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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