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Tips for Using Minecraft in the Classroom

Thursday, April 17, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

For the past couple of years, Minecraft has been the most popular computer game going. It’s the rare game that can reach all ages (unlike Call of Duty or other games that are inappropriate for little kids).

For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a 3D building game that uses crudely rendered blocks rather than fancy graphics. Think Sim City with no help or designs. Because players create their own environments and, in certain worlds, have to work collaboratively, teachers are finding ways to incorporate the game into their lessons. Here are some ways to make that happen.

Getting started

The Minecraft Teacher, from Joel Levin, is the most comprehensive blog out there for teachers using the game. It serves as a great basis for explaining all of the modes and terminology that go into making the game useful in the classroom.

Minecraft is a for-profit enterprise but because they realize the benefits of the game in educational settings, they offer some deep educational discounts. Also, the traditional game is so flexible and wide open that it’s hard to scale it down for the classroom. Consult MinecraftEdu.com for special tools that help make the game functional for teachers.

The benefits

Although it’s a game, meaning it’s fun and engaging, it’s very different from most games. Without defined tasks, it can go on forever. It’s flexibility is the first benefit worth mentioning; it fosters a place for kids to be infinitely creative.

When working together in building or exploring a world, students are also building collaboration and communication skills. One teacher in Sweden, where the game was born, lets students play Minecraft in his English language class—but they can only speak to each other in English.

Visualization and spatial cognition are important skills for many STEM-based jobs, like surgeons and engineers. You can’t be successful in Minecraft without developing those skills.

Lesson ideas

Minecraft is obviously a boon for math instruction. Shapes and other geometric concepts can be visualized. Ratios and proportions can be explored in 3D. For younger students, ten frames and other manipulatives suddenly become virtual.

History and geography also get a boost. As in most online pursuits, people have come before you that have built some incredible things, including world landmarks. Students can explore places like the Roman Coliseum in 3D, sort of like an exploded version of Google Street View.

There is even a mode for economics, resource management, and problem solving. In Survival mode, groups need to play as long as possible with dwindling resources that they need to manage, exploit, and maximize.