Learning and teaching through Minecraft
Kids will always learn in their own world, where they are comfortable, where they know the rules, and where they can experiment. When I was a kid, I could tell you more about Pokémon or Neopets than most subjects in school.Today, for many kids, this world is Minecraft, a game about building, designing, and creating. Minecraft is unique in that it is collaborative, engaging, skill-developing, and more open-ended than anything else before it. Here at MakerKids we are interested in turning interest-driven activities into new learning experiences.
Our aim was to make Minecraft into a tool to teach the 3rd grade social science curriculum abut settlers arrive in 18th century Canada so students would find the material engaging in a game they already know.
We developed a Minecraft world with first nations people, settlers, and a village that children can explore, learn through, and then build on, literally. We believe that this interactive and engaging way of teaching will get kids more interested in school content. Having kids arrive in the new world and get off a boat from Europe allows kids to be part of curriculum content.
There were a few challenges we encountered while making a Minecraft world. The easy problems could mostly be solved with a sword and fists to deal with mistakes and runaway characters. The more difficult challenges were getting students to know how to play and to have fun doing it.
I have met kids who could design coding based systems in Minecraft that achieve unimaginable complexity and I have met kids that don’t know how to move left in Minecraft. In designing for a classroom, we are designing for a situation where both kids will be playing in the same game. To deal with this, we created resources that teach the teacher how to use Minecraft. We taught them how to walk, build, destroy, and collaborate in our world. The teacher is the common resource for all of the students. The best lesson I learnt here, is that it helps to talk to as many people possible because you never know what sorts of questions people will have or what information we take for granted.
Our second challenge was making a game that kids love into an educational experience kids still love. This has been tried many times from the magic school bus to MIT’s scratch programming language. The successful versions keep all the reasons kids love the medium in the first place. We still have building, collaboration, survival, and exploration. These are some of the main aspects of Minecraft and by keeping them in, we kept in what makes Minecraft fun.
We’re done, we made it, and now it’s your turn. We created the world, and the tools, but if you have the students, then go try it. Play our module, use our resources and tell us what you think. The best part of a project like this is that it doesn’t end. We send it out into the world to use. Of course we will be using it ourselves and measure success based on the number of students reached. But if you’ve read this blog post and thought that it sounds awesome, or are still skeptical, make this project successful and go try it and tell us what you think!