Most people have heard of Minecraft and millions of people have played it for years. I personally have never played it, but I know many people who really enjoy it. As with any video game, it can be a fun way to pass the time and connect with friends through play. Honestly, I have never given much thought to Minecraft. What I didn’t know until today is that Minecraft can be an incredibly useful educational tool. When I was first told this, I was skeptical, but today in class we had an opportunity to try it for ourselves and I was pleasantly surprised with the possibilities Minecraft provides for student learning!
There are many open servers that people can play Minecraft on, and anyone in the world could join those servers. This is concerning for many parents and teachers when it comes to any online game, but there is a way around this. Anyone can create their own private server so they can choose who is allowed in. They create their own rules and control most aspects of that game. In an educational setting (Minecraft EDU), teachers can create their own server and choose the “teacher” role. The teacher can do many things to make the experience best for their class’ needs. They can go into spectate mode, where they fly around and see how everyone is doing. They can bring any character to them self and can transport anywhere. So, for example, if a student is having trouble finding something, the teacher can go to that point and bring the student to them. Teachers can also disable the chat option for any student if they are not using it appropriately, or they can freeze any particular student, which will make it so they are unable to play. This is useful if any student is getting frustrated, using the technology inappropriately, or if the teacher needs to get their attention or speak to them for any other reason. They can also freeze the entire class or stop the server whenever they want to pause or end the game. There are many different modes that the teacher can choose, such as tutorial mode, creative mode, or survival mode.
The differences between the modes are where it starts getting very interesting, because each mode has different implications for learning. In creative mode, students have access to anything and everything in the game in their inventory, so they can build and create whatever they want with no limitations on materials. This is great when doing an activity such as a “build battle,” where a teacher may get students into small groups and say something such as “build a haunted house for Halloween in twelve minutes.” The survival mode is interesting because it adds the concept of needing to eat regularly, not get sick, and survive possible attacks from monsters and other creatures. This can have very interesting Social Studies implications, for example when teaching about ancient civilizations.
The ancient civilizations example was my favourite that we learned about today. You first teach students the basics about any ancient civilization, and then have the class nominate who should be the leaders of groups. The class would then get into small groups and be placed in, for example, a desert biome. They would be given barely any resources and would be required to survive and build their own civilization from the ground up. different monsters can represent different types of death that were realities at the time, for example accidents, starvation, or death by animal.
There are even math possibilities, particularly with using Cartesian plane coordinates, which are available in the game. students can find each other or specific locations using x and y coordinates that they are shown. This exceeds expectations for this curricular competency, as they are required to navigate through a 3D world using these coordinates.
The core competencies are easily assessed through many Minecraft activities, especially communication through team activities (like the examples above), creative, and critical thinking. When we played as a class it was exciting to hear the buzz in the room, with everyone sharing what they are doing, asking for help, and giving help to one another, very clearly highlighting the communication competency.
The only problem I personally had with Minecraft is that I started feeling a bit nauseous playing it, so I am concerned that I may have trouble running a server and really getting comfortable with the software. I would still love to try using Minecraft in a classroom however, and to look further into all of the possibilities!