Can popular video games actually be used as educational games? With gamification being all the rage, it’s not such a far-fetched idea. Take Minecraft, which has over 100 million users. Over 3000 schools around the world use it for teaching (200 in the UK). Why not join them? Read on for a few things you need to know to get started.
What is Minecraft?
The goal of Minecraft is simple – students create structures in a 3D environment (think of it as virtual Lego). Minecraft differs from other video games not only in its appearance (the graphics are not particularly flashy) but because the objective is to construct stuff rather than destroy stuff.
What makes Minecraft particularly suited to educational use is its open environment – it’s a “sandbox” or “free-roam” game. From an teaching point of view, it is not subject-specific – in fact, there are no rules whatsoever. Arryn Groom, a homeschooling parent, uses Minecraft as a tool to engage her kids across a range of subjects: “You have different options, different subjects (such as) The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. You watch videos, take quizzes, do building….”
This “open-world” nature means unlimited pedagogical possibilities, but also means that teachers must have clear teaching objectives before students use Minecraft in the classroom. Luckily, there are resources available to guide teachers.
Use the MineCraft.Edu Resource: Built by Teachers for Teachers
The first (highly-recommended) stop for educators is MinecraftEdu. They offer not only a customised version (a “school-ready remix”) of Minecraft specifically for classroom use, but a wealth of resources on how to use the game with students.
For example, the main foundation of all Minecraft activities is the existence of a “world”. MinecraftEdu saves you the trouble of building an educational world from scratch with a bank of worlds that you can easily download.
A Few Ways that Teachers Can Use Minecraft for Learning
Even just playing on Minecraft (without a lesson plan) can improve visual-spatial skills since students are working with objects in space to create structures. And if students are working together to build structures, they learn how to collaborate. Here are a few, more specific, suggestions on using Minecraft in lessons…
Do you want a creative and engaging way of improving reading comprehension? Why not facilitate visualisation with Minecraft? Students can reconstruct settings and scenes from what they are reading to make sure that they understand the text.
Maths: Proportion and Ratio
Want students to learn about ratio and proportion without getting bored? Minecraft makes it easy for them to build scale models.
Do you want students to see replicas of ancient buildings? Simply import the structures into Minecraft and let students “walk around” and explore!
Resourcefulness While Learning a Subject
You can “gamify” subjects by getting students to play in “survival mode”. This means that students must account for resources, hunger, tools and a whole lot more while building their world.
Bridging the Gap: Minecraft & SEN Students
Minecraft’s proven ability to bridge gaps between different learners makes it a powerful addition to the existing benefits of tablets for SEN students. Researchers are looking at how students with Autism Spectrum Disorder can improve their social skills through learning in 3D virtual environments. Laura McKenna, a former professor and mother of an autistic child, feels that schools should let kids play Minecraft at least once a week since “nothing equalizes autistic and typical kids better than Minecraft”.
Minecraft is also proving extremely beneficial for disaffected students – who may simply be easily bored. The BBC recently reported on a UK school that uses Minecraft for its Year 7 English classes. The school made it a point to prioritize boys who showed a lack of interest in traditional literacy teaching. Their teacher notes how once these kids started using Minecraft, they were turning out pieces of writing that were “just incredible”.
Do you use Minecraft in the classroom? Share your experiences below!