Making MinecraftEdu a Meaningful Learning Experience

Working on our building skills in MinecraftEdu; we we'ere going for the "sameness" look!
Working on our building skills in MinecraftEdu; we we’re going for the “sameness” look!

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from playing basketball was to “Practice How You Play.”  Practicing at 50% or even 75% of game intensity would not prepare me for an actual game; simulating an actual game environment during practice whether it was drills or running through plays was an essential part of preparing for the game.  In teaching, you can’t immediately get that 100% intensity of learning without laying the foundation and working to maintain an environment conducive to meaningful learning.  When you plan to integrate any kind of new tool, particularly technology, into your teaching or training, you should walkthrough the lesson in exactly the way you want students to experience the technology.

This week, I began learning how to manage the game environment and experience in MinecraftEdu.  If you plan to use MinecraftEdu with your class, it is incredibly valuable to spend time in the game, playing and learning how to move and build. “MinecraftEDU helps alleviate some of the technical burdens of bringing the game into the classroom” (Watters, 2012). Working in teacher mode allows you to design and control the game play for students depending on your objectives in the game.  I had a fairly good grasp of what could be possible with the game but actually playing and having to follow instructions to build and find items gave me a deeper understanding of the possibilities for teaching with MinecraftEdu.   As with any lesson, always assign specific tasks and give clear instructions.  You’ve given directions before so it seems simple enough but assume you are the student who knows nothing about this game; students need you to set expectations and provide clear instructions that help guide them to complete the tasks.  “How a teacher chooses to interact with a class is such a personal decision” (Levin).  Understanding how the game is played can help you create a learning environment that meets your objectives for the lesson.

Regardless of your subject, to demonstrate meaningful learning, here are some suggestions on how to use tools and strategies within and outside of the game:

  1. Use an Information Center – create a website, blog, or online group to keep students connected outside of the game.  This can be your most important tool for managing the lesson and staying organized; you can provide announcements and project instructions as you assign them and post all information and resources relevant to the lesson.  Students can start there at the beginning of each session to review their tasks and get relevant information.  It also serves as a place for students to document their progress and reflect on their experiences (some great opportunities for journaling or daily writeups.  They can even use the site to share strategies, upload screenshots of their work (another great tool), report issues they are having in the game, and access great guides and tutorials you provided at the beginning!
  2. Repeat, Review, and Reinforce – Provide tasks and instructions in several places and formats that are easily accessible by students.  Give them a paper handout, post the latest task on the bulletin board, provide tasks and instructions in the game (using information and sign blocks), and update your class blog or website to keep students in the loop. Have students review or reflect on your guidelines and instructions after their first time in the game; incorporate their feedback, make corrections, and provide positive reinforcement to encourage their work.
  3. Suggest Guides and Tutorials – again, always provide information so that the least experienced student has access to knowledge that other students might have already mastered.  Review helpful guides and tutorials and make a recommended list that can help students with the tasks specific to your lesson.  You may even want to incorporate these resources into your introduction or beginning activity to ensure that all students know that they are available and can access them later.
  4. Set Boundaries & Control Time and Space (Yes you can!)- there are special blocks that allow or disallow students to build in a specific space or area; use them so students understand where to build and help you find them easily.  Fences easily keep students from going beyond the space you designate for them; this is a great tool if you want students to work “alongside” each other but not be able to access other workspaces during the project. You can even change the weather to simulate days and nights.  You might also consider giving them a timeframe to work on each task – within the class period, by the end of the week, or assign tasks in sequence, each completed task leads to another task.
  5. Be the Eye in the Sky – in teacher mode, you have the option to check in on students where they are building and fly around in the spectator mode if needed to get an overview.  The chat tool is great for guiding, asking questions, or talking to students if necessary (we’ve all tried talking to someone when they are staring at a screen).  Supervising within the game is important so they can be immersed in the experience and learn to communicate with others in the game.  You can enable them to chat with you or disable it when you just want them to focus on their building.
  6. Teleporting – as the “all-powerful” teacher (don’t let it get to your head!), you can teleport individual or all students where you need them to be at any time; so useful when students are lost or you want them to start or finish in the same place. Try having them start in the same place at the beginning and then traveling to their building areas or a new area that you designate to demonstrate that they can navigate or follow directions.
  7. Provide Tools and Clues –  in the teacher mode, you decide what materials students can build with to simplify the choices they make, on the other hand, you can also provide a range of choices, if part of the task is choosing the appropriate tools to use.  You can leave information in books, on information blocks or sign blocks, or you can create objects that will attract or direct your students to look at something because it stands out or is out of place in the game environment.  You can also have students leave clues or comments about what they have built as a marker or summary of their work.
  8. Level Up & Reward Progress – Don’t forget to incorporate elements of difficulty and challenge as the game progresses.  If relevant to your goals, add some twists and turns to keep students guessing.  You can even have them build on an earlier task with a new or more complicated challenge.  And earning a badge is always a fun incentive (maybe even have a progress or leader board on the Information Center), but you can also reward students with increased privileges or access in the game as well as new materials or decorations in their inventory!
  9. Encourage Creativity & Collaboration- provide details of what you want students to build but don’t micromanage their process.  This is a game to use your imagination, so tell your students that outside of your specific instructions, they should use creativity in their building AND in their process.  MinecraftEdu is a perfect game for collaborating and strategizing; provide opportunities for students to work in teams or to have several groups working together.
  10. Increase Access – not all students will have access to the game outside of your classroom; make practice times available for those who may need more time to learn how to move and build.  You can even have students who are expert players teach their peers the fundamental skills and tips needed to navigate the game.  Some students need practice to build confidence and expertise to be able to experience that 100% “intensity” of the game experience, you play a key role in helping them get there!

Forgot to show my badge that I earned this week and our team shot!!

Giver Badge   Screenshot 2014-09-24 19.15.38

References:

Levin, J. (Unknown date).  Trending Topic:  Structured vs. Unstructured Play.  Retrieved from  http://minecraftteacher.tumblr.com/post/18912962011/trending-topic-structured-vs-unstructured-play

Watters, A. (March 15, 2012).  MinecraftEdu:  Minecraft for the Classroom. Retrieved from http://hackeducation.com/2012/03/15/minecraftedu-minecraft-for-the-classroom/

8 thoughts on “Making MinecraftEdu a Meaningful Learning Experience

  1. This is a great list of suggestions. What are your thoughts on grading/assessing Minecraft work? I really liked how Thomas talked about leaving it open-ended and grading based on mastery. I’m struggling though, to see where mastery of certain elements fit in and also just assessment in general (with games). You tackled one of my concerns with #10, making sure that all students have access.

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    1. I think the trick is making sure that the task or assignment takes advantage of the MinecraftEdu game. Simply building scenes as described in the book does not address whether or not they understand the book, but it demonstrates that they can find specific details and illustrate the events in Minecraft. I have several ideas that I’m hoping to pitch for our group’s section:

      1. Students can write an alternate ending to the book (as if it is not part of a series). In Minecraft, they have to create scenes, take a screenshot, and write a short paragraph or summary of each scene, leading to the end of the book. Because we have several chapters in our group, they can pick up the story at any point in that section and write the ending. I think this will show that they understand the book in its entirety and are able to “close” the story with illustrations.

      2. I’d like them to write and illustrate in minecraft the ending from the perspective of any character except Jonas. This will show that they understand the other characters’ perspectives and role in the story.

      3. I’d like to add challenging levels, for example, write and illustrate the alternate ending AND create a narrated movie with their scenes, OR

      write an ending that incorporates perspectives from SEVERAL characters, not just one. In this task, we’d want to see what’s happening back in the community parallel to Jonas OR

      create a comic book of your alternate ending(using minecraft to illustrate).

      I guess my main assessment goal is to have students interpret the book and frame it in their own words and pictures.

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  2. You have some great ideas and I look forward to your pitch at our next group meeting. I think #4 on your list is especially important given the scope of Minecraft itself. I often find myself exploring and building more than actually accomplishing a task if I don’t have a clear goal in mind.
    I think there is a lot to offer from the teacher mode, and it was fun learning all the different things within that mode. I would still like to figure out the quickest way to build.

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  3. Mia,

    I like your suggestions. I agree with #4 like Thomas and #10. I think it’s important to have a small area for students to focus in. I have found with my students if I don’t give them specific details, there imagination runs wild with assumptions and lessons/re-teaching occurs. What I have found is, I give them direct instruction and let them create their own ideas within reason. I think teacher mode is incredible. It gives students the opportunity to create and explore, but also be supervised and have the ability to ask questions if they’re stuck. I like the idea of having set practice times for students. I look forward to our next meeting.

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  4. Great strategy! What I appreciate the most is that while you are not familiar with the vehicle of MInecraft, you’re not afraid to dig in and get your hands dirty. The reality of using Minecraft in the classroom is that a majority of your students will be far more proficient at utilizing the game than you. But even for those who are not familiar with the game, you will have an opportunity to model fearless learning with them– and that’s a valuable opportunity. Good job!

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  5. As some who is new to Minecraft, I really liked the idea of creating an outside “help area.” While as a teacher I can see this as being time consuming to prepare but what a valuable tool for your students but especially your parents. I think this could be an additional way to engage your students in the project too. Maybe there are bonus points connected to this source for adding comments or hints to help their peers.

    I also agree that we must remember to teach each part of the activity as part of the foundation. While many of our students may know the game, do they all know how to do the assignment?

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  6. I have gained a clear understanding of your enthusiasm and gusto for this project. What a fountain of ideas! The way you have immersed yourself in GiverCraft is admirable and an inspiration to me. Every thought shared is in context of the project, already thinking as if you are doing it, in the game, so to speak. The proactive attitude is refreshing and the plethora of ideas is exciting. It is probably a good thing I did not write a thesis for you as I did our project manager. Your blog and ideas are very thought provoking and your hard work is of great value to me as a learner and a teacher. Thank you.

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