My country, your country – The last weeks

It has been exactly half a year since our last Minepark update. The end of a school year combined with the beginning of a new one and summer holidays in between can really interfere with a teacher’s schedule. For these reasons, this week’s update will be compiling the last weeks of the project into one post.

Spoiler alert: its going to be quite a long post.

Week 10:

During this week’s gathering we received two new visitors that got to spend some time with us and the project. Neuza Pedro, professor at the Institute of Education at Lisbon University, and Sílvia Couvaneiro, PhD student at the same establishment. Both are researchers studying how technology is used and integrated inside a classroom environment, so the school invited them to have a look at what our students have been accomplishing through the Minepark project. Needless to say, the students were very excited to receive visitors and very eager to show their work to them.

Regarding the warp issues that we experienced the week before, they were finally resolved because our server was now equipped with a new teleportation plugin called SimpleWarp. This plugin made teleportation inside the world much faster and more stable, although all warp points had to be created from scratch. Important note about this plugin: the warp points had to be created and opened through a command in order for them to be available to all students.

With the warps in place the students managed to travel to the location of their projects without problems, although not all of them. Unfortunately Minecraft PE received an update a couple of hours before our activity, which in turn prevented some students from accessing the server because their game client had updated automatically. Nevertheless, these students got to join their peers with access to the server and worked together.

In Lisbon, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos was now in its last stages of completion, while up high the Serra de Estrela mountaintop the students placed a snowy biome, appropriate to the region’s weather characteristics.

The sword of Avis, standing at the back of the monument on a stylised cross.
Snow on top of the Estrela mountains is a very common site throughout the year.

Between Lisbon and Porto a group of students initiated a new project, the University of Coimbra, Coimbra’s most famous monument. Moreover, the Alentejo biome was given the most attention so far in order to replace the grass blocks with sandstone.

The University of Coimbra in its early stages.
Almost there now.

One thing that the students themselves noticed was that since the new warps plugin they couldn’t use the /tp command anymore, for whatever reason. This command used to allow one user to teleport directly next to another user inside the world. A small price to pay for having a new, better and functioning teleportation plugin.

Week 11:

The last minute Minecraft PE update from last week had us searching for and configuring a new server version. Fortunately this time, it didn’t take long before we had a working server up and running. This new version, game and server, brought a couple of new additions to the project and the experience in general. The UI (user interface) and player menus were now more organised and included even more blocks, items and tools for the students to use. In addition, new commands for OPs were added to the mix that allowed for activating status effects on players and even changing the weather.

Status effects have been around for a while in Minecraft and are obtained through food, potions and beacons. They can be placed on a player or any other entity and can be either helpful or harmful. What they do is alter the way the game is played or experienced, so for example a Speed effect will make a player run faster, a Haste effect will make a player break blocks faster etc. However, most of these status effects are not functioning inside a custom Minecraft world because mainly they are already there, especially in Creative mode. Some effects though do work, and can be really fun to use on others, especially when the commands for applying these effects are only available to the OP. These “fun” effects include applying nausea to a player (screen becomes wobbly), invisibility (user disappears from sight but can still interact with the world) or even blindness (screen becomes extremely foggy and view is limited). As expected, as soon as the OP started applying random effects to random students chaos took over for some time until they realised that someone was messing around with their gameplay, creating a playful atmosphere inside the classroom.

As for the weather commands, the OP could now change the weather at any time just by using simple commands. Types of weather included sunny, clear, rain or thunder, each one with its one characteristics, sound and visual effects. Controlling the weather in this way gave us the opportunity to see our world in different weather conditions, and as a result we managed to take some really unique and interesting in-game pictures. Moreover, the sunset was fine tuned and upgraded with a new color palete, clouds and visual effects, which in turn created some stunning views of our world that we simply had to capture as screenshots.

Back to the building projects, the University of Coimbra was now completed, although in the end it did not look much like the real one. The group responsible for this project suggested that they had to first create a model of a university before they actually start building the real thing, so that they could understand what type of material they should work with. Nevertheless, the project still resulted in an amazing construction.

In another twist of creativity and imagination, some students suggested that they should try and work on their projects during the night, so that they could add the necessary lighting effect to their current and existing projects. This was something that never came up before and we thought of it as an amazing opportunity to try and work under different conditions. It was only a matter of introducing a simple /timeset command to the world and everyone could work under the dim lights of their own creations, or add light wherever necessary.

In Lisbon, two new projects were being developed by two different teams, both of them classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The first was the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery, what is probably considered the most iconic Portuguese monument.

The second one, and equally important, was the Belém Tower or Tower of St. Vincent, situated very close to the Jerónimos Monastery. Both of these monuments played a significant role in the Portuguese maritime discoveries of the Age of Discoveries.

To the north of Lisbon another important Portuguese monastery was being constructed, the Batalha Monastery, literally the Monastery of Battle.

The Batalha Monastery in its very early stages.

It was completely obvious by now that students had the skills and talent to embrace any given or chosen project and re-create it in Minecraft. All of the constructions that took place in our world so far were real locations that students had the opportunity to research and study first through photos before moving into the building phase. However, at some point during this week’s activity one group had a different suggestion. They asked if they could work on something unique and personal, something that doesn’t necessarily exist in the real world, a project that they could be as creative and expressive as they wanted to be. This suggestion, although a bit abstract, gave us an amazing idea for a new project. For obvious reasons we couldn’t start building anything we wanted to build because of the objective of the whole project itself, but we definitely could channel this creativity into a new project.

The idea was that everyone were free to build their own house inside the Minecraft world. We decided that the best way to do this was to create a small village in the area of Alentejo (the region with less buildings and monuments) were everyone could build their dream house as they pleased. However, there was one condition: each and every house had to respect the architecture and design of the traditional houses found all over Portugal. The students were free to choose any type of traditional Portuguese architecture and adapt it to their personal architectural plans. We suggested to them that a good place to start their research was Portugal dos Pequenitos, a theme park situated in the city of Coimbra that consists of diminutive versions of Portuguese houses and monuments.

Needless to say, the students were extremely excited that they were given the opportunity to work and create something completely original that they could call their own, and the results were nothing less than spectacular.

In a matter of minutes houses, palaces, miniature castles and mansions began to rise from the ground, all of them unique and at the same time familiar to everyone. Color, design and architecture all came together to create a amazing little town in the middle of Alentejo that included the most iconic and representative creations of the whole world. Most importantly, the students got to express their creativity in a fun and engaging way, while learning so much in the process.

Week 12:

Because of school field trips, this week’s Minecraft activities were limited to only thirty minutes. Since there wasn’t enough time to initiate the server and resume last week’s projects we decided to do something different this time. The students were asked to present their personal worlds, the ones they work on during their free time at home with their friends. Students only had two minutes at their disposal to present their worlds, which in turn obliged them to focus on the important parts of their work and showcase their favorite projects or simply the ones they were most proud of. This activity resulted in an amazing collaborative presentation of personal projects made by our students, ranging from parkour portal maps to dream houses to self-sustaining roasted chicken farms (yes, this is a thing in Minecraft apparently).

This short gathering ended up being one of the best we’ve had since the start of this whole project. The students loved presenting their work and their audience vibrated with excitement each time someone showed something they didn’t know it was possible to do in the game. For the students presenting (since this was a voluntary activity) it was a great exercise in talking to the public and trying to figure out how and what to present in only two minutes. In general, it was the perfect way to take advantage of the thirty minutes we had at our disposal.

Week 13:

Minecraft PE update 14.3 brought some interesting changes to the game, especially with the way Minecraft deals with weather and light effects. Light sources, night time, sunrise and sunset received a graphics boost that was immediately obvious during the respective times of the day, which in turn allowed us to take some stunning pictures of our world.

While most groups were working on their existing projects, like the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, one group decided to initiate yet another new project and begin construction on the Santa Luzia Sanctuary located in the northernmost district of Portugal.

The interior of Jerónimos Monastery never looked better.
Building the foundations of what is going to become the Santa Luzia Sanctuary.

One group however decided to take things even further. After completing the Batalha Monastery in the North, the students responsible for it were curious to know a bit more about this magnificent monument, since none of them had ever visited it. By themselves, they decided to research a bit more about the monument and they discovered that the monastery had also served as the burial church of the 15th-century Aviz dynasty of Portuguese royals. Further research by the students revealed the location of the tombs as well as the names and reign period of the kings and queens that were part of this dynasty. The students then, by their own initiative, decided to recreate this burial ground and place the names of the royal family members and the time they reigned on wooden signs in front of every tomb. When questioned about their motives for doing this they answered that putting down all this information concerning the dynasty not only helped them to learn all these names and dates but also served as an attraction for the other students to visit and learn a bit more about their project.

This event was by far the most impactful of the Minepark project so far, because it clearly showed that students, when given the right tools, they can take control of their own learning and advance even further than expected, looking to satisfy their curiosity and finding innovative ways to promote and cultivate their learning.

Week 14:

All good things must eventually come to an end. We started this week’s activities with a heavy heart knowing that this was going to be the last time we access and work in our world. On the other hand, the students were extremely motivated to try and conclude all pending projects so that everything was in place. Even more so when they were informed that the following week they were invited to present their project to the biggest technology fair of the nation, E-TECH Portugal.

The students didn’t want to lose any time and they realized that they had to work all together in order to have things ready for the fair. First, they decided to finish replacing the Alentejo biome with the sandstone block, so that the region could finally look and feel like it does in real life. Although most of the replacement process took place in the previous weeks, it took them less than five minutes to have the entire region ready.

The students then moved to Lisbon, where they all helped conclude the monuments there, primarily focusing on the Jerónimos Monastery, both inside and outside.

Some finishing touches were also added to the rest of the monuments of the capital, including the addition of the Portuguese “calçada” surrounding the buildings, a traditional-style pavement used for many pedestrian areas in Portugal.

With the activity coming to an end, the students decided to visit their world one last time and take group photos in front of their creations.

The end of the class coincided with the end of the day inside our Minecraft world. The students knew that the time had come to look back one last time and say goodbye to this amazing project, this digital creation that went far beyond our expectations. We all knew that we worked hard to build all this and everyone understood that it only became possible because of group work, collaboration and communication between everyone involved. What we achieved was extraordinary and what we learned on the way about each other and ourselves was and will remain priceless. We couldn’t be more proud.

This day has come to an end. Tomorrow will bring new challenges and new projects. We can’t wait!
My country, your country – The last weeks

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