Minecraft – Marvelous Educational Tool or Misguided Mania?
If you haven’t yet heard of Minecraft then check the walls around you because you might be living under a rock. This huge gaming phenomenon took the gaming industry by storm with its initial release in 2009, selling more than 33 million copies and counting. Yet with today’s technological advances, the graphics and sound in this game are surprisingly poor, blurry, basic and simple, at best.
So what’s the attraction compared to all of the other games out there? Minecraft is what’s called a sandbox game where the player can create anything by exploring, mining materials, building and more. There are no characters or story or even specific steps or goals, so everyone playing gets a difference experience. Also, since it’s not a “winning” game, there is no chance of actually losing.
“Minecraft allows children to play together at the same level, no matter their age, culture or academic background,” explains Iram Khan, Principal for McLeod Road Traditional School, SD36. “Kids are naturally attracted to the game because it’s so free, there are no rules and they can be creative. They can even choose the role they want to play like an Explorer or Creator.”
Most games in the past tend to have more structure and place you into the mold of the character. Minecraft doesn’t do any of this. Since Minecraft is an open-ended game with a never-ending landscape and digitally rendered resources, the possibilities are infinite. Creativity is truly the secret behind the popularity of the game, and since kids are so passionate about Minecraft, it seems to be a natural transition into the classroom. Teachers were finding they could communicate effectively on notoriously challenging topics, leading to profound discussions, just by using the game innovatively within the classroom.
“Teaching about government can be challenging, but through the use of Minecraft, we were able to build a civilization based on different styles of government,” notes Khan. “As the students moved through the different styles of government, they were able to understand the intricacies of how it worked and how it would affect them.”
Another example Khan gave for younger students, was when they were asked to create an amusement park. Each student got to create their own game or ride and then include the teacher on a tour of how their ride worked, how much it cost, and more. Engagement was high and it supported the learning lesson.
“The passion for Minecraft is what makes it so easy to bring into the classroom. All kids are engaged,” said Khan. “When played on a computer, the game allows you to work collaboratively with others. The accomplishments are regular and ongoing which make the students feel really good about themselves.”
At present, students at Khan’s school use iPads but they are transitioning to computers to open up more opportunities to work together and expand the learning. To do this, they will be using MinecraftEdu. MinecraftEdu is an expanded educational version used in schools (on computers), specifically designed to teach a wide range of subjects. This is the direction McLeod Road Traditional School is going.
But parents have some concerns and are worried that all the screen time will become a substitute for exploring the real world. Khan understands their concerns and believes there just needs to be more conversations around the subject to show the learning.
“My son plays Minecraft and was seven years old when he taught me,” explains Khan. “It was simply wonderful. He was appreciative and felt so empowered to teach me something. It was very bonding and we enjoyed seeing what each of us created.”
Minecraft is full of worthy challenges and educational opportunities. It helps kids work toward goals, problem solve, and use their imagination and creativity. It also can be a great way for students with high anxiety or special needs to express themselves confidently in the classroom. They tend to thrive online.
“AutCraft is a Minecraft server specifically for people who have autism, and their families,” notes Khan. “They actually have counsellors on their servers to provide assistance when needed. The autistic student learns to do virtual problem solving and build skills for real life.”
But Khan clarifies that you don’t actually need the game for learning, you can just incorporate it. For instance when learning about biomes, students can be asked how they would handle the hazards in that specific biome, or what they need to do to adapt and survive in that environment. Khan sums it up perfectly by saying, “You don’t need the game to engage learners, you just need to find out what kids are passionate about and creatively bring it into the classroom!”