I have been using Minecraft as a teaching tool in my classroom for over 3 years now, and a successful teaching tool I may add. It’s funny because every time I bring up using Minecraft in my classroom with other teachers who don’t know I use it, I get the same response, “Isn’t that just a game? Aren’t the kids just playing?” Time and again I have had to hold my tongue and explain how and why I use it. So for those of you that don’t know my spiel, here goes.
In today’s classroom, the focus for our students is curriculum, I am not disagreeing with this. My students need to learn about how to add and subtract, how to write a proper sentence and how to read a paragraph in a “just right “book when they leave my room at the end of the year. Unfortunately, for some of my students, these skills can already be challenging. Even in these younger primary grades, students are already getting an idea of where they struggle or things they might not be as good as their friends are, they are coming in with a mindset that “Oh I am not good at that, so why bother.” Many of them may, at times, give up before they even start.
However, when I introduce Minecraft and how they will be using it to showcase their understanding of different things we are learning in class, it is amazing how many of them perk up. They are surprised that they are going to be allowed to use Minecraft, something which many of them are coming in with an amazing set of skills already, and use it in the classroom. I always start the year explaining how, at school, Minecraft is another tool in their toolkit. They will be using it to show me how they understand what we have been discussing in class.
For example, when I allow them to use Minecraft to build a house for a character in the book they are reading and they must be able to tell or explain how this house suits their character, many of my students do not hesitate, they jump right in. The wonderful thing is the conversations we have that really do show how much they are getting out of their book, whether they are still getting a basic gist of what is happening in the book or who their character is, or if they are really connecting and going deeper. A student who might find taking that same assignment and writing a journal about it may not give me the same depth of understanding because of the struggle they have putting pencil to paper.
Right now, I have been talking place value and getting my students to showcase their number sense. We have started building a place value design in Minecraft and they have not had any problem transferring their knowledge of numbers into the Minecraft world. They are excited and the conversations they are having about their builds has given me a wealth of information about what they are understanding when it comes to numbers.
The bigger deal for me, though, is how much more resilient my students are when it comes to using Minecraft. Students who would quit in the first few moments will beg me for just a few more minutes to add extra details to their build. They are much more willing to start over again if they have missed something or forgotten something in Minecraft. My students are much more willing to try and figure something out on their own when it comes to this tool. They get more creative in their thinking, they are more willing to problem solve.
And the stories I could tell – of a student last year who never talked in class because she had social anxieties, but yet got up with her team and shared. Don’t get me wrong, she shared very quietly, but she still was willing to get up there because she was part of a team who was very proud of their build. I could tell you of another student who came in my first year at my new school who was reading very much below grade level and fought with me tooth and nail to write more than a sentence, but yet when I said would use Minecraft in class, he lit right up because he knew it was something he could do just like everyone else. He would be able to participate and not struggle, this was something he was able to do. It did carry over into his other classes and he was a bit more open to trying, he didn’t feel “dumb” (something he shared with me in a private conversation).
I quite often end things off with the following question – why not use Minecraft in the classroom? If it is because you are afraid, as the teacher, of not being the expert in the room because you don’t know what Minecraft is about or how to use it, then please don’t let that be the reason. Your students will be more than willing to show you, they will be willing to be the experts that “teach” you and how powerful is that. Our goal is to help students become creative thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborators, and trust me, Minecraft is a tool that will more than help build on those skills.
On a side note, when I first came to my new school, three years ago, I was the only teacher using Minecraft in my classroom. Fast forward three years later and I now have colleagues in the other grades and classrooms now using it as well. They have seen some of the projects my students have done and have now started using it to showcase what students are understanding in math, social and much more.
So to answer my original question – yes, Minecraft is a game, but it can also be much more in your classroom, if you let it.