I recently had a member of my PLN on twitter – my newest connection because of our love of Minecraft, ask me the following question. “We’re not crazy are we?” The reason he was asking this was because he had recently tried to share the possibilities of using Minecraft as a teaching tool to other teachers in his district. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a tough sell because people weren’t as open to it as he had hoped they would be. Funny enough, I had had the same experience just a few days before when I had done a similar presentation to a group of colleagues within my own district. While they saw the potential, they just were not as open to actually using it within their own classrooms. So I felt for him because it was a question I could relate to. He asked whether we were crazy, just ahead of our time or what. It was something that stuck with me and I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what he had asked me and these are a few of my thoughts.
Some will say “I don’t have enough time, I just have too much curriculum to cover and not enough for my students to play around.”. My response to that is you can gear a Minecraft project so it takes as much or as little time as you need. My students recently were asked to build a city in Minecraft to show their understanding of arrays – a multiplication strategy they were introduced to in math class. The project itself took 10-15 min of planning, two 30 minute classes of building and then today they started working through the cities to find out what their classmates had built and share the arrays they thought they saw. So in total, it took probably the same amount of time it would have taken for the students to do 4-5 worksheets on arrays and then a quiz showing their understanding.
Some will say “How do I assess this? How do I show the students understand the concept I was teaching”. Well, using my same Minecraft lesson my students showed their understanding in their plan, in the city they built then by the conversations I listened to as I worked through the groups and heard them talking about the arrays they were seeing and writing in their math journals. They were engaged, they were talking math and they were seeing their math learning come to life in a way that was interesting to them and I could readily see those who were able to see and understand arrays and those who were still trying to figure them out.
Some will say “I don’t know Minecraft so I can’t use it in my classroom.” And my response to that would be that you do not need to be the expert. Do you need a working knowledge – yes, it will be helpful and definitely help you see the potential. The more I work with Minecraft, the more I see how I can use it better with my students. But am I the expert, do I know everything about Minecraft – not at all. I am constantly learning, and my students are the ones who are teaching me. And this is something that they are so proud of – being given the opportunity to teach and mentor me in something they are confident in, switching the roles has given my quieter students, my struggling students a voice which is a positive thing in my mind.
Some will say “Minecraft is just a game students play, there isn’t any real learning involved.”And to that I will say – my grade three students have had to learn the importance of collaboration. They have had to make compromises, learn to work together, giving each other jobs to get the task done in the time given. They have learned to communicate – talking about the things they have built, sharing their learning in a variety of forms, written and orally. My students have had to learn to problem solve because the plans they came up with on paper did not translate when they started building. They had to think creatively, work together to find solutions but as I have mentioned before it is amazing how willing they are to persevere when they are given the opportunity to use Minecraft. And honestly I think these skills will take them much farther in their learning journey.
So back to my original question I don’t think we are crazy or ahead of our time. We have just been willing to risk and try something new, something that is engaging our students. And at the end of the day that is who is the most important opinion – are our students open to the possibilities of using Minecraft to showcase their understanding? The answer to this is yes, so that is the opinion I will focus on as I continue to learn to use Minecraft in my classroom.