Have your children discovered Minecraft?
Do you wonder if Minecraft has any educational value?
Lately it seems that almost every parent I meet is talking about Minecraft. Kids of all ages are spending hours playing, building, and exploring with this game. Everyone seems to agree there is something very different about this game and many are starting to believe there are opportunities to effectively use Minecraft in education.
As a parent and educator I’m always looking for creative ways to help my children learn. When we decided to attend Minecon 2013 (Minecraft’s annual convention) I was very intrigued to see a few “Minecraft and education” type sessions on the agenda. I made plans to attend these discussions hoping I would gather lesson plans and resources that would offer everything I needed to transform Minecraft into a learning tool.
I was expecting to find information about teaching young learners programming and game design/development. Sure, I had also heard educators talk about using the game to teach history, math and science concepts (these were actually the topics that interested me the most). I have to say, however, I was very surprised when the education related topics discussed were less technical and more practical than I had ever imagined.
From the Minecon opening ceremony, throughout the exhibit hall, and during the panel discussions the messages I heard repeatedly were how educators were using Minecraft to focus on topics such as creativity, social skills, team building, collaboration, community building, and exploring in the real world. One of the highlights for me was hearing about Mojang’s Block by Block initiative — using Minecraft as a tool to involve young people around the world in the planning of urban public spaces.
Lessons My Kids are Learning from Minecraft
Although these messages were not exactly what I expected, I was very pleased to hear them. I was encourage to stop and think about the many practical lessons my kids have been learning from Minecraft all along.
Problem Solving – My children started playing Minecraft about 2 years ago. Their cousins told them about the game, I helped them download it, and that was all I had to do. They figured out everything else on their own. They learned how to build and they learned how to survive (sometimes the hard way). They faced new challenges, often talked to their friends for ideas, and through trial and error found solutions to the situations they encountered. One of the speakers at a Minecon panel discussion described it as encouraging his students to “fail forward”– teaching them that they have to try new things, knowing all along that they are going to make mistakes, so they could learn and grow from their experiences.
Research – Since my guys are big history fans they quickly began constructing historical spaces and landmarks in Minecraft. Using books and online resources they found the dimensions and building materials for places like the Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Washington Monument and set out to build them in Minecraft with as much accuracy as possible. They may not have been able to recreate all of the elements of the original structures, but their efforts helped them to look more closely and search out more details than they ever would have before.
Hands-on Building – My younger son likes to build things, so it didn’t take him long to try to bring elements of the online world into the real world. Of course he has used LEGOs to recreate objects and spaces, but he has also gathered cardboard, paints, fabrics and other materials from around the house to build his own costumes and creatures from the game. Some of our favorite experiences at Minecon included looking at the attendee’s costumes and walking through the “Barnyard” and “Minecraft Experience” to see how many amazing designers brought classic game elements into the real world.
Creativity – If you asked my kids about their favorite part of Minecraft they would probably tell you all about “mods” (modifications). They have always been the ones to ask “what if” type questions. By installing new mods they can participate in the same game but have new options available within the game. The game, and it’s developers, encourage this type of creative thinking. My children have not yet started to learn computer programming so they haven’t been able to try out their own “what ifs” just yet, but the mods they have chosen to use encourage them to think of other possibilities within the game. I often hear them having discussions about “what if we could add this, what do you think would happen” or “wouldn’t it be interesting to change that feature so this would be possible?”
Working and Sharing With Others – I had no idea this game would be so social! We don’t live close to family members, but thanks to Minecraft our kids have taken the initiative to stay in close contact with their cousins. During family gatherings our kids have started conversations about Minecraft with relatives and then have made plans to Skype and play together online. Minecraft has also been a nice ice breaker when they meet new children. Often, just several minutes after meeting a new friend, everyone is engaged in discussions about their experiences with the game, sharing ideas, recommending favorite mods, etc.
So, do I think Minecraft can be used in education to teach concepts and skills such as computer programming, game development, history, science, math, etc.? YES, I do! But I would also encourage parents to consider some of the practical lessons children are learning thanks to the Minecraft game and community, and appreciate those as well.
We would love to hear from you – what are your children learning from Minecraft?