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

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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.

Creativity in Ed 7 The Chair Project

At the recent MOTM conference I was involved in a very interesting discussion with a friend of mine and a couple of other teachers on how to make her class project more creative. She was teaching design and had her students all making chairs

The more I contemplated this project the more I started to think of the Agile methodology to project development, specifically it’s  non linear approach and wondered if it could have any benefits to this particular project.

I started by contemplating the notion that if you value a solution over an objective you are compromising potential and creativity. If you already have a solution or answer eg you will make a  a chair you have removed the creative process and they will come with a  preconceived idea of what a chair is.

They could potentially just say, look I have $20 in my hand I will just buy one.The problem here is that we haven’t stated the objective – why do we want a chair in the first place – what is the purpose of having a chair etc

Instead maybe the project could have been worded as “we want to make this communal space more comfortable, go for it kids”. This would allow for a much wider area of potential for creativity. It hands over power to the students, it broadens it, it opens up collaboration, it avoids the sheep effect – everyone copying the best chair, and you will potentially still get a couple of chairs out it.

The key is to always go for the higher-level objective, the bigger picture , have I presented a project opportunity to the students that has the widest possible opportunities or have I already given them an answer – a chair.

If you look at software development projects liner approaches could be likened to hard coding changeable elements – when you hard code elements into your software project that are potentially changeable down the track ( eg Hard coding  url’s, into the code over time these might change).  This adds a lot of risk to the project, you are not making your project scalable, and your limiting the bigger picture. If you have a project which is really hard coded and you need to make changes it will take a lot of time $ and it will limit your opportunities to make changes in the future. The chair might be an example of hard coding. An example of a linear project might be  “I love superheros. I have 5 superhero figurines which I am going to place in an order of importance on a poster I will stick on the wall.”

1. Batman

2. Superman

3. Spiderman

4. Aqua man

5. The Hulk

At your next birthday you get given an Iron Man and you decide you would actually like to put him in number two on your wall list but that list has been locked down in texta. Your only option is to rip the project down and start again.

Another approach would be “I’m going to create make something in my house or on my wall that represents my love for superhero figurines.” Do I need to create a list that locks me down or is the point of the project to represent your love for superheros. You might go back to the list but it might come in some crazy way

Sometimes when you ask a question it may not be immediately evident to you that you are proposing a linear project that already has an answer. People tend to get stuck on solution under the delusion that is the objective of the project

You should put out the idea and start zooming out, broaden your question broaden your question broaden your question until you potentially might get to a place where you cant even see the question anymore, it dissolves. Instead you have a very high level guiding objective (is that the right word). That potentially could create a very messy project but thats OK. The zooming out can be very hard to do because we are often blinded by the first answer that raises its head at the first layer of zooming.

Another example

My objective is to get a twitter site – No thats not the objective its the solution. My objective is perhaps I am wanting to build a network, is this even an objective or should you ask why do I want to build a network? To impart knowledge, to learn, or maybe  I want to get more people to visit my blog etc etc etc. Well twitter might be one way but potentially if creativity sneaks in, there might be many better unthought of ways.

If you already know the answer you have limited creativity and potential for a very interesting project/learning.

Creativity In Education Part 6

This year I have been handed the task of instilling a more creative approach to learning and teaching at one of the schools I work at. This is a task I am excited about. It is a particular passion of mine evident in many of my previous blog posts.

The thinking behind this comes from my own personal belief that creativity The ability to generate new ideas is innate in everyone and needs to be one of the higher goals of education. The investigation also stems from the rapid changes that we see in the western world, changes in the job market which is crying out for innovative/creative thinkers, as well as changes driven by the digital revolution which has provided opportunities for people to create, collaborate and communicate like never before. Our education system has a responsibility to not only keep up with these changes but perhaps even lead some of them.

To achieve the task 2 think tanks have been established, one inside the school and one drawing from experts and networks beyond the schools immediate boundaries. These think tanks will provide ideas, investigate research, experiment with implementing ideas into the classroom, provide feedback and teach and support others.

My initial thinking was to set up an environment where people can share. Instead of the formal monthly meeting we would build a platform (perhaps a NING) where those involved from within the school could be contributing whenever they liked.

Within this platform we would,

1. Look at what the creative thought process actually is, investigate the research into it. this might include looking at notions of cognitive dissonance, divergent thinking, he ability to find connections where others cant see them, risk taking and freedom and dualism.

2. Investigate the environments that stimulate creative thought. This could be both the physical environments, mental environments and online environments. Much writing has already been done about the ideas of networked knowledge and web 2.0 being a modern day equivalent of the coffee shop experience of the Paris intellectuals that lead to so much new thinking in s many areas, including philosophy, literature the arts.

3. Investigate existing  models that stimulate the creative thought process in an educational setting, these could include Project Based Learning, some of the online courses developed by PLP,  Steven Downs models of learning centred around Network Learning, Rich Tasks, The Agile Methodology, The CKC model developed by Ideas Lab, and The Inquiry model. From initial discussion there is already some debate whether the enquiry model is at all related to creativity or whether its basis being rooted in a western scientific model of investigation and reason actually limits its ability to encourage creative thought.

4. Find ways to encourage these learning environments to flow into the teaching of all curriculums including the core curriculums of numeracy and literacy. Is this done through the questioning process? Do the teachers need to ask bigger questions, what if we trusted the students to just ask their own questions? How much time in education needs to be devoted to skills based learning? Etc. Etc.

I would love to hear anything anyone else has to say on the matter. If you think there are things we should investigate please fell free to suggest, all ideas are welcome. If you would like to be involved in the community we hope to develop feel free to email me and I will notify you once we have built our NING. Or initially feel free to comment with any ideas readings, criticisms etc on this blog. Thanks needs to be given to Richard Olsen form Ideas Lab, Lou Bowe and Mark Dickson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach for some of their initial work as well as the Creativity Team I worked with in 2011 during the PLP ConnectU project.

Here is a simple but worth while youtube video that gives a nice starting place

Creativity in education Part 5 – The Creative Personality

I recently read an article presented in Psychology Today written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talking about common characteristics found in the creative personality – or to be a little more specific “how creative people live”.
Many of these characteristics initially appear to be dualistic in nature and excited me when contemplating them within a classroom setting.
I think some of them are important to be aware of if we are to be encouraging the idea of creative thought within our students. As educators it is important to consider the wider impact of decisions we make and if it is to foster creativity, which I believe we should be then we should also be aware of exactly what it is we are talking about and how that is likely to impact upon our classrooms.
A summary statement of the article is that creative people are incredibly complex. This in itself can create stress for some classroom teachers. I have witnessed myself attributes of a creative student causing great stress and misunderstanding within a teacher leading to perceptions of threat within the said teacher. This then had the follow on effect of punishment for the creative student. If some understanding of the complexities of the creative process were demonstrated by this particular teacher I am sure the outcomes could have been far different and much more positive for all involved.
Here are a couple of great examples
1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. The physical energy is something that can disrupt a quiet classroom environment if not properly focussed.

My art collective "andeverythinginbetween's" 2011 show - Fugitive Piano

2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. They can be both divergent and convergent thinkers. The divergence is needed for the new ideas, the convergence is needed to realise that one iea is good and the other is bad.

3. Creative people combine playfulness and dicipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance. They can fluctuate and often need to do so.

4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality. The whole point of art and science is to go beyond what we now consider real and create a new reality. At the same time, this “escape” is not into a never-never land. What makes a novel idea creative is that once we see it, sooner or later we recognise that, strange as it is, it is true.

5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted. Most people fall into either one or the other categories, creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously. I imagine that this makes them harder to pigeonhole within the classroom environment and can make their behaviour seem erratic.

6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.

My art collective "andeverythinginbetween's" 2011 show - Affinity

7. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative. It is impossible to be creative without having first internalized an area of culture. So it’s difficult to see how a person can be creative without being both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.
I think this trait is a huge one for educators to understand. The creative person will swing between the two and is therefore hard to pigeonhole when it comes to writing up your personal teacher plan to accommodate every learning style. An iconoclast is often viewed in the negative but they are usually that way because they have a better idea and therefore would see the tearing down of a structure as a positive thing to be encouraged.

This dualistic nature is something that should be understood and encouraged in our education systems. Initially dualism always appears to be chaos but with a little investigation and patience the apparent stress of the chaotic can be channeled into the fantastic. And why should we encourage creativity in our education system?

To quote from the same article “Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. When we’re creative, we feel we are living more fully than during the rest of life.”

Creativity In Education Part 3 Agile Methodology?

Creativity In Education Part 3

Over the last year I have been participating in an interesting study entitled PLPConnectU. Set up by the department of education and in co run by a group Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) it has been tremendous for my own thinking in regards to education.

I am placed in a group called Creativity (which suits me just fine) and as part of our learning we were required to set up a project for our students under the guidelines of a PBL (project based learning) structure.

Together with my colleague Kristen Swenson we developed a unit of work around game creation. If you are interested in reading about the planning for this unit and how we are trying to fit it into the PBL structure Kristen has written and excellent blog charting the planning our big question, learning aims and sub questions as well as and our own reflection.

But to quickly summarize the students had developed a criteria chart for what made a good game , they had rated a few games then we just let them loose on a couple of online game making sites (stensyl, gamesalad and scratch) and they started going for it.

The following week we had an expert come in from a successful game making company and present. His presentation enforced the notion that before and coding (or making of the game) happened everything had to be completely designed to the enth degree.

This approach not only disappointed the students but got me thinking.

In the corporate world there are 2 primary methodologies for software development.

Waterfall – a Sequential linear design process using the following methods.

Requirements, design implementation, verification, maintenance.

Agile is a relatively new methodology that many companies are trying to use to create product (mostly software development). Agile Methodology, came about after waterfall and was an attempt as addressing some of its shortcomings,

While there are many different Agile methods (eg, Scrum, XP, Agile Unified Process) they all embrace the following manifesto as their foundation:

Its manifesto is as follows

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

Its Principles are as follows

  1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
    through early and continuous delivery
    of valuable software.
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even late in
    development. Agile processes harness change for
    the customer’s competitive advantage.
  3. Deliver working software frequently, from a
    couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a
    preference to the shorter timescale.
  4. Business people and developers must work
    together daily throughout the project.
  5. Build projects around motivated individuals.
    Give them the environment and support they need,
    and trust them to get the job done.
  6. The most efficient and effective method of
    conveying information to and within a development
    team is face-to-face conversation.
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  8. Agile processes promote sustainable development.
    The sponsors, developers, and users should be able
    to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence
    and good design enhances agility.
  10. Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount
    of work not done–is essential.
  11. The best architectures, requirements, and designs
    emerge from self-organizing teams.
  12. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
    to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
    its behaviour accordingly.

The expert seemed to be presenting to us from a waterfall approach. I got to thinking how much my approach to education fitted so much more with the agile methodology. It encourages continual change, it encourages the idea that the imagination will develop with the approach and therefore the project needs to be adaptive to flow with the imagination of the creator. It also emphasises the need to work quickly and have many small victories – continuous creative work and searching is going to stimulate the mind allowing for the environment for the big idea to push out (see my last blog).

My personal favourites are principle 5. The environment and support and trust must be provided that in order to get the job done. If we are moving into a more creative education – one that moves away from the dominance of left brain centred literacy and numeracy, we must change our environment. I have spoken many times of the need to find time in order to enable students to develop creative thinking, we must trust them which means as teachers we remove ourselves from the position of authority and rather into one of facilitator – find the resources that the students are going to demand in order to get there ideas out. Help shape their learning but be aware that they will move into areas you have no idea about and be comfortable about that. (I know very little about game programming but am comfortable that I can help guide the students to places where they can find the knowledge they need.

Other points that the above principles talk about that appeal to my sense of good creativity are the use of collaborative teams, reflection and the pursuit of excellent design.

The Agile approach also speaks about the need to be fearless in the constant pursuit of ideas but it gives you the means to respond to change.

By breaking things down into smaller deliverable packages it makes itself adaptable. To use an Australian context, Myki and the Ultranet are two examples of Waterfall methodologies that might have had better success if they had taken more of an Agile approach.

In regards to education I like setting up creative projects for students that allow for ideas to develop, change, be dumped and ultimately, hopefully allow for a new creative thought to pop out.

I think in regards to the game making project we are working on we aren’t going to plan it down to the finest detail before letting kids get into the making – if nothing else it would bore the kids to death.

Creativity in Education Part 2

What are we talking about when we say we are trying to encourage a complete creative approach to education. Why is the desire in all man to create so powerful and therefore so important for our education system to support.

Creativity is a new thought, but as we all know there is no truly new thought. Every new creation or thought has such strong links to all preceding thought, new thought can be thought of a merely development of existing thought.

Copyright becomes more and more of an issue in education as it has been for the arts since the ridiculous notion of intellectual property came into common thought. There are many many good papers written presenting counter arguments to our current selfish and ignorant copyright laws so I wont go to far into that except to say the laws show complete ignorance of the process of the creative idea, how it is always linked into a historical context and how all creative acts require a lineage of previous. (If you are truly interested in finding develping some understanding about copyright than this would be a great place to start http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xplunder.html) Sampling or sample based music is a good example of the truly creative act that requires previously existing work to reference. Without the previose work which can be taken and rearranged there would be no sample based music or art. And sampling is no new idea, Rembrant referenced his preceding masters, Beethoven quotes previous composers work in many of his compositions in fact everyone who has ever created anything in some way samples. Quotation in your work , as well as being a form of flattery is also a means of acknowledging the ideas that preceded yours. Without them your creative work might not exists. Ones take on the preceding idea is where things become interesting. Or to put it another way, what you do with that already existing idea is what is truly original personal and creative.

Our schooling systems need to encourage this “personal take” idea. Where does this happen in our current timetables?

As a composer I know there are many times in my life I have no ideas and there are other times when the ideas are pouring out of me at a rate that is almost to fast for me to get them all written. These are the times when it feels everything has fallen into place and life is in some sort of Zone. I am experienced enough in my own life to recognise these periods. When they are occuring I work very hard to produce as much as possible. I do this because I know how hard it is to get to these Zones. I also recognize that when I am not in these Zones I do everything in my power to try and get back there. This includes, investigation, experimenting, trying new ideas, failing, listening, looking at everything with my eyes open, reading, searching and basically hunting for the next idea.

My musical ideas these days rarely come from listening to other music, instead the concepts come might come from the reading I have done. For example I have recently read a lot of Cormack McCarthy novels. Rather than the stories contained in the novel it is the atmosphere he manages to create with words, the deep philspohical concepts behind his words that triggered my mind and ignited musical ideas that I have been struggling with for perhaps the last 15 years. It also triggered a more thorough investigation into a couple of composers who I had flirted with in the past, Morton Feldman and Olivier Messiahn. It was the novels that allowed my head to finally make sence of a musical and conceptual problem I hadn’t been able to resolve for years. This then lead to me studying other artists working in a similar area which ultimatly culminated in a body of work being composed. This work has recently been recorded and will be released. The actual period of high creativity lasted 2 weeks but the work period I did to get there took about a year and a half. The process for the creative act actually involved a long period of creative thinking.

It takes time.

School needs to be encouraging this and providing the time. Our school timetables are ridiculously over crowded. Our almost religious belief in numeracy and literacy as being subjects of the highest importance is a lazy lie that we choose to believe because it makes our jobs easier. It takes great courage for an educational institution to back away from the current importance given to these subjects because you now enter into a fight with society, parents, data managers bureaucrats looking for something to present to the politicians above them etc but it needs to happen. I love technology because it provides almost endless platforms for children to create in, or to express themselves. That is why at the school I work at we have invested hugely in technology – because it can be personalised. A child can do whatever he can think of with it. An education system that encourages and fosters creativity is a system that is working on a far deeper level than the one that places numeracy and literacy at the top and virtually ignores everything else.

We have a workforce crying out for innovation – how is our education system working to provide for that. At what point are we teaching the thinking process that leads to the creative act?

In a study by Eysenck (1995) and Martindale (1999) they proposed that creativity is characterized by cognitive disinhibition. Cognitive disinhibition is hypothesized to underlie many of the cognitive processes that have been associated with creative cognition, such as defocused attention and wide associative horizon. Whereas Eysenck (1995) argued that lower cognitive inhibition is a relatively permanent characteristic of the thinking style of creative people, Martindale (1 999) has argued that creative people can focus or defocus attention depending on task demands. At what point in our numeracy and literacy focused curriculum do we allow for DEFOCUSED ATTENTION. or is it all just about learning the skills required to get to the next level?

For a more academic read of what I have been writing about please read Andrew Williamson’s essay.He talks about similar ideas with strong references to academic research in the area. Particulate of interest is where Andrew writes about the thinking process required including Cognitive acceleration and cognitive dissonance. Link To Andrews Essay