Minecraft in the Classroom: Going Beyond Creepers and Zombies

This past month has been a very exciting month for our classroom. We started a deep dive into using Minecraft in the classroom. Now I know you hear the word Minecraft and automatically think two things. 1) What is that? or 2) zombies, creepers and kids playing video games but it is so much more than this. I won’t go into the whole premise of Minecraft but you can check it out here.

Now what did we do with it. In Ontario, one of the subjects that we go into in Grade 4 is Early Societies (or better known as Ancient Civilizations). Here are the overall expectations:

Now in the past I would grab some books, have the students read through them and fill out a graphic organizer. This graphic organizer would then help them to write a report about the civilization of their choice. This is great. It gets at the curriculum, I teach writing conventions and concepts and they learn an important skill in researching information but do the kids enjoy it? Does it really get them into understanding the research? or is it just words on a page. I think about my own daughter, who just happens to be in Grade 4. I personally love Ancient Civilizations, especially Medieval Era. I talk about it with her all the time but it wasn’t until we went to Medieval Times that she was like whoa daddy this is cool. That rich immersion into a society that is gone is very hard to replicate but this is exactly what we got with the use of Minecraft.

So what did we do. The first step was the same. My students started out looking at books and looking for information in regards to the environment they lived in, society (class structure, daily life) and various innovations. When we first started out we felt this was the best way to get students into the various civilizations and allow them to explore. I then introduced them to the world of Minecraft, which many if not all went nuts. I told them that they would be working in their groups to make their civilization come to life. I decided that they would need a small sample so I created my own world to show them. You can see this world in the Minecraft folder below. Here is a screenshot:

I also gave them a set of parameters.

  1. I wanted at least three structures that would represent their civilization
  2. They had to have 2 pieces of innovation
  3. They had to show me the social structure
  4. The environment and the materials they chose had to represent their civilizations time period.
  5. Once that was all done they could go in and add anything else they thought was good to know from their research

The next step was paper prototyping their Minecraft worlds. Students were given a large piece of newsprint and told to map out what they felt like their worlds would look like. In hindsight some more skills on mapping may have been needed. However, students had a plan of what they wanted to design. They then took this plan into the Minecraft world to start their crafting. This was where the interesting discussions started.

At first, the students where just exploring their worlds. For many of them it was new and exciting but as they started to build their discussions became richer and richer. Many students argued about the materials that they were using, some noticed that the vegetation was all off and had to be changed. Some of the students asked about various materials and when it was developed. One group had some of the most interesting conversations:

Me: What are you building?
Group: A doctor’s office
Me: Really? Did they have doctors (this was the medieval era)
Group: I don’t know
Me: Why did you want to build it?
Group: Cause we have them so they must have had them
Me: Go do a quick research on it?
Group: OMG!!! they just cut of their hands and let them bleed
Me: (small chuckle inside)

Another conversation I had was around Libraries.
Me: What are you building?
Group: a Library (they had used the bookshelves in Minecraft and built this elaborate place of learning)
Me: Did they have books?
Group: Why wouldn’t they? How else did they learn?
Me: Um…. (left them for a while)
Group: They wrote on scrolls and only certain people read, that isn’t fair?
Me: so what changed?

I had numerous conversations like this with many groups. I could not believe the rich and engaging conversations that the students where having. These conversations started right away. As children built they talked about materials, dimensions, where certain place had to be built and the scale of buildings. Not only did these conversations happen but more questions and further research had to happen. This is something that I never saw with my older versions of Ancient Civs. Sure the students enjoyed the different civilizations but there was never a real thirst to learn more.

With the buildings complete the next step was to use the black boards, signs and NPC players in Minecraft to share their research. With these components students are able to share their research in small sections at a time. It helped us relearn proper paragraph writing and focusing on main ideas.

Once students developed their worlds they each got a chance to go around to different ones and explore them. Within Minecraft EDU students have a camera, portfolio and Book a Quill option. With these options students can record their thinking down which can later be downloaded as a PDF or kept in the world for others to read.

As we wrapped our project my teaching partner and I reflected on some changes to our process for next year. One I would have started in science with teaching more about habitats. We felt that this would give more students a connection with the environment and biome piece. We also felt that instead of starting with the research we would just jump right into an inquiry and paper planning. The reason for this is that we felt as soon as students started to build they really got into asking deeper questions, which in turn lent itself to higher research and more meaningful connections to the work. The final piece we felt that the students needed more work with basic gameplay. As you look through their worlds you will find that students didn’t lead you through the world. The nice thing is that with Minecraft EDU there are already a lot of pre-made worlds for lessons on all sorts of topics. One that I thought would be great is called the Mindful Knight which teaches students about Mindfulness in a simple game-based play. If combined with a story map students may see how to map their own game and the learning path for the civilizations. I also want to add in a section where they would show the evolution/ inspiration that their civilizations gave to other civilizations. I feel this was an amazing piece that time just didn’t allow. I will have to make this up later on in the year.

There is so many options in Minecraft EDU it isn’t even funny. It is by far more than a simple video game with zombies and creepers but one that allows students to explore and immersive themselves in the learning.

Here is a video link of one of my students worlds: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1GxtxKaRBqPjJpUZVED8f_AOv6cWgvgyq/view?usp=sharing

Would like to check out their worlds here are a few to download:
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1xd0zrJQPppGKrZj8Kt4XWgOUhhHLjPoe?usp=sharing

If you don’t have access to Minecraft check with your board many people don’t know that they already do. If you do have it I highly encourage you to use it in the classroom. Minecraft EDU works on Microsoft devices and apple devices, sorry no Chrome books.