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Minecraft: Make Learning a Blast

One middle-school teacher describes how he has mined the blockbuster game for equally popular classroom lessons.

Minecraft is one of the world’s most popular games — exceeding 100 million registered users last year — and has found its way into thousands of classrooms around the globe. Created by Markus “Notch” Persson in 2010, the game puts its players into a digital sandbox, a unique, blocky world filled with natural resources — and no instructions.

As they roam, players “mine” raw materials by breaking blocks, and then use recipes and tools to “craft” resources that they can use for exploration and protection in their new world.

Students use command blocks like these to write medieval Japanese poetry.

In schools, most educators are using a version known as MinecraftEdu, made specifically for educators to deploy in classrooms. It looks very much like the regular Minecraft that many of our students play each day at home, but it includes special tools and blocks that allow educators to control as much or as little of the game as necessary to support lesson objectives. Since its launch in 2011, more than 6,000 schools in more than 40 countries have registered to use it in their classrooms.

Those classrooms include mine — a 7th-grade world history classroom in Monterey County, California, where my students have built and explored digital worlds that engage them in project-based history and social studies lessons. But across the globe, many other student-driven Minecraft worlds —Viking worlds, rainforests, even a Swiss Family Robinson-style island — represent a broad range of curriculum and content areas.

After a Viking raid, students must interview characters like Cecily to discover details.

Students are learning about such STEM fields as geology, physics, and biology by creating models of plate tectonics, quantum behavior, and animal cells. They’re applying their understanding of mathematical concepts by using the game’s one cubic meter blocks to measure area, perimeter, and volume, as well as to demonstrate ratios and proportions, fractions, decimals, and percentages. They collect data and graph it in the game.

Minecraft also is proving to be a major force for literacy instruction. Popular and original poems, children’s stories, and young adult novels are being recreated and played out scene by scene in Minecraft. Students are constructing their own ways to demonstrate understanding of setting, plot, theme, and conflict.

Sample Classroom Units Using Minecraft

Japanese Poetry and Minecraft - Teach medieval Japanese history concepts while emphasizing the role of social structure through both visual and written narrative.

Literacy and the Historical Narrative - Address literacy through Minecraft and motivate students to read for understanding and enjoyment and write serious and highly creative narratives about their experiences with medieval history. 

 

Meanwhile, my colleagues in social science and history have discovered that historical figures can come alive in Minecraft and interact with our students in ways traditional textbooks cannot. Students can role-play characters from history or place themselves in ancient Greece, medieval China, or on a Civil War battlefield and then reflect on their adventures through journal writing and interactions with each other.

While playing Minecraft, students are deeply engaged in active and creative problem-solving, collaboration, and rich content creation.With more and more classrooms exploring ways Minecraft can be used to support learning goals, the future appears bright. This is especially true as schools begin to put their Minecraft servers online and invite other classrooms to join their students in collaborative world building activities.

If you are looking to learn more about how Minecraft could be used in your classroom, ask the experts, including your colleagues who blog and participate in the Minecraft Teacher Google Group. Offer your students the chance to brainstorm and explore ways in which they could use the game to demonstrate their learning and join in the conversation.


John is a Google Certified Teacher and featured presenter at conferences and workshops around the country. He loves teaching 21st century skills to his students and his passions include: student blogging, Minecraft in the classroom, photography, Apple and Google. John is a contributor to Minecraft in the Classroom, a Peachpit Press book published in October 2014. He blogs at minecraft.edtecworks.com/ 

Shining Sun – Student-created Tanka Poem in Minecraft

Shining Sun by Cindy from John Miller on Vimeo.


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