Family Connection: Minecraft in Education

At the 2015 Virginia Association of School Librarians conference, I noticed the repetition of certain buzzwords:

MAKERSPACE!

DIGITAL!

21ST CENTURY!

CREATIVE!

You’ve probably noticed… I love all of these words. And the excitement! Capitalize those letters! All the exclamation points! Sign me up! I’m in!

But there was one buzzword that surprised me. It started as a whisper, and has grown to a roar.

MINECRAFT!

Sourced from digital-discovery.org

If you’re a parent of a kid between the ages of 6-18, you’ve probably heard of Minecraft. You’ve probably listened to your child talk incessantly about Minecraft. And you’ve probably had to physically drag them away from the computer once or twice to separate them from the pixelated game, which seems to have mysterious addicting properties.

So yes, Minecraft could be a topic of discussion between a group of students, or a group of parents. I could see it coming up in a teachers’ meeting or on a pop culture blog or two. But at a librarian conference? As the subject of multiple concurrent sessions? I decided to investigate.

What I learned is that Minecraft is complicated, requires a lot of skill, and looks pretty darn cool. There are multiple versions of the game, and Educationworld.com gives a great summary of the Survival mode:

At its core, Minecraft is about placing and mining blocks. The game world consists of 3D objects—mainly cubes—that represent materials such as dirt, stone, various ores, water and tree trunks. Players gather these material blocks and use them to form various constructions.

When the game begins, players must work quickly, with friends or by themselves, to build shelter to survive the night (when all the monsters of the world come out). Once they finish a day (20 minutes in real time), users repeat the cycle, building more complex shelters and stocking up on vital resources in order to survive.

Available game modifications, called mods, add a variety of gameplay changes. One mod, MinecraftEdu, is designed to make the game more classroom-friendly. The mod allows educators to incorporate their own curricular content and run a custom server for each of their classes. – See more at: http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/benefits-minecraft-classroom-students.shtml#sthash.uwNzA1tV.dpuf

Other modes allow users to simply land in their designated digital space and collect and create to their hearts’ content, or to be assigned a specific task and gain freedom to other mods once they complete it. MinecraftEDU offers teacher controls and assignments, as well as a wealth of shared resources to help teachers link the game to SOL standards and classroom curriculum. Any Minecraft account offers limitless opportunities for users to create and explore.

The sessions that I attended were packed – standing room only, filled with librarians furiously typing, Googling, and Tweeting about Minecraft as the presenter shared photos of her students happily zeroed-in on their laptops. She boasted of 100% student engagement, or feverish passion for projects centered on Ancient Rome, of students with chronic behavior issues now begging for extra library time.

But like any new educational initiative, using Minecraft in the classroom has pros and cons. Pros? The kids are obsessed. From recreating historical Jamestown to experimenting with perimeter and area, the opportunities for educational application are limitless. Bringing a student favorite into our classrooms shows our kids that their passions matter, and that we want them to have a voice in their education. Game-based learning is a hot new topic on the educational scene, and it can have great effects on student achievement; especially for those that aren’t traditional learners (engaging non-traditional learners is a topic I’m very passionate about. Stop by sometime and I’ll chat your ear off). You know that students will be engaged and passionate about the things that they’re creating, and that just this once, they might actually ask to work on their schoolwork at home.

Cons? More screen time. The technology gap rears its ugly head again – there will be a significant gap in achievement levels between students that have computers and Minecraft accounts at home and those that only get to play at school. Less hands-on, moving and shaking, face to face work (my personal favorite) and more time clocked clicking, dragging, and staring. New pieces of technology could be needed to run the software, as well as expensive memberships and subscriptions. After all that cash, not everyone does their best learning and performing digitally. And some educators may feel, as I heard one old-school librarian mutter during a session today, “These stupid games have no place in a classroom.”*

*Note: I am unfortunately not dramatizing this comment. I take no personal responsibility for other school librarians and the mud that they seem to be stuck in.  

What are your thoughts? Should teachers and librarians attempt to keep up with pop culture and technology trends in order to excite and engage their students in the classroom? Or is Minecraft a passing trend that has no place in our library? How would you feel if a Minecraft station popped up in the Learning Leopard Library?

Share your opinion via a comment, email, or contact me on my Facebook page. I want to hear from you!

Need help deciding? Check out some other great links with information about MinecraftEDU:

Teachhub: Minecraft in the Classroom Teaches Reading and More

EdTechReview: Why and How to use Minecraft in the Classroom

School Library Journal: Minecraft Takes Hold in Schools

Education Insider: Infographic: Games vs. Game-Based Learning vs. Gamification (Bonus! Features Minecraft-esque graphics and infographics are the coolest!)

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