Assessing the Curriculum with Minecraft: Education Edition

05

My projects always start with an assessment goal in mind and are planned in reverse from that point.  The Learning Sequence pictured for both THE BADDLANDS and ALIEN EXPLORATION were based on a project I once ran with very specific outcomes in mind from its conception.  I established a need, based on the tracking of assessment data for a group, and then planned the sequence according to the assessment outcomes that would raise their attainment in specific curriculum aspects.  Based on the success of the project, I knew it could be repeated and adapted.

  • Need
    • Small group of boys – stagnated progress
    • KS2 performance not matched in Year 7 assessments
    • Disengaged from learning and currently masking via behaviour
  • Overview
    • Game Based Learning identified as a key strategy to engage and motivate these boys
    • Minecraft identified as an immersion and engagement tool
    • Hook and exploration of learning tool to engage and motivate

In this instance the boys were underperforming in written tasks and, as a result, had disengaged from learning.  They had a very specific set of writing skills that had to be assessed across the term and the project was planned accordingly with these assessment goals in mind.

I provided opportunities to engage in active reading and supported it by adding an investigation file to be completed as the environment was explored.  If the assessment goals had been reading focused, then these could have been developed and assessed via this method.  (See case file).  The reading exposed the boys to a rich background story that hooked and engaged them from the outset due to the Game Based Learning environment that they were already familiar and comfortable in their home environments.

The boys were immersed in a scenario and emotionally invested in its success.  They had to work together as a team, as well as develop individual budgeting and time management skills.  They developed a myriad of soft skills, developed their social, emotional and artistic intelligences and I’m sure they became better digital citizens along the way too.  But my core assessment goals were UK English Curriculum based and the outcomes had to stand up in an assessment portfolio and must be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound).  This is what we produced each week:

Several tasks were completed as we explored our way through the scenario.

  • Election campaigns to elect a leader of the survivors (persuasive speech writing)
  • Studied journal writing and students kept a diary of day to day events, discoveries, milestones, problems and resolutions. (Information and explanation writing)
  • Detailed guide writing to enable learners to lead a team should the group of survivors expand as other bunkers emerged (Instructional writing)
  • Stories were created both digitally using screenshot, re-enacted using in world role play and text based

These tasks were completed via a blended classroom approach using a variety of digital and traditional mediums.  Stories were drafted in Word and then redrafted as a final improved version into books in Minecraft acting on feedback from both peers and myself.  Our persuasive speeches were delivered as a Speaking and Listening exercise from inside the game.  The scripts could then be submitted and assessed as written persuasive pieces.  In both examples, Minecraft was the hook, learning and assessment medium but was backed up by more traditionally accepted mediums in addition.  If written evidence of curriculum outcomes is required to satisfy a school’s assessment policy or as evidence towards a learning portfolio, then the blended approach works well.  It allows students to explore ideas, immerse themselves in scenarios and break down previously hindering barriers whilst still allowing traditionally accepted learning evidence to be accepted.

I am a realist.  I know my school (along with the very vast majority of others it must be said) is never going to accept a YouTube video or screenshot montage created by them as evidence of a student’s understanding of Shakespeare, neither will they accept the assessment of “soft skills”, 21st Century Learning Skills or Iterative Processes as being justification for any use of technology.  Our assessments system in the UK is never going to allow a Minecraft build to replace a creative narrative piece, no matter how great the story behind it is.  There is a difference between “Learning” and what is assessable within a given, classroom based, assessment structure.  The technology we choose is only as good as the outcomes we, as qualified teachers deliver!  Demonstrable, quantifiable, evidential and measurable outcomes are what our learners and school leaderships demand.

The script for the guided tour of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory in Minecraft (now easier than ever to capture via Learning Tools for OneNote and Word Online) certainly would be assessable.  As would the stories produced as a result of the immersive experience within a given Minecraft world.

Minecraft, for me, is rarely the sole assessment (nor indeed the sole learning) medium.  It has, however, been a pivotal part of the success of the engagement with learning in many projects, has been a key element in the success of the assessments and facilitated both learning and assessment in ways previously impossible.  As part of a blended technology approach, the evidence of this learning can be gathered, assessed traditionally, in line with whatever policy your school chooses, and filed for later demonstration of outcomes.

So, when planning for the assessment of a Minecraft project, I stick to 5 simple rules:

  1. Keep the curriculum at the core
  2. Don’t lose sight of the assessment goals
  3. Use the right tool at the right time
  4. Make the outcomes demonstrable and measurable
  5. Don’t base the assessment on the students’ (or teachers’) ability to use Minecraft!

Both (the Baddlands) and (Alien Exploration) lesson plans were constructed to demonstrate this sequence and be easily adaptable to your own specific outcomes.

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