My first Minecraft blog focused on: “Why?”. Since then, the main question dominating the feedback has been “How?”. How do I get started? How do I set about planning a lesson? How do I ensure students aren’t just running around randomly enjoying the game?
The first boot into Minecraft can be daunting for teachers wanting to create a learning experience. The immensity of the worlds and the limitless possibilities for creations can seem overwhelming. Thankfully MinecraftEdu comes equipped with a World Library featuring some incredible creations from teachers around the world. The time, effort and skill that has gone into these creations is amazing. For a teacher looking for a starting point they are invaluable.
One of the first worlds added to this library was built by Joel Levin, the co creator of MinecraftEdu. The world is set at the top of Mount Everest, 200 years in the future in a scenario involving the melting of the polar ice caps, the destruction of all plant and animal life on Earth, mankind escaping into orbit aboard an ark and a group of survivors tasked with saving the world. The opportunities presented by this map are many, varied and rich.
From a starting point inside the mountain students explore their way to the surface encountering story blocks along the way. When I first used the map, students raced past this to be the first to the top. So I added a case file.
The case file is fundamental to engaging students in the reading. By the time students have explored enough to complete the file they have built up a solid background about the scenario. They are immersed in the story and are invested in the success or failure of the mission. Most importantly they have been reading for a specific purpose and extracting crucial information. This task has been camouflaged by its integration within the game.
As this storyline develops, students discover that the last remaining tree on Earth is growing in a cave underground. From this they must replant a forest using saplings, craft tools to excavate resources, consume wood in the process of smelting iron in order to build a signal rocket. Once they are immersed in the experience, any writing task becomes an extension of the game and at this point the fundamental question of “what do my students need?” takes priority. Whatever weaknesses the students have demonstrated as far as writing is concerned can be targeted.
- A diary entry from the point of view of the scientists that sealed the survivors in the bunker 200 years ago.
- A scientific report detailing the groups progress towards repopulating the Earth with trees and plants.
- A first person account of the first days after waking up in the bunker.
- A news report detailing the return to Earth of the rest of mankind.
- “What happened to all the trees?”
It is this final task that I chose first. This student had struggled to engage in writing. They were underperforming in writing tasks due to no other factor than a lack of motivation. The story was written by hand then edited following feedback and typed up into an in game book.
By immersing the student in the experience of the scenario and giving them a vested interest in the success of the mission this student was motivated to demonstrate the skills that they had previously struggled to display.
The Big Question
My starting point was knowing what the student needed motivation to demonstrate. I then found a world that provided the immersion and motivation that would camouflage the writing end product. Once students are engaged and motivated, the tasks become less of a chore and more of an extension to the experience.
Faced with the daunting task of creating an immersive experience at the start of my “Minecraft in learning” journey I focused on the fundamental question: What do my students need? The MinecraftEdu World Library provided the experience, I provided the teaching and the students demonstrated the learning.