing, hundreds of students are still playing in the GiverCraft world.
The six graduate students in Graham’s EDET 693 course planned, monitored, and managed all aspects of the GiverCraft project. They chose the book, developed the concept of the game, created rubrics, designed and pushed out marketing and PR, registered students, and attended to the daily details of monitoring the GiverCraft world. The project was very intense from the get-go, and the 6 students (Tiffany Pickrell, Thomas Mellen, Amanda Shaw, Lindsey Blaine, Mia Kuartei, and Lori Fredenberg) learned more than they ever expected about gamification and learning. Even Lee says she is still decompressing from the experience, “Our heads are bursting with what we’ve learned – we need to write a book!” Lee has since spoken to Teacher/Author Dave Burgess (Teach Like a Pirate) recently about this very idea, and his publishing company is considering publishing such a venture.
Lee and the students received a small UAS Innovation grant to help with the project – the primary purpose of which was to purchase Minecraft licenses and to upgrade to a virtual server. However, AllGamer, the company providing the virtual server, took a look at the magnitude of the project (there were over 800 students participating) and offered to donate the use of a dedicated physical server that could handle up to 1000 students at once.
Graham would like to purchase this server so that EDET 693, and other classes can continue to offer projects of this scope to k-12 classrooms. Right now, they are conducting a fundraiser for the server in which anyone can 1) buy the t-shirt, or 2) donate to the cause.
The project webpage (and fundraising info) is here: http://givercraft.weebly.com/
And highlights of student work from the project are here: http://youtu.be/dNJNidjuuMA
Many of the teachers involved in the project have reached out to their press. You can see the experience of one classroom in this video. http://www.thonline.com/news/video_20d5c0a6-7d03-11e4-a9cf-9fc622c26420.html
Also – the students in the experience are having a webinar with the author of The Giver, Lois Lowry on Friday, December 12 at 9:00 AKST to talk about Minecraft and The Giver. You may watch that here (or the recording): https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/ck3e6dcnh3vliond91mebghf4q8
If this year’s registration was any indication, the project will only grow. Initially, there were over 50 teachers (2000+ students) interested in participating, but school filters and firewalls prevented participation by some.
EDET 693 was a new special topics course for UAS this year. Next year it will become a regular part of the curriculum for the Masters Program in Learning Design and Technology (formerly the Educational Technology program).
Any teachers interested in having their students participate in future projects might want to bookmark the project website, and follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GivercraftEDU. For anyone interested in pursuing this type of project on a smaller level, click on the teacher resources for free lesson plans and rubrics used in the project – all materials are Creative Commons, non-attribution share-alike.