Minecraft: Education Edition – Don’t Teach Minecraft. Teach!

01

Educator:  “What can I teach with Minecraft?”

Me:  “What are you teaching next week?”

The question I am most often asked (aside from the ones that start “How do I…” regarding a particular feature) is “What can I teach with Minecraft?”.  My default answer is always the same: “What are you teaching next week?”.  It may sound like a dismissive, “cover all” answer but it really is essential.  And it doesn’t for one second imply that the educator should be delivering every single learning experience that week using Minecraft.  What it does is focus the educator on learning.

I have seen so many educators using Minecraft in sessions and Tweeting pictures of pixel art alongside a first night hut and a TNT cannon.  While I am sure the learners developed lots of “soft skills” in the sessions, I am always left asking “What was the intended learning outcome in these sessions?  How did learners demonstrate what they had learned?  How did it relate to curriculum outcomes?”.

Now there is a lot published about the skills developed using play as a medium for learning.  There is more again about the transferrable skills involved in using Minecraft as a collaboration medium in an educational setting.  For most school leaders, parents and sceptical educators, however, this simply won’t cut it.  They don’t want to see an activity that has had learning outcomes “crowbarred” onto them as a justification.  They want to see outcomes that are measurable and sustained.

So, yes, Minecraft has heaps of potential for exploring and developing “soft skills” and “21st Century Learning” and I am in no way taking anything away from this.  But what about demonstrable learning outcomes within a given curriculum area?  What about the stuff we are doing now, every day in our classrooms?  The solid curriculum stuff that today’s education comprises.

By asking the question “What are you teaching next week?”, what I am actually doing is asking the educator to consider several different options.  Let’s say they give me five things they are wanting to cover next week.  There will be something within those suggestions that prompts the question “Could you…?”.  When I am planning my non Minecraft lessons I ask this question more than any other.  “Could I use X app?”, “Could it be better with Y approach?” or “Could little Johnny do it better if he used Z?”.  It leads to a whole discussion with educators around what learning is being explored, what outcomes are expected and how those outcomes can be realised and demonstrated.

So start with the learning in mind, not the Minecraft!  Here are my top five tips for keeping the core thing, the core thing:

  1. Start with what you are teaching next.  If you were going to cover it in class over the next few weeks, then chances are it is based on solid curriculum content and attached to demonstrable learning outcomes.  These should always be the core starting point of all your planning, not just planning a Minecraft learning session.
  2. Think about how you were planning to teach the next thing. If you are delivering content, could this be prepared using a premade Minecraft environment?  So you were going to have students examine the structure of cells: could you set up that structure in Minecraft for them to explore?
  3. What activities were you going to incorporate? Look for ways to incorporate a blended approach to your Minecraft sessions.  Sometimes immersion is best where there is no break from the Minecraft experience and sometimes it is best to have students constantly refer to research notes or discuss with their team of collaborators.
  4. Re-imagine the learning. Look for opportunities to explore and demonstrate to learning in ways that would be impossible without this rich digital environment.  This could be anything from interacting with historical figures to actually following blood cells as they flow through the cardiovascular system.
  5. Keep the core thing, the core thing! Never start your planning with what you want learners to do in Minecraft (unless of course Minecraft skills are specified in your curriculum area).  And never try to press artificial learning outcomes onto an activity you think will be fun in Minecraft.  This learning will be shallow and short lived.  Look for ways to enrich the learning experience and explore new ways to demonstrate learning but have clear outcomes in mind at the very outset of planning.

Reach out to the community either through a Minecraft Mentor or via the #MinecraftEdu on Twitter if you have any questions regarding anything in this blog.  As always, your feedback in the comments would be gratefully received regarding your own journey and feel free to connect if you have any questions or support needs that I can help with.

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