My conversion from Minecraft grinch to supporter

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Monday, January 6, 2014

My conversion from Minecraft grinch to supporter

My conversion from Minecraft grinch to supporter

Minecraft was created as a commercial video game, but teachers have adapted it for educational purposes. I can see its vast potential now, even though I was a Mincraft grinch at first. (Screenshot from Wonderful World of Humanities)

I got Minecraft blocked at my school a couple years ago.

Now, I wish I hadn’t.

Minecraft is a “sandbox” game, where players are given a world and can turn it into anything they want.

They can build or destroy. They can dig caverns or create tall monuments. They can create for the sake of creating, or in survival mode they can make a world that must sustain them.

One day, I found a few students making worlds on the computers in my homeroom class. One had made an elaborate building that had taken hours of work.

I was amazed. Impressed. They were creating, learning, developing their creativity — and on their own time.

So what did I do? Being a new teacher at my school and wanting to do “the right thing”, I sent an email to the technology director. It was one of those “I didn’t know if you realized, but …” type of emails.

Minecraft was blocked within the next few days. My students were frustrated — probably at least partially at me — and may have abandoned their virtual construction efforts.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I see Minecraft in a totally different light now. I wish I had thought outside the box and realized the potential this game has.

There’s an entire movement in education to use Minecraft to teach. Teachers have used it to teach elementary school and digital literacy, as well as a lunchtime activity.

In fact, one teacher created a huge Minecraft world where students could study ancient history, called “Wonderful World of Humanities”. Here’s a video overview of it:

Now, I’ve downloaded and installed a copy of Minecraft on my iPad for my children (4, 6 and almost 8 years old) to play with. It has been fun to watch them learn about the game and pick up some of those lessons they don’t learn in a traditional classroom. In just a few weeks, here are a couple of observations:

  • The first day we downloaded it, one of their first lessons was that they could dig deep holes and tunnels. They also learned that sometimes there’s no easy way to get yourself out of the deep hole you dig. (I think there’s an important figurative lesson there.)
  • They have recently learned that fire and lava melt ice. It has been fun to watch them create using these new tools. My daughter decided she wanted to build a volcano and fill it with lava.
  • They added animals to their worlds and learned that if you have sheep, you can shear them and harvest their wool.

I know that these discoveries are pretty basic ones, but I really like the process. They have learned through trial and error and through their own curiosity how this virtual world works. It has sparked their creativity. They have dreamed up things they wanted to build and have tried it out.

I like where this is going. Hopefully Minecraft will supplant Temple Run 2 as my son’s new favorite game.

I still can’t envision how I could teach Spanish efficiently to my high school students using Minecraft. But I certainly think it has potential. I wish I had seen that potential just a few years ago.

I’m reformed. I’m officially a convert.

Have you used Minecraft in class? What is your opinion about using it in an educational setting? Share your ideas in a comment below!

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  • Karen Hartley says:

    Hi Matt,
    I used MinecraftEdu in my classroom with my 3-4 kids. They loved it! Together they collaborated on building a town together. The creativity, communication and learning from each was amazing. We also incorporated area and perimeter into the activity.

  • Chris Johnson says:

    I’m a huge fan of Minecraft and I have been working hard to use it in class. I use it to simulate aspects of history and allow students to time travel back to the past. For example, I have students build and develop a feudal manor within the game where they are responsible for self government, farming, construction, and protection. They are assigned classes within the feudal system and have to role play that position as part of the activity. This year, I used Minecraft in my US History class in the colonial unit. Students were given a written journal entry describing the colony of Jamestown in 1607 and were tasked with building it to best match the description of this primary source. It worked very well and I am hoping to repeat it next year.

  • Dan says:

    I’m with you. I also have an 8, 6 and 4 year old that are fanatics – at least the older two, who are boys. Outside of the amount of time they’d play if left to their own devices, I haven’t had much of an issue. In fact, I’ve been really encouraged by their new hobby. The new problem I have however is my 8 year old son has taken to network play with groups of strangers and is engaging in death matches. This is not OK with me, at least for his age. I’m monitoring and not allowing network play for this and safety reasons, but he’s resourceful. Like most gaming and social activity online, parents need to remain plugged in to what their kids are doing. Unfortunately, Minecraft is no exception.

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