Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thinking through Minecraft in the classroom

A computer teacher solicited help in Google + today, asking how she might use Minecraft for instruction, writing,

As a computer teacher, I have been getting on my students for playing Minecraft when they should be working on their classroom projects. They will often come up with creative ideas to somehow incorporate it into their project. I have let a couple of students build websites around the use of this game. I have decided it is time to learn more about Minecraft and the potential uses in education.

She created a site to solicit, then synthesize the help she gets from the online community. 

  I'm interested in the responses she gets from teachers as well as students. I've asked students before. I still return to their answers regularly when I think about the implications for gaming on teaching and learning. Some boys I worked with at a writing camp this last summer told me that they think math teachers could use Minecraft because of the factoring involved in crafting resources in the game. They also said  that they think the game is all about geometry.

  One boy was particularly articulate, saying Minecraft allows students to think creatively and collaboratively, and arguing that teachers should give 20 minute Minecraft breaks so students would reconnect with a "free feeling of creativity." It also, he claimed, remind students to work together. (I remember his comments clearly because I voice recorded my informal interview with him.) 

Here's what I submitted to her site: 
I'm planning to teach an enrichment summer course this June using Minecraft.  I want to look carefully with students at the different texts and the research skills that players use to figure out the game. I had a student tell me once that before he ever played Minecraft, he read about it online and watched tutorials to the point where he felt fluent, then he began to play. When I began to play myself, I found that I leaned heavily on the wiki and user-generated YouTube tutorials for support. Every question I had when I was stuck playing the game ended up as a Google search or another return to the wiki. Especially in YouTube, gamers with a need to know have to evaluate the strength of the sources they turn to. Five-minute, focused tutorials are best for me, and I rarely watch anything 10 minutes in length.  The supports gamers use in order to learn Minecraft are rich opportunities to identify and support online research processes.

Here's a great example: I bookmarked this tutorial that I used when learning to work with circuits in Minecraft.  Every time I return to it, I'm struck by the qualities of good instruction and planning that went into it. I think this type of user-generated content is an example of the positive literacy skills that youth are immersed in when viewing and creating tutorials. Minecraft tutorials are great ways to highlight strong presentation skills and to have students teach students.  

What I didn't say in my form response to her question was that teachers interested in capitalizing on students' interest in this wildly popular sandbox game ought to log a few hours playing the game to generate their own insights and ideas about how it might fit in instruction.  In much the same way language arts teachers read the hottest children's and YA titles to better understand students' interests, Minecraft's popularity and potential is deserving of teachers' time and inquiry. See what all the fuss is about. 


  1. I'm a teacher at Da Vinci Innovation Academy in Hawthorne, CA and I began using Minecraft in my project-based classroom this year. I started using it to teach Electrical Engineering, but soon it spread to other classes and classrooms. Check out my blog about what we're doing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this your blog. Your students' creations in the server are cool. I hope you keep writing about your teaching since your experiment shows how fruitful it has been for you to follow a student's lead and re-vision your instruction.

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