Can Minecraft really be used as an effective tool to use in teaching? Absolutely! My grade 3 class just completed creating structures in Minecraft as part of our science unit. I should preface this post with the point that I know and still know very little when it comes to playing Minecraft. I have played it on occasion but I just can’t seem to get into it. My students on the other hand love Minecraft and are constantly buying books and talking about it. I’ve also seen examples and read about teachers integrating gaming into their educational programs with success so I decided to give it a try with our structures unit in Science. From the moment I mentioned the ideas the students were completely engaged! In fact, I have never seen my students more excited to come to school and work on an activity.
Some parameters that I set are that students were creating in creative and peaceful mode. This can easily be changed from the menu bar at the start of the program. As well, some students got comfortable with the program as a few had never really played Minecraft before. I equate this to when you bring out new math maninpulatives with students and you give them some time to just play and then get down to business. What struck me as interesting is how quickly these students caught on, much faster that I did. It really speaks to this generation of students growing up in a digital age.
What I liked about this project is how the power dynamics changed. I was no longer the specialist or expert in the classroom. In an ideal world I would have spent more time really familiarizing myself with Minecraft. However, the reality was that I had nor the time nor the interest, to be honest, to really do so. Instead, I took a stance as a co-learner with the students and put a handful of students (who typically don’t take the lead), the opportunity to do so. When a students said “Miss, I flooded my structure accidentally what do I do?” I confidently said “I don’t know, ask Jennifer she will know”. Then I sat and watched how Jennifer helped the student fix the problem. This is something that I have become comfortable with doing in my classroom and that I encourage educators to do: take risks and give up control in your classroom. My experience is that it is terrifying to start but the results are powerful.
To begin this project, I handed out this planning sheet for students to begin planning out their structures from a science perspective. We also created success criteria on our projects (see video for copy). I gave formative feedback as they worked and then I began to realize that I needed to go back and do some scaffolding. So we began talking about ways to strengthen our structures and we made a list of vocabulary that I posted while the students worked. This helped improve the communication aspect of the project and keep them focused on the science.
The students then took a screen shot of their structures from the outside and communicated about their structures, which they posted on their blogs. I also had them reflect on their structures and think about what they could have done differently. For a look at our projects, visit our classroom blog and scroll down and click on the students individual blogs.
As well, since we were covering perimeter I had the students who finished early start creating fences around their structures and then calculate the perimeter. From my perspective, this project was amazing! I have never seen my students more engaged, especially some of the students who are hard to hook or require a little more motivation. I encourage you to give it a try. How have you used gaming or Minecraft in your program?