critical thinking / websites

Weekend Website #115: Minecraft

Every week, I share a website that inspired my students. This one is a blockbuster as far as student interest, risk-taking, enthusiasm.

Click to visit website and play movie about Minecraft

Age:

Grades 3-8 (or younger, or not)

Topic:

Problem-solving, critical thinking, building

Address:

Minecraft

Review:

It was a warm spring day. Most students were outside enjoying one of the first pleasant days since the chill of winter faded. Three students came in my lab–7th graders–asking to play a program I’d never heard of called Minecraft. Their science teacher wanted them to use it and let her know what they learned about minerals and geology. I knew the teacher so let them move forward and dashed off an email asking her to verify. She did.

As the students played, several 4th graders came in. “Are we allowed to play Minecraft?” Over and over. And third graders. And fifth. To all, I said no, this was a special project for 7th grade science.

I realized I had to research this program that all the students knew about and were passionate about. At first blush, it appears to be beat-em-up violence and destruction.That’s didn’t sell me. Where was the critical thinking and building? I went to Common Sense Media  and found it ranks Minecraft 4/5 stars with a tagline, Sandbox-style game with open online play fosters creativity. It goes on to say:

Kids can learn creative thinking, geometry, and even a little geology as they build imaginative block structures in this refreshingly open-ended mining and construction game. Given carte blanche to sculpt virtually any creation of their choice in this 3-D space, kids can try out tons of possibilities while working toward simple objectives. An option to work with others on larger building projects can help kids develop collaboration skills. Minecraft empowers players to exercise their imagination and take pride in their digital creations as they learn basic building concepts.

Subjects covered include:

  • Math: estimation, geometry, shapes
  • Science: geology, rocks and minerals
  • Hobbies: building

…and skills taught:

  • Thinking & Reasoning: defining problems, hypothesis-testing, problem solving
  • Creativity: imagination, making new creations, producing new content
  • Collaboration: cooperation, group projects, teamwork

I decided to allow grades 3-5 to play it Monday and Friday lunches–only–and I would observe.

Word got out and my lab is packed those two lunch hours–has been all year. As I watch my students play, I see lots of the thinking and risk-taking we encourage in traditional educational venues. Students rattle off fifteen-digit IP addresses to each other, create servers so they can compete against each other, strategize how to reach their goals, form alliances with other players on the screen, research solutions on the internet, share with each other so everyone can participate (the program requires a fee-based membership, but that didn’t stop any one.  The website offers a free demo–maybe that’s why. More research required on my part.)

Is there something to this?

I polled my PLN and got no supporters. I might have given up, but ran across this article, Learn to Play: Minecraft in the classroom.  And then these teaching wikis about educational uses of Minecraft, Welcome to the Minecraft in School Wiki! and Gaming Educators. There’s also an edition of Minecraft specifically for schools called MinecraftEdu.

As I was putting this review to bed, I came across ECOO 2012 who had a packed seminar on Minecraft in eduction. Among other benefits of kids playing this game, them mentioned:

  • peer learning
  • sharing computers
  • co-operative play
  • parallel play
  • exploring
  • testing theories
  • developing hypotheses
  • negotiating social agreements

Do any of you use Minecraft? What are your thoughts? Here’s a video to spark your comments:

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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6 thoughts on “Weekend Website #115: Minecraft

  1. Hey Jacqui, Thanks for the mention of our GamingEdus collective. And very glad to hear you see the learning potential in a game like Minecraft. I’ve been using it with students here in Toronto for over two years and it’s always a hit and resulted in positive learning for all (including me!) All those elements of learning you listed happen both in and out of the game, and much, much more learning that doesn’t make it into report cards.

    If you or any other teachers are interested in learning more about using the game at school, you are invited to join us on our GamingEdus Minecraft Professional Learning server. It’s an online space for educators and their families to learn the game, connect with other gaming educators, share ideas and have fun! Visit http://gamingedus.org and fill out a White List Request form and you’ll be building with us in no time!

    Happy crafting!

    Liam

    • I’m going to take you up on that, Liam. I’m going through conferences with parents right now and a recurring theme is their children’s interest in Minecraft. It seems I should use that! I’ll see you over on your site.

  2. I know that my 7, 10, 11, and 13 year olds at home are obsessed with it. It has taken the place of any other gaming system in our house and I figure it is a lot better for their brains!

    • I was a tad nervous when I opened my lab to Minecraft–at parental disapproval. But the feedback was that kids are playing it at home and parents are OK with it–thanks to the edu traits.

  3. Pingback: Weekend Website #135: Samorost | Ask a Tech Teacher

  4. Pingback: Weekend Website #115: Minecraft | Tech Integrat...

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