Over the last few weeks, I had the chance
to pilot a new set of computer science lessons. The lessons use MinecraftEdu and the
upcoming ComputerCraftEdu mod. Teams of students work together to design
a bridge with a repeating pattern. Instead of building it by hand, they learn to program turtles to do the repetitive task for them. Most of the activity is spent here. The three sections of each team’s space are meant to be visited in a particular order. MinecraftEdu’s border blocks can be used to help students stay on track. In the first section, each team is given a chest of materials which they must use to build a prototype section of their bridge by hand. There are several criteria that must be followed regarding the complexity of the bridge’s pattern and the materials used. When the prototype is ready, the team begins breaking things down. The students create a single iteration of each pattern beside a number block corresponding to each turtle. Meanwhile, on paper, they create diagrams or pseudo-code to convince me that they know what each turtle is going to do. In the third area, they begin programming and testing. To move on, they must demonstrate that each turtle has been programmed correctly. To prepare for the real test, they bring their program disks and turtles to a special staging area. All materials are provided, but the students must know where to place each block within the turtle’s inventory. A lot is at stake, because the students only have one chance. The students quickly realize that they must share the responsibility for all of the programs; not just the one they wrote themselves. Finally, the moment for the test comes.