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