Minecraft in the Classroom: The Power of Game-Based Learning

Minecraft Education Edition

Editors Note: This post is part of a series being developed collaboratively between Minecraft EDU and Teaching Channel.

A few years ago, I taught a class called “Storytelling” and it was my students in that class who taught me a great deal about game-based learning. I’d see them engaged in their video games or magic cards, and as a self-proclaimed non-gamer, I had much to learn from them.

A great game combines the art of storytelling, fine arts, music, video production, and appropriate player engagement to create an immersive, memorable experience. Gamers are very much like readers: they like to explore, uncover, discover, and fully immerse themselves in the experience they’re willingly entering. As a book nerd and teacher of readers and writers, it took me a long time to realize my students were reading and writing in games in the same ways I wanted them to do with books. It took me a while to learn from them that games were another form of literacy they were unlocking for themselves.

Around the same time, I read Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. In it she writes, “When you strip away the genre differences and the technological complexities, all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.”

I began to reimagine my class and used the above principles to make learning more engaging and impactful for my students. Was I building in enough time for my students to practice? Were all of my students being appropriately challenged by the work in the course? How can I create learning activities that will make my students willing participants in them?

Turns out, educators have a lot to learn from game designers and I was barely scratching the surface of this topic.

Minecraft & Teaching Channel

Fast forward a couple of years and I find myself serving students and teachers via the Minecraft: Education Edition team at Microsoft. As an education manager on the team, I’m able to create content for our community, lead our research work, present at various education conferences, and help create a community for others who want to start their Minecraft journey. This year, we launched our Global Mentor program made up of 60 educators from 19 different countries who are eager to help others get started using Minecraft in their classrooms. When I asked them their reasons for joining and what they hope they’ll discover about Minecraft, here’s what they had to say:

Kyriakos, Portugal: “The great advantage of Minecraft is how it encourages everyone to fail, learn from their mistakes, fail again, then fail better, until you get it right.”

Katja, Denmark: “I don’t expect myself to be the expert of the game. I plan challenging and innovative activities for my students around the content and standards; that never goes away just because we’re using Minecraft.”

Ben, Canada: “Minecraft allows students to complete learning objectives and demonstrate understanding in a way that makes them feel empowered and safe!”

Steve, United States: “I’ve found engagement to be key, tapping into a student’s interests, and providing an incredible creative outlet.”

In many of our educators’ experiences, you’ll find four common themes emerge again and again:

  • Student engagement
  • The opportunity for collaboration among students
  • An outlet for students to express creativity
  • The ability to connect learning to tangible outcomes

Ultimately, using game-based learning tools like Minecraft in your classroom works because our students already inhabit this world and speak its language. It’s up to us to take their passion and leverage it toward powerful learning experiences.

If you’d like to take the plunge with us, over the next few weeks Minecraft Education — in conjunction with Teaching Channel — will lead a webinar and multiple Facebook Live sessions to help you get started with your Minecraft: Education Edition journey. For now, feel free to peruse the various Minecraft resources on Minecraft: Education Edition, including lessons, tutorials, and mentors, and to start your free trial.

Share your thoughts and leave us a comment about what you’d like to see included in our future webinars, Facebook Live sessions, and blog posts.

Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching, is a National Board certified teacher who taught English in Philadelphia for ten years at the Science Leadership Academy and other public schools in the city. She has shared her classroom practice at various national and regional conferences, including NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, ILA, EduCon, and the National Writing Project’s Urban Sites Conference. The founder of #engchat, an international Twitter chat for English teachers, Meenoo has also been a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project and an educational consultant with The Educator Collaborative. She is also an instructor at Arcadia University’s Connected Learning Certificate Program. Meenoo has also served as a teaching fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she led the portfolio to help teachers refine their practice through collaboration. Currently, Meenoo works as Manager for Minecraft Education at Microsoft, where she helps educators and districts reimagine game-based learning for classroom practice. Connect with Meenoo on Twitter: @MeenooRami.

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