This is the second of a six-part series to demonstrate that using video games in schools can be challenging but that those challenges lead to deeper learning.

Story #2 – The Year-Long Project

During the 2012-13 school year, I used Minecraft exclusively for curriculum-related purposes. I taught media and in the fall, each class decided on a method for sharing with other students and schools our definition of media. Each group chose a unique style of film-making. Room 117 created a live-action play. Room 116 used claymation. Room 115 brought in Lego for stop-motion animation. Room 114 declared that they were going to make their video in Minecraft. The team of student screenwriters crafted the script. The costume and wardrobe department agonized over which skins to give the virtual actors. The entire class was extremely excited to make a movie – and then we hit a huge snag. We had to re-request open port access so that we could use the Multi-School server on school computers, and this process, which we thought would be quick and easy because we had done it the previous year, took a very, very long time. How long did it take? The other classes began their projects in October 2012 and were finished in about six weeks. We received approval from the board in February/March 2013 and Room 114’s Grade 3-4 students did not finish their movie until June 2013.

We could have just given up, moved on, chalked it up to unfortunate circumstances. The class and I did have other lessons, other activities, other discussions, but we just couldn’t abandon the “What Is Media” project. The students were passionate about completing it. When we finally gained access during regular school hours, the students dove into the tasks like they were possessed. They built elaborate sets in our area of the world just for the purpose of filming. Roads, dance halls, and billboards were constructed block by block. Teams volunteered to stay in at recess to continue their virtual construction. There was a lot of yelling when the entire group decided to build the patterned dance hall floor all together at the same time, but it wasn’t until tempers started to fray that I interrupted their plans to suggest some ways they could collaborate without aggravating each other.

The next challenge was the actual filming of the video. Unlike some of the amazing Minecraft music video parodies seen on YouTube, we did not have any software to animate our characters. We didn’t even have Fraps or other methods of game play capture. The students and I chose to video tape the screen using a traditional video camera. Because the audio came from the camera, the voice actors had to gather near the camera operator so they could be heard. This meant that the actors responsible for moving the virtual performers were at their own computers. We had to try and coordinate the dialogue with the action so that it would match. There were many moments of frustration as we tried, take after take, to film adequate scenes.

It took almost the entire school year, but the students and I finally had an end-product to share. It’s not very professional, but it’s made primarily by a group of eager 8- and 9-year-old children who had never created something of this sort before, and I’m really proud of their accomplishment.