Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool?

I am writing these thoughts as a pre assessment of my thinking. I have only dabbled in Minecraft for about 30 minutes with my son a few years ago as my son tried to show me everything and he was going way too fast for me to comprehend. I never made it back to play another day until this summer.

After watching a few videos and doing some reading along with mixing what I am learning with my previous thoughts and experiences I am excited to put down in writing my answers to these questions. I will then go back after building a world and understanding Minecraft more to see how my answers shift or stay the same.

I will be addressing the following four questions:
Does the openness Minecraft negatively or positively impact its use in the classroom setting?
Because the game has no goals built into it, how does that help it for educational use or does that cause problems?
Do you feel the popularity of the game help or hinder its use in an educational setting, because the majority of students will have already played it?
Is not having a tutorial a good or bad thing for classroom use?

From an outside view(not being in the classroom directly) I see the openness as amazing and extremely powerful. I live and breathe makerspaces, robotics, LEGO, Arduino, and more. While I see the need for instructions to help build a base, I also believe that a huge issue with education and society is that we don’t provide enough situations for students to problem solve. They are rarely given the chance to think on their own, learn how to deal when their ideas don’t work, problem solve new solutions, work with others, ask for help from others, and continue the cycle of building their toolkit of skills to simply survive on their own. I learned all last week running my robotics camp how much kids need these experiences to develop these skills.

So often parents step in and do it for them. Sports are so organized that kids no longer know how to just go outside and play. Schools and classrooms across the nation are so worried about data and test scores that more and more classrooms look the same with scripted worksheets, specific step by step learning, and curriculum to match. Kids are not given enough time to play and explore. Even kindergarten and preschools are slowly losing the exploration and creativity moments because there is not enough time to get it all in for the sake of data.

With that being said, I think something like Minecraft could prove to be a huge asset for classrooms. It is so wide open with zero instructions that educators could create the parameters to allow any type of learning to happen. Students are no longer restricted to bring their ideas to life. It is honestly wide open and limitless to take learning to deeper levels than any other software available. All it takes is an open mind.
This vast openness is also what scares educators and schools. How do we begin? I feel free pretty tech savvy as a person and even I am a bit nervous about diving into this world. I was reminded of my first attempt at learning Minecraft a few years ago and just how different I operated compare to my son(In the chair of a student: Minecraft learning reverses my teacher role!). If I feel nervous I can only imagine how another teacher who is not tech savvy would not allow this to happen.

What Minecraft COULD do is help move education where it needs to be. This openness forces educators to give up some control. They are not in direct control. More of this needs to happen where students are in driver seat of their learning instead of simply being a passenger while the teacher drives. I am a huge advocate of student voice and agency and Minecraft allows both to happen. Obviously, I think it goes without saying that depending on how you use Minecraft you could easily hit any of the Common Core 21st Century Standards. This piece is a real no brainer, but with everything the hard part is documenting the standard being met and mastered.

I have witnessed many examples of Minecraft being used in our schools for smaller projects and am simply blown away by what students can create to showcase their learning. The idea of not having a manual is simply an irrelevant conversation anymore. You can find out how to do anything on YouTube. There are websites and blogs that can give you the answers you need. A “manual” does exist, but just not in a pretty little booklet next to a cartridge. I think the need for a manual is only a concern for the older generations(like myself) who had that as part of the norm growing up. The manual exists in many formats like the internet, Kindle, books, etc. To build off the idea of a manual, it now allows users to create their own. If you can create a tutorial, then you must really know your stuff. This is a great way to infuse learning by having students develop their own manuals to help others.

Last, the popularity of Minecraft is what has allowed this whole conversation to take place. If it was not popular, then education would ignore these worlds completely. Because it is so massive education realizes this could help drive change in schools. Will students run away that an institution is using their favorite tool? Only time will tell. Right now it is exciting and new, but at one point Smartboards were considered cool until they became standard. The true challenge of education is not to ruin an amazing game by placing all these parameters into the worlds and as a result the game loses all the power that bring millions of people online every single day. The moment a teacher starts to limit what can be done the whole project fails. The beauty of the success of Minecraft in education is for educators to not see it as a “game”, but a platform to bring learning to where the students are instead of trying to move students to where the educator is. If enough classrooms fail to see it this way, then it will be one more failed attempt and bridging technology and learning to the lives of students.

In closing, I don’t know that Minecraft is the ultimate education tool……yet. Not enough schools and classrooms are using it to make that claim. I think it has the ingredients to be the ultimate. However, it is first major breakthrough with a safe haven to create whatever. The hard part lies in the logistics of school where you have to worry about monitoring, bullying, cost, infrastructure, and all the wonderful red tape that comes with implementing anything into schools. At this point it is simply too early to determine an answer to this question, but I am going to dive in and see what I can discover on my own and for my school.

Here are the two videos I watched before posting these ideas

**I am taking a class called, Creatively Thinking with MinecraftEdu, so I will be sharing my thoughts, learning, as well as documenting my journey from newbie to not so newbie as I go along with the materials. Feel free to leave comments, challenge my thinking, and share what you know.**

***Today I actually begin playing Minecraft. I will be recording my journey through the tutorial to let others see that it is not as intimidating as you might think…..I hope!***

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Digital Citzenship CAN and SHOULD be taught to young kids

My son is going to be in third grade this fall and he has more online awareness than I had at any time in my life growing up as a kid and teenager.

Like many other kids, he is addicted and loves Minecraft. He does things so quickly and rapidly that blow me away and most times do not make sense to my eyes.

One thing we have done as parents is instill a sense of trust with him. We have laid out guidelines and have open communications about what is acceptable and not acceptable. We then cross our fingers that he listens.

He is a typical boy. He pouts. He does not like chores. He loves outdoors. Etc. He is just your regular run of the mill boy.

And he gets the gold star in digital citizenship.

He plays on the JoKaydia server which is ran by an amazing educator and person who I have so much respect for. We don’t peer over his shoulder, but ask that he remains open and honest. He has done wonderfully talking about issues. It leads to some great conversations not only about digital citizenship, but making proper decisions in life and treatment of others.

The other week I was out of town and I had to discuss with him over the phone about why he cannot play Halo or Modern Warfare while his other friends get to play. This is tough and puts him in a tough situation as he cannot play with his friends when they play these games. I often wonder if we are losing him to the peer pressure and possibly open communication.

Then I was reminded that he is a rock star. We received an email about him dealing with a situation on the Minecraft server.

HI ********,

I read the server logs of the incident you had with ******** in the mines today and I wanted to let you know that he has been banned for using swear words (cussing) and being rude to you. I’m sorry you had to experience that situation and I wanted to let you know that I’m very proud of you for handling it so well. You clearly reminded him to follow the rules and not use bad words, and you logged out when he wouldn’t stop – which was exactly the right way to handle things.

We take bad behavior including rudeness like that very seriously, and ******* account will stay banned for at least 2 weeks and we will discuss the problem with him and his parents before he is allowed to come back.

I was very proud as a parent. My 8 year old son handled a situation completely on his own and handled it perfectly without any guidance from us as parents. This also showcases how amazing some people are like Jo Kaydia who help make learning possible in safe environments. Additionally, this shows how fluent kids are today with the internet and the digital landscape.

On a higher level this goes back to an idea I shared months ago. Digital citizenship needs to be taught starting in kindergarten. Kids are networking online younger and younger and need to learn how to deal with issues. They need to be taught how to behave and what to do when others choose not to behave properly. They can handle it. The earlier they hear the message and more frequent they hear the message, the more positive their digital footprint will develop. They live in a day and age where they can no longer erase their actions. All they do is recorded. We must provide the kids with the tools and mindset to handle these powerful tools and games in the correct manner.

Part of our jobs in schools is to help develop these discussions and awareness. Yes, parents play a pivotal role as well, but not all parents are aware of these issues and don’t know how to go about it. This incident is another reminder of the obligations we have to our youth.

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In the chair of a student: Minecraft learning reverses my teacher role!

Learning how to play Minecraft with the teachings of my 8 year old son has brought me back to my school days. I felt stressed and not sure about myself.

Minecraft CastleAs Aiden rattled off all these keyboard shortcuts, new lingo, how to do this and that all at a blazing speed of an 8 year old excited to show his dad the world he loves, I was out of my element.

Now, I am a nerd. I love computers and games and anything involving technology so it is not like I don’t understand basic game mechanics. However, I needed him to slow down. I realized that his excitement was over the top. I loved it! He was so passionate about what he could create and do.

What I finally had to do was tell him to move on and just let me explore. I had another kid on the server help me at a much slower pace. I felt much better getting instructions from someone else. I felt bad about this, but this is when the light bulb clicked.

As parents, how many times has our children not listened to us, but hear the same message from someone else and it completely sinks in?

As teachers, how many times have we grown frustrated that a child cannot do this or that, but never give much thought to the fact that this may be their first time ever doing the task while we have done it for years?

Sitting in my computer chair I was reminded that I too, need to slow down. I must remember that not everyone operates the same way that I do. I was reminded that as teachers we can be the ones to deliver the same message that they are not hearing at home despite the family preaching it a million times or not at all.

I was also reminded that my brain operates much different. He lives by self teaching through YouTube. I had to download some books as I like to read, take notes, and then apply. Our brains and lifestyles have changed as technology has provided new ways of learning. I hate to say it, but I learn the old school way and he is part of the new school generation.

Despite feeling stressed about learning so much so fast in Minecraft by my son, I loved the experience. It reminded of what he goes through everyday. It reminded that I have so much to learn as there is so much I don’t know. It reminded me to stay involved with the passions of my son and to be sure to share my own passions. All it takes is 5 minutes to listen, even if it stresses us out! It shows we care. And even more importantly he is excited about it.

Instead of harping on him all the time about playing too much perhaps I should embrace that he wants to share his passions with me. If all I do is harp at what point does he no longer share his passions with me anymore?

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Minecraft present to their mom

My kids Aiden and Addy worked hard to build a little birthday present for their mom for her birthday. Pretty impressive considering how quickly they built it and completely on their own. Many little personal touches that I was quite surprised they put in on their own.

Once again Minecraft has been an outlet for my kids to showcase their personalities and thinking. By taking a new world and working together they built a perfect present for their mother. This is much better than anything you buy with money because this shows their appreciation for their mom.

I never expected them to share what they did. So proud of Aiden and Addy.

I only show this as an example that people can trash video games and electronics, but I am believer that there is a word of positive in these tools and games.

Here is the link for the video

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8 year old Aiden Minecraft Video #2: Pez Dispenser Challenge and Help Requests

On April 2nd my 8 year old son posted a video to Youtube to showcase a rollercoaster he built. We shared it on this blog as a blog post. I was not sure what to expect and just wanted him to have the chance to do something that interested him. My only rule was that he speak and explain his thoughts(the teacher in me).

About a week later he has over 50 views. I know that is not a lot in the YouTube sense, but it is a lot for an 8 year old testing out the waters of social media. I showed him how to look at the views and to check for comments. He was so happy to see that people actually watched his video. It was like he was testing out the waters himself to see if it was worthwhile.

A few days after posting he had a comment left on the YouTube site by the infamous Jo Kay who is a staple in the Minecraft world. Jo had challenged Aiden to build a better rollercoaster and gave him a place to start with learning and viewing. This was all that was needed for him to continue his self learning. Over the last few days he had been working hard to meet that challenge for Jo.

Here is what is cool about this whole process. He wanted to record again, but this time it was different. He is stuck. He has watched I don’t know how many videos, but he just cannot grasp what he wants to do. This time around he asked me to leave the room so he could record by himself. I let him do that, but I did edit the video because there were some long pauses of nothing going on. As I condensed the video I realized I have another chance to teach him about presentation skills, tips, and ideas.

To make things even cooler he had a comment left for him on the blog by another 8 year old who lives in China and likes his rollercoaster. I have never seen a smile so big when he found out another kid his age left a comment. He feels so special to have these two comments. Now he is working on connecting to these people online to learn and to teach others. It is a rather remarkable journey that we are embarking on together.

So, here is a link to this latest video where you can see his two attempts at making a Pez Dispenser rollercoaster from the challenge and some other ideas he has.

 http://youtu.be/LjPLwUV4-Nw

Like a typical 8 year old who is excited and working through the process he skips around so bare with him. He laid out his plans for his Minecraft video series last night so they will only get better and I think he has plans to show the Ender dragon and all that jazz.

Let the journey continue………

And if you have any suggestions or ideas for him leave a comment here or on YouTube.

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My 8 year old son’s Minecraft Roller Coaster Challenge

My son always plays Minecraft. After viewing some cool videos online I gave him the challenge to build his own roller coaster. He set out to do just that by learning on his own and making it happen. I think it turned out pretty good for a self taught 8 year old.

He would love it if you checked it out and perhaps had any cool suggestions for him to try to make it better or cooler. I lack any Minecraft knowledge and am not able to help him in any capacity.

I hope you enjoy and this is just one more example of the power of Minecraft. Despite not understanding how to do things, I do see the power of thinking and creative expression within the game.

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