Over the last decade, our schools have changed dramatically. This change isn’t necessarily because of mandates, or adjustments to curriculum, but primarily because the internet, abundant information, and interconnectedness has very much changed the way our world, community, and societies operate.
As a fellow educator, we hear time and time again that our role is to prepare the younger generation for the world in which they live and will live. Nonetheless, if this is true, then we must be willing to incorporate the world in which students currently live into their everyday approach at school.
My Own Minecraft Journey
It’s for this very reason I started using Minecraft in my own classroom. In the Fall of 2013, I started my seventh year of teaching at a new school and in a new position: K-5 Computer Science. While the first few years as a classroom teacher had helped shape my understanding of pedagogy – it was only the last couple years that really began to shift my thinking about education. More and more, I wanted to center my classroom around the interests of students and what they found relevant and meaningful in their own lives. It’s for this reason that I stumbled into Minecraft.
In my last year as a classroom teacher, I had a handful of students who would just talk on and on about this game called Minecraft. When I first saw Minecraft, I was confused as to why kids would want to play this pixelated game in which there was no real objective. Nonetheless, as the year progressed, my students convinced me to let them bring their own devices and have a Minecraft party.
It was then that I first learned how students could play together – and it was at that exact moment when I decided I would do all that I could to bring Minecraft into my classroom. I immediately saw what this ‘game’ could do as a learning platform.
That next summer, I approached a university professor about my idea of using MinecraftEdu (an educational Minecraft add-on) in my classroom. Not only did he love the idea – he actually wanted to pay for the setup and have graduate students help in the endeavor.
After I announced the good news to one classroom, it didn’t take long for the excitement to spread. Nonetheless, I made it abundantly clear to each classroom: this is a new idea and not everyone (parents and teachers included) were not necessarily going to get on board. In fact, we continually had to demonstrate that MinecraftEdu was an amazing tool for learning.
So, we got to work.
Students familiar with Minecraft would teach other students (and their teachers) and even helped me set up game servers. Over the course of the next few months, all 650+ of my students were learning, collaborating and investigating new ideas with this pixelated paradise. We partnered with other classroom teachers to connect everyday curriculum with MinecraftEdu projects and within the first few weeks saw the enormous potential of this creative platform.
Over the next two years, we continued our partnership with the local university and began to embrace Minecraft because of what it offers to kids: a common ground, a sandbox arena for connecting and creating, an educational platform for STEM and programming, a tool for collaboration, a kid-friendly environment to teach code, a place in which kids can share all that they create.
Since those early years of Minecraft emerging in the classroom, the platform has exploded for classroom usage all across the globe. I recently reached out to fellow Minecraft educators who were also early adopters of using Minecraft in their classroom(s) and asked them to reflect back and highlight the core reasons why they still see Minecraft as such a unique learning platform.
Minecraft in the Classroom
Steven Isaacs teaches Video Game Design and Development at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. “It [Minecraft] is empowering for students and allows them to demonstrate their expertise while demonstrating their understanding of course content. It’s so versatile and it is an opportunity for students and teachers to share in the learning process and co-create learning experiences is pretty awesome.”
Across the sea, Karl Ögland uses Minecraft to get students in contact with code, code thinking and engage in educational worlds. When asked why more teachers should be using Minecraft, Karl explained, “Minecraft is one of the few games both teachers, students and parents can agree to use in the school environment. Schools should develop in line with society. As society changes, the student’s life situation and interests change. The school’s ability to take advantage of the students’ interests and experiences is crucial for students to experience the education as meaningful.”
Karl continued, “Instead of forbidding games, as many teachers do, you should welcome the games, create an arena where students are safe, and take that feeling/interest/spirit out in the classroom.”
John Miller, a 7th grade World History teacher and California Teacher of the Year finalist, sees Minecraft in a similar light. When asked how he sees school and Minecraft connect, he replied, “As educators, most of us work diligently to instill a love of learning into our students. Learning Minecraft will remind you how much fun and truly engaging learning can be as a teacher and embracing the game as a classroom tool will open your eyes to countless new avenues for lesson design.
I use Minecraft to support history and literacy goals for my English language learners by creating engaging worlds based on historical narratives.”
Microsoft, which purchased Minecraft in 2014 also acquired MinecraftEdu in 2016. Jannika Aalto, former COO of MinecraftEdu and Teacher Gaming, recalled the platform being used in 10,000+ classrooms across the globe (with 50% being in the US).
When asked to reflect on the nature of the educators using MinecraftEdu she stated, “One thing that I always found important was the empowering aspect of bringing games into the classroom. Often, non-gamer educators aren’t always comfortable with games (as they don’t play, themselves). Because of this hesitation, educators may be afraid of ‘losing control’ in the classroom and, therefore, say no to games entirely.
Whereas educators willing to ‘share the power’ in the classroom by allowing the students be experts in the game, Minecraft still allows teachers to be the pedagogical, learning and development experts. For example, even if you throw 20 kids into Minecraft, there will be lots of transferable learning that need teacher guidance. Basically, we saw teachers who were growing more and more comfortable with allowing the students to take the lead. That’s why MinecraftEdu was so great, it did allow the teacher to cheat a bit.”
Minecraft and the Arts
“Minecraft, the most loved PC game in the world, is a great way to introduce children to art.” Marco Vigelini, an Italian Global Minecraft Mentor and Coder Dojo Champion, recently partnered with the City of Florence to incorporate student art, Minecraft and the historic city of Florence Italy.
The event, La Firenze Dei Bambini, together with Creatubbles, Shapescape and Minecraft YouTubers Adam Clarke and Stephen Reid, generated national news and may have even set a new world record by allowing children to place their own physical art in a reconstructed, block-for-block replica of the Florence city center using the Creatubbles Minecraft Mod. Kids were very engaged and eager to mix art with their favorite game exposing their works within the Museo Novecento of Florence entirely rebuilt in Minecraft.
“Kids were very engaged and eager to mix art with their favorite game [Minecraft] – exposing their works within the Museo Novecento of Florence entirely rebuilt in Minecraft.”
Marco continued, “The parents were astonished and amazed at how easy it was to overturn the logic of the game into an educational perspective, succeeding in facilitating the involvement of children in topics such as art, beauty, and culture.
The Digital Cultural Heritage, Arts and Humanities School (www.diculther.eu) proved to be very interested in the pioneering experience of the Museo Novecento of Florence that wanted to integrate part of that experimental laboratory into their cultural teaching proposal in support of hundreds of Italian schools. Even the Triennale Design Museum in Milan has been sensitive to the initiative and will probably soon be replicated in another one within their museum.”
What’s next for Minecraft in Education?
Want to learn more about utilizing Minecraft in the school day? If you’re already a Minecraft educator you can incorporate the Creatubbles Minecraft Mod – much like Marco. Additionally, the Minecraft educator community is extremely active and very open to helping new teachers. Each week, Garrett Zimmer and Mark Grundel host a #MinecraftEdu chat that addresses great ways to blend Minecraft and learning. You can join in the chat each week on Tuesdays at 2:00 PM EST and 8:00 PM EST.
What’s your favorite way to use Minecraft in the classroom? Share this post online and tag Creatubbles with your ideas!