A number of years ago I remember walking through our learning commons at lunch to see what the students were up to. On almost every computer that was being used I saw students playing a very pixilated online game. It looked like a very crude, early 80’s nintendo game and I wondered why it was so appealing. Having little time to put into finding out, I dismissed it as “just a game” at that point. Little did I know it was such a creative, educational and process based game called Minecraft.

Fast forward to my current masters cohort. Minecraft is discussed with great regularity and enthusiasm by many of the group members. At first I was somewhat dismissive, but as more time lapsed I became more intrigued with the idea of understanding the platform more. I currently teach a computers 8 class in our school and have focused on increasing the students’ capability to search google effectively using search operators, effective use of documents in google drive and microsoft suite, and introducing them to creative aspects of computing using garage band and video editing software. Although this is providing them with useful tools to aid in many other courses in their schooling, I was interested in learning more about how Minecraft works in order to see if I could integrate this into our learning.

I have a student in class that has shown a waining interest in what we are currently doing and one day in the hall I asked if he “played” Minecraft. “Like, yeah. Um, all the time” was his reply. I though I was going to get that response and asked if he would show me some basics about the platform in class next day. “Wow, a teacher wants me to play Minecraft in class?” he said. “No” I replied, “I want you to teach me how it works.” The following is a breakdown of what he presented to me in class. It is a very basic introduction to the program and I hope that with this beginner knowledge I can at least understand how to use it in class in a way that provides meaning to the students who all have much more knowledge than me.

Although Minecraft is an online world that can be interactive, you first begin by downloading the program onto your computer (www.minecraft.net). Once you have installed the program, you create an online profile. This takes very little time and you are now up and running. The start screen (shown Below) allows you to choose Single Player or Multi Player. I began using this in single user to adjust to a new game.

Minecraft Start Screen

The next screen allows you to create a new world. I kept my Game Mode:Creative (although there are more options) and clicked on More World Options… to create a world that was superflat (see image below) as it was in keeping with the town of Hope that I was going to build.

Create New World Screen

Once the world is created it is now time to build. Movement around the world is easy, with a(left), s(backwards), d(right), and w(forward) keys that are pretty generic to many first person type games. The e key accesses your inventory in order to create different blocks. You have a multitude of options here to create semi-realistic renditions of our world. The spacebar allows you to move upwards and a double-tap returns you to earth. Important for building tall objects.

I began to work on creating our town the next class and asked that any other student who was interested begin to help. I sat back and watched a number of interesting things happen:

  1. Students who had more knowledge of the game and building started to bark out ideas across the room to other students.
  2. Some students began to work in multi-player mode to work on buildings together.
  3. A number of students were struggling to get started. My tutorial student walked around the class to help out and log everyone in who was interested in participating. This was very unusual for this student as he is not generally interested in helping others much, but felt comfortable in his aptitude for the game that he was displaying much more confidence in himself than I had seen previously.
  4. Students who had rushed through projects or put less than ideal effort into them were suddenly working hard on this project. One student had, by the end of class, completed the skate park we have in town and the surrounding parking lot.

This was great! In just one class I had witnessed interactions between students that I was struggling to achieve during many other projects and even on a greater level than the video project we had done last term.

The next class continued like the first, with more students working on building our town. Bridges were constructed, roads emerged, and students had even completed components of our town at home. I have much to learn about the power of the game as an educational tool, but am so glad I took the time to be introduced to it by a student. A tutorial site by paulsoaresjr (https://www.youtube.com/user/paulsoaresjr) was introduced to me as well by my tutor and is a great resource as well.

I hope this helps any other newbie realize that the game is very useful, easy to use, and as complex and creative as the user can imagine.

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