Mindcraft is something I knew very little about up until a few weeks ago.  My own kids were playing it on their ipods.  I would hear kids in the halls talking about it and see them playing it around the schools.  But I really had very little understanding or experience with it until recently.  Well, today I am so blown away by this game and its elementary graphics, complex problems and creative opportunities that I want to share a bit of a story that is still being written.  At last year's Educon 2.4, a fella named Chad Sansing shared with me how he was using Minecraft with his students.  It was a negotiation tool as well as a space where kids could engage with dilemmas and creatively find solutions in a gaming environment that they enjoyed.  I tucked the info away and didn't do much with it since my district didn't have a license or server or anyone really talking about it or expressing an interest in it.  Fast forward to this past November (roughly).  I had a tech teacher come to with issues regarding 2 of her classes.  One of them was a class of 16 8th graders-all boys-and she has them for the last period of the day.  Oh and did I mention, they all didn't choose to be in computer apps (that's another post).  Needless to say, it made for a really tough experience for the teacher AND the boys.  She was actively seeking ways to engage them but all of her efforts came up against their walls and it seemed like a constant struggle for both her and her students.  The kids were struggling to stay engaged, management was an issue and she knew it.  She was challenged like never before and frustrated to the point of tears BUT because she is an awesome teacher who cares about her kids more than her craft, she wouldn't give up and was willing to explore creative solutions for this problem.  That's when the idea for using Minecraft came into the picture.  We discussed it, looked at how some other classrooms around the country were using it, decided to give it a try and came up with a plan.  I told her that if she would write the PO and get a license, I would get it going in her lab.  I knew nothing about installing stuff on a server and she knew nothing about Minecraft.  Sounds like the perfect storm, right?  Well, we had our work cut out for sure.

She ordered and I installed it.  It worked.  Mostly.  I had to figure out a few issues but overall, just know that if I can get a MinecraftEDU server going, anyone can.  Really.  I know there are things that could be tweaked and controls we could be utilizing that we have yet discovered, but for practical purposes, we are up and the kids are building.  Seriously, if you are considering it and want to run it off your own server, they have created software that makes it really easy to do.  Look into it here.  Also, I discovered Joel Levin aka The Minecraft Teacher (@mindcraftteachr on the Twitter) who has been proven to be a very knowledgeable and responsive resource for us during this project.  Follow him if you are looking to connect with someone who knows this stuff really well.

Students playing Minecraft

So that's how we got here...and "here" is the best part.  This class is now one of her favorites and I believe most of the boys would say the same thing.  They are engaged and learning through this game.  It's truly a #WINWIN.  Some of them were already experts at the game while others were complete newbies (me and the teacher being 2 of those).  Here are some of things that we have observed as a result of students getting involved in this game:

  • Apathetic students have become actively, authentically engaged AND enjoy it.
  • Students who kept to themselves socially are now interacting with their peers to solve problems and share what they know about the game as they work cooperatively on challenges.
  • Students who were disruptive and creating management issues are seemingly using their powers for good in the game and meeting behavior expectations in the class.
  • Rich conversations are happening around "citizenship" in the digital world of Minecraft.  Some students have destroyed others' creations or set into motion within the game things that have created problems for others in their community which has sparked meaningful, student-driven dialogue on what is appropriate behavior in the Minecraft space.  I believe it is also forcing them to reflect on their behavior in the actual classroom space as well.
  • Newbies are now gaining command of the Minecrafter's language and controls, growing their confidence to explore and build within the game.  
  • Experts are taking leadership roles and helping their peers, developing patience and teaching others what they know about the game.  
  • The teacher is modeling what it means to be a learner alongside her students because she also is newbie. 
  • Students are beginning to police themselves and develop ways to solve problems through communication and collaboration.
  • Students journal on their individual experiences within the game, sharing their ideas as well as their frustrations. 
  • We have figured out how to bring in maps that others have created to challenge the students with specific dilemmas they must work out.  
There's a lot of sunshine here but please don't think it's been all unicorns and rainbows.  One class got out-of-hand because of students being disruptive and destructive in game and the teacher had to shut down the server.  However, this frustrating event led to a great conversation with students taking ownership of their actions and discussing solutions to keep such things from happening again.  So the students themselves called out the opportunity as a teachable moment.  They were motivated to solve the issues so they get back into the game and continue their work.  I rarely see students respond in such a way when it comes to issues in other content areas.  The teacher has also felt uncomfortable by allowing the students to "play a game" for the majority of her class.  But as the students become more involved and she is learning more about how the game works and what rich opportunities for learning it creates, she is settling in to the understanding that gaming can be an invaluable piece to the learning puzzle.

Also, we are still working to figure out all the workings of the server-side of the game, how to best manage the data, modify things and get the most out of this transformative gaming environment.

The next steps are going to involve exploring maps and searching the forums to find out how other teachers are using Minecraft with their students.  She is also looking at having her students build websites sharing their knowledge on the game as well as giving them blogs where they will be able to share their personal experiences involving Minecraft and their learning.

If you have anything to offer regarding Minecraft in the classroom be it links to resources, your own blog posts, pitfalls, examples of student creations, whatever, PLEASE share in the comments.

More to come...