Practical Lessons Kids are Learning from Minecraft
Do you wonder whether Minecraft has educational value?
Kids of all ages are spending hours playing, building, and exploring with this game. One thing that makes it unique is that there are many opportunities to effectively use Minecraft in education, including working on life skills for teens.
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?
I wish I had known about Minecon- we probably would’ve joined you! Just today, my older son(10) is helping younger son, (almost 6) with his reading by writing a little story, and typing the words into a book in Minecraft where younger will join the “same world” and read the stories. I used to be SO fed up with Minecraft, and now, I’m doing my best to embrace its potential in our homeschool! Life is learning, I always say!
(after thought) the “books” are in a library he built in his mansion!
Hi Jen, Thank for sharing – I have two boys also so I love hearing about those brother helping brother moments 🙂 I agree – at first I was concerned about how much time they wanted to spend with Minecraft, but from the beginning they were always so anxious to show me and explain (in detail) what they were doing. I didn’t take long to realize this was very different from a typical PC game. When they find tools they can use to help them learn I am all for it!
I’m stopping by from Family Fun Friday. My kiddo has told me about Minecraft from his friends but I still don’t know what it is! After reading this, I think I will check it out more as a possible game for him.
Hi Stephanie, Thanks so much for stopping by! I was telling my son about about a friend who decided to check our Minecraft for her son. These were a few tips he recommended for getting started:
– Play the pc game version individually for a while rather than joining any servers for multi-person play.
– There aren’t any “how to” guides on the site, so watch the video on the Minecraft site and then search for a getting started tutorial that is kid friendly. The kids seem to figure it all out pretty quickly, but watching a short video will give you the basics and answer some key questions about the elements of the game.
– Invite one of your child’s friends over to give a quick overview and help them get started. Friends helping friends is always fun!
Thanks so much for the tips! I appreciate it 🙂
My kids have been talking about, watching videos about, and playing Minecraft briefly at friends’ houses for years. I’ve just now gotten on board with the hype and decided to try it myself before getting it for the boys for educational purposes.
I find myself totally addicted to this game! My kids are just astonished that their mom plays Minecraft, lol. The possibilities really are quite endless and what appears simple is actually a very complex and interactive world. I homeschool my boys and after they have a few months playing “solo” I’m going to enroll them in homeschool Minecraft courses…and you can bet I’ll be watching over their shoulders!
I think what is so interesting about Minecraft is that it allows you to think about the world in a very creative way. You have to manage resources and plan, but with just a little effort you can create an environment of your very own. You learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t, and the “cost” of changing things around, while real, is minimal. It reminds me of what architects and landscape designers with unlimited budgets are able to do in the real world. I wonder at the idea that this game may be training a generation to think about interacting with their environment in a very different way…so that they go from looking at a yard or a house or a peice of property and instead of saying “I can’t”, they say “I can. Let’s figure out how.”
Anyway, thought you might like a confession from a mom who plays!
Elaine – Thank you!!! I have actually met so many moms just like you that enjoy the game and also see the benefits for the kids. I have to admit, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Minecon, but when I left I appreciated the game on a completely different level. All of the ideas you mentioned (creating, interacting, etc) are all things I noticed, but I thought maybe I was reading too much into it or making more of it than was intended. After hearing the folks from Mojang speak, they never imagined the game would take off the way it has, but they are totally embracing the ideas you mentioned. They fully support and encourage the creativity and initiative it has inspired in so many people. I agree with you, I really hope it continues to inspire young people (and some of us not so young people) to use it as a tool to look for new solutions in the real world!!
Great article! You were very lucky to get tickets to Minecon! My husband and son went (we were only able to get 2). Our family of 5 has had accounts on Minecraft since it was in beta. I am a big fan of its educational merits. My 10year old son has a website http://www.mcpipy.com that is about Minecraft and Raspberry Pi. Minecraft has opened up the world of coding, engineering, math and physics for my son. Most importantly since we have moved across the continent twice this past year from West to East and then South, it has given my son a platform to socialize with his very good friends out West and has made moving a little easier.
Wow, how wonderful! We just got a Raspberry Pi and I wanted to run a Minecraft server on either that or a Synology server we have. It’s very interesting that your son has his own site. I teach web design and a lot of the student sites don’t look as good as his does, lol. We are having fun checking it out. Thanks for posting the link. 🙂
If you are interested he also posts videos to YouTube under MisterFleap http://www.youtube.com/misterfleap , most recently he is doing a tutorial on PyCharm.
Tutorial is clean and well done. 🙂 I have a question for him…has he ever used Aptana IDE? I know it comes with a Python plugin and I was wondering if there are any advantages to using PyCharm over Aptana.
He says that he will talk about Aptana in his next video. He said to look for it 11/18 or 11/19.
Ok, I’ll subscribe and keep an eye out for it. Out of curiosity, is he handcoding his new website or using a platform like WordPress? And has he ever used Lynda.com? I use Lynda courses as part of the classes I teach at the community college. Youtube is awesome but Lynda courses are very complete, and subscription is fairly inexpensive. Good luck to him!
He is using composer which does the text and images, the rest is hand coding. He hasn’t used Lynda,
The Mcpipy site is a colaboration between my husband and son, however my son looks after it. My son is building a site himself (self taught) it is still in progress, http://www.minecrafttech.com
Carma, thank so much for sharing your son’s site — it looks great! I know other families will be very excited to explore his site too.I love how all of this is bring people together 🙂
It’s great to share with other parents who see the educational value of Minecraft. It is always frustrating for me when I hear parents complain, particularly when they haven’t investigated the game at all. What it tells me is that these parents don’t take the time to see what their children are really doing. Thanks again for the great article, I hope it opens the minds of more parents!
What a great find, my daughter loves mine-craft we are so going to use this in our lesson plan’s.
Thank you for sharing
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