So I Minecraft…Why Don’t You?

It has been close to a year and a half now since I started using Minecraftedu (the educational version of Minecraft) in my classroom. I started out using it with my grade 4/5 class and then when I did the move to my new school and new grade, I started using it with my grade 3’s (my littles).  There were a few bumps in the road in the beginning, mostly on my part as I started to figure out the in’s and out’s of the program. But even though there were a few challenges, the benefits of the using this program far outweighed them.

Minecraft gave a level playing field to many of my students. It’s a hands on way of them being able to share their understanding of something we have talked about in class or face a challenge I give them. I had some students who found reading challenging but when I let them use Minecraft to share their understanding of a book we were reading, they couldn’t tell me enough. For those students who didn’t enjoy writing, it was the same thing – I couldn’t get them stop building and creating so they could share their understanding.

With Minecraft, my students were now the teachers, they were the experts. When we first started using the program, I partnered those students more experienced with Minecraft with those who did not know the program at all. The funny thing was that it did not take long for my beginners to catch on and become very skillful at using the program.  Quite often this year, my littles were called upon because they had now become the experts. They shared their knowledge and skills with the grade one classes when they were doing their structures unit, they skyped with teachers to explain how to do Minecraft and even helped some of the grade six classes. Seeing my students confidently answer questions or explain how to do things to the older students was a moment I was so proud of them.

Building their own wizard academies for Wendell the World’s Worst Wizard

In Minecraft there are so many chances to have students show their understanding of curriculum objectives. I have written sharing all the ways I used Minecraft in my classroom in different subject areas in an earlier post. But more importantly I think Minecraft builds on those more important skills – creative thinking, problem solving and collaborating. In all the projects I had my students work on, there were moments when things went wrong or something didn’t work. They would come to me and I would tell them I was honestly not the one to ask, so they would have to either work through it on their own or work together with others to figure out a solution.  Most times they either figured out the solution, got help from a classmate or just worked their way around the problem. All important skills that can carry on into the classroom.
With MinecraftEdu there are multiple ways you can use the program. My students were able to build on desktops or use the laptops (definitely easier with a mouse attached). However this summer my 6 year old daughter has been showing me the possibilities of using the pocket edition of Minecraft on our iPad. So I definitely will be looking at using this more next year in my class.

The one thing that I tell teachers about Minecraftedu that I love is that I can control the “worlds”. Depending on what I want the students to do I can have them be in creative mode or in survival mode, I can give the tools they need to create or challenge them to figure out how to build the tools they need. When I am looking at what I want my students to do, I can decide the parameters I want to set. But I have left the door open to the possibility if they can explain why they need something – a certain tool, block or animals/villagers I will give it to my students. The important thing to note is that Minecraft is a tool – it is up to the teacher to decide how it will be used to showcase the student learning.

There is a time and place though for it to just be fun and with  my Evil Genius Club – my extra-curricular club, Minecraft was a place for them to build and showcase what they could do.  Quite often, I would challenge them to show me what they could do in Minecraft.  I was very honest with them and explained I did not know as much about Minecraft as they did, so I would ask them to build something that really showed me something they were able to do.  And the things they came up with, these grade 2 and 3 students, really blew me away.

So for those on the fence about whether or not to try using Minecraft in your classroom, I cannot say enough about how you should take the chance and jump in. It’s a tool that will engage your students and showcase their learning. I will say that when my students were excited about something coming together that they built, I was just as excited. I’m so happy I tried Minecraft in my classroom and I think you will be too.

Science Structures Unit – student built the Golden Gate Bridge. Might notice the beginnings of an Empire State Building & White House in the background.

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4 thoughts on “So I Minecraft…Why Don’t You?

  1. kwhobbes

    Minecraft is a great way to have students involved in creating and exploring. I have a 6 year old who builds worlds, creates tools, collaborates with others and just enjoys playing the game. With 3 older brothers who have already spent time in the minecraft universe for some time, he could go to them for help but often just figures it out himself.
    Although I agree that minecraft has loads of potential for learning, I also have seen how teachers have used it, like other technology, without linking it to pedagogy or creating the tie-in for learning. Students spend a great deal of time creating and without having a deeper understanding of the connections to outcomes and learning, it has become “another project” that students do which undermines the incredible learning that takes place.
    From listening to my older boys, this also “taints’ the minecraft experience, taking it from being a game they really enjoy and turning it into something they have to do. My oldest son, who has built worlds, done videos, made How-to’s with others was turned off because of his experience in school. He will help his brothers and still does some things with it but it was sad that something he loved to play became something that he had to do.
    I believe there are many great opportunities available for our children and gaming and game theory definitely have a place in designing and creating learning experiences. I want to see the learning experience be much more creative and allow students to be innovative and take-risks which games like minecraft allow. But I also want teachers to be aware that these games are part of their childhood experience which is not often taken into consideration in adopting them for the classroom.
    Thank you for sharing your experience with using minecraft. It is an example for other educators as they begin to explore the possibilities offered by games and gaming theory in creating learning experiences.

    Reply
    1. catherined2014 Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment. I agree that for those teachers considering using Minecraft that they ask themselves what is their goal, why are they wanting to use it. For Minecraft to truly work well in the classroom, there needs to be a link to the pedagogy. It cannot just become another shiny new tech tool that we let our students “play” with. As I said in an earlier post, I seriously disliked when other students and teachers would comment on how my students were “playing” Minecraft. Luckily my students and I had the conversations and reflections and they knew the Minecraft they did at school was more than just play.
      I think Minecraft has great potential for the older grades because the parameters can be more open. I heard of a teacher, who in his democracy unit in grade 6 social, had the students groups together and create their own community in Minecraft. They had to build their communities, decide how it would run – who would do what jobs, what would be the rules or laws, how would their worlds work if they could make it themselves. I could only imagine the amazing conversations and reflections that would come about from a project like this.

      Reply
  2. Mr_Ullman

    Great post! I only started using MinecraftEDU midway through last year…we’ve also had a lot of conversations about how using Minecraft in school is different than how it’s used at home. Hopefully with some experience under my belt, I’ll be able to hit the ground running this coming year!

    Reply
    1. catherined2014 Post author

      Thanks for your comment. I remember those first few months I used MinecraftEdu – honestly there were quite a few oops moments where I had to tell my kids sorry, I mucked it up. They were amazingly patient as we both learned about using this program. Now that I am more into it I see so much potential. Plus through Twitter I meet educators like yourself using it too which is awesome. Good luck!!

      Reply

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