|Thunder Mountain Railroad earlier this week.|
Why Minecraft? It is a question I often get. I have to admit that if I were creating a list of digital learning tools six months ago Minecraft likely would not have made that list. However, since the start of the school year I have witnessed an explosion of interest in using this program from both teachers and kids. Students are using Minecaft at home to develop book trailers, while second grade students at Star are using Minecraft to collaboratively develop urban, suburban, and rural communities. Both Star Academy and the main campus have two active Minecraft clubs where students are creating online communities while also building foundational programming and sequencing skills. However, one of the most interesting uses of Minecraft is occurring at PACT.
This fall Tracy Chatters has been teaching a seven week American Icons Minecraft enrichment workshop for 2nd-8th grade students. Each week students are given an American icon they have to research and use the information they learn construct a replica. The first week started off relatively easy with students independently building their own versions of the Washington Monument. However, as the weeks have progressed the challenges have increased. Last week for example, students studied the Gold Rush and used the information they learned to collaboratively build a Gold Rush era community complete with mines, stores, and log cabins. This week the group is using a mix of history, mathematics, computer logic, and conceptual physics to collaboratively re-create Disneyland.
While the passionate student use of Minecraft has been interesting, what has been more fascinating to observe is the simultaneous development of digital citizenship and distance learning skills occurring within the course. The students have never met face-to-face. Instead they are using the chat feature within Minecraft, along with occasional emails and Skype sessions to teach each other building skills. Tracy did not teach them how to do this. The students connected on their own and in many cases took on responsibilities. For example, during the first assignment two middle school students jumped in and showed other students how to collect resources and purchase items in a virtual store.
One of the most important lessons in this course has been the lessons for parents and students in online behavior and personalities. When student's work is "griefed" (Minecraft lingo for broken or destroyed), they are understandably frustrated and angry. However, working in an entirely virtual world has allowed us to teach important lessons in digital citizenship and responsibility. While many of our students would never walk up and rip a classmate’s drawing in a classroom, they have struggled with the idea that a virtual building requires the same level of ethics, respect and trust as tangible artwork. This has led to many conversations and lessons that integrity and ethics are what you do when nobody is watching. The person you are in a virtual world should be a better version of the you in person, so that others may grow to trust you and want to work with you.
This is an important lesson, as the 21st century is full of opportunities for online collaboration and work assignments in which you may never meet your colleagues and coworkers in person. Using Minecraft as both the academic and social learning platform, Tracy and her PACT students have created a high interest, low risk opportunity for students to develop their online ethics and begin to understand the consequences, risks and rewards of the choices they make in a virtual setting.