Coding in Minecraft (3): Coordinates, confusion and collaboration

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[0) Tenacity, 1)  Chicken rain, 2) Creating classrooms, 3) Coordinates, 4) Variables]

This week’s lesson was all about coordinates, which I love as I used to code OpenGL graphics back in the day so it was exciting to talk about matrix manipulation once again.

We had to understand the absolute coordinates of our Minecraft world as the origin of the world is referred to as 0,0,0 in x, y, z coordinates and we talked about how this translates to the real world, very exciting! In real life, 0º longitude and 0º latitude – basically the point where the Meridian line from Greenwich at 0º crosses the Equator at 0º is off the coast of West Africa, called Null Island, and is marked by a buoy.

Of course, because the slides don’t have many words on them and the handouts have proven to be too long and tedious for them to read, the girls immediately thought of an African boy standing on a tiny island bored out of his mind with a placard saying Null Island: 0º, 0º. We all laughed for ages and then had intermittent giggles for the rest of the lecture.

Then we talked about landmarks near us and how we have disagreed about whether we can see the BT Tower. I have always said that it isn’t the BT Tower and my eldest said it is and so I had to admit that she was right and I was less right because I always use the tube map to imagine where I am in London which is an abstraction rather than a representation of reality and it has moved stations geographically around so that they are easier to visualise.

Partway through this tangent my youngest pretended to launch an arrow from her imaginary bow into the air, which is how you can kill yourself in Minecraft. I am actually surprised she’s lasted this long, as the hubby and I – as I’ve blogged before – are quite happy to debate the arse out of anything, forever.

This week, I prepped for the lecture beforehand by writing down our learning objectives and our tasks to do on the whiteboard as the structure of the lectures isn’t working for us, as I talked about last time. The lecture slides are organised in a talk-a-bit, code-a-bit, talk-a-bit, obviously by an adult who isn’t hooked on Minecraft, and it doesn’t work for us and so it is no longer how we are doing it. Even today, I asked my eldest to stop messing about in Minecraft before we’d even begun the lecture which she did for about two seconds and then went back to tapping until I made her moved away from her computer.

The other thing I like to do too is a recap of what we have learnt so far before we continue. Today, that worked quite well too, as everyone remembers everything so far, as they are experts in Minecraft. So far we’ve done: navigating through the world of Minecraft, why computer science and coding is important, what event driving programming is and why we are coding in blocks.

Minecraft uses a compass for its world so N is north, so to travel north, or place something in the north is always a negative number on the z-axis and S or south is a positive number on the z-axis which is the opposite to reading longtitude and latitude on a map. My hubby really struggled with this inversion even though I explained it to him three times which was mainly because he wasn’t listening, and I eventually got him to admit it. The girls are way more honest. Funny, I don’t struggle as for me it’s the same as mixing colours on a computer is opposite to how it happens in the real world too and I am happy with the fact that it is different inside of a computer.

Stepping through the slides was smoother this week because I had my learning objectives on the whiteboard in front of me so when the slides repeated themselves, which they do a lot, I didn’t get distracted as I had in previous weeks. I have realised that I overthink it when easy things are repeated lots of times as I immediately assume that it must be more complex, otherwise why would I need something easy repeating so many times?

It happened twice to me last week. I had to phone someone to transfer money that I was supposed to be able to do with an app on my phone, but because it had been two years, it didn’t allow me to do it, nor did the app explain to me, the end-user, why. The person on the phone was really helpful but because they explained the process to me at least five times, I thought I had misunderstood what they were saying. As it turned out, I had completely understood the first time. It was just that they kept repeating the information due to it being one of those moments when there is a gap in the conversation and someone repeats themselves over and over just to fill in the gaps. I realised that after it happened to me in real life the next day. This was easier to understand in real life as I got all the visual clues I needed to know about what was going on and then I applied my new found knowledge about repetition to the slides and that made the lecture better.

With the slides over, we got into Minecraft to do today’s exercises which were the ways to explore coordinates by displaying them so that we could see as we moved around from place to place how our absolute coordinates changed in the world as our positions in the world did, and then how our relative coordinates changed in the world when we looked at landmarks, we also had to change the Minecraft world or matrix by cloning – copying and pasting – things in the world so that it would copy the object at one set of coordinates in the matrix and paste it to another set of coordinates in the matrix. The girls found this a breeze.

The hubby and I, however, had a few problems. I drowned a few times as my youngest kept creating waterfalls underneath me, using my absolute coordinates. Grrr. Thankfully, the girls got super bored and bogged off to the Nether to destroy everything and do super digging. Bored a short time later, they teleported the hubby and I to the Nether with them which made me furious as I had just created a big compass which was finally right, though I think it was part revenge as I earlier had constructed a huge E for East in my compass in the middle of the classroom (now rebuilt after last week’s mishap) in the middle of the revision lesson on slavery my eldest was giving to my youngest who has a test this week.

My youngest constructed a portal to get us out of the Nether, but Minecraft portals are a bit dodgy and we ended up in a totally different place, at which point, the hubby said that he had had enough of feeling like a baby, by which he meant that even though we can code – I teach coding and my hubby codes for a living – we can’t do Minecraft, we can barely code in Minecraft either, we are like babies, unlike the girls who have been playing it for six years.

So! This evening the girls gave us a lecture on navigating the world of Minecraft, and the useful things we need to know like how to escape Skeletons, Zombies, Creepers, and the odd Enderman using our sizes and various other different ideas, such as teleporting, and building portals. Then they got onto removing players, opening chests, controlling other player’s play mode and so on.

As the course continues there are more and more open exercises leaving it up to the student to practise trying out different things and coming up with their own exercises so it really helps that they know Minecraft really well. This is hard for us adults as we don’t, and I also think we don’t have much imagination in comparison to the girls.

I am so glad I got to see this today as I was saying to the hubby when I was prepping that it seems a big faff to be teaching them how to code in Minecraft, as I am still struggling to buy licences – to be honest, I haven’t tried that hard this week, as every time I think about it I want to launch an imaginary arrow into the air – and all the authenticator business is a drag, especially as now the girls will have to use the two-level authentication security faff soon until I get the licences sorted out.

However, when I see them having so much fun and knowing exactly what they want to do, teaching them how to do it by writing code (though it’s all drag-and-drop blocks which represent code so far) everything is so worth the effort. All of the exercises are fun – parrots jumping out of cake, and waterfalls and so on – which is so much more entertaining than all of those terrible exercises first year undergraduates get at university calculating something tedious such as the diameter or the radius of a circle arrrrgh.

With that in mind, we are looking forward to next week, though the hubby and I have a lot of Minecraft cramming to do.

[4) Variables]

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