It’s About Time – Blending History, Minecraft, and Steampunk

I am very excited to share a new project idea I am currently exploring and readying for launch on Monday morning. It has taken a considerable amount of my time and focus and I’ll find out soon enough if it was worth it.

I ended the past school year on a high note. The maps I created to teach medieval and renaissance Europe were very popular with my students and writing quality improved dramatically in the second semester after embedding a literacy component into my worlds.

Over the summer I challenged myself to work out an idea that I have had for several years. I wanted to somehow connect student learning and outcomes in the first semester with my successes in the second semester.

Second semester objectives focussed on Europe and the transitions between time periods and units was smooth, linear, and needed little backstory cultivation. In the first semester, however, we cover such diverse topics as the Fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, West African trade, and the cultures of medieval China and Japan.

I want to build a storyline around these units that will keep my students engaged in the writing process. I also want to limit my voice in their learning while providing more opportunities for them to uncover history on their own terms.

I’m a fan of science fiction and especially love to read stories that involve disruptions of time and space and alternate realities and histories. I also enjoy using role-play and participate in reenactments with my students in class and campuswide. I’ve now merged these two passions to create a story within a story.

My students and I are time travellers. Something is wrong with the universe. Periods of time are being deleted and no one knows who is responsible or why. It is our job to repair the damage already done and try to catch the irresponsible time bandit.

My students think I have lost my mind because I have already been planting the seeds in class that something is not right and that our commander has an important message that is being sent across time to reach us. This message will arrive on Monday.

I needed a convincing “time machine” for us to use to travel between time periods and civilizations. It needed to be a place that would ignite imaginations and inspire creative writing. It had to be large enough so that 150 students can have their own space and I need to be able to include a couple of dozen non-player characters using the mod Custom NPCs.

The wildly creative and innovative builders at BlockWorks provided the perfect solution.

It’s massive and very cool and I needed the assistance of the ever helpful Matt Coia to paste the schematic onto a map.

There are amazing possibilities for story development.

There are amazing possibilities for story development.

We begin our collective adventures here next week. I’ve put together a steampunkish outfit for Monday and we will role-play our way through the following storyline.

  1. Students memories of their past chrononaut training and identities have been wiped by the mysterious time bandit. Students will create their own backstory detailing how and why they are onboard the Time Rider and describe it in narrative form.
  2. We will soon be deployed on our first mission to investigate discrepancies uncovered by West African storytellers. NPCs will deliver history content through storytelling.
  3. Before the time jump, we need to prepare ourselves to fit into the timeline as to not be discovered by the time bandit. Students will research West African civilizations so that they “fit in” upon arrival.
  4. Our mysterious and unseen mission commander has ordered regular, detailed and evidenced-based reports of our training sessions. These are for my assessment purposes, but students will be using these reports to develop a deeper understanding of content and frame their long term learning.
Each student will have a place they can call home.

Each student will have a place they can call home.

I will repeat this format between all of my units this year. Within each of these “intersessions” new clues will be uncovered that support, challenge, or in some cases, derail original mission objectives. Students will need to develop their own solutions and act on them.

There are four levels for students to explore and meet other characters.

There are four levels for students to explore and meet other characters.

I’ve outlined this story within a story for the rest of the year. Students will eventually uncover, through their research, the true identities of key characters and discover and react to plot twists.

I can't wait to read the stories that my students will tell.

I can’t wait to read the stories that my students will tell.

I’ll incorporate the worlds and maps I’ve already created into this storyline, for example:

  • The medieval Chinese city of Chang’an has been deleted from the timeline and must be rebuilt.
  • The memories of an entire village in 13th century Japan have been erased and critical information has been lost and must be recovered.
  • The West African king, Mansa Musa, is unknowingly a target of the Time Bandit and must be convinced to alter his planned route to the Hajj or the consequences will be dire.

I enjoyed the planning and development process and I am hopeful that my students will, after a reality adjustment, dive into the storyline and write some amazing histories.

I will post student reflections and a more complete lesson plan as the school year progresses and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

3 Comments

  1. Great work as usual. This is really inspiring and innovative.

  2. This sounds cool! Videos & updates along the way!

  3. Pingback: On the Road to Timbuktu | Blockhead

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