by Victoria Zelvin. Not too long ago, I briefly touched on some video games that are already making a difference in classrooms. Included in that list was the very popular game Minecraft, which is being used as a teaching tool already. The very popular game is being extensively described as a creativity engine, or video game Legos, but what does it really offer? How does Minecraft work? How can Minecraft be utilized as a tool in the classroom, in tandem with other lessons?
Minecraft thrives on exploration and creativity, but most of all it is a game that thrives on projects. When playing alone, it is best to give yourself a project — for example, building a house — or some type of goal to strive towards. The game is a creativity engine at it’s core, and utilizes several different game types in play. In Survival Mode, the player is spawned without any tools or direction. It is daytime, and nighttime is coming. Nighttime will bring monsters — such as Zombies, Creepers, Spiders, and more — that will attack, unless you have a well lit, fortified area to call your own. Many players first step in Survival mode is to build a house for themselves, to protect themselves from the elements and monsters. There is also a Hardcore setting to Survival Mode, which utilizes the “one life” policy. If a player is killed in Minecraft, then that game is over, whereas a normal death in Survival Mode would mean the player loses all their items (unless they can get back to where they died, quickly, and recover them). In Creative Mode, the player doesn’t have to worry about monsters. The player can fly, summon any crafting item to them at will, and build to their heart’s content. Some use this mode to build elaborate castles, or massively fortified villages, or even rollercoasters. The possibilities are only limited by imagination.
What does all this mean for teachers and educators? Teachers and educators can go in and custom create worlds with built in goals; for example, what type of metal is best to use as a pickaxe? Why does the gold pickaxe break so easily? By building up a world for students to thrive and play in, educators can utilize Minecraft’s natural rhythms to foster directed learning.
MinecraftEdu offers many resources to the skeptical or perhaps overwhelmed to help them get started. On his official website, The Minecraft Teacher, computer teacher Joel Levin chronicles his use of Minecraft in his classroom, as well as offering ideas, mods, and other support for teachers looking to use Minecraft in their classroom. In addition, Mr. Levin is the co-owner of TeacherGaming LLC, whose innovative vision was responsible for the development of MinecraftEdu. His Youtube account, the MinecraftTeachr, has a series of great introduction videos that can help teachers and educators get started.
“What happens when we give students an alternate reality in which to play, experiment, create, collaborate — and yes — sometimes make a hot mess of failure?” asks Diane Main, the Assistant Director of Instructional Techology (Upper School) at the Harker School in San Jose, California. The short answer: “Thrive.” These games are things that students already have access to, and are already teaching themselves with. Whether it is basic coding, to learn how to mod (mod = “modify code”) in items that they desire but cannot build, or simply researching how to build bigger and better items, students are already utilizing these resources. Mojang, the developers, have been very open about the potential use of their game as a teaching tool, and are working with organizations like MinecraftEdu to make it a reality.
Below, there is a video detailing some practical applications of creating your own worlds in Minecraft. This world, called “Foodcraft,” was created by TeacherGaming in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History. In it, students explored and learned about the growth of an international trading system, supply vs demand, and many other things. It is just one creative example of the myriad of ways that Minecraft can be used in the classroom as an innovative teaching tool.