Making Minecraft Work in a Classroom Setting
Over the years I have been asked multiple times how I can ‘make Minecraft work’ in a classroom. Many of the ways I have made it work are based on the same strategies I would use when dealing with the problem of limited computer access.
Often the price of Minecraft accounts prohibits teachers from getting a class set. I started out with 10 Minecraft accounts (they were a bit more inexpensive when the game was in beta). In the beginning I was using them in a club setting, so the low number of accounts just meant my club was small. In the classroom I simply made Minecraft part of a centre. I use literacy centres in the junior grades, and Minecraft became a regular part of my technology/media centre. Students played for part of their time, and then were accountable for that time by writing journal/blog posts on what they did or wanted to do, posted questions to our discussion boards in D2L, wrote narratives on their experiences, or researched things they wanted to do next time (e.g. how to make an automatic door using redstone). On days when tech issues got the way of students accessing the game, students focused on these research, journaling and narrative writing, a few even ‘skipped’ playing to get right to these activities if they we inspired to write.
During centre time, I would keep a computer logged in next to me while I was working with my guided reading group so I would be able to monitor the game play, and be available for the occasional problem solving. Be able to monitor what was happening in the centre while they we engaged in the activity, was valuable because as I noticed behaviours, or interesting changes in student game play, that we could discuss later, often leveraging their play into discussions in other areas of the curriculum.
A book that has helped me when planning centres in general has been the book 100 Minutes by Lisa Donohue.
For those with limited accounts, using Minecraft with a single grade in a split grade class is another way to utilize the game in a small group rather than the whole class. I have never taught a single grade, for me a grade 4/5 split was ‘living the dream’ as I have taught a 4/5/6 split for 2 out of the last 3 years. I have given a tasks for one of my grades to complete using Minecraft, while the other grade(s) are working on tasks in different formats. For example, one year I had the grade 5’s complete a bridge building task in Minecraft while the other grades were working building tasks using concrete materials.
Tied to the strategy of using Minecraft accounts in grade groupings is the strategy of including it in the list of formats a student may use to share their learning. The greatest thing about Minecraft is that it is a sandbox game and it can be used in an unlimited amount of ways, and therefore can be a tool a student could select for demonstrating their learning in a variety of ways. In an article published in the Fall 2104 issue of the EFTO Voice, Jeffery MacCormack wrote about Minecraft as an educational tool, and how his daughter used Minecraft to create a representation of the digestive system to demonstrate her understanding.
There are however, times when it is nice to have the whole class engaged in an activity all together. For those occasions when you can get access to a class set of computers, getting all students on Minecraft in a shared space can be tricky. Thankfully I have access to the Multi-school server, but I have also used MinecraftEDU with my entire class. Both have the capacity to hold all my students at the same time (plus many more). The main difference being that MinecraftEDU has teacher controls that can make whole class management easier.
There are other ways to incorporate Minecraft in your class, but these are a few that I have used that have worked out well for me. Do you have a way that has worked for you? Please share your experience in the comment box below!