Do you remember when you were a kid and you could spend hours in a sandbox or building with blocks? That sandbox could become anything — a medieval castle, a turtle, or maybe even a bakery serving up sandy snickerdoodles. The possibilities were endless.
Being the type who likes to research, when I first noticed my students’ obsession with Minecraft, I began researching and found that Minecraft was described as a “sandbox game.” My gaming knowledge was limited at the time so the term was unfamiliar to me, but it brought me back to playing in the backyard as a child. Later, I learned the term references the few limitations put on the player. However, much like my childhood sandbox, it requires creativity.
Creativity is a 21st-century skill that our students will need as they continue to grow and engage in the work of solving global problems. With the wide-spread availability of information, the need for creativity is higher than ever. Students become innovators now in the classroom and take those skills into whatever profession they grow in to. Technology even allows students to make a global impact and be active citizens solving problems.
So as an educator, how do you purposely develop skills like creativity?
Minecraft is a virtual world where students can practice creativity. For those who’ve never played, the game allows for endless combinations of crafting and building. Entire worlds can be created, or more narrow designs. My students like to use Minecraft to create designs for some of their STEM projects.
When I ask my students what they learn from Minecraft beyond the specific content of the lesson, my students identify creativity and collaboration as top skills — skills that translate out of the digital world.
Provide Opportunities for Students to Play and to Identify and
Minecraft is a game that allows students to have fun while they identify and solve problems. It also allows teachers to create purposeful lessons to give students these opportunities. If an educator scrolls through the created lessons of the Education Edition website, they can see this creativity in action. Some lessons allow students to develop stories, while others pose a physics challenge to solve. Teachers can develop a blend of questions for students to creatively solve or challenge students to define and solve their own problems.
Make Room for Student Experts
For many educators, our students will be the Minecraft experts. Don’t be afraid to involve them in developing lessons and criteria. It gives students additional opportunities to be creative and take ownership over what they’re doing. It also gives them a deeper understanding of what they’re learning. Another option is to have students develop a lesson to help them mentor a younger grade. They can research the content, develop standards-aligned goals for their mentee, and design a world to help teach the lesson.
For their first Minecraft assignment this year, my students created an art piece inspired by an art gallery we visited. They were tasked with choosing a theme and creating a cumulative project connecting STEM, history, and ELA. Students were required to build their inspired piece in Minecraft and were allowed to incorporate other information in an outside Sway presentation — an interactive presentation tool created by Microsoft.
One of my students asked to create all of the subject connections in Minecraft. He used signs, NPCs (non-playable characters with text to talk), and a link to a presentation — all within a Minecraft world. The entire world was characterized by a Greek mythology theme and included all subject connections. Explore it here if you have Minecraft Education Edition (Art of Brick Individual Project).
Creativity is an essential skill in the workplace and in leadership. As educators, we must help students develop creative skills. They are world problem solvers. Minecraft is an amazing tool for teaching the critical pieces of creative work.
So be creative and get crafting!
Jessica Pilsner is a 6th-10th grade teacher at Renton Prep, Renton, Washington. Her innovation and experience have inspired her to use gaming as a vehicle to teach communication and storytelling in a multidisciplinary, multi-project unit, through the game Journey. Jessica is a Minecraft Global Mentor and a second year Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. Due to her speaking ability and passion for education technology, she was invited to film an introduction series for Minecraft Education Edition. She has a creative portfolio of work and has presented at FETC, TCEA, and NCCE. Connect with Jessica on Twitter: @jess_pilsner