Minecraft Project 2 – A Very Complex System

Evidence of Emergent Phenomena in the Minecraft project.

Complexity Theory – the science of all sciences. It is a theory that has been used (amongst many other things) to study the stock markets and traffic conditions in an attempt to try to explain stock market crashes or traffic jams. Complexity theory states that when you have a complex system a thing called emergent phenomenon will appear (or emerge). A complex system can be defined as a collection of interacting objects competing for a limited resource.

The emergent phenomenon arises generally without the help of a central controller. It would be almost impossible if a central controller had to recreate a traffic jam. As Neil Johnson says in his great little book Simple Complexity:

“A universal feature of Complex Systems is : emergent phenomena can arise without the need for an invisible hand. Instead the collection of objects is able to self organise itself in such a way that the phenomenon appears all by itself – as if by magic.”

As the phenomenon is emergent it has not been predicted or planned for, it is generally surprising and can be extreme.The precise nature of the phenomena depends on how the individuals objects in the system interact and how interconnected the are.

One thing observed in this new science is that the behaviour of the objects involved in the complex system is greatly effected by feedback and they can adapt their strategies dependent on their history (through memory). One final and interesting point is that a complex system always shows a complicated mix of ordered and disordered behaviour.

I love this theory for it’s slap in the face to nonsense that is the traditional reductionist approaches to understanding the world.

In our Minecraft project (which I spoke of in my last post) we have 140 students building a new world in a MMOGing (Massive  Multiplayer Online Game). They are all in there building at the same time. I would describe this a complex system and the observance of the emergent phenomenon has been eye opening.

As the students are in total control of this Minecraft world which they are creating, the project has become very student driven. This has had the unusual effect of driving the content we are teaching to a much deeper place. Our initial aim was to cover some science based curriculum teaching about our solar system but the demands bought about by the conflicts and collaborations naturally forming up within the group of 140 new citizens has taken the “science learning” to a far different and more relevant place.”

For example the children demanded that districts were forms in order to maintain some sense of organisation on the new planet.  This was never planned for or expected. Those districts have taken responsibility for the tasks that they see as important to survive on this planet eg the technology district has seen the need to create energy to power the planet. This has lead to confrontation as some students wanted to develop nuclear energy while others wanted to go down the wind farm, green energy rout. To overcome this confrontation both sides have done extensive scientific research into their relevant areas. This research has led to some students changing their minds, others sticking to their guns but solutions have been achieved. The teachers involved were suddenly required to assist in new scientific study far beyond what they had originally predicted – we are now assisting in the learning about desalination plants, the use of methane as a source of energy, how is nuclear energy actually created and so on.

For this style of learning and teaching to be successful it requires teachers that are very adaptive, open to new learning, operating as facilitators and able to drop their own egos and needs for power. In an ideal world all teachers would have these fundamental skills.

There are literally hundreds of other examples of emergent phenominum being driven by the group which I will report on over the next few weeks.

Now lets talk about one of the other points I Mentioned earlier and have blogged about previously – feedback. All of the students research and work has been reported in a wiki space. I find this to be an extremely effective feedback mechanism for our COMPLEX SYSTEM. Every child can see every other child’s work and ideas, they can take ideas from others they can input into other students pages, they can survey the citizens when needed, they can communicate effectively – they provide powerful feedback to each other and the network drives itself to deeper learning. Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 6.59.19 PM

I cannot express how exciting this project is for staff, students and parents because of the emergent phenomenon we are observing which has the effect of driving the network or system (or student body and teachers) to a very interesting and exciting place. The evidence of deep and personalised learning is overwhelming. Have a look for yourself. AURORA 5/6Z WIKI

Minecraft Project

At NFPS we are a school very focussed on gaming in education (using digital games to teach).
Some of the games we have used include  Civilisation and Sim City to teach term long units on government etc. We have done entire term projects on game making (looking at programming skills plus narrative development etc) in the grade 3/4 area. We used programs such as Scratch, Atmospfir, Sploder and Game Salad to do this.
We also use a lot of games on mobile devises in the Jnr levels to enhance the numeracy and literacy program.
This year we received a schools specialisation grant  to investigate the use of gaming to teach and part of this has linked us into working with Deakin Uni and their researchers, investigating some of the things we are trying to achieve.
This term, in an attempt to teach a science based unit looking at biospheres we are using the game Minecraft across all the grade 5/6 classes (140 students).
The premise is the world is coming to an end and all 140 of us  have to move to a new planet. Decisions need to be made before leaving Earth and Arcs are getting designed in google sketch up and prototypes being built using a 3D printer.
Everything we need to establish our new planet is going to be taken with us so decided upon pre leaving. Then we all fly to our new planet.
The new planet, called Auroura 56 Z will be simulated in Minecraft.

I have built a minecraft server for the school where all the work will be completed.
It is a very interesting project to observe. The way we set these things up are the it is mostly student driven with the teachers working as facilitators to the learning.
The kids have organised themselves into 5 districts (technology and industry , agriculture, discovery and education, recreation, city and culture) and have started to build.

One thing of note observed so far in this project is  the levels of bureaucracy the kids are bringing into the game – demanding the establishment of councils and committees. A lot of it has been driven by their existing knowledge of the game.
I regularly meet with a group of 10 kids  who advise me on game play and how to adapt it to enable the efficient and smooth development of our planet. The project has raised a lot of questions regarding global warming – what causes it, how can we avoid it on our new planet – do we really need to mine everything etc. Furthermore  the game based project has raised very interesting discussion about policing – people can obviously destroy other people’s work in the Minecraft environment – how do we control this amongst 140 players (these decisions are all controlled by the students)

All of the students work is being recorded in a wiki. This allows them to collaborate and plan across classrooms as well as reflect on their learning and cross pollinate ideas. An example of a designed arc is below.