Slip on my pastel
orange colored soft silk robes
slippers on my feet
as I walk to the temple
to meditate for the day
In a previous post and accompanying project I described how my students, with the help of two creative colleagues, used Minecraft to visualize medieval Japanese poetry. This year I wanted to extend the lesson by building an entire period appropriate village occupied by citizens created using the mod, CustomNPCs.
This is the most complex lesson I’ve ever attempted. I was so pleased with how the original unit came out, but knew that there was room to explore more opportunities for even deeper learning. I’ve been a fan of the book of verse Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters for many years. It tells the story of a small town in short free-form poems using epitaphs. I always thought it would be a great way to teach history.
After four years of working with Minecraft in my classroom, I’ve become very comfortable with the mechanics and gameplay. When I began using the game with my students, the large majority had never heard of it, much less played it. Now, four years later, I have students that have greatly surpassed my abilities and I can say that the class dynamics are much more of a partnership than ever before. It seems, everyone was up for a challenge.
I once again contacted Melvina Kurashige, a teacher of Japanese culture in Hawaii and fellow Minecraft enthusiast. Together, we outlined the lesson and objectives and scheduled server time. My objectives included:
- students research medieval Japanese history and social structure,
- write original tanka poetry, using a unique villager to explore first person narrative,
- design and build a period appropriate home or business,
- create their villager using the CustomNPC mod,
- add dialog, including a biographical sketch, to their character,
- and connect all villagers through an interactive experience.
Part 1 – Poetry
I called upon good friend and writer/poet Robert Walton to help me with the poetry lesson. Prior to his visit, my students gained background knowledge and understanding of medieval Japan through Internet research and classroom activities. When Bob came to visit, each student had selected a specific character for which they intended to write a poem. Bob shared his lesson and each student, or team of 2-3 students, had a tanka poem written. I added their poems to a spreadsheet for easy access.
On the calm damp day
walking through the silent streets
feeling the wet fog
hitting my face as I tried
to attend to the bath house
Part 2 – Tomodachi
Melvina’s students suggested the name Tomodachi, which translates as friendship, for our village. She has many students of Japanese heritage in her class and they were extremely helpful during the design phase. We were able to Skype with them which made a huge impact on my class. Due to time restrictions, her students needed to build their parts of the village before mine were ready to dive in. They did a wonderful job and we were able to use their buildings as models.
The village is divided into three areas, or districts. The main village contains many craftsmen and places of business. It surrounds a small, but beautiful bay. It is a fishing village at heart, but also the boyhood playground of the Shogun, who happens to be visiting.
The farming community can be found in the small valley just north of the village center. Here, Japanese farmers are busy harvesting crops and taking care of their animals.
Just outside the village is the outcast camp. It’s here that members of the lowest class of citizens live. They are not allowed in the village due to working in “dirty” professions.
I’m incredibly proud to say that my role in the creation of this map, was minimal. Mostly support, guidance, and project management. Students, working in collaboration, created 90% of the map, including all but two of the 60 villagers.
Since our time was limited, I did place the foundations for village homes and businesses and pasted in three schematics. Students spawned in, located their build site and did the rest. We used the resource pack, Nagareru, which contains beautifully rendered Japanese textures and items.
Part 3 – Villagers
I will admit that I was very nervous when it came time to create the characters using Custom NPCs. I have been using the mod for years, but find myself still referring to tutorials often as the learning curve can be quite steep. It’s not really designed to be used in collaboration with others, yet I planned to have 12 or more students at a time creating characters. One simple mistake can delete the work of others instantly.
As it turned out, I was worried over nothing. The kids did a stellar job. No one lost a character and they were exceptionally helpful with each other. What had taken me weeks to figure out, they had it down in a couple of days. Another lesson learned.
Individual students, or teams of 2-3, created over 60 characters. Each character has a unique and period appropriate name. They are dressed and outfitted in appropriate attire and when clicked upon, will share their tanka poem with each visitor. The poem describes their role in the village and the natural world. After sharing their poem, they provide guests with a personal history and a few details about their life in Tomodachi. Before leaving, they will suggest another villager to visit, or place of interest nearby.
As the sun comes up
the emerald green sloping hills
It ignites my heart
On autumn winds floats a leaf
Rice is growing all is well
This school year, I’ve been able to use one period at the end of the day to explore project based learning. I’ve also been able to load that period with my most advanced Minecraft builders and, together, we have created our own build team. They call themselves the Random Goats. I turned Tomodachi over to them after we completed the history unit and they had a blast inserting numerous fun challenges and activities guest can explore. Thanks to PBJellyGames for encouraging me to move in this direction.
Working together, a few of the challenges they have created include:
- a dangerous parkour course up to the the Shinto bell tower,
- an abandoned mine maze with a treasure awaiting anyone that can find it,
- and a scavenger hunt through the village.
There is also an area on the other side of the mountain where visitors can build their own village and connect it to Tomodachi over the mountain pass.