An older crowd may look at a Minecraft game in action and wonder if it is a spin-off of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" music video. Built as a 16-bit sandbox (or "free-roaming") game, Minecraft's crude graphics call Legos to mind. With few rules to restrict players, characters wander in a virtual land to place and break blocks. While there is a survival mode with zombies and other dangers, the game's creative mode inspires teaching opportunities.
Developed in 2009 by Swedish game designer, Markus Persson (known by serious gamers as "Notch"), Minecraft is ever-evolving. Multiple devices including Xbox, PlayStation, and many cell phone operating systems can be used to play the game. More than 22 million copies have been sold for use on PC and Mac computers alone (Minecraft.net). Its mass appeal has inspired infinite modifications (or "mods") to the game, including a version for schools that was made by teachers (MinecraftEdu.com). Minecraft offers students a chance to create, explore, and collaborate.
Some Minecraft mods are prebuilt worlds. Students can wander through ancient civilizations or renowned structures such as the Eiffel Tower. An activity such as this is perfect for introducing new content in a social studies class or for learning how to navigate Minecraft's interface, but students will probably be eager to engage more deeply with the game. Whether students play alone or interact with classmates in the virtual reality, Minecraft provides ample opportunities to practice spatial reasoning and construction skills while stressing the importance of planning.
Minecraft lessons are often cross-curricular. Those building a structure will apply mathematics skills. Commonly, students use Minecraft to construct scale models of famous works of architecture. To do so successfully requires applied knowledge of ratio and proportion skills. The same skills may come in handy for project-based learning in courses beyond math.
Language arts teachers use Minecraft, too. In these courses, students demonstrate their reading comprehension by playing the game. Aside from reconstructing a story's setting, Minecraft characters can reenact scenes. Similarly, the game can be used as a way for making predictions about a story's future plot events. Collaboration between students is encouraged, but it happens naturally as learners work with one another to solve problems requiring critical thinking.
Collaboration in this way has real-world applications. At a school in Stockholm, Sweden, where Minecraft education is mandatory, students learn about a city's infrastructure. Not only do they plan a virtual city's public works, but they also solve environmental problems posed by the game. An activity such as this helps students connect their classroom learning with practical applications. Students interested in a STEM-related field can also learn a basic computer programming code: Lua.
Indeed, communication between students plays an essential role in the success of Minecraft efforts. Of course, when students are playing together in class, one can expect oral communication to take place. The game itself also allows players to communicate on the screen in a way that is similar to texting or using instant messaging. Foreign language teachers see this as another opportunity for students to practice the language they are learning. It is worth noting that some teachers make interesting observations in students with autism and other learning disabilities when engaged with Minecraft. According to some reports, when these students become characters in the game, the playing field is leveled as they have capabilities more equal to their peers.
At this point in time, no published research exists for the effects Minecraft has on students. Studies have been conducted on other video games, however. Some findings indicate that playing video games may improve cognitive functions such as hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills. One thing Minecraft can surely do is teach young people of their responsibilities while online.
As more devices enter our classrooms, we recognize the dangers the internet can bring. Versions of Minecraft can be played with strangers and friends anywhere, anytime. The ability to communicate online puts children in a position where they may interact with strangers or face being bullied by someone they may know. There is no better place than the classroom for kids to learn about digital citizenship, netiquette, and online dangers. Minecraft is yet another way teachers can begin conversations about safety and responsibility.
Schools interested in bringing Minecraft to their classrooms should begin by researching at MinecraftEdu.com. Here, you will learn about discounted licensing rates for schools and hosting service options that allow students to interact with each other through Minecraft. Schools are given a custom education edition of the game that includes special features for classroom use.