You may have seen the above video floating around from the PBS Idea Channel, posing the question of whether the video game Minecraft is the “Ultimate Education tool“. With over 200,000 views and over 6500 likes, it got me wondering how many of these viewers have actually seen Minecraft being used in the classroom? Before last week, I hadn’t — which made a recent opportunity even more exciting. Part of our e-Learning for Educators team was invited to visit a local elementary school to see how they’ve been using Minecraft — and what I saw was pretty inspiring.
To give you an idea of what it is like to play Minecraft, it has been described as “first person legos” mixed with “The Sims” (and maybe with a few other games thrown in). The game is considered a “sandbox” game with an open world, giving players a large amount of freedom when it comes to playing the game. In the standard version of Minecraft, there are four different modes to the game: survival, creative, adventure, and hardcore. While not all of the modes of the standard version are ideal for educational use, there is an educational version of the game called MinecraftEdu that was created for teachers by teachers.
During our visit, we observed a second grade class using the standard Minecraft‘s “creative mode” to collaboratively build an interactive world. The students were divided into four groups, with each group being assigned a time period to create within Minecraft together — but each at their own computer. When creating their worlds, they had to think about what to include and what to build, making sure to justify why they included what they did.
Here’s a little rundown of the time periods and what I saw:
- 1850: I learned from a couple students that they were currently reading the Little House on the Prairie books, which I believe was the inspiration for this time period. This world was complete with a dry goods store, pigs (and other farm animals) and other period appropriate creations. One student in this group was building a “dugout” house and confidently explained to me what it was and why it was there!
- 1950: The school we visited was built around1950, so students had to think about how their city was different in 1950. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of this time period.
- 2013: Students had to recreate Columbia in the present. I was given a “tour” of the school as it is today (in Minecraft, of course) and the local grocery store (I think it was a Gerbes). I believe I even spotted the local mall!
- Future: I didn’t get an exact date for this time period, but I think it may have been around 50 years in the future. According to their teacher, this was the time period the students had the hardest time with. I did see buildings equipped with “solar panels” (while Minecraft doesn’t have solar panels yet within the game, they designated materials to stand in for solar panels) and other evidence of a future of renewable energy, giving you an idea of how this project is getting their mental wheels turning.
Watching the engagement in this classroom was amazing — the students enjoyed what they were doing and, based on my conversations with them, they were definitely practicing some higher-level thinking. This doesn’t mean there were no hitches. At times, it seemed difficult to get them to stop building in their worlds. Despite these minor issues, I could really see the future of this software having a place in education. While I’m not sure about it being the “ultimate tool”, Minecraft is proving to be a unique and rewarding addition to the classroom.
This is just one way of how Minecraft is being used with students. Check out MinecraftEdu‘s Real-world Example page to see more great ways this software is already being used in the classroom.
What are your thoughts on Minecraft as the “Ultimate Education Tool”? In what ways do you see yourself using Minecraft with your students?
[This post was provided by Zoë Hyatt, an instructional developer for the eMINTS National Center and eLearning for Educators.]