Minecraft Edu

In this weeks class students from Colquitz Middle School came in with their teacher Heidi James. Heidi and her students were very passionate and knowledgable about how to implement games, like Minecraft, into the classroom. It is common knowledge that online gaming is seen as taboo. This is because on the outside it can look like an individual practice that takes away from developing social skills. However, while playing the game today it was clear that this was not the case. The biggest indicator of this is that the classroom was not quiet! Everyone was communicating while also being productive. There was collaboration, negotiation, problem solving, and communication on where to go and what to do.

An interesting thing to think about is how this shift positively impacts projects. With gaming as a platform for projects it takes the techonolical shift we in our society and implements this into the classroom. It is the essence of taking a clay diorama and, instead, creating online worlds. Using minecraft helps students collaborate not just in school but out of school. This extra time allows them to enhance their project and is flexible if they want to change it. Online also means it is very portable. With a clay model, it can only be done in class and is less portable. It is a more restrictive model to work with. Not to say there isn’t value to using platforms that are hands on, but this post is about breaking down barriers to progressively using technology in in the classroom. Another positive aspect about this shift is that is allows education to connect with this new culture of learners that have grown up alongside technology. Through this, the learners can become the teachers. I personally am ready to learn from the passions of my students to enrich the learning experience. Plus, this helps students develop leadership skills which I think is important. Another interesting thing that was mentioned in class was how a student was scared of dark gradually got used to going out in world within Minecraft. At first they wouldn’t go out at night and would only stay in the lighted house but eventually they ventured out at night. Then in real life it became ok going down the dark hall! Technology has so many benefits in ways we can only imagine.

When we played as a whole class on one server is was very engaging, when the screen was paused for further instruction it was almost jarring. I became so immersed in the game and was having so much fun engaging with all my peers trying to get through the obstacle course tutorial world.

A great feature that helps when using this in a classroom is that the teacher has immense control to aid students and manipulate the game in a desired way, when needed, depending on the project.. They have the ability to freeze individual students or the entire screen; in the chat they can mute individuals that are not following rules or completely take the chat off; and transport to another student or pull them to where the teacher is. The last one is extremely helpful because students can easily wander off and not be able to find their way back to the action in the game. I found this out with personal experience.

A great thing about this type of project is how easy the assessment is. It becomes clear what has been learned by simply walking around and seeing what students are doing, how they are thinking creativity and critically, and what type of communication is happening. This are valuable skills to assess and this type of platform makes it easy to see.

Heidi James explained to what capacity Minecraft can be used in the class. The key point was that the possibilities were endless. Here were some of the examples she gave, along with my own project that I took part in:

Math:

  • In Minecraft if the key F3 is pressed, coordinates appear. These are not just X and Y (2D) but X,Y, and Z (3D) coordinates that students become familiar with through engaged play. These coordinates can be used in the game in serval ways. One, is if a student needs to find another student and they use their coordinates to meet. Another is if the teacher hides an item at a certain coordinate, including underground, and lets the class try to find it. The underground aspect involves 3D thinking and helps students start to comprehend these principles.
  • Another way math can be taught through Minecraft is with coding turtles. These are turtles that can be programmed to do anything. For example they can continue digging until they hit lava if that is what has been coded. This is an advanced learning curve for students and only a few master the process.
  • The class could all be dropped into an area and have to find a treasure based off coordinate clues. Much like a scavenger hunt.

Social Studies:

  • Students can study ancient civilizations. Prior to playing the game, groups can pick an ancient civilization that they would like to focus on. In a class before playing, they would draft what the structures would look like, what the values would be, and other specifics. Then it can be brought to the lab to be build. Each group is given a territory. From there the civilizations must learn how to trade resources with other civilizations (students) and survive. Heidi James even created connections to make it more realistic. For example, if a witch poisoned you then you had died of food poisoning, if a skeleton kills you then you die of starvation. However, at the onset these options would be restricted so there is time to build in an easier setting. As mentioned above, the teacher has control within the game. This makes the project more authentic because the teacher can give sections of the class specific resources and items to start. We saw an example of this in class when the teacher gifted one of the students playing a full diamond helmet.

English:

  • This project is from personal experience. It was one that I did in grade 9, and it is probably one of my most memorable projects I did through the entirety of my school years. We would play Minecraft for one class and then the next class we would write a chapter about what had happened. The goal was to start out the book lost and unsure of how we got there. The rest was up to us. This story took creativity to a whole new level because we got to live the experience not just hypothetically write one up. I also allowed for a more realistic story because there were aspects of the game that one really had to think about, such as obtaining food, building a shelter, surviving.

Other Subjects such as – Arts, Sciences:

  • In the game there is a “crafting table.” This is a 3×3 square grid where items can be placed in specific orders to create new items. For example, the image below shows how 2 sticks and 3 wood blocks create a pickaxe. The use of this teaches how to visualize. Students must get creative when thinking about how an object might be formed. This also teaches how to manage resources and critically think. Wood will have to be used to build a shelter but if some if used to create a pickaxe the overall gathering process becomes faster.
MineCraft Wiki. Vultraz. CC-BY-SA.

Once students get the hang of using Minecraft an advanced option would be letting students build their own tutorial world for others to use. This requires a significant amount of critical thinking and problem solving.

A tip that Heidi James provided was that when creating the project for the class is to never use downloaded world. This is because it has parameters that someone else has set. If a random world is used the teacher has complete control. Animals for food source, time of day, weather patterns, creating structures. The options for what to include and exclude are endless.

A resource that was shown in class was Dan TDM on Youtube. He has lots of videos that pertain to video games. Lots were related to MineCraft! They show other possibilities that can be done with the game.

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