I have two boys, 13 and 10 who have been playing minecraft for a few years now. I must admit that I am not an expert in this game, but thanks to their constant conversation about the game, I do have a basic knowledge. Interestingly in the past year I have also heard of several programs which have used Minecraft as an educational tool. I am a big believer of gaming in the classroom and so the educational benefits of this game are not a stretch of the imagination for me.
As many of you know, I also have the pleasure of teaching at Monash Uni in the teacher education degrees. This provides an interesting forum as I endeavour to inspire teachers about the benefits of 21st century learning. This background leads into todays post. My two boys always ask mum have you managed to convince your students to play games in the classroom!! They then go on to regale with the learning that is involved, which i find quite amusing :). Unless my students are gamers or have children themselves some of them are not aware of mine craft or how it works.
Minecraft by Majong is what is called a sandbox game, it allows the user to construct a new environment/game in the parameters of the game (a virtual world). Mine (find and gather your resources) and craft (build). It is highly creative and allows for enormous problem solving opportunities. There are two modes, creative, in which players can craft their own world and survival, where players have to build and craft to survive. Players use cubes of different materials to construct a wide variety of resources.
Minecraft has realeased a edu version specifically designed for classrooms. MinecraftEdu is a recipient of Common Sense Media’s 2014 On For Learning Award.
There is substantial research of the benefits of digital gaming in classrooms. (See Gee ( 2007), Prensky (2006), Kapp (2012), Beavis (2012) to name just a few). The biggest criticism of educational gaming or gamification, comes from students who identify that “educational games” are often not fun and have lost the essential components of ‘gaming’. Gamification is based on authentic real world scenarios which don’t rely on points and badges for achievements. Minecraft is a great example of gamification.
When we think about the skills which have been highlighted as important in the 21st century it immediately becomes apparent that through playing Minecraft many of these skills can be consolidated in this environment.
Comic created using ToonDoo
Collaborative: Often this game is played on a server. Players are often working with other players to construct their worlds. Through conversation (face to face) and the use of Skype players converse and solve problems together.
Creative: When we have to create a world from scratch, the limits of your imagination can be explored.
Civic awareness: How are you respectful when you are in another players world? What is the unspoken etiquette in the game? What are the unspoken rules?
Curiosity: How do a build this structure, how do I pump water to the structure? What happens if I do this…..
Critical thinking: You have to be critical about what you build, how to you build it? What happens if I don’t build it?
Capacity for Change: The mine craft world can change, you may have to change the world. This increases the players capacity for dealing with change, having to re build, developing resilience.
Community of learners: When you collaboratively build a world you develop a community of learners who solve problems together to reach a solution. You only have to listen to a group of students trying to figure out an aspect of a game that this community becomes apparent.
Cross Disciplinary Learning: The game covers all curriculum area forms literacy (reading, writing, oral language, viewing) to art, science, maths, geography, economics and personal development. The game does this in such a way that multiple disciplinary areas are covered in a real authentic environment.
So what are other educational benefits: My 10 year old built and designed his own Jurassic park. Everything he constructed he has taught himself how to create. If he does not know how to do something he teaches himself through trial and error, or gets onto You Tube and searches for an answer. His peer group are also a source of information as they collaborate together to discover solutions to issues.
So, following on from this idea of discovery learning/serious play, how do you as a teacher get to know the basics?? (any other help just ask the students in your class 🙂 )There are two recent MOOC courses on Getting started with minecraft edu (Bennington Public Schools) and Minecraft for educators (University of Hull). Both of these curses are FREE and offer a great opportunity to build your skills in this area.
If you are still not convinced here are some inspirational videos surrounding Gaming in Education:
Jane McGongial on the benefits of gaming. What are we learning? Jane also has a very inspirational TED talk titled: Gaming can make a better world.
James Gee talks about Video Games literacy and learning
Some concluding thoughts:
Lets use this game as it was designed to, as real life hands on learning. Not as a topic/idea to make worksheets around, kids see right through this, the worksheet does not get any more exciting with a picture of Steve on the sheet.
If would would like to read some research on the benefits of Minecraft, here are some peer reviewed articles.
Ludwig, S. (2013). Block party. School Library Journal, 59(3), 34-n/a.
Short, D. (2012). Teaching scientific concepts using a virtual world – minecraft. Teaching Science, 58(3), 55-58
Tromba, P (2013) Build engagement and knowledge one block at a time with Minecraft. Learning & Leading with Technology. 40.8 p20.