Every year, I seem to take on at least one new thing to try in the classroom. I’m definitely guilty of jumping into things with both feet – and sometimes, just sometimes, taking on a bit too much at once.
This year, I’m trying to limit myself to one “big” new thing. My school board just granted us access to Minecraft: Education Edition, so that’s where all of my creative energy seems to be going this year.
I can’t imagine there’s anyone left who doesn’t know what Minecraft is in a general sense. What you may not have considered previously is that Minecraft: Education Edition provides all kinds of really interesting opportunities for student learning in a highly engaging context.
I can’t say it’s been smooth sailing. Every time Minecraft gets an update, the game seems to be blocked on my board’s network again – which, this year in particular, can take a few weeks to get sorted out depending on how busy the IT department is. But the game itself is very easy to learn and runs on a wide variety of devices.
My students LOVE Minecraft. Every day, they ask if they’ll have some time to play. I’m quite familiar with the game as I’ve played the standard edition at home for a few years, but using it in the classroom is a brand new adventure.
Our first foray into the game involved working with a group to create a treehouse. It was a low-stress way to introduce students to the game without too many expectations. It also provided an opportunity to work in a bit of oral language, as students could then show their completed treehouse to the class and give everyone a tour.
I learned a few things quickly:
- If I host the game and then leave it running while I work with other students, my Minecraft students WILL create elaborate structures around me as a (harmless!) joke. I have now been encased in glass, built into a tree, had a hot tub built around me, and been set on fire multiple times (both by accident and on purpose).
- If I don’t provide clear guidelines for what they are doing, they will quickly throw something together that they think satisfies the requirements and then disappear, having gone off in search of treasure and discovery.
For our second big task, I had students design houses that would fit into 10×10 grids. I used one of the worlds built by the Minecraft team – called Starter Town for those interested – and showed the class the town we would be creating together. I assigned them each a plot of land in the world where they would build their house.
The world with our town in it also contains many other things to explore and discover. This week, I assigned them a scavenger hunt within the town and surrounding area. Not only does it encourage them to go off exploring and learn about in-game features, it also allows me to work in a bit of French reading, as they have to follow clues to know what to look for in the world.
Before I set them loose in the town to build their houses and explore, we discussed our digital community and what sorts of behaviours supported our community or hindered it. Students signed to acknowledge that they knew the expectations as members of the community.
My students are still hard at work building their houses, but they already have two dozen ideas for other things they think the town needs. When we finish, we plan to invite other classes in our school to visit our town and maybe do a scavenger hunt of their own. Eventually, we’d like to find some opportunities to collaborate with other classes in a shared world – we miss working with other classes in the school!
I’m really looking forward to finding more ways to integrate Minecraft into the classroom. If you’re also using Minecraft, what kinds of things are you doing with your students?