Minecrafting Egypt

Minecrafting Egypt
Minecraft Pyramid

Minecraft Pyramid

Last weeks ‘ICTinEducation’ highlight was an invitation to an amazing little primary school in Fife, Scotland to help pupils in their most recent quest to learn about ancient Egypt.

Prior to my visit, the teacher (Maria Thomson, an amazing 4th year BEd student teacher) and I, discussed a wide variety of tasks we could include as part of the day. Activities designed to get the pupils thinking, writing, drawing, problem solving, competing and more. We had a load of ideas and could’t have carried them all out in one school day but we decided to run with a round robin system of 5 tasks:

Writing – Write an extract from an archaeologists journal from the 1920′s
Art – Design an icon for one of the Egyptian gods (like the eye of Horus)
Design and Technology – Use 3D shapes to draw a pyramid and then use Lego to model it
Problem Solving – Use paper cubes to construct a temple that can withstand an earthquake and protect a mummy
Minecraft Pyramids – Use Minecraft to construct a Pyramid and the tombs beneath it.

As you can see, while Minecraft and games-based learning was the main attraction for the kids and the reason I was invited in, it was (and always is) important to scaffold the games-based learning elements with traditional learning such as reading, writing, counting and drawing (technical and traditional) as well as those all important skills for life such as team work, communication, sharing, planning, judgement, decision making and more.

So…how did it pan out?

Writing - We asked the pupils to consider what it might be like to have been a write an extract from an archaeologists journal from the 1920′s. When the ancient pyramids were first opened up (or at least the first we know of) and explored by the adventurers of the western world. The kids were keen to tell me all they knew about Howard Carter and his discovery of the tomb of King Tut. So, we agreed that we should write an imaginative piece as though we ourselves had discovered the tomb a little before the famous Carter. Their imaginations and pencils ran riot as they started the task with, “It was in Egypt in 1921 that I (name) first discovered…” of words to that dramatic effect.

Archaeologists Journal

Archaeologist’s Journal

Maria and I worked with each writing group to pick up on spelling and grammar at the end before we moved them on to the next task. This was however, minimal in many cases and there seemed to be no end to their imagination and enthusiasm for this task. And yes…that’s a shopping trolley they found. Dr Who has a lot to answer for!

Art - Our first Art task was to name the different ancient Egyptian gods. From here, pupils were to use reference books to explore the gods and then design an icon for their preferred god. Much like the Eye of Horus. Pupils produced icons that included snakes, diamonds, pyramids, eyes, cats and more. Some brilliant artwork was produced.

Egyptian Gods

Egyptian Gods

Egyptian God Icons

Egyptian God Icons

Design and Technology - In thinking about the construction of the pyramids the pupils had to think about both the shape of the whole construct as well as the individual blocks that make it up. We started with 2D shapes, looking at both squares and triangles before coring the concept of extrusion. We made 2D shapes in to 3D shapes; squares into cuboids and triangles into pyramids. The pupils learned about one and two point perspective, using a horizon line and vanishing points to create their 3D shapes. Considering this kind of work is generally introduced in high school, I was amazed at the pupil’s understanding and quality of their work.

Cuboids and Pyramids

Cuboids and Pyramids

The pupils then made explored how cubes can be used to make a pyramid using Lego.

Lego Pyramid

Lego Pyramid

Lego pyramid on set

Lego pyramid on set

Problem Solving - In this task, pupils had to protect a mummy (made from tin foil and wrapped in kitchen roll) by building a tomb. The kind that would be found inside and deep underneath a pyramid. First, pupils made blocks and mini pyramids by creating nets, cutting them out and gluing them together. Then they used the finished 3D shapes to construct the tomb. The ultimate test was a mini earthquake. Only one team managed to construct a stable tomb and save the mummy, but the designs and constructions made by all, were impressive.

Buried Mummy

Buried Mummy

Minecraft Pyramids - Minecraft was used to give the pupils a digital space in which to create their own mini Egypt. A desert biome was created within the game and the pupils encouraged to build their own pyramid using Minecraft blocks of sand and then the tombs and temples underneath. Pupils came up with some weird and wonderful plan views and elevations on graph paper before building in Minecraft. Here are some of the results:

Minecraft Pyramid

Minecraft Pyramid

Minecraft Pyramid

Minecraft Pyramid

The entrance to the Pyramid

The entrance to the Pyramid

Inside the Pyramid

Inside the Pyramid

Minecraft Egyptian Temple

Minecraft Egyptian Temple

Inside the Temple

Inside the Temple

So, all in all the pupils had a full, multi-disciplinary and fun-filled day with lots of learning across a wide variety of tasks. Concentration, energy levels, behaviour, effort and quality of work from all of the pupils was outstanding and feedback from the teachers and pupils was brilliant. I myself had a fab day and learned so much more about ancient Egypt.

If you are interested in running a similar games-based learning project day, please Contact Me for details. Also, we run free CPD sessions for parents and teachers on our dedicated education Minecraft server.

A Higher Place – Minecraft Server

A Higher Place – Minecraft Server

At the end of 2012, I set up a trial Minecraft server for use among teachers throughout the UK. Just a small server for some projects I was piloting in schools at the time. I offered free CPD on using Minecraft as a classroom tool and was amazed by the response I got. Not only did I get UK teachers on board, but educators from the international community as well as a huge buy in from parents.

It’s been running non-stop and successfully now since it’s launch and I’ll be extending the service for teachers and parents into 2014. For the whole year I will be offering a dedicated space in a fully realised Minecraft world where teachers and parents can play, learn and collaborate in a secure, controlled CPD environment, and for FREE!!!

Minecraft Classroom

Minecraft Classroom

I love finding new and ever creative ways of applying ICT to curriculum learning and helping teachers to find the best pedagogies and teaching strategies available. For me, Minecraft has proven one of the most engagement and creative tools in the classroom and at home. Regardless of the subject. Beyong the curriculum, Minecraft also serves as a potent tool for the development of ‘Skills for Life’ including communication, decision making, judgement, patience, team work, leadership…and even learning new languages!

I currently help teachers to engage their learners with games such as Portal 2, Little Big Planet, From Dust, ICO and the Professor Layton series. But it is Minecraft that has caused the most excitement in the last two years. A game that truly allows users to create their own world. Block by block, in the materials they choose. While exploring maths, the sciences, geography, literacy, design, technology and more.

Minecraft CPD

So, if you’re a teacher looking for a new way to engage you’re pupils in an upcoming project, or a parent wishing to understand a bit more about the worlds your child spends their time in…join me in ‘A Higher Place’ Minecraft server on a PC or Mac and let me show you the ropes. I’ll help you to master the three basic principles of Minecraft:

• Mining
• Crafting
• Creating

I’ll help you navigate and map out your world, locate the materials you need, craft the tools you require and assist in your building operations.

I’ll teach you the controls, the language and jargon and the best way to use the game in the classroom, with your pupils, for your subject or at home.

You are invited to join me at any time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I’ve developed a world for you to explore over hundreds of square kilometres of digital landscape. Discover things you can use in class such as:

• The AHP primary school – Learn the Minecraft basics
• The AHP Academy – Explore education ideas inside the game

Geography Classroom

A Geography Classroom Globe

• A religious area complete with a Mosque, Cathedral, Hindu and Buddhist temples and standing stones.
• The Great Library – Read books created by other users and Write and publish your own

Giant, Working QR Codes

Giant, Working QR Codes

• The 8-Bit Art classroom – View and create 8-bit art on massive canvases
• Tortuga – A Pirate Village with a working cannon! (perfect for that pirate project)
• Rupture Farms – Plant, grow and harvest crops for food on a working farm

A Shipwreck and Lighthouse

A Shipwreck and Lighthouse

• The Gruffalo Forest – Traverse the forest as you read the story and meet the Gruffalo
• A full scale, working dam, reservoir and fish ladder complete with river system and pollution games.
• A working volcano complete with the village of Pompoo (yes, Pompoo, named by the pupils who made it)

A Giant Solar System

A Giant Solar System

• A Roman aqueduct and village
• A massive chess board

Science Classroom - Double Helix

Science Classroom – Double Helix

• The Eco Village complete with eco puzzles to solve

and much more…

Here’s a video showing you the world in action: (huge thanks to @ColinGally)

But the real excitement is in what you can do with the world…you can claim land that will be yours to own and is protected from change by anyone else. Mine, Craft and Create anything you want to on your land then visit it again and again at home or in the classroom.

The AHP world (server) is open 24/7 and can be explored at anytime, always and from anywhere. You can also request on the spot CPD when I’m available or book a slot with me in advance.

Minecraft is like digital Lego, you are limited only by your imagination. So indulge yourself in some escapism and some valuable, free CPD to boot.

All you need is a PC, Minecraft and a Mic (optional).

For details on how to join the server and get your Minecraft CPD:

Tweet me - @ImmersiveMind

Apply directly here

(Note: we do not have an open world, we operate a strict ‘whitelist’ policy for the benefit and safety of educators and parents)

 

Minecraft Skins – Tron:Legacy (Blue)

Minecraft Skins – Tron:Legacy (Blue)

Greetings Programmes…

I’m a huge fan of Disney’s Tron…and in particular Tron:Legacy. So, when I discovered I could make my own Minecraft Skin to resemble anyone I wanted to, one of the ‘Programmes’ on the ‘Grid’ was a natural choice.

I downloaded a standard skin in .PNG format and used photoshop to alter it one pixel at a time. I went for a white/blue glow and kept it subtle. Some of the other Tron skins I’ve seen have been too busy with three and four different shades of the same colour as well as black and white.

Skin in net Photoshop form

Skin in net Photoshop form

Here’s how it looks…

Tron SH01

Tron:Legacy Skin (Blue) front, holding Light Disc

Tron SH02

Tron:Legacy skin (blue) back, showing Light Disc

 

Feel free to download and change the source (.PNG) file below as you please. Enjoy :)

Tron Skin (Blue)

Tron Skin (Blue)

End of Line…

 

Mojam2014

Mojam2014

Last week I was amazed to be invited to take part in this years 24 hour Mojam competition #Mojam2014. It was conceived and is run by Stephen Kowalski (@FaumeMC) (USA), creator of AlphavBeta Minecraft PVP world.

Mojam is an annual competition aimed at bringing together the most prolific and pioneering Minecraft builders in the world. Working in teams, builders create amazing constructs based in pre-defined themes. This years themes were:

• 1930′s Pulp Serials
• Yin-Yang
• Isthmus
• Parrot
• Olympic
• Candy®
• Time
• Aligator
• Insanity
• The Year 2222

I was delighted to be teamed up with these amazing guys - @TheCommonPeople (UK), @Tewkesape (UK), @Dragnoz (Luxembourg) and @Sam_D_Hufton (UK) – Educators and game-based learning guys, follow them on your Twitter and get them on your lists! A collective goldmine for using Minecraft to engage and enthuse your pupils in your classrooms (not to mention the kudos you’ll get).

It is worth mentioning that we were in some serious competition with the incredible minds and talent of builders like @ABrightmoore (Australia), @Djimusic (USA) who worked alone, @GoodeyGoodhew (Australia) and @bk15102 (Canada). There were others I can’t find on Twitter so apologies to Kyle_Crafty and Ali_Crafty who made an epic Dr Who story complete with Cybermen and Daleks (all skinned) and a Tardis.

That said…we won!!! :)

We decided to tackle the theme of ‘Time’ through a pulp fiction and TV setting. So we started by creating a static moment in time in which many things are occurring at once. So we started by creating the classic Tracy Island complete with Thunderbird 1 and 2 in action. This have us a definitive 1960′s theme to begin with.

Thunderbirds are GO!

Thunderbirds are GO!

Thunderbird 1 Launches

From here, we put Tracy Island under assault with a variety of elements drawn form times before and after the 1960′s. Godzilla of the 1930s attacked from the sea, while a giant tentacle from the 80′s attacked from out of a pool, while an alien spacecraft from 2130 appeared above the island from a wormhole and attacked the runway.

Godzilla assaults Tracy Island

Godzilla assaults Tracy Island

Aliens assault Tracy Island

Aliens assault Tracy Island

Giant Tentacle Attacks Tracy Island

Luckily, we had set up a ‘Back to the Future’ escape plan, in which players could jump into a minecart, press a button and speed their way into the past before planning for the attack they knew would come. Following this? This particular part of the map was a stroke of genius from @Tewkesape (UK), complete with a portal at the end of the track, flames to depict the sheer speed of the cart and a scripted speedometer…Once the cart hot the portal, players found themselves in a different version of the same map.

Plutonium Levels for the Flux Capacitor

Check out this video from @TheCommonPeople (UK) to see the build in action:

Feedback from the host and organiser (@FaumeMC) (USA) was fantastic:

“The Common People really impressed me with this build! Apparently they were referencing Thunderbirds, a show I’ve never even heard of, but the random, whimsical nature of their build really caught my attention. Another contestant remarked that the build reminded them a lot of a Tracy Island toy playset they had as a kid, and that thought perfectly explains the feeling created here – that of a kid sitting in his living room throwing together all of his different toys into one crazy story only a kid could come up with. How else do you combine Thunderbirds with Godzilla, aliens, tentacle monsters, and Back to the Future? This perfectly captured the heart of what Mojam is all about – bringing silly, fun things together in a way that you’d never expect. The entire build had excellent, subtle details and had key effects in the most important areas of the build to aid in telling the story. Most Impressive!”

Details and feedback on all the builds can be found on the Mojam site here, but from us – A huge thanks to Stephen Kowlaski (@FaumeMC) for organising such a fab competition. Look forward to joining you next year.

 

Immersive Gaming – The Art of a Good Story

Immersive Gaming – The Art of a Good Story

PSC

The question ‘What is a game?’ has always been one that gamers and non-gamers alike have debated. Does a game require the mechanisms of puzzles, points and rewards to be a game? Do we need a linear pathway to guide us? or a series of tools made available to us in progression to feel like we are ‘gaming’?

The debate has most recently heated up with the introduction of games such as ‘Cloud‘ ‘Flow‘, ‘Flower‘ and the mysterious and beautiful ‘Journey‘ all by the incredibly clever and seemingly chilled-out ‘That Game Company‘. There’s also the equally captivating ‘Proteus‘ and now a little masterpiece called ‘The Plan‘, with more from a massively increasing number of indie developers, keen to take gaming technology and principles to new levels. Each of these games, by their very existence, question the nature of gaming. Why we do it?, what does gaming bring us?, how do we feel when playing? what do we need and want from the experience? and of course, do we enjoy it? They challenge the assumptions that games require definitive goals, or even the ability to reach what we think those goals are (the mountain in Journey). Do games require levels, progression, points, puzzles, rewards and so do games require gamification? Must we always be in danger and carry a weapon for some unseen, not yet spawned baddie or event that will threaten our existence and take us to the ‘Restart, Load or Quit‘ menu? Are the unearthly powers we possess in game, like flight or telekinesis, always subject to a fuel bar of sorts, bound to run out unless we can restock at key points, creating that linear path we would’t ordinarily take otherwise? Are these not the things we need intrinsically, to feel like we have played and more importantly, achieved?

As a gamer since the 80′s and 90′s, playing classics such as Dizzy, Command and Conquer, Mega-lo-Mania, Lemmings, Cannon Fodder and FFVII, I have had my fill of objective driven game play. Oh there is no doubt that the games of my childhood were made for infinitely more playability than todays games. The great battle between playability and graphics rages on but that is another blog post. Here, I am keen to highlight and support the idea that games don’t need to be objective led and filled with danger. In fact, games make for some of the most immersive story telling tools we have at our fingertips. I’m not just talking about the natural story and narrative a game comes with. I’m talking about the stories we see i them ourselves. The stories we take with us long after.

I first experienced a lean towards this view of gaming and game design thinking in the Myst series and in particular, Riven. However, these games are naturally immersive and come with story-telling built in. It was the acclaimed Ico and again in it’s follow up ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ that I started to discover the makings of the ‘Experiencial’ game. I can’t be sure the game developers intended for me to see their creation in this way, but I found that exploring the stunning visuals of the castle, listening to the wind on the ramparts and watching how it moved Ico’s cloak, left me forgetting the game’s overall objective. Not because the end-game wasn’t an engaging prospect, but because there was no hurry when so much else was to be seen and done. I marvelled at the echo of Ico’s voice as he called out to Yorda, and I sat with him on some impressively high structures for many a long ‘breather’ just to wonder at the beautiful digital horizons far beyond the walls of his prison.

Ico

Ico

I can do the same now with Batman Arkham City. There is something hugely immersive about just navigating the classic gothic city by rooftop. Wondering at the world below which is unaware of your cloaked and somewhat menacing presence. ‘I’ll thwart the Joker later…for now, I want to perch atop a high-rise among the TV aerials, and relax’.

Back in 1996, in the original Tomb Raider and my favourite ‘St Francis’ Folly’ level, I remember taking a great deal of time just exploring the rooms and imagining I had discovered them in real life. What did they smell like? If I stayed there, how would I grow food and access water? how long could I remain there without being found? I enjoyed those serene moments (enhanced by the amazing ambient soundtrack by Nathan McRee) when Lara (and I) would stand and look around in a vast tomb with no real focus or purpose…before the mad scramble began to find secret passageways and escape.

St Francis' Folly

St Francis’ Folly

There were those moments in Final Fantasy VII, after a long and fraught journey with battles every 10 seconds, that I would stop in a tiny village, with the midi music playing a cute and catchy tune and I would stay a while…longer than I needed to. Who were the villagers? What was their back story? Why live there and not in the city? I would ask myself. Even in Command and Conquer Red Alert, I used to use my air force to destroy the enemy production facilities before ‘containing them’ through the destruction of bridges or the construction of borders. Loss of life on both sides was unacceptable so my ‘kill count’ was generally very low (and yes that included vehicles, they are piloted by someone after all). I’d then develop the map myself in a peaceful manner, which, when secure and the little innocent digital people safe, I would simply quit. My purpose as a peace keeper satisfied and the need for points and ‘kill counts’ negated. I would imagine the negotiation of a peace treaty…”Advise your President to sign the peace treaty and our troops will leave your borders, release your prisoners and we will do the same” or words to that effect.

It’s this immersive element to gaming that brings me back for more of the same title. The game has to draw me in, make me want to spend time there. Not just on account of the beautiful graphics, but in giving me a canvas on which to write my own story. What if I was Batman or a child abandoned in a castle, or a raider of tombs beneath the very streets we walk on, or a UN peacekeeping force sent only to protect and rebuild, not attack and destroy? What if I set up home in this tomb? What’s beyond that forest? Who lived here before it was ruined? What do they eat and can I grow some? Can we make peace? I believe it is this powerful story-telling platform that draws developers like ‘ThatGameCompany’ to make games specifically for this mind-set. In telling their own story through the development of the game and setting a beautiful introductory scene, they give us an opportunity to tell our own though playing it. To bring life to their creations. It’s this natural and built-in story-telling feature and the immersive worlds those stories are set in, that brings what I believe, makes games like ‘Journey’ and ‘The Plan’ an invaluable tool for classroom education.

So, if gaming isn’t your thing, or you are a gamer who is looking for something a little less obvious, linear and target orientated, there are titles you can try.

So here is a summary of just a few: (I will be blogging about each one independently following this post)

In ‘Cloud‘ we find ourselves soaring among the clouds as though we were one. In a ‘The Snowman’-like adventure, you take to the skies and simply fly around a vast world. No enemies, no score to achieve…simply the experience of that age old fantasy that is free flight. What stories could children tell after one such adventure?

Cloud

Cloud

In ’Flow‘ you become an aquatic organism, navigating your way around a liquid world. Biology and the history of our species lie at the heart of this experiential little masterpiece. Pupils could write about our origins, our history and their own particular story.

Flow

Flow

In ’Flower‘ you play as the wind itself, moving across a landscape and pollinating flowers as you go, exploring the tension between urban growth and natural habitats. What elements could your pupils become and what would that adventure be like?

Flower

Flower

In ’Journey‘ you travel a vast desert, exploring dunes, ruins and caves as you try to reach the elusive mountain in the distance. Through beautiful graphics, haunting ambient sounds and music you explore the process of the human journey…what journeys could your pupils write about?

Journey

Journey

In ’Proteus‘ You simply walk around an ever changing and seemingly endless landscape making music as you go. Brightly coloured 8-bit style graphics lure you in all directions and as your feet touch the ground and different textures you make new and inter-weaving sounds. Is this a musical story-telling tool?

Proteus Autumn

Proteus

The Plan‘ Perhaps the shortest (don’t worry, it’s free) game I have ever played. In The Plan, you play as a fly…a common household fly on a journey upwards. With immersive graphics and sound you will find yourself wondering what a fly’s plan could be as you ascend on your tiny wings in a vast sky. Pupils could tell stories about being an insect just to start.

The Plan - Game

The Plan

 

Images courtesy of ‘That Game Company‘, ‘Steam’ and the amazing ‘TombRaiders.net

GeoVation Challenge Winners

GeoVation Challenge Winners

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 12.44.59

Earlier this year, I was invited by Zoe Ross and Steve Bunce to become part of a team that would take part in the Ordnance Survey GeoVation Challenge. A Challenge designed to help businesses ‘enhance their environmental performance’ through social enterprise and small business ventures, using Ordnance Survey products and services . Ordnance Survey were offering £100,000 of funding to teams who could develop ventures that brought environmental performance to the heart of company thinking. Large and small.

So, teamed with three outstanding educators, Zoe, Steve and Adam Clark, I set off for Ordnance Survey headquarters in Southhampton for the ‘GeoVation Camp’. A weekend in which Ordnace Survey opened their working space to the 10 winning groups selected from an initial entries. A chance to develop our idea from concept to practice and win funding to take it out into the world for real.

geov image.cdr

It was an amazing and intense weekend, with Ordnance Survey staff throwing a brilliant development gig and support from a huge number of people across the business world. During the weekend we worked hard and had fun bringing our idea to life through the formula that Innovation = Problem x Solution x Execution. At every step we were supported by designers, data analysts, product developers, technology experts, business minds and more. The goal? To turn our idea into reality.

GeoV2   GeoV3

Competition was tough with some amazing people at the helm of some brilliant ideas. From all over the country and the wider world. It seems the collective awareness about environmental issues locally, nationally and internationally, ishealthy and strong.

At the end of the weekend 4 winners were selected to receive a share of the £100,000 in innovation funding to develop their ideas further…and we were one of them :) .

So, our idea?

GeoCraft – Our idea will enable schools and local businesses to work together to encourage learning about environemnt and sustainability through Minecraft.

GeoV1

I’d like to express my most sincere condolences to those who didn’t make it to the final, I personally feared for our own success in the face of such brilliance all round.

I’d also like to congratulate all of those who were awarded a share of the funding. Well deserved and I wish you the best of luck in your venture.

Huge thanks to all involved in making it happen, the staff at Ordnance Survey, the Environmental Agency, the support staff and the judges.

Finally, I’d like to congratulate and thanks my own team for making this possible. I am very excited about the future of te project and can’t wait to get started on making it happen.

Watch this space as I will be blogging about the progress we make and in particular, the Minecraft elements as they happen.

We will be developing a GeoCraft website soon.

Screen Shot 2013-07-19 at 12.45.20

Riven – Gaming in Class

Riven – Gaming in Class

Myst-Riven-1-icon

As a young gamer my favourite games were RTS (Real Time Strategy), 2D and 3D FP (First Person) Adventure and Puzzlers. I could never grasp the attraction of Sports or Racing titles.

Games such as Chrono Quest, The Secret of Monkey Island and Dizzy stole most of my gaming time until the release of the ‘Command and Conquer’ series and then ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Myst’.

It’s this last entry which has stuck with me the longest. A series of adventure games (and books) following the story of the fall of the D’ni civilisation. Myst itself was a profoundly engaging game but its sequal, ‘Riven’ was where I truly fell in love with the series and as an educator have gone back for countless learning experiences.

Here are my thoughts and experiences on using Riven in the classroom:

Riven as a game

Riven is a FP Adventure game. Played in the first person as though you yourself were on the island and looking through your own eyes. It is also a point and click adventure. As you navigate the beautifully imagined world, stunning scene by scene you are encouraged to explore the landscape and architecture through pragmatism and curiosity. Clicking on points of interest, textured scenery and objects and clicking buttons or pulling levers.
Riven is ultimately a puzzle game. A mystery to be solved.

Riven is available on the PC or on the Playstation 1 (PSOne). When workng in schools I use the Playstation 2 (PS2) as the games are compatible and a PS2 is easier to get a hold of.

The world of Riven

riven___jungle_island_map_by_sandmannet-d37dq7d

Riven is the name of an age and the main island in that age (No time to explain ages here but worth checking out). Gehn, one of the characters in the Myst storyline, referred to this age simply as his ‘Fifth Age’. As a result, the number five can be found in many of the islands scenes and puzzles. including pentagonal-shaped architecture, the fact there are five islands and five is the point at which the D’ni numbering system changes. I’ll explain the numbering system shortly. Riven is an unstable age. In a state of deterioration. Originally however, it was just one island. Over time, the main island of Riven split into five separate islands which continued to drift further apart. There was a network of footpaths to connect these islands, but with the islands continually moving apart they were unsustainable and so Gehn installed a mechanical transport system to connect the islands. Getting this system working is one of the first puzzles.

The world of Riven, like all of the games in the ‘Myst’ series are beautifully imagined. For its time (early 1990′s) Riven was  and still is hailed as a triumph in realistic world creation with almost photographic quality. Bringing to life a world that could only exist in our minds and making it look as though someone had actually visited and taken photographs.
Riven is about an adventure on a small archipelago consisting of five islands on which an ancient culture once lived. This culture, known as the D’ni have disappeared and their island world is in a state of deterioration. Through some video cut scenes and a written journal, you are charged with the investigation, and possible rescue of the D’ni people. Or at the very least, their culture.
One thing worth noting (without giving too much away) is that, aside from the occasional cut scene in which another NPC (non player character) appears, there are no other people in the game. No players to interact with, no battles with an evil-doer and nothing to run from. You are, for the most part, alone and at peace with the world. This, for me was always one of the great attractions in Riven and the Myst series. A freedom to explore out with the structure of expectation, deadlines and threat.
Each beautifully rendered scene has something to explore or observe which will, at some stage be a part of a larger puzzle leading you towards the endgame. The occasional animation of bugs flying, leaves blowing or a flickering candle only heightens the sense of realism about the world. It’s this play on the senses that makes Riven so engaging. The imagery is not the only thing that stirs an interest in each scene. The game has been cleverly crafted to use ambient sounds such as wind, trees rustling and bug wings buzzing as you travel around. Sound effects are also deployed when you take action. Creaking doors, rolling stones on wood surfaces, old machinery starting up. Where you turn a rusting lever, you get a rough, creaking sound of metal on metal. Lighting mechanics also add a warm, refreshing feeling to the outdoors and a coy, candlelit feeling to the indoor scenes.

On top of this there is the D’ni language and the numbering system. Within the game players will come across symbols and sigils which are in fact a complete numbering system and written language. There is even a school house that you can explore and learn in.

All together, Riven has proved one of the most engaging games I have used to date simply because of the style of the game and the detail in its making. But there is more to using it in teaching than that. After a brief explanation of each of the islands I will cover some of the ways I’ve used it.

Temple Island:

Temple Isle

Known as ‘Allapo’, this island consists of two smaller islands. There are a series of puzzles on the Temple island which link to other island puzzles and the overall success of the game. This is the island you start on (link-in) and it contains the Dome that redirects energy to Gehn’s Linking Domes(you need to power this), the Star Fissure, and the Beetle Room with prayers to Gehn and of course, the temple itself.

Jungle Island:

R Jungle Isle

Also known as Village Island, this island is home to the only surviving Village where the vast majority of the surviving Rivenese population are hiding. The island contains a lagoon, where the school is located. You can learn the D’ni numbering system and alphabet in the school. Many of the trees on the island have been cut down to be converted into paper for Gehn’s books on Crater Island.

Crater Island:

R Crater Isle

This small island hosts a boiler for making paper and books, as well as Gehn’s original headquarters. Many clues to the demise of the islands and the population can be found here.

Plateau Island:

R Pateau Isle

Also known as Map Island, it has a wide plateau with a miniature map of the Riven islands. Gehn used this island to study the deterioration of the Riven Age. The map forms part of a puzzle.

Prison Island:

R Prison Isle

The fifth island once held the massive Tree of Riven. Now the tree has gone. Cut down for Ghen’s books. it now serves as a prison for Catherine (another of the  main characters). The Prison Island has drifted far away from the other islands and is only reachable through Gehn’s ‘Age 233′.

Learning in another world

So, how can Riven been used in education?
As with many off-the-shelf games, Riven offers a wealth of curriculum and soft-skills learning opportunities.

Here are some examples of the learning I’ve drawn from Riven in the classroom:

Literacy -

Riven lends itself naturally to the development of literacy. First of all the game is designed to be more of an experience than a game. With interaction between characters at a minimum the game relies on the player becoming immersed in the environment. SIghts, sounds and the puzzles themselves. To this end we have conducted writing workshops  with pupils in which they use the game to develop different writing styles.

Descriptive writing work that focusses on how the game look and feels. Pupils play portions of the game (we call them chapters) and write about what they saw, heard, felt and did.

Examples from a pupils -

When I stepped out of the temple I felt the warm sun on my face. I knew I had to go back in to the temple but it felt cold in there and so I wandered out onto the bridge and stood in the sun for a while first.

There was a winding path through the tall trees. There was thick undergrowth and I heard the buzzing sound of a small insect. It flew past my face and I noticed it was a scarab (I don’t know if scarabs can fly) like the stone ones I had opened in the room at the start.

Creative writing -

The entire basis of the Myst series is that the ‘Ages’ you visit such as Riven and Exile are written into existence. Everything that makes the worlds what they are is conceived and then written into a ‘Linking book’. At various stages of development the writer can visit the world. However, this can cause issues if important things like gravity or oxygen have not yet been written in.

The ability to write a world is an excellent creative writing opportunity. From the science behind making a world inhabitable to landscapes, water and organic life. Weird land features, violent natural disasters, two-headed creatures, the details of a food chain, an ancient civilisation, airships, new energy sources, technology or a lack of. Anything goes.

This activity lends itself particularly well to blended learning opportunities with art, science, geography, history and design and technology.

Examples from pupils -

Water flows up the way and so would we if we weren’t wearing heavy shoes. There are tall creatures that roam around looking for strangers so you have to be quiet.

The islands float in the air, above the ground. They can be moved if they float in the way using huge chains. They can also be held where you want them to be using the chains too. Like an anchor. People climb up onto the islands and build houses and shops on them. They are like small gardens and people grow things on them.

Keep a journal -

Throughout the game you are encouraged to follow a journal from a past visitor to the islands and fill out your own. A great extension of this activity is to get pupils to develop their factual writing skills. To assume the role of the very character they play and keep a details record of each of the things they do.

A neat extension to this is to physically create the journal, tea stained pages, a decorated front cover and interested binding such as string.

D’ni -

Writing in D’ni is difficult but learning it using the school in game and the internet can be a great exercise in literacy. Pupils can learn the D’ni alphabet first before forming whole words, sentences, paragraphs and even short statements or stories.

E-Journaling -

Give pupils a platform to journal their experience as part of a games-based learning project.

Reading -

Reading features heavily throughout Riven in the form of the journal entries you find as the game progresses. However, the game is also available in book format and can be read alongside the game.

History and Cultural studies

While exploring the Riven islands players are introduced to a new civilisation and their culture.

How they live learn, travel, eat and work are all either explained or alluded to if you pay attention to the details of the scenes.

Make direct comparisons to the cultures we know in real life. Their art and architecture, their language, religion, clothing and more.

Mathematics

The Riven numbering system offers a natural link to mathematics. The system (shown below from 0 to 25) is a unique system which can be used to bring a fresh interest in numbers to pupils.

Ask pupils to decode the symbols and learn the numbering system.

Ask them what is so important in the system about the number 5?

What happens after 25?

Ask pupils to complete their times tables or answer math questions using standard numbers but answering in D’ni.

Get pupils to consider how they would teach someone from the D’ni culture our own numbering system.

There are also opportunities in Riven to explore weight, distance and time through the puzzles found on the islands.

dninumbers

Geography -

As Riven is set on three islands which contain elements in the likeness of our own world (mountains, water, population),  it offers a great opportunity to explore geography.

Explore how islands are formed, how water plays a part in the formation of landscapes and our survival as a population.

Give pupils tasks based on the following questions: Why do islands and other landscapes deteriorate? What would happen if the sea levels were to rise? How do weather conditions and location on earth affect the formation of the islands. What kind of world (globe) is Riven a part of? Where on our earth would the islands be situated and why?

Map the islands. There are several maps available online but it is a great exercise to get pupils mapping the islands as they play. The maps can be rendered digitally or on paper. Grid references, axis, scale and a key or legend all make for a great end result. The maps can be used to guide others through the islands next time you run a Riven project.

The best map I saw was on grease proof paper (taken from a chip shop), tea stained to look old with the solution to each puzzle mapped out onto it in earthy watercolours. An absolute work of careful planning and art.

Science -

The islands of Riven are filled with opportunities to explore the sciences.

Explore the physics and chemistry of creating such a world and the biology of the plant and animal life found on the islands.

Look at biodiversity, the food chain, evolution (or not! – see Religious and Moral studies below).

Explore the physics of energy used to power the islands and the transport system.

Create circuits that could power a small vehicle along a track from makeshift, desktop islands.

Get pupils to create a ‘Table of Elements’ from the Riven universe.

Religious and Moral Education -

Running through the Myst storyline and prevalent in Riven is the subtle suggestion of a lost race trying to survive the wrath of a god-like figure who is at once the creator and the threat. Of course, we know it is a human with the ability to write worlds into existence but to the D’ni it is a spiritual being made real only by the ancient, beautifully documented history found scattered across the island. Stained glass windows, old books and etchings tell the story of their religion.

Compare this story to that of religions we know in the real world. Without giving too much away there are some similarities in both the story and the way the civilisation respond.

Outdoor Learning -

Outdoor learning is something I try to promote in as many ways as I can. Riven lends itself nicely to some opportunities to get pupils out of the classroom.

After playing elements of the game get pupils to explore areas outside, near the school as though they were strangers to the world.

Get them to pay close attention to the detail in colours and textures. Taking sketches, rubbings or photographs for use back in class.

Bring stones from outside back in to the classroom for classification and weighing. Reflecting one of the in game puzzles.

Do a mini-beast hunt then classify the beasts. Get pupils to design their own mini-beasts based on a the Riven world and our own.

Using outdoor materials, design and build a D’ni island. A mini map on a small hill works well or a larger construction using sand or dirt.

Design puzzles using materials found outside.

• Using materials gathered from outside, recreate one of the puzzles found in the game.

 

Art -

The game is a visual feast and so art is an obvious extension of playing the Riven. Linking the art work to the writing work has always been a success for me when using Riven in class.

The game is designed to look like a series of photographs and videos of a real world. Using digital or mobile cameras, get pupils to take pictures of their own locale in such a way that it looks surreal, beautiful and even alien to others.

Ask pupils to paint the world they see or imagine their own. This is particularly useful when linked to a creative writing element.

Using Photoshop (if you have it, www.pixlr.com (free) or any other good graphics packages, get pupils to manipulate digital images of the real world to look like a different world. This is the essence of the imagery in the game from the textured rocks to the clouds in the sky.

Create a physical journal from paper or other materials. Examples we have seen from pupils have had wooden covers with string binding and one with a cloth cover and hand made paper inside.

Design and Tech -

The islands of Riven are the result of some clever design and held together by some amazing familiar and unfamiliar technology. Exploring mechanics, engineering, architecture and puzzle design will give you a wealth of Design and Technology opportunities.

Explore the transport system and how it was engineered. It seems both futuristic and outdated at the same time.

Explore the architecture used on the island and how each building was designed a created.

There are limited resources on an island and so the natives of Riven must use their materials in a sustainable way. Have they? If so how? If not, how might they start to consider a more sustainable approach?

The puzzles in Riven are cleverly designed. Some on a desktop, others a whole island structure and others spanning multiple islands. Get pupils to design and craft their own puzzles.

Soft Skills -

As with all digital games there are soft skills being developed the entire time during play. Here are some of those Riven will promote:

Problem solving
Planning
Team work
Assessment and Reflection
Decision making and Judgement
Communication
Digital Literacy

I would recommend you play Riven yourself before running it with your class. It can take a while however and is the kind of game you can become immersed in even when you get lost and things are unclear. Here is one of the clearest and shortest walkthoughs I have found. Use this is you want to race through the game and see all the elements unfold:

Riven Walkthrough

I hope this post helps. If you would like any more help using Riven, games- based learning or creative ICT in your classroom please Contact Me or message me on Twitter.

Enjoy :)

Minecraft How-To: Monster Spawning

Minecraft How-To: Monster Spawning

How-To

While developing a Minecraft world for a client this week I stumbled over the issue of making monsters appear where I wanted them too. Monsters will generally appear at seemingly random points throughout the night above ground or at any time below ground. However, this is not random. Monster Spawners are placed in various locations around your Minecraft world that create monsters and send them off to hunt players.

In the case of my recent project, I needed certain types of monsters to appear in a dungeon. Spawning at one point in the dungeon and spreading out to find unwary adventurers. Monsters were appearing randomly in the dungeons but in too few numbers and in odd places. So, I needed to create Spawners to get the result I needed.

A Monster Spawner is just a block from which the monsters appear. It is not a standard block however, and you cannot find it in creative mode. So, i’ve created a video tutorial on how you can create your own monster spawners and put monsters exactly where you want them to be in your world.

So, I hope this is of use to you.

 

If you need anything else please Contact me or feel free to join our free Minecraft CPD world for educators. To get access to this world please visit www.ahpminecraft.com and then Contact me for the access details.

 

Museums At Night – Carlisle

Museums At Night – Carlisle

MC Main 01

This May I’ve been invited to take part in an exciting event at Tullie House Museum, Carlisle. We’ll be taking over the museum along with Adam Clarke (@thecommonpeople) between 7pm and 10pm and turning the museum in to an interactive, creative learning world. Exploring the history of Roman Carlisle through Minecraft and showcasing how digital games can be used to enhance the teaching of history.

Tullie House Logo

The theme is ‘A Magical World’ and Adam has already started the development of a just that. A fully realised Minecraft world filled with fantastical creations from some of the most high profile Minecrafters across the world and I’ll be contributing my own ideas to the world too.
Digital artist Adam will be helping participants turn the walls of the gallery into an interactive digital Cumbrian landscape. Visitors will be able to explore the world at the event via huge screens around the gallery and contribute their own creations. Participants can bring their own portable devices to the event and people from all over the world will be able to contribute to the digital space.

If you are unaware of Adam’s work with Minecraft I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter (@thecommonpeople), check out his YouTube channel and get in touch if you are looking to work with digital art in education.

For a historical twist, the museum ‘Curator of Archaeology’ will be on hand to supervise the digital recreation of Carlisle’s Roman fort from archaeological plans, and for inspiration provide handling objects from the museum Roman collection.

As well as assisting in the interactive Magical World and the building of the Roman Fort, I’ll be providing a ‘Games-Based Learning’ overview to attendees interested in how games can be used to learn. Showcasing my work with Minecraft, Little Big Planet, Myst and other digital games in a classroom environment and across the curriculum.

The event (full details here) will be held for one night only on Thursday, May 16, 2013 from 7:00 PM to 10:00

You can purchase tickets here: Eventbrite – Museums At Night – Gallery Takeover

Thursday, May 16, 2013 from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM (BST)

Keep up to date or get involved in the conversation #MatN2013 #THtakeover

Minecraft CPD on MineChat

Minecraft CPD on MineChat

MC Main 01

Thanks to the amazing Minecraft, MineChat video work of @ColinGally and @RobNewberry in Singapore, we were recently invited to showcase our Minecraft CPD world. The episode of MineChat was launched today and here are the results.

If you are interested in working with us to use Minecraft in your school please Contact Us or tweet me (Stephen) at @AhigherPlaceLtd

Earth Science with Little Big Planet

Earth Science with Little Big Planet

Last year I was approached by SESEF (Scottish Earth Science Education Forum), a not-for-profit organisation working in education around the UK to promote earth science. They asked me to help them bring their latest resource to life through a professionally developed classroom resource and an animation that would bring the story of fossil fuel formation to life.

The resource was to be called ‘Bright Beginnings’ and would be available in print and PDF format.

BB Cover Web

I set about storyboarding the animation which was actually quite a tricky job. The story of fossil fuel is not a simple one to tell. Where did it come from? How long did it take? How was it formed? Why is it found there? How do we retrieve it? What do we do with it? All of these questions were raised and had to be answered. They had to be answered accurately too of course and that can be difficult in an animation.
While looking at the answers to these kinds of questions I looked at a number of ways to depict them. How best to communicate the death of plankton, the 400 million years that would pass, the rising temperatures and extreme pressures. One of the solutions I brought to the table was that of using a game that could give us the creative freedom to build that complex history and then play the story out. We could create the story of fossil fuel formation and then film the play-through in order to create the final animation. This would also leave us with a published game that users from all over the world could play. Giving SESEF access to both a world-wide audience but also a unique platform for science communication.

I began the storyboarding with a number of game making platforms in mind…Kodu, GameMaker and Scratch. However, between the coding and the graphics required to depict the science accurately I would be looking at a project spanning years, several members of staff and a healthy budget…none of which I had. So one existing game in particular came to mind. A game I knew would give me a wealth of tools to create the story by building immersive worlds that players could experience the science in. Little Big Planet by Media Molecule was the obvious choice. An award winning platform game that comes with its own impressive world building toolkit. Little Big Planet offers a huge variety of materials, backgrounds, objects, decorations, music, sound effects and some brilliant mechanics to sew it all together.

SackBoy 3

So I began the full storyboard with Little Big Planet’s SackBoy as the protagonist.

I considered the importance of making sure the story gave pupils an understanding of not only how fossil fuel forms, but how it is used in todays world. As energy.

Level 1: Energy in the Home

I started by designing a house the players could explore, filled with electrical appliances that use energy in their own homes. I designed a kitchen in which the oven, microwave, hob and lights were all on and created switches for players to switch these appliances off.

LBP Kitchen

One of the most important elements of this part of the animation was getting pupils to grasp the concept of ‘Energy Vampires’. Appliances that are using energy even though they appear to be switched off. This is one of the primary uses of energy in the home. Microwaves, oven clocks, kettles, washing machines and so on. All live at the plug socket but not being used.

I designed a number of rooms that highlighted a number of appliances. Players explore the house room by room, identify the appliances and switch them all off. For each appliance they switch off they are rewarded with prize bubbles and points.

LBP Living Room LBP Bedroom LBP Office
For the next level we had to consider the huge amount of time that our players would have to travel in order to witness the plankton that became the fossil fuel we use today. Some 400 million years. So I introduced pupils to Grampa, an eccentric family member who has built the ‘ShrinkaTimealator’. A time machine that does more than just time travel. It shrinks it’s user to the size of a tiny plankton. (Well I had to think of something!).

Here is level 1:

Level 2: Plankton

In this second level our players travel through time, 400 years. Navigating the crudely made ‘ShrinkaTimealator’ is just the start.

LBP Time Machine

Once they reach their destination 400 millions years ago they dive in to the sea and swim with the plankton. Creating this was a real game design challenge. Plankton are odd creatures. They move randomly around the ocean and as they die they fall to the bottom. Over time this creates a layer of dead organic matter which will eventually become the oil we use to create energy today.

LBP Age Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 15.40.28

Creating the random nature of the plankton was a challenge but with some of the brilliant physics tools available in the tool bag option of the LBP creative mode I was able to make the plankton move around in all directions. I also added some ‘Emitters’ which emit the dead plankton which is designed to sink and pile up. The challenge for the players is to survive the journey along the sea bed without becoming buried.

Here is level 2:

Level 3: Oil Formation

Once players have survived the plankton build up we move to level three which explores the complex environment in which oil forms over 400 million years. To to this we created symbols for the main ingredients: ‘Pressure’, ‘Temperature’ and ‘Anaerobic’ conditions.

LBP Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 16.01.34

This level was developed using the most amount of in-game mechanics. Levers, sensors, emitters, camera angles, sound effects and more.  I had to depict the layering of sediment that happens over millions of years and the rise in temperature that happens under all those layers. I did this through narrative as well as the game mechanics.

After exploring the layering over 400 millions years, players learn about the ‘Anticline’, a dome shape in the rock in which oil is trapped. These anticlines, formed by the slow squeezing of the layers are where we find the oil to draw out using oil rigs.

LBP Anticline Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 16.19.03

Here is level 3:

Level 4: Oil Rig

In level four we reach the stage at which oil is retrieved via oil rigs. As with all of the other levels, there is some detailed and complex science involved in the extraction of oil. The cleaning process in particular is something we had to show. Oil does not come out of the earth clean. Thick, slick and black. It is mixed with water, sediment and sometimes gas. Oil rigs are designed to clean the oil before sending it to the mainland for use.

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 17.55.21 Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 17.56.53

I designed this level to show the cleaning process. Players follow the instructions of the oil rig staff and help clear a sediment blockage, switch the water extraction pipe on and divert gas back in to the rig for use as heating. Once this is all done, pupils watch as the oil is sent to the mainland for use in a power station.

Here is level 4:

Level 5: Power Station

In this final level we wanted to do two things. a) Show how oil is used as a fuel for creating energy through combustion. Steam power. b) Complete the cycle from fossil fuel formation to the home the pupils started in in level one.
For us as both developers of the content and as educators of the science we needed this cycle to make sense. To give the story relevance to the pupils I would be working with. To put the scientific notion that all that activity, over 400 million years would end up having an impact on the lives we lead today.

LBP Combustion LBP Steam

LBP Electricity LBP Power Lines

The factory had to be linked to the home through electricity cables. The kind of that deliver electricity to our homes all over the world.

Here is level 5:

In the production of the five levels you see above we used a huge number of the mechanics available in Little Big Planet. However, I was telling a story. the story of a 400 million year old earth science. So I introduced characters. Grampa was the key character, leading our player through the world and teaching them the science. The story was told through the speech of the characters. Filling in any gaps the game couldn’t accurately show (such as time travel).
The voiceovers were recorded straight in to the game using a standard USB microphone.

One tiny bonus…for me anyway…is that we ended the game with a Royksopp song :) Royksopp Forever. Just one of the many awesome songs supplied with the game.

If you are interested in using this material in your classroom please contact SESEF here.

If you would like your own lessons developed in this way contact us and we will be happy to assist.

How-To – Photoshop Tilt-Shift

How-To – Photoshop Tilt-Shift

How-To

Tilt-shift photography is a creative type of photography/photo-manupulation which makes a life-sized location or subject look like a miniature-scale model. It can be done as part of a series of images in a film or as a single image.

I’ve been toying with this as part of an animation workshop we run with schools. Exploring the concept that life is an animation (the word ‘Animation’ itself derives from the Latin word ‘Anima’ meaning ‘Life’). Pupils consider life as a series of billions of images seen through the lenses that are our eyes and processed with our brain. Theatre, a movie, an animation.

But what if we truly were the models in the animations we make? Toy buildings, cars, animals and people. What would it look like? Tilt-Shift photography lets us explore exactly that. Like giants looking down on earth. A great starter for a host of lessons. Geography, history, RME, design, art and more.

Here I’ll give you an easy to follow ‘How-To’ on making tilt-shift photographs with Photoshop that inspire creative thought as well as teach pupils how to manipulate imagery through ICT as s stand-alone lesson.

(If you don’t have Photoshop you may want to use www.pixlr.com - a free website which uses the same style of tools with the same results).

I will be using a Mac, but if you are using a PC the instructions may vary slightly. Generally though the icons and the menus are the same.

Step 1 – Open Photoshop

Step 2 – Open your File – (‘File’ (top of the screen), ‘Open’, then browse for the image file you want to manipulate)

Photoshop Menu

Images that suit the tilt-shift technique better are those with some distance between the camera and the subject itself. Buildings, people, vehicles and trees that can be made to look like toys are ideal.

For this example I’ve chosen to use the following image so you can see the work at each stage:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Step 3 – Click on the ‘Quick Mask’ icon at the bottom of your main toolbar (usually found on the left of the screen but can be moved).

This icon: Photoshop Quick Mask Icon found here:  Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 15.31.44

Step 4 – Now select the ‘Gradient’ tool from the same toolbar (If it is not already visible you may need to click and hold on the ‘PaintBucket’ tool to reveal it. The PaintBucket icon is also shown below.

Click Gradient: Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 15.37.27 or click and hold on Paintbucket: Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 15.37.39

Step 5 – Drag your mouse over your image to create an area to blur. This will place a red mask over the area.
The idea here is to try to get the area you wish to remain clear, at the centre of the red mask.

You may need to undo and retry this a few times until you are happy (I did).

Orrcha Bridge Mask

Step 6 – Click the ‘Quick Mask’ icon again to remove the red mask.

Photoshop Quick Mask Icon

The red mask will now be replaced with two ‘Selected’ areas. One above and one below the area the red mask was.

Photoshop Selected

Step 7 – Click the ‘Filter’ menu at the top of the screen, then choose ‘Blur’ and then ‘Lens Blur’ from the drop down menus.

Photoshop Main Menu

Photoshop Lens Blur

This will open the ‘Lens Blur’ preview screen.

Step 8 – Make sure the ‘Preview’ box is ticked, the ‘Faster’ option is selected and then adjust the ‘Radius’ slider until you are happy with the blurring in the main window.

Photoshop Lens Blur Options

You should now see the effects of Tilt-Shifting take place.

Step 9 – Click ‘OK’ when finished.

Step 10 – Click the ‘Select’ option in the menu at the top of the screen and then choose ‘Deselect’.

Orrcha Bridge Lens Blur

Step 11 – Now click the ‘Image’ option in the menu at the top of the screen and choose ‘Adjustments’ and then ‘Vibrance’.

This will open a new box allowing you to adjust the vibrancy of the colours in the image. Brighter, more prominent colours can add to the effect of people and objects being toy-like.

Photoshop Vibrancy

Step 12 – Select ‘Ok in the ‘Vibrance’ box when finished to see your finished image.

Here is our own and a small collection of others to give you some ideas of what might work. Each image belongs to me (Stephen Reid) and educators are welcome to use the images freely in an education capacity.

Click each image to see full size.

Orrcha Bridge Final

 

North Queensferry

Inverkeithing Rail Line

Rome Ruins Tilt

Rome Spiral Tilt

Bridges Tilt

Staduim Edinburgh Tilt

Water Station

I hope this helps. Any questions regarding this process please Contact me or Tweet me on @AHigherPlaceLtd

Reflections: Minecraft as a Learning Tool

Reflections: Minecraft as a Learning Tool
Minecraft Classroom

Minecraft Classroom

As I’m sure anyone who follows my blog or Twitter will know, I’m a huge fan of using Minecraft as a learning tool. I use Minecraft in many areas of education from primary to secondary. I have used it in after school clubs, used it with not-for-profit organisations such as libraries and museums and I am about to start work on a sizeable historical project reconstructing a famous Scottish town as part of the 2014 year of culture. I have taught elements of literacy, numeracy, science, art, design and technology, RME, computer science, primary topic work and much more using Minecraft, all with great results. I am now working with educators internationally using Minecraft across a wide variety of curricula. There are however, some subjects you just can’t reach and to be honest, some tools that reach those subjects much better than Minecraft does. We recently completed a complex science resource on fossil fuel formation using ‘Little Big Planet’ on the PS3. Work we couldn’t have carried out with Minecraft.

There has been a bit of interest this week on Twitter, in the ‘pros and cons’ of working with Minecraft. Opinions do differ across the board and I’m not surprised they do. But as someone who uses it I felt I should respond with a post offering my own thoughts (based on a comment I left).

Technology is just one of many tools educators have at their disposal. I am particularly passionate about games-based learning. However, like all good tools for learning, Minecraft must only be used in the right situation and under the right circumstances. With forethought, planning and a clear, valid purpose. Lets also try to make the results of using it measurable.
It’s very easy (and tempting) to use technology for the sake of using technology. Shiny new gadgets that do cool stuff. Most of which we don’t need to use. I visited a school recently who were just about to purchase (expensive) tablet technology…when I ask them what they planned to do with it they replied “We’re not sure yet, any advice?” to which my reply was “Don’t buy it, not until you at least have some idea of where and how you might use it”. Often they choose not to buy it after all and the money is used for something else. Those who do, take the time to find valid reasons for doing so first.

I advise the educators I work with to:

Find something that works, learn how to use it…then apply it to your teaching

and

If it doesn’t work…don’t use it”.

I note from some comments in the Twitter trail that some people just don’t see the educational merit of Minecraft. I have carried out CPD on games-based learning in which a geography teacher has left desperate to install Minecraft while his/her history colleague sees no use for it. Education can never be a uniform system…on account of many elements, not least of all the pupils. So the more tools educators have, the better. Let Minecraft be just one of those. Not everyone will want to use it…just like podcasting, animation, cameras, some web 2.0 tools, e-journaling and blogging tools and more.

Worldwide Minecraft CPD

Worldwide Minecraft CPD

I recently built a learning environment using Minecraft specifically for teachers to learn how to use Mincraft. From the basic functions of mining, crafting and building to applying the game’s mechanics to their own subject. Educators are offered free, in-game CPD with me using Skype. It’s been an interesting project with teachers from all over the world visiting; from the UK to South America, Europe, Scandinavia and as far as New Zealand (though lets face it…in an online context, that’s just a few milliseconds away). Many have commented that Minecraft became infinitely more applicable after such a session (usually just one hour). Perhaps there is some weight here in the importance of training in the use of these kinds of tools? Time, space and funding for pioneering new ideas, technologies and pedagogies in the yearly allocation of training for staff? Larger risk but I’m willing to bet there will be much larger rewards too. This in turn raises the question of why education is generally always way behind industry, commerce and home life in the application of technology? But that’s a whole other debate.

I do disagree with one of the Reddit comments I saw yesterday from a ‘sreyemhtes’. I have found quite the opposite in terms of the sustainability of the use of Minecraft through using it as a learning tool. He\she comments that pupils will be put off by the regimentation of Minecraft in a learning environment, far from the freedoms they have outside of school. Initially this strikes me as an accurate argument. After all, one of the main attractions of Minecraft is the sandbox environment and freedom within it to create anything you can imagine. Players of all ages enjoy the lack of parameters. But if we look at this historically, in the realm of human development, this only works for so long. Without some sense of order, law, rules, regulation, civility and such, there is only chaos. This is no different in Minecraft. Where I have left my own world open to  this freedom we have experienced malicious destruction of our school constructions, the burning of our ‘Gruffalo Forest’, Our in-game QR codes changed and so on. However, over time (and in some cases a very short time indeed) children begin to develop a sense of order, form rules, tasks, levels of acceptable behaviour. They police themselves, they plan and organise, allocate land, remove shoddy work and promote good work elsewhere. They make teams and work collaboratively or in healthy competition. It doesn’t take us as administrators or educators to do this!

Shipwreck

Shipwreck

If planned, managed and structured for learning and thus, to some degree limited, it can in fact, prolong a pupils interest in the game and overall learning purpose. The beauty of Minecraft is the freedom we have to actually set rules, borders, challenges and problems. We used flooding and minefields in a recent project we undertook for a geography department exploring the displacement of population after a natural disaster or war. It was used to great effect to keep the pupils from growing bored of the freedom to go anywhere, do anything. Focussing their minds on the task in hand, the fear of that mine or the importance of the construction of flood defences before the imminent flood. Of course, giving them that freedom as a reward for completing challenges and maintaining the rules is a matter of ‘gamification’. Pupils were able to build a hugely elaborate settlement once they safely reached their chosen resettlement area.

One final point; if we strip away the subject specifics of curriculum learning. Assume we don’t need to meet outcomes or objectives or experiences in any given subject. The sheer wealth and quality of soft skills developed through the collaborative work encouraged by a tool such as Minecraft is astonishing. Communication skills (in multiple languages where necessary) leadership, sharing, teamwork, organisation, time management, task management and more. All willingly…or rather more unwittingly given as part of the experience. Music to any educators ears!

I am sure the Minecraft phenomenon will fade eventually as new games with ever more attractive mechanics are released. The games industry is changing rapidly towards a more interactive, hack, mod and build-your-own model. Lets just try to keep an open mind about all of the tools available to our educators. For now…I’m a fan of Minecraft as a tool for learning. Provided it’s the right tool for the job in hand!

Photoshop – Transparency

Photoshop – Transparency

How-To

Earlier today we were working on putting images in to Minecraft. They work well and look amazing, each made up of Minecraft blocks. However, each of the images had a white background and so left us with huge amounts of ‘Snow’, ‘White Wool’ or ‘Iron’ blocks around the main focus of the image.

So, I ran the last image of SackBoy from Little Big Planet through Photoshop and removed the background and thought this might be useful for teachers and pupil in classrooms too. Not just for the Minecraft example we’re working on but for image manipulation in general. It’s quick and easy and here’s how to do it:

(If you don;t have Photoshop you may want to use www.pixlr.com – a free website which uses the same style of tools with the same results.

I will be using a Mac, but if you are using a PC the instructions may vary slightly. Generally though the icons and the menus are the same.

Step 1 – Open Photoshop

Step 2 – Open your File – (File (top of the screen), Open then browse for file)

Photoshop Transparent Background 1

Step 3 – Select your background

There are a number of ways of doing this but I prefer to use the ‘Magic Wand’ tool.

Photoshop Magic Wand Icon

You will notice a dotted line appear around your image. Use this to gauge what you want to keep and delete.
In the example below I have selected all of the white pixels around SackBoy.

Photoshop Transparent Background 2 Photoshop Transparent Background 3

Occasionally, the ‘Magic Wand’ tool will select all the white areas on in the image. In this example the white in Sackboy’s zip and eyes are also selected.

Step 4 – Use the ‘Lasso’ tool to select or deselect specific areas. In this case I deselected the white on Sackboy’s zip and in his eyes.

Photoshop Transparent Background 4

Step 5 – Click the ‘Select’ menu at the top of the screen and choose ‘Inverse’. This means that the selection you made earlier has now switched to SackBoy rather than the background.

Step 6 – Click the ‘Edit’ menu and select ‘Copy’.

Step 7 – Open your ‘Layers’ menu – Click ‘Window’ (top of the screen) then ‘Layers’.

Photoshop Transparent Background 6

Step 8 – Click the small icon (an arrow with three lines) at the top right of the ‘Layers’ window and select ‘New Layer’.

Photoshop Transparent Background 5

This will give you a new (transparent) layer.

Photoshop Transparent Background 7

Step 9 – Select the ‘Edit’ menu and choose ‘Paste’. This will look like it has done nothing but has, in fact pasted SackBoy on top of the existing ‘Background Layer’.

Step 10 – Now right click on the ‘Background’ layer and delete it.

This should leave you with only the image of SackBoy on a transparent (chequered) background.

Photoshop Transparent Background 8

You are finished and ready to save your image. It is important you save the file as a .PNG. This file type maintains the transparency when saved.

This works particularly well when you want images to overlap and layer together. It also works well when you want to give an image a shadow…rather than the shadow framing the outline of the entire background (lets assume it’s square), it frames the detail in the image instead. I’ll give examples of this below:

Non transparent background:

SB Trans Back

Transparent background:

SB Shadow

And here is the final image transferred into Minecraft:

mc

I hope this helps. Any questions regarding this process please Contact me or Tweet me on @AHigherPlaceLtd

Minecraft-RaspberryPi

Minecraft-RaspberryPi

raspberry-piMojang Pi

On February 12th it was posted on the Mojang website and the Raspberry-Pi website that the team at Mojang had finished the Minecraft port to the Raspberry-Pi, and even better news – it would be free to download!

The Raspberry-Pi edition of Minecraft is based on the mobile version or ‘Pocket Edition’ of Minecraft which runs on smart phones and tablets. This does mean that it doesn’t have all the features of the game you find on the PC/Mac. However, one very noticeable change that was announced with the Pi edition is that you can program directly into Minecraft. For example, one possible setup is to have a Programming window and the Minecraft window open side-by-side on the Pi. This would allow you to instantly see what you programme, take effect in the game. It can be played without the programming but we believe that this aspect, along with the Minecraft itself makes for one of the most powerful learning tools yet. The more you learn about programming the more you can do and you will only be limited by your imagination!

Minecraft is a fantastic addition, to the Raspberry Pi, an already popular and inexpensive educational computer. This will be a great way of getting children interested in computing and how to programme for their favourite game as well as the applications Minecraft has in a wide variety of curriculum subjects.

Raspi-Model-AB-Mono

The game is optimised for both models of the Raspberry-Pi, the 256MB and the 512MB. So we will be firing up our own Raspberry-Pi with Minecraft and are looking forward to experimenting with this new addition and finding out what we can programme into our own Minecraft world.

What’s more…this week we’ll be working on a Minecraft-Pi, self sustaining networking solution for schools. Allowing you to set up a Minecraft server using only a collection of Raspberry Pi’s . No connection to your school or authority network necessary. Watch this blog for our journal as we put this project together. We’ll give you the pros, the cons, the costs and the ‘how-to’ and we can even bring it to your school, set it up and teach both your staff and pupils with it.

Audacity – Missing Lame File

Audacity – Missing Lame File

How-To

I’ve always promoted podcasting and the wider use of audio recording as a tool for learning. It is free and easy to do and I use Audacity in my school training sessions – available here http://audacity.sourceforge.net

However, one thing that gets in the way of a successful training session with Audacity is the lack of that vital file that allows users to save Audacity files as MP3 files. Many teachers contact me after a good day of sound recording to ask me why they can’t export their work as an MP3. It’s due to a missing file called lame_enc.dll.

I have uploaded the file here for you to download and below are the instructions on where to put it on your computer and how to make it work.

audacitylo

Download here: Lame_enc.dll

Step 1 – Download the file above

Step 2 – Open the file (Extract the file within it to your Desktop or other folder)

Step 3 – Open the folder you installed Audacity in.

Step 4 – Copy the Lame file into the Audacity folder

Step 5 – Open Audacity

Step 6 – Make a recording (a short test recording will do for now)

Step 7 – Click ‘File‘ then ‘Export As MP3

Step 8 – Follow the prompts until you are faced with the ‘Lame_enc.dll missing’ message

Step 9 – Locate the file when prompted to (Where you saved it in Step 4)

You will only have to do this once (unless you delete the Lame file or change computer). It may be necessary to do this on every computer in a school. However, in some cases your ICT technicians may be able to do this across all computers remotely.

If you have any issues with this process please email me directly: stephen@ahigherplace.co.uk

 

Coping with Copyright

Coping with Copyright

Copyright Symbol

Something that crops up a lot during my training in Education is the subject of copyright. Whether it’s music, video or digital images teachers find it hard to navigate the minefield that is copyright where treading carefully is a time consuming and stressful way to get to what you need for your lesson.

Personally, I feel that teachers and other educators shouldn’t have to worry about this. Surely the idea of copyright is to protect the artist from losing either credit for, or income from, the work produced? Something we fully understand in a corporate world where ideas can be taken and copied, rehashed and redistributed for a cost.

But at what point in education do we aim to make any money from anything we do as a classroom teacher?
I’ve heard stories of teachers being fined for using a digital image on a wall display, or five seconds of the ‘Top Gun’ theme tune at the start of a primary child’s clay animation. It’s no wonder we get so many enquiries about royalty-free resources and help with understanding copyright.

Does this fear of copyright hinder an educators access to quality teaching material and pupil engagement? In a world where our children spend more time online than we do, watching and making video and animation, playing games, communicating, uploading and downloading all kinds of digital information, practicing digital photography and photo manipulation and sharing all of this through social networking platforms…there is no doubt.

Creative Commons

However, there is a new and growing copyright concept called ‘Creative Commons’ and it is everything a teacher could want in understanding and applying copyright.

In basic terms there are six types of copyright within Creative Commons:

• Attribution


 

This license lets you use, distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a piece of work, even commercially, as long as you credit the creator of the work for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered.

Attribution-ShareAlike


This license lets you remix, tweak, and build upon work even for commercial purposes, as long as you credit the creator of the work and license your new creations under the identical terms.
All new works based on the original will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia.

Attribution-NoDerivs


This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the creator.

Attribution-NonCommercial

Copyright CC 04

This license lets you remix, tweak, and build upon a piece of work non-commercially, and although your new works must also acknowledge the original and be non-commercial, you don’t have to license your derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Copyright CC 05

This license lets you remix, tweak, and build upon a piece work non-commercially, as long as you credit the creator and license your new creations under the identical terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs

Copyright CC 06

This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing you to download works and share them with others as long as you credit the creator, but you can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

 

Watch this video by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand.

So, to break it down for you we have the ability to use, create derivative works from, share and make money from content online depending on the Creative Commons licence.

As an educator this is great news as all we want to do is use the works to enhance our teaching.

So, look out for the logo that informs us of the works and Copyright. Check the license here or elsewhere online.

Check out www.creativecommons.org for a wealth of information and Creative Commons materials.

As time passes we will post more sources of Creative Commons works but for now, try using the following for digital images:

 

When uploading to Flickr contributors are asked which type of copyright they would prefer their work to fall under. In many and increasing cases contributors choose a copyright that allows the use of their works for non-commercial purposes. Go find stuff at Flickr

An example is our own A higher Place Flickr account, where all our photographs from our travels are made available under the Attribution-NonCommercial licence so educators can use them freely.

Recently we had a teacher use this photo to encourage pupils to write about what might be ‘Behind the Door’.

 

DeviantArt Logo

Deviant Art is often blocked on school networks (as some of the public art can be inappropriate for the classroom) but as a source of photographs and graphic art it is unquestionably one of the best. As with Flickr contributors are asked which type of copyright they would prefer their work to fall under during the uploading process. In many and increasing cases contributors choose a copyright that allows the use of their works for non-commercial purposes. Set up an account at home and go find stuff at DeviantArt.

Feel free to contact us of you need any help understanding Copyright and Creative Commons in the future.

Minecraft QR Codes

Minecraft QR Codes

How-To

Earlier this week we were discussing how our Minecraft world, dedicated to free teacher CPD could be used to explore things in the real world. Linking the real world with the worlds we create.

We use QR Codes already in education and are currently exploring ways to use them in outdoor education with Edinburgh’s Royal Botanical Gardens. So why not in Minecraft? Linking the things we create to real world examples and digital information. Websites, images, videos and more.

So, we put ourselves to task and built a QR Code inside the game linking to our website www.ahigherplace.co.uk

For those wishing to try it, here’s how:

- Visit a QR Code generation website. There are many but we used kaywa.com

- Add your web link in the text box (note is can be a number of types of data)

- Click the ‘Generate Free’ button

Your QR Code will be generated on the left. It will look something like this:

- The QR Code is made up of 961 squares. You can print it out and pencil a grid over it if that helps.

- In Minecraft create a wall using blocks of ‘White Wool’ which is 31 wide by 31 high.

- Now, keeping the outer blocks white, start to create the upper left square using blocks of black wool.
Do this by deleting a white block and replacing it with a black one.

- Move from the top to the right in rows to make the completion easier.

This takes time but we completed ours in around 15 minutes.

Once complete move away from the QR Code and scan it straight from your screen. If it has been comepleted exactly right then you will be taken to your web link.

Here is ours:

Good luck :)

If you need any assistance or a Minecraft world to practice in Contact Us

 

 

Games Development Career Paths: Overview

Games Development Career Paths: Overview

How can games like Portal 2 be applied to real life?

We love games and we love games-based learning. But there is far more to gaming for education than first meets the eye. Playing the games is one thing, learning from them quite another. But it is the jobs within the industry we’re most interested in for the pupils we teach. Gaming is a growing, multi-million pound industry which gives the film industry a hard run for its money (in 2011 sales of computer games outsold DVD sales for the first time drawing in almost £2 billion – BBC 2012). Some of the most successful small to medium sized companies in Europe are now games development companies.

Take Media Molecule for example. A small business based in Surrey, UK. Employing a handful of people who produced the amazing, multi-million selling and multi-award winning ‘Little Big Planet’. They were recently purchased by Sony Entertainment.

While the games development industry around the world is growing all the time, there is no doubt that some of the best talent and expertise can be found right here in the United Kingdom.
UK Games companies such as ‘Bitmap Brothers‘ (Xenon, Speedball and Magic Pockets) and ‘Bullfrog‘ (Populous, Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper) and ‘Codemasters‘ (Dizzy, LoTR Online and Micro Machines) have been at the forefront of great games development since the 1980′s, providing a rich heritage of innovative games development. The games we buy, play and use in education now are being made by developers inspired by that heritage. Those games they played in their own childhood. Back when the computer was all the rage and block and vector graphics made us ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ at the screen.

More recently, British games houses such as ‘Media Molecule‘, ‘RockStar‘, ‘Rocksteady‘ and ‘Eidos‘ have produced some of the most iconic games, topping the charts and wowing the next generation of children. The next cycle of games developers. The game makers of tomorrow.

Millions of people around the world are gaming right now. Racing around an ultra realistic race course in an equally realistic looking F1 car on a console such as the xBox360 or Playstation 3. Or solving a mystery through a series of puzzles in the Professor Layton series on the DS. Or using and defying the laws of physics to escape a futuristic factory in Portal on the PC. Or perhaps even creating their own games using newly developed software such as Kodu, Gamemaker, Scratch, Minecraft or Little Big Planet.

Over 30 million people in the UK are ‘gamers’. Thats almost half the entire population. And almost 40% of those gamers are female (Jane McGonigal – Reality is Broken). That’s a massive and diverse audience. A market just begging to be sold to. Screaming ‘Entertain me!’, ‘Create for me!’. ’Interact with me!’.

So, the focus of this series of blog posts is going to be on the side of games-based learning that is difficult to see but offers the strongest incentive to learn and play – the jobs and careers that await our pupils. That market of millions of players creating a demand for games and so a wealth of career opportunities.

Business require a wide variety of departments and people to function.

Most games these days are highly complex structures of graphics and coding. The stuff we see and the stuff we don’t. Games developers work from an initial idea, through the entire creation process to the final publishing and marketing of the game. Getting a game from conception to completion can span years. They can work in teams as small as one or two to dozens or even hundreds to complete the process.The breadth of skills required to bring a game to your screen is breathtaking and they all offer a career for our pupils.

This blog post is the first in a series focussing on the roles in the games industry. In this post we will list the jobs required across the whole industry and then each following post in the series will focus on the roles one at a time with a look at how the curriculum can prepare our pupils for such careers.

Game Design:

• Lead Designer
• Designer
• Level editor
• Object Designer
• GUI Designer
• Script Writer (Story and Narrative)
• Map Builder

Art, Graphics and Animation:

• Artistic Director
• Concept Artist
• Storyboard Artist
• Lead Artist
• Technical Artist
• Artist
• Environment Artist
• Illustrator
• 3D Modeller
• Animator
• Graphic Designer

Audio:

• Musician
• Composer
• Sound Effects Designer
• Audio Engineer

Technical:

• Lead Programmer
• Software Engineer
• Programmer
• A.I Programmer
• Tools Programmer
• Technical Artist
• Artist
• Environment Artist
• Illustrator
• 3D Modeller
• Animator
• Graphic Designer

Project Management:

• Production Management
• Product Manager
• Quality Assurance Director
• Art Director
• Programming Manager
• Production Accountant
• Production Scheduler

Quality Assurance:

• Quality Assurance Manager
• Technitian/Tester
• Lead Tester
• Localisation

Business Management:

• Senior Publishing Producer
• Publishing Producer
• Account Director
• Consultant
• Chief Executive
• Managing Director
• Creative Director
• Technical Director
• Financial Manager
• Supply Chain Manager
• Sales Manager
• IPR/Licensing Manager
• Product/Brand Manager

Operations:

• PR and Marketing Manager
• Marketing Director
• Marketing Manager
• Press Officer
• HR Manager
• Training Manager
• Recruitment Manager
• Personnel Officer
• Finance Director
• Accountant

Legal:

• Legal Director
• Solicitor

Admin:

• IT Manager
• IT Support
• Network Administrator
• Secretary
• Administrator
• PA
• Receptionist

Premises:

• Security Officer
• Caterer
• Cleaner

So watch this blog as we dissect these roles and explore how curriculum learning can lead to jobs in one of the most exciting and fastest growing industries in the world.

If you have any specific questions regarding your subject and how Games and Games-Based Learning can be used to get the most from your learners Contact Us and we’ll be happy to work with you.

Sources:

CreativeSkillSet – www.creativeskillset.org
Train to Game – www.train2game.com

 

Reflections of MineCon 2012

Reflections of MineCon 2012

After the sun set on MineCon 2012 we ballooned our way back to the UK after a fantastic weekend. It’s time to get our reflections of the event and our thoughts for the future down.

It was a busy weekend. With a mobile app to keep us informed of all the panels and events we had plenty to do and see.
Seven thousand people queued (some renamed it QueueCon) at the gates to get into a conference based around a single game. Minecraft.

There are many games conventions. ‘E3′ and the ‘Eurogamer Expo’ are just two of the biggest, but a convention based on a single game is something of a culture shock in the gaming community. It was however, easy to see why it was necessary…with thousands of ‘Minecafters’ gathering to celebrate what is essentially one of the world’s biggest and most wide-spread gaming communities.

While we at AHP attended with a view to exploring the educational merit of the game and approaches to education within the community it’s worth mentioning the areas made specifically for the purpose of entertainment…such as the ‘Mob Trap’; a dark room designed to look like an in-game mine with full scale monsters such as Zombies and Creepers and eerie sound effects. There was a farm, a wide open area with life size animals from the game…yes, there were cuboid pigs. Most impressive was the Minecraft museum, displaying a short (and it’s been a whirlwind success story) history of the development of Minecraft including the original sketches of logo and branding ideas and the latest Minecraft Lego:

But the opportunity to be a part of a panel on ‘Minecraft in Education’ was the highlight of our trip. I (Stephen) teamed with Joel Levin of MinecraftEDU in the USA, Leo Adberg (Student – USA), Marnix Licht (Netherlands) and Heidi Forbes Öste (Sweden). Everyone had their own experience of using Minecraft in education and it was a good mix too; with discussion on using Minecraft at schools and at home as a learning tool across the curriculum, in business as a team building and collaboration tool.

We discussed the use of Minecraft in humanities, physics, literacy and numeracy as well as outdoor learning, team building and topical project work. We also discussed some of the issues surrounding the use of games-based learning and in particular the ‘culture of fear’ surrounding its use in schools. Seems our own experience of this in the UK is not uncommon. Games-based learning is still a fringe science in learning. However, we are working with those we met from around the world to explore solutions to this culture.

Hopefully the video of the panel will be available soon. I’ll embed and republish when it appears.

For A Higher Place it was a roaring success…It seems that education is a much hotter topic than we had anticipated on arrival. I was interviewed by the BBC, New Scientist, Das Spiegel and GameSpot.com about the power of Minecraft (and games-based learning) as a creative learning tool.

So where next? Since returning to the UK we have already engaged with educators from Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as the UK on a wide variety of amazing projects in both schools and businesses. We’ve also relaunched our Minecraft CPD server dedicated to teacher training and will be marketing that FREE service extensively in January.

We’re confident that Minecraft will remain one of the most prolific and adaptable tools in the Games-Based Learning arsenal, bringing new kinds of learning opportunities to schools around the world. We’ll be launching some very interesting projects in schools in 2013 and we look forward to bringing the power of Minecraft to teachers and pupils across the UK.

Interested in working with us on a MInecraft project? Contact Us.

TynCan – Minecraft

TynCan – Minecraft

Following our networking success at Minecon 2012 we’ve been invited to present on Minecraft at the TynCan ‘Developing Computing in the Curriculum’ leaning event. Part of the CAS (Computing At School) group.

It’s an exciting opportunity to showcase a number of technolgies for schools in the area but in particular…Minecraft.

We’ll be giving teachers a chance to play in our CPD server, learn the basics and we’ll help them to apply the game to their own subjects.

TynCan description: With the many changes announced for ICT and computing in recent months there are a host of questions rising to the surface. How do I introduce computing at KS3? Should I be teaching computing at KS4? Is ICT important? Where can I get training, support and a hot cup of tea?

Here is a chance to spend a couple of hours with others in the same boat and to share experiences, ask questions, get practical tips or maybe have a go with some new technology.

Thursday 29th November, 2012

TynCan Learning, Jesmond, Newcastle

5:30pm – 8pm

 

Lawn Keeper

Lawn Keeper

A short blog post about an entrepreneurial spirit…After a recent pupil workshop on exam success and beyond I was reminded of this and thought it worth sharing.

I met this guy in India back in 2011. In Manali, a small town in the foothills of the Western Himalayas.

He was standing on the lawn outside the small, shabby hotel I stayed in at around five in the morning…with a cow. He leaned on a hand-carved walking stick and gazed out across the valley the town is nestled in, occasionally glancing at the cow.

I opened the shutters, asked if I could take his picture and he nodded before posing proudly beside his cow.

Turns out he is the town lawn keeper. His business (though unofficial) is that of using his cow to keep the lawns and government owned areas of the town neat. He wakes at 5am and wanders the town, following a daily, weekly and monthly plan. House owners, shopkeepers, the local school, buddhist temples and government office pay him to ‘mow’ the grassy areas using his cow.

When I asked him why this was a viable business he told me that there are no lawnmowers in the town. Those there have been have become old and broken, costly to repair or the engine parts have been used to keep the ‘tuk tuks’ on the road.
He smiled an almost toothless smile and said:

People here need their grass kept neat. We are a busy people. Lots of jobs and big families. I have a cow…what else does anyone need to keep the grass from growing too long?‘.

I love this entrepreneurial spirit. An idea, a gap in the market, a challenge, a solution. In particular, I respect entrepreneurial spirit that serves the wider community. A higher cause. Meaningful entrepreneurship. An effort to do more than just make money.

Could we in the UK benefit from a guy with a cow?

Science with Little Big Planet

Science with Little Big Planet

• Where does our energy come from?
• How do oil and gas form?
• When did fossil fuels start to develop?
• What can fossil fuel formation teach us about biology, physics and chemistry?
• How is oil extracted, refined and then used to make energy?

These are just some of the questions we’re answering using Sackboy (though our protagonist is in fact Sackgirl) with the amazing ‘Little Big Planet’. We’re approaching the end of a six month project which has seen us build an entire world that allows pupils to play their way through the story of ‘Energy’.

Starting with a trip around a giant house pupils identify electrical appliances before switching them off via switches and levers. But energy in the home is just the start of the story. We throw players back through time to the depths of the world’s ancient oceans where they meet ‘Zooplankton’ and learn the biological and chemical transformation from organic matter to oil over millions of years. Pupils then explore the oil extraction process and refinement. Leading them back to the house as energy.

This is part of a wider science approach in partnership with University and industry encompassing everything from primary and transition science to upper secondary. Pilot phase will begin at the end of this year with the final project rolling out across select schools in Scotland and England.

We’re currently developing a series of short videos on how we created the world using:

• in-game materials like wood, glass, metal, clay, sand, chocolate and denim
• In-game physics such as gravity, buoyancy and combustion
• Plastic, stickers and string to make plankton
• Prize bubbles for gamification
• Speech bubbles for narration and story boarding
• The amazing ‘Controlinator’ to animate the plankton
• Levers and pistons to recreate the layering of the ocean floor and tectonic movement
• Music and sound effects
and much more

Watch this space…

If you are interested in learning more before its launch or would like to look at using Little Big Planet in your own science classrooms contact us or tweet @ahigherplaceltd

We will be blogging about the entire project shortly after launch.

MineCon 2012

MineCon 2012

It’s almost time for this years Minecraft conference. Held this year in Disneyland Paris. We’re heading off to Paris this November for the world’s biggest gathering of Miners, Crafters and Creators with the intention of scooping as many ideas as we can for UK teachers using Minecraft.

MineCon is an annual Minecraft convention held by Mojang AB, developers of the game. The first MineCon was held in 2010 in Washington, USA. The second MineCon occurred in Las Vegas while MineCon 2012 will be held in Disneyland, Paris from November 24 – 25th November.

The official MineCon website is available at http://minecon.mojang.com/.

There will be talks and panels helping visitors with everything Minecraft from help with building projects and creative ideas to the tech stuff behind the game, like coding, skinning and video recording your world.Exhibitors include Microsoft with the 360-version, JINX supplying Mining gear and dedicated server companies. We’re hoping to make as many links as we can that will help make Minecraft ever more accessible to UK schools.

There will also be a gaming and relaxation area with Cobalt, Scrolls and of course Minecraft to play with friends and strangers alike.

And finally…as if MineCon wasn’t enough! All attendees get free access to Disneyland, Paris Saturday evening :)

Mojang AB promise to make this years Minecon more interactive and stimulating than ever and like all of these things, they are what you make them. So Marc (WoodySkye) and I (@ahigherplaceltd) are donning our ‘A Higher Place’/'AHPMinecraft’ T-Shirts, arming ourselves with a pickaxe and iron bucket.

We were going to book flights until Marc suggested we mine our way there then cnstruct a ‘cobblestone bridge across the English Channel’. We’re currently under Hawick.

 

 

 

PEGI Ratings – Know Your Games

PEGI Ratings – Know Your Games

PEGI Logo

Yesterday saw the announcement that video game ratings using the PEGI (Pan-European Game Information) system have become legally enforceable in the UK.

Retailers are now legally bound to sell games with an age restriction to children meeting that age or above. Those who fail to do so can face prosecution with potential custodial sentences. The coalition government have decided to drop an alternative ratings system run by the BBFC following the Labour government’s initial drive in this direction back in 2009. The premise for this was outlined in Labour’s ‘Digital Britain‘ (2009) report and was influenced by Tanya Byron’s ‘Safer Children in a Digital World‘ review, published in 2008.

PEGI AGe Restrictions 12 16 18

The PEGI system will operate a three-level age rating system of 12, 16 and 18 as well as a series of icons designed to highlight what kind of content is in the game. They are:

Bad Language

Game contains bad language

Discrimination

Game contains material which may encourage discrimination

Drugs

Game refers to or depicts the use of drugs

Fear

Game may be frightening or scary for young children

Gambling

Games that encourage or teach gambling

Sex

Game depicts nudity and/or sexual behaviour or sexual references

Violence

Game contains depictions of violence

Online gameplay

Game can be played online

The Games Ratings Authority (GRA) will be responsible for rating games using Pegi’s criteria.
The GRA will also be able to ban games if necessary and will also suggest games that should not be available to children under three and six-years-old, though this element will not be legally enforceable quite yet.

It is hoped that the rating system will not only help parents in deciding which games to buy for their children, but also aid developers in deciding what content is deemed suitable per the restrictions, so adjustments to content can be made before release. That comes after the level of violence of games unveiled at last month’s E3 conference was widely criticised.

If you are hoping to use games in your classrooms this year and would like to make sure you are using the right games and game ratings, take the following steps:

1. Check the PEGI rating on the game itself. This can usually be found on the front and back cover and online as well.

2. Check the icons depicting the type of content you are likely to experience throughout the game.

3. Check the PEGI website for more info on the rating system and what their rating criteria is.

4. Contact us at A Higher Place and we can offer information and ideas on which games to use.

 

Hope this helps

Stephen

Free Minecraft In-Game CPD

Free Minecraft In-Game CPD

The AHP Minecraft world is live and ready for you to visit.

At A Higher Place we love applying ICT to curriculum learning and helping teachers to find the best pedagogies and teaching strategies available.

Games-based learning has risen in profile in the last five years to be considered among some as one of the most unique and engaging tools in the modern classroom.

We help teachers to engage their learners with games such as Portal 2, Little Big Planet, From Dust, ICO and the Professor Layton series. But it is Minecraft that has caused the most excitement in the AHP offices in the last year. A game that truly allows users to create their own world. Block by block, in the materials they choose. While exploring maths, the sciences, geography, literacy, design, technology and more.

So, as part of our new CPD strategy, working with teachers directly inside live game worlds, we’ve set up a dedicated Minecraft server for teachers and educators around the world. And it’s FREE!!!

Join us on the ‘A Higher Place’ server on a PC or Mac and let us show you the ropes. We’ll help you to master the three basic principles of Minecraft – Mining, Crafting and Creating. We’ll help you navigate and map out your world, locate the materials you need, craft the tools you require and assist in your building operations.

We’ll teach you the controls, the language and jargon and the best way to use the game in the classroom, with your pupils, for your subject.

You are invited to join us at any time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to learn and play in Minecraft. We’ve developed a world for you to explore over hundreds of square kilometres of digital landscape. Discover things you can use in class such as:

• AHP Primary School – Learn the Minecraft basics
• AHP Academy – Explore education ideas inside the game
• AHP Geography Department – Explore the Minecraft world inside a giant globe
• The Symmetry stands – Complete the symmetrical patterns using Minecraft materials
• The Great Library – Read books created by other users and Write and publish your own
• The 8-Bit Art classroom – View and create 8-bit art on massive canvases
• Tortuga – A Pirate Village with a working cannon!
• Rupture Farms – Plant, grow and harvest crops for food on a working farm
• Shipwreck – Explore the wreckage of the feared ‘Black Barnacle’

and much more…

But the real excitement is in what you can do with the world…you can claim land that will be yours to own and is protected from change  by anyone else. Mine, Craft and Create anything you want to on your land then visit it again and again at home or in the classroom.

The AHP world (server) is open 24/7 and can be explored at anytime, always and from anywhere. You can also request on the spot CPD when an Admin is available or book a slot with the team in advance.

Minecraft is like digital Lego, you are limited only by your imagination. So indulge yourself in some escapism and some valuable, free CPD to boot.

For details on how to join the server and get your Minecraft CPD:

Check out our website

Mail – admin@ahpminecraft.com

Tweet - @ahigherplaceltd

Apply directly here

 

 

Free Minecraft CPD

Free Minecraft CPD

Do you own an xBox 360? Want to learn to play Minecraft? Think Minecraft would suit your curriculum ideas the coming year?

I’ll be conducting free and open CPD sessions in the world of Minecraft on xBox 360 throughout summer 2012. Want some?

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a game that allows you to manipulate the world around you and create anything your imagination can conjure. The game has three main elements: Mining, Crafting and Creation. You have to mine a wide variety of materials, from basic and plentiful stone, wood and dirt to the much rarer diamonds, iron ore and even lava. The basic materials will allow you to begin creating right away but for more complex constructions you will need to learn to ‘craft’ one material with another to make new materials, allowing you to enhance your construction ideas. The possibilities are endless.

Minecraft is like digital lego.

Since its launch over 30,000,000 people have joined the world of Minecraft. Hogwarts has been reconstructed in its entirety, a working guitar, the Eiffel Tower, the USS Enterprise, the Kremlin and even the entire world itself. At A Higher Place, we’re building the Forth Rail Bridge.

Curriculum areas easily brought to the fore in Minecraft include science, social sciences, maths, literacy and technologies.

But like a lot of games and game platforms it’s getting started that can be the hardest part. So, this summer I’ll be conducting free and open Minecraft sessions on the xBox 360. Join me and I’ll take you on a tour of the game. We’ll mine, craft and create and talk the classroom opportunities throughout.

You will need the following to joined me:

• An xBox 360
• xBox live membership (for online play)
• Minecraft (available on xBox marketplace for 1600pts – around £12)
• A microphone

Simply add ‘AHigherPlaceLtd’ to your friends list on xBox Live and I’ll add you in return. Then log in and join me, every Thursday evening between 1800 and 2100 for free CPD.

For any other queries regarding Minecraft or Games-Based Learning please contact me here

 

Tools Cloud: Favicons / .ICO

Tools Cloud: Favicons / .ICO

How-To

Are you developing a website or a blog? Have you ever wondered how those little icons at the top left of the address bar or page tabs are created?

They’re called ‘Favicons’ and allow you to identify a website by an icon rather than a name or full address. They’ve been around for years but it’s often thought to be something web designers take care of when developing a site professionally. However, if you want one for your own website or blog and you’re developing the site yourself, you can make one easily and have it appear on the address bar and tabs very easily.

Here’s how:

1. Visit http://www.favicon.cc

Favicon.cc is a fantastic and easy-to-use website, that allows you to create an icon and save it as a .ICO file, ready to place in your web directory.

2. Choose a colour from the right side of the page.

3. Fill in the squares in the centre of the screen to create your icon. Swapping colours when you need to.

4. Use the ‘Transparent’ tool (eraser) and the ‘Move’ tool to edit your design too. Situated under the colour picker.

5. You can choose to make your Favicon an animation too by clicking on the ‘Use Animation’ link at the bottom of your design.

From here you can create an animation by designing a frame then ‘Appending’ and designing each new frame until you are finished.

6. You can also ‘Import’ an image to start with and then adjust it to suit your design using the ‘Import Image’ link on the left of the screen.

7. Once you have finished you can check the preview of your Favicon underneath your design.

8. If your preview suits you then you can save your Favicon as a .ICO file or publish it for others to use under a Creative Commons licence.

9. Once you have saved your file as a .ICO file you simply place it into your web directory using an FTP client and your website will display it. The directory may differ depending on the structure of the site you are developing and the platform you are using (WordPress etc). Best to Google the specifics.

If you are unsure about this last part or any other element of this process, please feel free to call or mail me.

Hope this post helps. Enjoy.