I wrote my English final in Minecraft

“You did what?” is the response I most often get when I tell people I wrote the final exam for my freshmen English class in Minecraft.  Yep, you read that sentence correctly…I wrote a final exam in Minecraft and it doesn’t involve coding or creating.  My goal was to create an exam that my students wanted to take and retake until they showed mastery.  The whole project started shortly after I had a conversation with John Miller (@johnmillerEDU), Minecraft Global Mentor, and I chatted over Google Hangout.  He shared with me what he was doing with constructing narratives in Minecraft and it sparked an idea.  The idea was that if students could construct narratives in Minecraft, could they deconstruct them in Minecraft?

When I set out on this quest I had no idea what I was getting myself into or the time it would take to create this sort of project.  At first, I thought it was a novel (no pun intended) idea and

Exam 2-1
The directions for the freshmen English final exam.

might be fun to try.  When I actually started creating the exam I discovered so many facets of this project that needed to be thought out much more than I anticipated.  After 10 hours I began wondering if all of the time and effort were really worth it.  At that moment Adam Welcome (@awelcome) and Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) (authors of Kids Deserve It!) popped into my head whispering “Kids deserve it,” so I persevered.  The end result is a final exam that replicates the best of gaming…that if you fail, you can try again.  After reading Alice Keeler’s (@alicekeeler) tweets about improving assessments and giving kids a chance to show what they know I knew it was a project worth doing and doing well.

 

Step one was determining how to assess kids.  I knew I didn’t simply want a yes/no or true/false method, I wanted a format that felt like a real game.  So, I built in the element of loss by providing dire consequences for a wrong answer.  I didn’t do this to be mean, I did it so students would be able to respawn and redo the questions.  Forcing them to

English 9 Exam 3
Example Question & Response System

respawn is immediate and important feedback.  I wanted my students to feel it was ok to be wrong, but that they had to make a choice…if it was a wrong choice then they had the opportunity to redo it.  I believe I accomplished this by several means: switch plates, doors of doom, lots of explosives, and even some cooked chicken.  If students miss a question on a final exam they rarely ever know what they missed, so they move on not knowing the best answer.  In this exam they can’t move on, literally…their character will cease to exist until they respawn and find the correct path.  In finding the right path, they find the best answer.

 

Step two was determining the questions. I made sure that the questions focused on concepts more than content.  Instead of asking a lot of questions that dealt directly with characters and plot points, I focused on big concepts like themes, culture, motivation, etc.  I also decided to utilize other edtech sources such as Padlet and Google Classroom inside the game through characters I planted there (one neat feature of

Jem
Which door to choose?

Minecraft Education Edition is that teachers can spawn characters that can give kids URL links).  This gave me several more options as to how kids could answer questions.  I used the camera and portfolio function in MEE in several ways.  So, at the end of the exam students responded in Padlet, wrote short responses and had to submit their MEE portfolio.

 

Another question I get is, “How do you know if their answers are right or wrong?”  Well, that part if easy…if they are wrong they respawn due to a fire charge or damage arrow, and if they are right, they continue on their quest.  The only way students could lose points is if they give up or refuse to complete the Padlet and Google Doc portion.  Otherwise, the rest is a giant game and they can respawn and try over and over again.

Step three was figuring out all the problems I didn’t know I was going to have until the project was well underway.  Some of those problems were:

  • How do I keep students from cheating if they are all taking the same exam, in the same world, at the same time?
  • How do I develop a way for students to choose an answer that, if wrong, will not allow them to continue but will also not simply “lock” them in a room… stuck forever?
  • How do I keep students accountable for finishing a section of the exam?

I answered the first question in a system that I wish I could patent.  It is not perfect but I do believe it is pretty good.  I designed a delay system using

Exam 2-2
The delay system I used to help against cheating.

redstone (see an example below) which did the trick (this is an entire blog post itself).  Question two was answered by creating a consequence for a wrong answer that forced students to respawn.  Lastly, as to how to maintain the integrity of each student’s work…the portfolio.  I used the “fixed inventory” function in the commands to achieve this.    I placed a camera and a portfolio in their fixed inventory (the command is /setfixedinvslot for those familiar with commands).  Then each time they have to respawn their portfolio remains in tact, with all images previously taken before the respawn still appearing in the portfolio after the respawn.

sign
Students collect photos after completing each section.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the four young men that tested this system out for me.  They were upperclassmen who I challenged to break it, cheat it, find every flaw possible…and they did.  There were a number of items that needed to be fixed and the majority of problems were fixed when I was able to set the world as “immutable” or unbreakable.  These guys were honest and did a really great job of testing the exam.

So…it can be done.  A final exam can take place in Minecraft where students play out the adventure and have the opportunity to respawn and redo it until they get it correct.  Students get immediate and important feedback as well, which is something final exams inherently lack.  Would I do it again? YES!  Beyond any shadow of a doubt, I would and will do it again.  Why?  Because “Kids deserve it!”

-Ben is a Minecraft Global Mentor- for any questions about the details of this exam email bespield@goarrows.org

 

 

 

 

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Published by: Ben

English teacher (grades 11-12), Remind Advisory Board Member, Google Certified Educator Level 1, Educational Technologist...I am obsessed with creating cultures of connections.

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