This reflection follows up an earlier post about a Minecraft project I recently supported in a Year 3 classroom. Students created a community in a Minecraft world to simulate European settlement and development in their local area. They created persuasive texts to promote their community and convince others to reside there. Read more detail about the project on my Mad About Minecraft post.
For a more comprehensive background on Minecraft in Education than I could offer in any one post, check out my Tumblr site: Minecraft 4 Learning.
Reflections from the Classroom Teacher
Year 3 teacher Lorraine Hillas is an experienced teacher who has lately been experimenting with new pedagogical approaches and alternatives to traditional physical classroom design. She agreed to trial the use of this popular sandbox game in her classroom as a writing stimulus, but the project grew and became so much more. Lorraine reflects here about her students’ development of team skills and problem-solving:
“The children were all highly motivated and enthusiastic to participate. Students monitored the participation of group members and all group members ‘pulled their weight’ the desire to ‘win’ was evident.
“The children soon learned that working as a group was vital. The groups that were getting the most work completed explained that by working together on one building or area they were able to get so much more done. Groups where the children went off and did ‘their own thing’ soon discovered that they had a lot of work to catch up on.
One of the most significant aspects of the project for me, as ICLT Support Teacher, was Lorraine’s willingness to relinquish control, letting the students take the lead and shape their responses to the task. Her approach is a fabulous model for teachers who are constrained by the need to always be a step ahead of their students; to TEACH rather than to let LEARNING happen. We simply can’t keep up that pace in these times, especially if we’re going to be bringing digital games and other popular culture into our classrooms to engage our students in authentic and relevant learning experiences.
Lorraine had never experienced Minecraft before this project launched. We had Minecraft EDU installed on her own MacBook Pro and she briefly dabbled in playing the game at home with assistance from her teenage children. She quickly learned to log into the school’s Minecraft server to switch the worlds for each group’s session on the game. She learned just enough about the game to plan the learning experiences and let go of the drive to know all the answers before her students did. In the end these children surprised us all with their ability to meet challenges and solve problems in diverse ways, on their own. They revelled in the chance to teach their teachers and share their expertise with their peers. New “stars” emerged who had not previously shone as experts in this classroom. This was project-based learning at its finest.
“I am embarrassed to say that I still do not know a lot about Minecraft. For the children to be successful using this technology, it was not vital that I know anywhere near as much as them. They taught each other. As I am not one to sit and play computer games of any kind, the learning that evolved amazed me. The ability to work together for a common goal, the many links to the curriculum and the ‘fun’ that the children had was both rewarding and productive.”
Lorraine Hillas, Year 3 Classroom Teacher
Reflections from the Year 3 Students
After the project concluded, the students were asked to complete a brief survey about the experience of using Minecraft for learning in the classroom. Here’s the form they filled out:
Students filled out their surveys independently so responses were diverse but I tallied them by topic / main idea so the first three questions could be charted (click images to enlarge):
Negative aspects were far less numerous. Most children either left this question blank, or recorded comments such as “nothing is bad”:
The two comments about the possibility of sore eyes from looking at a screen too long were surprising. As groups never used the game for more than an hour once a week, these comments may have been re-iterating concerns from parents about home use. In any case, I am positive about the awareness of cyber health & wellness that these responses demonstrate! Note also the “negative” aspects that are actually benefits in disguise.
Notable student comments
Some student comments just beg to be shared verbatim:
- I love how the people who aren’t that good at other things are great at Minecraft, like my friend ________ .
- I was happy because it helps you feel like you can do eneything [sic].
- The only limit is your imaginion [sic].
- it’s really fun and you can do things that you can’t do at school
- you can do whatever you want without having to have alot [sic] of skills […] and no one can tell you what to do.
- it helps our cowaperation [sic] skills and you can imagin [sic] sutff and imaging [sic] is really healthy for your brain
Reflections of an ICT Support Teacher
Before embarking on this project I had played a couple of marathon Minecraft sessions with my son. It’s the first video game that I’ve ever found remotely engaging (in my whole long life!) and I could immediately see the potential of this game for some pretty awesome teaching and learning experiences. Its open-ended, sandbox nature encourages creativity and imagination. Because it depicts natural environments, simulating physical and geographical processes in the real world, this potential is magnified.
I sought out educational resources for Minecraft and over the last 12 months have read and watched a great deal of material from teachers who use Minecraft in their classrooms, much of which I found incredibly daunting. There is a growing community of secondary maths and science teachers doing absolutely incredible things with this game. I dubbed them the “Minecraft Ed Gurus” and I am in awe of their skill and dedication. Mr Stephen Elford from Victoria – aka “Edu Elfie” – seems to be Papa Smurf of them all. If you want to blow your mind with Minecraft possibilities, just check out Elfie’s stuff!
To hold these Minecraft Guru teachers up as likely models to inspire my own primary colleagues however, would be thoroughly counter-productive. The Gurus seem to be avid gamers themselves and clearly spend significant amounts of time preparing elaborate settings and simulations, using seeds, redstone circuits and other far more advanced settings and techniques. Apart from not yet having the skills to do this, I know I’d be hard pressed to convince many of my colleagues to invest the time to learn.
I take my hat off to Minecraft Ed Guru teachers. I salute you for the ground-breaking, innovative work that you do in those countless out-of-school hours. You create the most amazing learning experiences for your lucky, lucky students and you are generous enough with your time to share what you do and support colleagues around the world. …But given my present context, I cannot aspire to emulate your approach.
We made this first Minecraft project at my school deliberately small and simple. We simply generated pristine natural worlds within seconds and let the kids do ALL the building. This may seem like a comparatively lazy option but the open-endedness and room for students’ creativity suited our learning objectives. It is also an approach that I am far more likely to convince my colleagues to try.
I can’t wait for the next opportunity to teach and learn with Minecraft. These Year 3 students do not want to give up the Minecraft laptops just yet either. They have used Minecraft to design “future libraries” to enter in the State Library’s “Y Library” competition and this term they’re planning a maths investigation where they create a complete scale model of their school (we’ll create a flat world for that one and each group can work on a different area of the school). Since our last Minecraft project, I have two other classes wanting to gave a go with it too, so it looks like I’m up for some more game licenses from Minecraft EDU!
Oh no! Have just found this: Fedsie builds a scale model of her school by converting plans into pixel art. What a clever, clever lady. I don’t think I’ll tell our Year 3s yet – shall just wait until they need rescuing from their own wonky scale model.
….and THEN I found this:
Oh man… I feel a new Resource Page coming on!