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Making Learning a Blasssst!

How to Use Minecraft in the Classroom

By John Miller


With more than 100 million registered users last year, Minecraft—a digital game that puts players into a unique blocky world filled with natural resources and no instruction—has found its way into thousands of classrooms around the globe.

Created by Markus “Notch” Persson in 2010, the game requires roaming players to “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.

Most educators use a version of the game called MinecraftEdu, which 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.

Count my seventh-grade world history classroom among them. My students have built and explored digital worlds that engage them in project-based history lessons. But across the globe, many other student-driven Minecraft worlds—Viking villages, rainforests, even a Swiss Family Robinson-style island—represent a broad range of curriculum and content areas.

Students are learning about STEM fields like geology or biology by creating models of plate tectonics and animal cells, and practicing mathematical concepts by using the game’s one cubic meter blocks to measure area or perimeter, and to demonstrate ratios, fractions, percentages, and more. While playing the game, they may collect data and graph it.

Minecraft also has become a major force for literacy instruction. Popular and original poems, children’s stories, and young adult novels are recreated and played out scene by scene. And students construct their own ways to demonstrate understanding of setting, plot, theme, and conflict.

Meanwhile, my colleagues have discovered that historical figures can come alive in Minecraft and interact with our students in ways traditional textbooks cannot. Students can role-play historic characters 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 engage in active and creative problem solving, collaboration, and rich content creation. With the number of educators exploring ways to use the game 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.

To learn more about using Minecraft in your classroom, ask your colleagues who blog and participate in the Minecraft Teacher Google Group. And bring your students into the conversation by giving them the chance to brainstorm and explore ways they could use the game to demonstrate their learning.

John Miller teaches at Chalone Peaks Middle School in King City, Calif. He is a Google Certified Teacher and featured presenter at conferences and workshops nationwide. 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. Check his blogs here.

Check Out These Sample Minecraft Units

Japanese Poetry and Minecraft

This school year, I created a unit to teach medieval Japanese history concepts that emphasize the role of social structure through visual and written narrative. As always I designed the lesson with the primary goal of addressing my students’ prevalent reading and writing deficiencies.

Once the background lesson for the unit had been completed, I asked my students to choose and then research the lifestyle and role of a citizen selected from one of the following hierarchical classes:

  • Kuge Class— Emperor, Shogun
  • Buke Class—Daimyos (Lords), Hatamotos, Samurai
  • Heimin Class—peasants, artisans, merchants, monks, thieves
  • Eta Class—butchers, undertakers, dung haulers, ninja (not the Hollywood version)

Next, they each wrote a poem from the perspective of that citizen. During the medieval period, tanka poems were very popular. Similar to haiku, syllables for tanka were important. The syllabic pattern for tanka in Japanese is 5-7-5-7-7. Tanka poems place emphasis on the environment and emotions—a natural bridge between poetic verse and model landscapes in Minecraft.

Following the completion of their poems, students asked to create a visualization of it in Minecraft. They modified the landscape to fit their poems, adding features such as bridges, meadows, and farms.

Next, they used a special block in Minecraft known as a command block. When students stepped on the block, it displayed a line from their poem. To complete the project, they placed five hidden command blocks along a pathway through the environment they designed. We were able to spend a wonderful day strolling through each student’s poem and learning about medieval Japanese culture.

Literacy and the Historical Narrative

I’m working on a model that addresses literacy through Minecraft, which is motivating my students to read for understanding and enjoyment and write serious and highly creative narratives about their experiences with medieval history.
Students receive background on medieval European history. Next, we close read and annotate a short and original story that includes characters and dialogue from the time period.

After that, students explore the scene in Minecraft, and interact with characters they are familiar with and new characters with different points of view. They record what they see and hear in their Minecraft journals.

After we complete several vignettes like this, students construct their own understanding of how the scenes, and history, unfolded through experiencing it. Each student is currently writing a “historical novel,” which they will publish at the end of the year.


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