Marvellous Minecraft!

Minecraft. Once upon a time, this was a, or possibly ‘the’, bain of my teaching life.

Constantly asking students politely (and or sometimes yelling at them!) to ‘get off it’ during class time. Having students wanting to do nothing more than to “play” Minecraft each and every day. Even during break time. Engaging in the many discussions with parents about how to get their kids off the game at school, and home. The discussions with staff about how to combat the nonstop talk about the game amongst students and how to redirect their focus towards the class work that had been set. It was fair to say that it was intense. And somewhat still is…

It was not until 2010 that I first attended a Minecraft Workshop whilst attending the uLearn Conference in Christchurch, NZ, that I truly began to understand the game. Tony Richards, now a Business Development Executive at Apple, ran a great workshop introducing teachers to this world and how it could potentially be used to engage and educate. From that time on I have always had a go at the game and made some attempts, most feeble, at having students engage with it for an educational context from time to time.

Friday before last, I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘Minecraft for Education Teacher Starter Academy’. This was hosted at Microsoft HQ in Melbourne and led by Stephen Elford, a DET Digital Learning Coach and Minecraft Global Mentor.

The day was in its entirety an opportunity for us in attendance to learn the basics of the game, primarily the education edition, and discuss with others how we could best implement this back in our own settings.

We also discussed the differences between Gamification and Game-Based Learning. Two things, which to my surprise, most of those in the room had never heard of before. I have done a little bit of work over the years in this space and have always felt there is a dedicated place for GBL to be embedded into the education system.

A great video that was shared with us that outlines GBL is embedded below.

Another video that I have used in the past to support GBL is also embedded below;

It’s at this point that we need to be clear about the difference/s between what game Based Learning is and Gamification is as often the two are confused,

Gamification is where we would make the learning process, basically, a game. An example of this would be running a “Who Want’s to Be A Millionaire” style lesson whilst trying to reinforce learned concepts.

Games-Based Learning is where we are using a dedicated game as part of the learning process. Ie. Using Minecraft to have students demonstrate their learning and understandings through creating and making ‘things’ that demonstrate their knowledge. An example of this could be to have students recreate an indigenous fishing contraption/trap and explain how it works. As I had one of my students do.

Now for those who are unaware of this, our own Department of Education here in the great state of Victoria has been pushing quite hard FOR the use of Minecraft in schools. Stephen was part of the team, and was the key driver, in developing the “Mini Melbourne” world that all students can access and get in to. I have included this short story below…

Minecraft fans can virtually explore mini Melbourne

Millions of fans of the digital game Minecraft can now explore Melbourne like never before. A virtual mini Melbourne has been created to allow gamers and students to explore the city's past, present and future. www.7NEWS.com.au#7NEWS

Posted by 7NEWS Melbourne on Monday, 13 May 2019

Without delving too deep into the Mini Melbourne space, I have linked below the actual DET sites that can support you in knowing more about it. This is indeed worth a visit to find out more.

As DET, as mentioned, are pushing for Minecraft to be used quite heavily, with that has also came a wide range of resources and supports for DET teachers, however, there is no reason what so ever that the information that has been developed and shared cannot be used by the masses. Some of these great resources I have linked below.

As part of this push, students and staff in Vic DET school are able to download, free of charge, Minecraft Education Edition and use this at their peril in their schools. The foresight for this to be able to be undertaken and achieved makes access to the game, and therefore its use in classrooms across the state, outstanding. This access eliminates equity issues for the game itself. Mind you, devices of whatever description are still needed to play the game off. 

For a minute here, let’s assume that you’re reading this, whoever you are… ;), and are all for the use of Minecraft being used in schools. I would bet that for every one of you, there is also a naysayer who would disagree wholeheartedly! Case in point, when I linked the news story video the following comment appeared…

#ohmy

I hope that this person is not a teacher…

A highlight of the day that I attended was the many discussions that were had in discussing the use and application of such a “game”. Where could it be used? How? In what curriculum areas? With what outcomes? Etc…

Within our groups, for the day we were asked to talk through discussions such as;

  • What curriculum outcomes can be / could be demonstrated through the use of Minecraft being used?
  • Where might the Critical and Creative Thinking, Ethical, Intercultural, and Personal and Social Victorian Curriculum Capabilities fit?
  • How could Minecraft be used as a reflection practice(s)/tool to be used to reinforce or improve student understanding of what they have and or are learning? 

Another video that was shown to highlight this, however not so much in a Victorian/Australian context, is embedded below.

I am sure that there are many more videos like this one around. 

Where to from here? My first step is to get all students accessing Education Education. Most of not all my students have their own version on their iPads devices and play it regularly. However, I am wanting to make sure that their focus is on the learning at hand and that Minecraft is simply one vehicle in which we’ll go about that. And… if that is done via the education edition, I can oversee that just that little bit more.

Once we’re all up and running, context then becomes king. Where does it fit – and with purpose? I am not wanting students to use Minecraft E.E. as something they see as simply ‘busy work’. God knows that students in schools do enough of this already… It needs to be engaging, purposeful and beneficial. It needs to either reinforce their learning or build upon it. Or both.

My only real advice to others in moving forward is to give it a go. Don’t underestimate what your students can do and do not think of this as simply playing video games in class because it is SO not. Unless you let students play Minecraft in their “free time” which A. should never ever happen and B. why would there be “free time” during learning time? 

The resources are out there. The experts are out there. And, there are kids out there who are desperately needing to engage with a tool to reinvigorate their learning.

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