Connecting dots of digital learning

A Short Introduction to MineCraft Pedagogy

by Santeri Koivisto, (blog: Some thoughts about MinecraftEdu in a classroom)

About the author: Santeri Koivisto is one of the creators of MinecraftEdu. He mostly does the boring business stuff in the company, but he’s also a teacher in Finland and an education enthusiast. His thoughts heavily affect the way Minecraft and MinecraftEdu are being used in everyday classrooms.

Getting started

I’m not going to cover the setup. You have technical people in schools and the installation process is very simple. Networking might need something, but the software can take care of itself. Most of the times. Anyway, the only important thing is that you enable multiplayer. That’s the heart and soul of the whole experience.

The first big set of FAQs include “how should I start with my students?” “Where can I get material?” “How can I create curriculum with it?”

The first thing to start with is the tutorial world with comes included in MinecraftEdu. That’s the only thing you need in addition to the standard world generator for starters.

Just divide the kids into groups and, if possible, put one experienced Minecraft player in every group. If they all know how to play, just start playing! You can find youtube videos that show the basic controls if you don’t know them, but most of the times the kids help themselves out – and you should encourage them to do so.

Now the game starts and the students enter the world. The biggest obstacle is already behind us. Tell the kids to stay in groups and ask every group from time to time if they can see each other. You can take the teacher avatar (if you want) to a certain location along the path and just tell every team should get there together and help others.

While in the tutorial world students start to learn a) how to play the game, b) how to be aware what others are doing in the world, c) pay attention to others, d) communicate about stuff that relates to things they have to do in virtual environment, e) collaboration, f) problem-solving (there are problems) .. what comes after f?.. oh yes “G” if they run into a conflict, meaning they disagree on something, you can come in between and use your teacher knowledge to help them through it. This is very, very important skill. Good manners and social problem-solving transfer from the virtual world to the physical world as real 21st-century digital-citizen skills.

Now we have already covered a lot of skills that school has difficulties developing, and we are just getting started.

One thing I have to say: the biggest mistake you can do is to say “it’s just a game”. It’s one of your key resources and it MATTERS to the students. They get angry when their buildings get grief. You need to be there to help with the conflict and show an example of how arguments can be solved.

Minecraft is special in the way that inside there can be a game-like activity, but the creation might be something that students don’t consider as a game. When you lose in a game it’s natural to feel bad, but then you can just try again. When you create something, it’s not natural for someone to break it and for the authority to say “it’s just a game”. What game?

By average it takes around 45 to 90 minutes to get used to the controls and basic crafting. To learn crafting, your best resource will be Minecraft-savvy students and different wikis. There’s a chance for a tutoring-, performing- and  information search practice. Maybe you can ask for the Minecraft players to give a short presentation on how to craft.

MineCraft for education

Getting further

Transfer is the key of viable knowledge and skills. I think it was Piaget who said that.  Mitra said that when children are interested, education happens. Lets keep those facts in mind.

Today you can learn and obtain information in seconds. If a student is interested in Greek culture, he/she can learn more in one hour browsing wikipedia than from school in a few months. That may be a dramatic example, but there’s truth in it! And it’s because the student is interested.

So it’s time to put more weight on getting kids interested instead of teaching bullet-point knowledge. I know this is hard to evaluate, but the bullet-point stuff is easier to teach when the audience is excited.  Games are a good way to get people interested. Come up with activities like this:

Egypt – let’s design our own Egyptian temple. It doesn’t matter how it looks like. Form up teams and work for 45 hours. If everything goes well the students would have a construction that possesses some sentimental value – their creation. Now it’s time for a comparison. Make a background story: “you are a Egyptian architect and you need to please the audience”, look up for information what requirements the temples had and add that.

The purpose of this activity is to get them interested in ancient Egypt in general and to know where to get information about it and create something around it. Another way of doing this would be to get a picture and copy it, but that I can’t recommend.

The kids will notice if the construction is little awkward-looking and they get to improve it by themselves to be more accurate.

That was getting them interested; now, the transfer. As you saw in the example, you don’t just work in the virtual environment. The games gives you a chance to take turns easily with two environments – physical and virtual – and let the knowledge to connect with two environments instead of one. My example above was not the best – you could also plan and draw your creations and then modify the plan after the study of the real things. Here’s a better example about transfer for math classes:

Introduction to the concept of volume – (don’t teach them how to count it beforehand) Divide into groups and get sticks (3-5 feet /1 meter long) or measuring tapes for the class. Ask them to build a classroom in Minecraft environment with the same volume as the room you are in right now! (You can round the dimensions to the nearest 3 feet or 1 meter to work with Minecraft’s cubic nature).

Let the students to use the measurement tools to figure out how big the room is and transfer the knowledge to the Minecraft environment. Ask them to inspect their calculations once in a while. There are couple common mistakes that are good to go through.

When they get the room ready, ask them to count how many cubic feet/meters the room is. They now get the understanding how what a cubic is and how big the room they are in is, volume-wise.

This is a good example how the knowledge hops from one environment to another.

Getting even further

Visit a google group called Minecraft Teachers. It a good place to connect with other teachers and I hope after the couple experiments and lessons you start to get your own ideas how to bend the platform to your own personal needs.

Few things to keep in mind:

  • growing interest is sometimes more important than teaching punctual facts

  • include both physical and virtual space in every possible activity by planning, writing, discussing, visiting, studying…

  • remember the game is not always just a game – be sensitive about how you treat conflicts that erupt in it. These might be the best teachable moment you’ll have on your way to raise digital citizens.

Hope this brief introduction helps you to get started! It’s also a piece of the education philosophy our company’s people want to promote. If you have any questions or you disagree/agree with something, please let me know!

photo credit: kenming_wang via photopin cc

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20 Responses »

  1. I took an unofficial poll of students who play Minecraft in my class, outside of school. Probably about 95%. Ever since I mentioned it, that’s mostly what students want to talk to me about, and I am short on experience in this area, so they can teach me. Really powerful learning here, I’m really excited about using some of these ideas in the fall. I have mostly Chromebooks, so that is a small barrier, but I have about 6 PCs so I can probably do quite a bit with them to start.

    • We like to try it too. You are welcome to share your experience here. Regarding hardware, Santeri said:

      No need for a dedicated server is you have a reasonably powerful machine to run it.

      Speed requirements… well if you want to make sure that no lag will happen, a quad core server is a very sufficient power house. Good amount of RAM is also needed and 4-6GB is plenty. (AMD processors will be tricky, because their single core power is very weak and this is essential when playing Minecraft)

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