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