Make Your Lessons Epic with Minecraft

By September 15, 2016Reading response

Discovering ideas for using Minecraft in the classroom is one of my goals this semester and one I’m really excited about. But let’s face it, it’s a game. How do we justify making it part of the school day? For today’s blog I’m examining a chapter in Teachercraft by Seann Dikkers (2015), Associate Professor of Education of Bethel University, who shares specific subject-level applications for Minecraft. Most of you know that Minecraft is an “sandbox” platform where players can build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world. Anything can be built in Minecraft—cities, organs, pyramids, bodies of water, land forms and artifacts. You are only limited by your imagination. One student even built a giant cell model that could be walked through like a maze. And the remarkable thing about this is its share factor—anything created can be digitally shared or incorporated into a larger learning activity.

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A Minecraft Digestive System Science Project

Minecraft is designed for three distinct activities mainly. There are areas for seeing, areas for particular tasks, and areas for student building. Dikkers (2015) says this mix allows for different play styles, but also allows teachers to “nudge” players in different directions within a diverse learning environment. A science teacher decided to capitalize on this when he wanted to teach about neurotransmitters with redstone—a power source within the game—by setting up a room to demonstrate how the red energy cross over synapses. This same teacher also created a game where students role play cells and then set them on fire (in the game), making the player cells run around. The teacher would go on to explain that when cells are heated up, they move around really fast too. It became a great show-and-tell science “story” experience. Kids would then build their own Minecraft labs demos to show biologic processes (Dikkers, 2015, p. 98).

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Artificial Brain Neurons

Sometimes unexpected learning outcomes occur when mixing human interaction in a digital story world. For example, one teacher decided to create a lesson on European exploration that ended up showing the darker side of human nature in his class. First he built an “open territory” where his students were able to roam freely. It was their job to find available resources and to build their colonies with. Then as the territory expanded, he would unlock more areas for new resources, like oceans to allow players to build boats and fish for food. But he found that when he unlocked these new lands with automated non-player characters in villages, his students would ruthlessly pillage the villages for hard to win resources. The story ended up playing in a more personal way that opened up conversation about European-Native American interactions. The teacher was able to connect real history to their Minecraft story that resulted in one of the most powerful history lessons all year (Dikkers, 2015, p. 96).

Language Arts holds the most exciting prospects for me. The obvious first would be creating story worlds based on novels read in and outside of class. Who wouldn’t want to reconstruct Hogwarts or Middle Earth for their book share? One class recreated scenes from district 12 while studying The Hunger Games. Before we might have constructed dioramas or flip books, but with Minecraft we have a new medium for visual presentation previously not in existence.

Creating a context for stories in Minecraft is another way to build a launch pad for writing. Dikkers (2015) describes that in digital games “students can experience great adventures, save the world, or play out very real dramas with fellow players” (p.103). This becomes a safe way for students to explore while fueling their imaginations that can be expressed in blogging, travel journals, memoirs, archiving history, or ethnographic work in multiplayer worlds (p. 104). Another dimension is added with the multiplayer format as students can invite friends into their narratives. This creates more interactivity, as well as adding an element of unpredictability to the story line. We can’t control what our friends will do and say, and this just adds to the variety and enjoyment.

Minas Tirith Replica from Lord of the Rings

Do you want to reconstruct Revolutionary War battles? You can. Want to build colonial Boston? Do it. One teacher moved his entire middle school math curriculum into the Minecraft world with phenomenal results. Your students can even engage together in a massive terraforming project and remake the geography of earth. The nice thing is you don’t have to build from scratch. There are many downloadable projects to help you get started like the Wonderful World of Humanities sites that have ancient civilizations pre-constructed and ready to use.

At the outset of my research, I find that Minecraft is more than just a game. It’s is a powerful, yet simple, flexible space that is naturally suited to the educational environment. Learning has never been more fun!

Other Minecraft websites to check out:

Mindrising Digital Storytelling

Minecraft Education

Ask A Tech Teacher About Minecraft

Minecraft Hour of Code

Links to Examples by Subject

Resources:
Images: http//:planetminecraft.com
Dikkers, S. (2015, January). How do teachers use minecraft inside the classroom?. In Teachercraft (pp. 93-107). ETC Press.

4 Comments

  • Nick says:

    Hey Lisa,
    Your blog post is awesome! I truly enjoy incorporating Mine Craft into my classroom because lets face it, it is impossible to hide from! The idea that children can visit each other virtually is impressive and my students love sharing their creative ideas with the class. The example of the European expiration is a genius idea and would really enable children to grasp empathy, compassion and, of course, history in a real tangible environment. This blog gives me so many ideas for future lessons, it never occurred to me to use this medium for student to create digital diagrams. It is exciting and refreshing to read that so many educators are finding creative ways to bring Mine Craft into the classroom.

  • Stephanie says:

    Hello Again, Lisa! I loved reading your review of this article. I have always embraced bringing gaming into the classroom as a way to engage my students in math, but Minecraft has never been one that I’ve been comfortable doing. Firstly, I have never really found a great way to justify using it in place of other tools like 3D printers and demos. As a casual player of it in my downtime, it can be time-consuming to play and not every body likes arranging small blocks one-by-one. Also, I find it difficult to make connections to Minecraft within my content to math (besides the obvious of geometry). Those are just a few of my many reasons integrating it into my math classes has been difficult. However, after reading your post, I realize that there is some great potential for other contents to use it to teach real-world simulations and empathy. I particularly enjoyed reading the part about how when students took advantage of villages by plundering them that the teacher connected this back to the conflicts between Natives and Europeans to teach the students a lesson on empathy. After reading your post and the article, my main wish would be to see more examples in which it can be incorporated into math in a useful way. After reading all of the other great content examples, I was left wanting ways to make math more interesting through Minecraft. (Posted on 9/18/16 @ 12:49 AM).

  • Heather Schelt says:

    Hi Lisa,
    This is great! I love Minecraft and think its a great tool to use in the classroom. I’ve used it to teach world history, but students were just recreating various historical sites. I really like the idea of teaching various concepts with the use of Minecraft. I am going to have to think of some ways to incorporate it into my STEM classroom this year. I love that you listed how Minecraft can be used in a variety of subjects and age groups. I know most people tend to think that Minecraft is something used by little kids, but I think your blog proves that it can be used throughout high school and middle school as well. You’ve really got me thinking on how I can incorporate it, nice job!

  • hani says:

    Hi Lisa,
    Very well analyzed work! I enjoyed reading your post. I agree that students can interact with their fellow classmates way better when they engage through game based learning. Minecraft seems very interesting. I think it would be great tool for collaborative assignments. I wonder what other online games can be effective and useful in classrooms.

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