@MinecraftEDU: 6 Reasons For Classroom Use

Three or four years ago I asked students who I knew were avid gamers if there was a simulation/modeling game that would match with our social studies curriculum. They gave me some suggestions but in the interim, the sandbox creation game Minecraft exploded. With the help of our technology integrationist, we began piloting the educational version, Minecraft EDU in our classroom here at Main Street Middle School. After a year and a half of gaming once a week in the classroom, it’s hard to imagine not having Minecraft EDU as an essential part of our curriculum. Here are seven reasons why.

Digital Citizenship

Before employing Minecraft EDU as part of our curriculum, I enhanced our digital citizenship curriculum. This included explicit teaching of digital citizenship principles, review of technology standards, and outlining expectations for the game (with significant student input).  This instruction culminated in the student-led design of a Minecraft Charter that outlined the principles and expectations for game play.  Launching the game was a nerve-wracking experience. Because I am not a programmer, I served as a coordinator; my students did most of the set-up and problem solving to get the game online. As a teacher, I needed to trust them to demonstrate their digital citizenship by making good decisions,  communicating, problem-solving, and giving constructive feedback related to the game’s implementation in the classroom. Minecraft EDU has become an important classroom tool that has helped students develop a deeper understanding of digital citizenship.

Literacy and Integrated Technology

Each week, students are expected to take a screenshot of their progress and insert that into a pre-existing Google presentation. Accompanying each picture is an explanatory paragraph, based on Common Core writing standards, that explains how the picture (and underlying game play) relate to our curriculum. In addition to emphasizing the writing process, this practice also allows for the incorporation of academic language and vocabulary that reflects curriculum topics. Writing about an interactive learning experience has served to motivate even our most reluctant writers.

Classroom Management

Student response to the integration of Minecraft EDU in the curriculum has been extremely positive. Students are enthusiastic, engaged, and to be honest, appear to relish the responsibility and opportunity offered by utilizing this technology. I won’t say there haven’t been any issues — a herd of horses mysteriously started spawning in one session — but by and large, students have been really responsible with the game platform. There is a collective pressure to keep the game in the curriculum and I think this has made the classroom more dynamic and engaging. Subsequently, and in my opinion, classroom management feels a bit easier. I attribute this to the heightened responsibility and collaborative efforts between student and teacher that have been a product of introducing Minecraft EDU.

Collaboration, Teaching and Learning

One of the most pleasant surprises that has arisen from the employment of Minecraft EDU is the improved collaboration between students. Remember, students are the gaming experts. Their expertise becomes a shared experience for all the students. When novice players need help, I simply direct our expert players to address their needs. Watching kids who might otherwise not have a chance to shine collaborate with fellow students is reason enough to play. It appears to contribute to the self-confidence of the students who mentor their peers. Furthermore, the interaction between novices and expert players transcends social boundaries. Minecraft EDU provides new opportunities for students to have positive social interactions.

Autonomy, Motivation, and Mastery¹

Introducing Minecraft EDU into the curriculum has forced me to give a portion of control to the students. When students spawn into their worlds, they are independent and autonomous decision-makers who must navigate an interactive virtual landscape. As their skill level, or mastery of the game improves, they can complete more complex tasks, develop goals, and improve their gaming skills. The freedom to independently operate in a digital world appears to motivate kids not only to get better at the game, but to continue developing their mastery of technology.

Student Creativity

Finally, the integration of Minecraft EDU has provided an explosion of curriculum related creativity and interpretation. Students have re-constructed scenes from novels, built working models of Newcomen steam engines, and replicated the Ziggurat at Ur. And that’s just the beginning. Students have created movies, presentations, and teaching videos for their classmates all based on their gameplay.

Try this. Google any structure in the world, followed by the term “minecraft”. The possibilities are truly endless. Using the game responsibly, creatively, and with student-led collaboration can add a potent and effective learning tool to your classroom.

Resources:

  1. Ryan, Richard M., and Edward L. Deci. “Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions.” Contemporary educational psychology25.1 (2000): 54-67.
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Students Lead the Way

Since initiating a personalized learning plan pilot project in the 2013-2014 school year, I’ve been amazed at the power this tool has to meet the developmental, creative, academic, and technological needs of students.

And that’s not just my opinion. 79% of 8th grade pilot project participants responded with a 4 or 5 on a survey asking students if they enjoyed working on their PLP site (answers of 1 = Not Really, answers of 5 = Absolutely). As recently as Monday, January 26th, 82% of 17 students new to the project answered with a 4 or 5 to the same question.

One would think that these results would be cause for celebration, and indeed, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the marriage of technology, adolescent brain development, and the autonomy provided by the personal learning plans is a very good match. But these developments have also been cause for a great deal of reflection about the pervasive, standards-based, assessment-driven educational philosophy that has become the norm.

Are standards important? Absolutely. They provide a common framework for educators seeking to improve those skills that have been determined as most important for college and career readiness. I use them all the time to structure lessons, develop instruction,  and to create valid and proficiency-based assessments. I have no problem with utilizing them to make my classroom a more structured and productive learning environment.

At the same time, I’m becoming increasingly aware of the authoritarian nature of a standards-based, top-down system that asks students of wildly different interests, abilities, and aptitudes to “meet the standard”. Should educators contemplate a different framework? One that allows students to develop understanding related to personal interests, utilizes intrinsic motivation, and encourages the use of technology to explore and differentiate the learning?

As a small test of these ideas, and in an effort to develop student interest in a new unit on Industrial Revolution, I shared a Google Doc with the class. I created a simple table, some basic instructions, and three time periods that would be of importance. Students then were allowed to explore resources. The results were amazing. Check out this time lapse video of student minds at work.

Next up? We’ll classify the ideas, re-define our questions, and then compare what they have found to the unit I had tentatively planned. I can use student interest to help guide the way. To my thinking, this constructivist approach, on a foundation of standards and teacher guidance, contributes to a positive learning culture. More importantly, this framework is one that has resonated out of personal learning plans and into the curriculum. Students, indeed, are leading the way.