Page and I took advantage of an annual 4-5 tradition and turned Special Classes into a lab experiment. Each year the students of 4-5 choose to spend the day engaged in a class that can range from bowling to paper airplane crafting, mozzarella cheese making to a food walk. This year we floated the idea of Minecraft EDU. Minecraft is a sandbox game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. The creative and building aspects of Minecraft allow players to build freely and collaboratively. The EDU version allows us to create a peaceful world contained in a server available only to the Waynflete community. Needless to say, the nine and ten year olds were very excited. Page and I wanted to see how the "craft your own" world would work in a classroom. After 3.5 hours I was blown away by what I saw.
Of course, the skills varied. We had students who have been crafting every night for the past few years to students who were experiencing it for the first time. As is the case in all scholastic endeavors, we had a range of abilities. This dynamic provided a need for students to engage in positive teamwork & collaboration. I was very impressed with how the "gaming" situation allowed students to practice the skills we stress as part of our social curriculum. The framework of the game enables students to access problem solving strategies. Because of the creative nature of the game all students have something to contribute and every student needs help from their peers. Students were so eager to help and share their expertise and ideas that the students who had never played before were crafting in no time. Due to the collaboration, the learning curve was not as steep as I expected. The most novice was building a two-story house with stairs and a working train in the living room. By the end of our experiment, every student was begininning to walk away from their computers to have actual conversations based on the creations on the screen. Without a doubt, every student felt a great sense of pride in their work.
However, there were some moments that gave me pause. The experienced players, who play at home, were eager to "set traps" for their peers even though they knew our world was peaceful. Is this indicative of the normal shenanigans of their age group or a connection with the wilder game available on line? In the same vein, occasional references to blowing things up, even though the world was set to peaceful, popped up and showed me that we would need to build common expectations and a shared vocabulary before integrating this into the curriculum. Of course, that would be true with any new activity. I was not surprised, but it is worth noting, that, at first, students were tied to their computer. Even though peers were a few feet away they would shout or try to communicate through the chat option. Thankfully, students began to understand they could walk to a classmate and talk directly to them.
After the initial tutorials and exploration we paused the class and asked the students to brainstorm how Minecraft could be used in an education setting. They came up with some very interesting ideas:
-Create an Underground Railroad simulation
-Build safe houses
(We just wrapped up a slaver/civil rights unit in history)
-Build a new school
-Use it as math. We could measure and work with perimeter and area.
-We could turn our Dream House Project into 3D
For some the question may be how can a game connect to our work in school? I am excited by what I saw and do see Minecraft as an opportunity to make our curriculum come to life. A student, with a passion, will learn more on their own in one hour than a disengaged student in a week's worth of classes. Minecraft may be one of many tools students can utilize to share their understanding of topic or concept.
Minecraft resource scooped by @MaineSchoolTech