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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!!
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/