Feeling fortunate to attend the Minecraft Education Summit at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington this week. I walked away knowing a bit more about how to play the game and who to reach out to for Minecraft mentoring. There is an opportunity for Minecraft in the classroom, but there are some traditional mindsets that will need to be changed before Minecraft is seen as the rich educational tool it can be.
The three “R’s” of education are the building blocks of traditional learning and are considered the solid foundation of education theory, but our world is changing into a digital reality. Our students play video games in their free time, they understand the digital world. As educators, administrators, and educational policy makers we need to understand this. The modern educational space requires a different mindset, a flexible mindset that embraces communication, problem solving, collaboration, and critical thinking. Educators who are always learning, understand that it is okay to be risk-takers in the game of learning, and in so doing are better able to support the vulnerable student mindset. Administrators who are connected to this new realm will also be better equipped to support educators who want to engage their students in 21st century learning.
Minecraft as innovative collaboration, not just a game
According to Wikipedia (because we all look up things on Wikipedia) a sandbox game is a “game wherein the player has been freed from the traditional structure and direction typically found in video games, and is instead given the ability to choose what, when, and how they want to approach the available choices in content.” Yes, in essence, Minecraft the game is like the backyard sandbox where you make up your own game and create your own world and rules to play by. In Minecraft the world is yours to create. Depending on the world you play in there are added elements of complexity, but then that’s life in general. Minecraft embedded in curriculum can offer students the opportunity to create and work cooperatively and collaboratively within a community, learn to problem solve either elements of the game or to produce an end product or structure, or even to learn the basics of coding within Minecraft.
Learning to play the game
To begin with, you have to play to learn and learning to play isn’t that difficult. It is true kids are the experts and you’re probably still trying to learn the controls to walk and jump in a straight line, but that’s okay. The paradigm has shifted in Minecraft to student learning centered instead of teacher centered, where the teacher becomes the guide. There are plenty of tutorials and mentors to help you learn how to play Minecraft. The new reality is that learning to play Minecraft puts teachers squarely in the empathy seats of students – “oh, this is what it is like to be a student again.” Learning to play means you find tutorials and mentors either online, over Skype, or in the classroom. You find how to learn just as students do today.
Minecraft in the classroom
The opportunities for Minecraft curriculum connections are endless, just to name a few;
- Building a world, strengthens the “soft skills” of problem solving, communication, and community collaboration in the classroom
- Utilizing Minecraft as a curriculum based assessment; ask students to produce a world or structure as a capstone event, and then ask them to explain it. The wealth of knowledge behind the build will be astounding
- Providing a space for student voice, student agency, and student choice which in turn enhances student buy-in for learning
- Seeing students as gamers, as referenced in the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, we can meet them where they are as Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, or Griefers (originally stated as Killers). In any classroom situation, the more we know our students, the more we can guide them
- Transferring learning; the more you do, the more ways you do something, the more you remember. Game-based learning is relevant to students. The multi-modal learning students do within a game requires processing and transferring their understanding which creates memories for learning and explaining to others.
For me, I specifically see Minecraft in science as a means for my students to walk around in a molecular world to see 3D models of proteins, to create roller coasters that could work in the real world, to work collaboratively to build a hydro-electric dam, and to explain the local biome and rock strata that they had to understand to build in accordance with nature. My list of possibilities are endless, as is the Minecraft world. My students are very excited to use Minecraft in the classroom, but as an educator I’m probably even more excited to create an educational sandbox to explore with them. This level of mutual engagement means we’re going to have an abundance of energy in the classroom for learning!