Hold up! An article about the popular online game Minecraft in a portal for education??! Yes! It is common knowledge that games are a great way to engage students, and Minecraft is no exception. It can be used in the classroom in many different ways to help students use their knowledge in a practical way. It might look like a stretch, but Minecraft actually is a wonderful platform to achieve several standards of our charter, such as active real-life learning, technology emphasis, differential academic plans, and even high academic expectations!
Many educators have already used Minecraft in their classroom to make their units be both more concrete and dynamic. Here is a (small!) selection of videos showing what has been done with Minecraft in some content classes, but it can be used for cross-disciplinary units as well:
Social studies: house architecture in different societies, Ancient Egypt
Sciences: environmental issues, gravity and atmosphere
ELA: literacy (esp. for struggling readers), creating literary worlds,
Language acquisition: oral skills
NCS school culture: digital citizenship, students taking charge of their own learning,
Minecraft is even easily picked up by the youngest students, as shown by this blog post about a 1st and 2nd grade teacher: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2011/04/educational-building-blocks-how-minecraft-is-being-used-in-the-classroom/. So if you are interested in using Minecraft in your classes, let Joe Wood or me know!
I will finish with this testimony from two Young Adult Librarians in Connecticut explaining how they used Minecraft in their libraries and what they saw teens learn (bold is mine). Even if the setting was not exactly educational, you will see that their teens showed a large variety of skills that we want to encourage in our students, including collaboration, imagination, leadership, critical thinking, planning and decision making, responsibility, restraint, integrity, social justice and conflict resolution.
"Minecraft Programs in the Library; if you build it they will come.
By Erica Gauquier and Jessica Schneider
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is like a virtual and ongoing game of Legos. Players mine for necessary materials in order to thrive in the game. You simply move blocks and build upon them, gathering supplies as you go. [...] The game can get even more complicated if you are so inclined, allowing players to create their own modifications (mods), which leads to learning essential programming skills.
There is so much you can compare Minecraft to, and yet there is nothing quite like it. The basic need to hunt and gather is so primal and innate in humans that it just clicks with teens. The game is about survival and keeping watch over your property. That natural instinct to look after one's goods is not foreign to humans in everyday society. The critical thinking piece of the game is huge. Players are constantly faced with choices that need to be made. If you don't make good choices, it affects your chances for survival and affects your quality of life just the way it does in real life. Making good choices really is a constant struggle for adults and teens in their own lives on a daily basis.
Getting started with Minecraft in the library
While this was fun, we noticed that what the teens really wanted to do was play in a Minecraft world together. [...]
As with any society, there were, of course, problems. Some teens claimed their own corners of the world and refused to let others build there. Some teens actively "griefed" (a Minecraft term meaning destroyed or vandalized) other teens' creations. In this way the parallels between the Minecraft world and the real world are astounding, reflecting many of the social problems we face every day.
We witnessed amazing collaborations occurring among the players as well as an emerging sense of community and cooperation. Together, teens built a home base area on the server that included a library, a dock area, and a diving board among other things. [...] Teens in the room encourage each other to become more skilled within the game. They give advice when someone is stuck, and willingly share supplies and give directions when other players are lost or in need. They create signs throughout the world with helpful advice or instructions. [...]
We quickly realized we would need to recruit a group of mature and advanced teen Minecraft players to help us monitor the server. Since the players are the ones that know the most about the game, it just made sense that we should enlist their help to advise other players, and report abuses. [...]
As it turned out, letting thirteen year olds become moderators on the Minecraft server didn't exactly go as we planned. We bestowed a certain amount of responsibility and dependability on the teens. While it worked at first and certainly gave them confidence, they are, after all, younger teens. When they get mad at each other in real life, they take to the Minecraft server, using their privileges to wreak havoc on each other's houses. Their wrongdoings were brought to justice eventually, in a Minecraft court of law. The teens themselves suggested violators stand trial in front of a mock jury of their peers. The trail took place in a Minecraft, which is only appropriate since that's where all of the griefing took place. This taught the teens that just like in real life, they were accountable for their actions and any infractions would ultimately have consequences.
Rather than kicking them off of the server and banning them for bad behavior, they stood trial, learned a lesson and were welcome back after a period of time. This is the way you would teach children in real life, using actions and consequences. Minecraft is just another platform for us to use as a teachable moment when the opportunity should present itself. [...]
Minecraft and Summer reading
[...] Since this past summer was also the 2012 Summer Olympics, we thought it would be a perfect way to combine a great summer theme and a group activity centered around Minecraft.
Before the idea was even fully formed we mentioned it to one of the teens that regularly came to the library to play. A week later he announced that he and two other friends had already begun building their own OlympicMinecraft area. [...]
Our three designers appointed themselves referees, monitoring each event, advising teens who got stuck and keeping everything running smoothly. [...] The teens were really engaged and excited to participate. They rooted for each other and worked to help one another through each event. Without their help and interest in the game, this program could never have gone as smoothly as it did. This was further confirmation that by brining Minecraftinto our library we made the right choice.
Minecraft provices opportunities for amazing collaborative projects with low access barriers. Anyone that knows how to use a mouse and a keyboard can play the game. [...] The best part is this game has created a whole community of gamers who work to create amazing things together, helping each other regardless of where they live. [...]".