I've just finished my first Minecraft project.
A year ago I started to think about a couple of things what comes to Minecraft. We have students, 16-22 years old, that rather play a game than to study, why? Even though when they have applied to an education, they still play. Okay, so they play, is there any chance I can take control over the game and use it as a pedagogy tool?
Thoughts like that triggered me to do something about it. I was looking for a chance - and found one - to actually run a Minecraft project. Luckily my principal was as curious as me, except one detail, you won't have much of a budget. All extra time I put into the project I've been, sort of, able to flex with my own schedule. There was no chance, at that point, to set up an own server but I found a way to rent one, a basic vanilla creative without any mods.
And the experiment and observation begun.
Of course I was the one with the less knowledge and experience, so what? It took not even 30 hours before the first conflicts started and I had to spend a Saturday to mediate peace and understanding. It doesn't matter if you have the less experience with the tool as long as you're the leader. You have to both keep them into the learning direction and also put up the rules, solve conflicts and arguments.
When you use Minecraft as a pedagogy tool, it's not like you're just sit there and let the students play. You take advantage of the game and give them problems to solve. They have to use lots of skills they don't yet have to solve problems they didn't know they're going to have. Most fantastic, they do it, they ask you, they are interested, they work hard and stay focus. And you keep them concentrated and active during most longer times than usual.
Why make it harder than it is? Why try to introduce 3D Studio Max or Blender before you caught their interest? We've seen that for several years: some are interested and learn while the rest loose their interest and start doing something else... Keep It Simple Stupid, and Minecraft was an excellent tool for that purpose! Actually so good I could start a second project (with a own bukkit server) after two months and this autumn will start a third one with MinecraftEDU.
Santeri Koivisto at Teachergaming.com gave me this input at my start of the first project: "...the big question with Minecraft and with any video game is that students that age need an explanation why we are using this at school and what we are learning."
True, they needed to have an explanation and I had to also repeat it during the project. Most of my students are young people who learn in a practical way, they need to explore the knowledge. Those students have been very easy to talk to and explain the purpose to. A few students have been (like my colleagues tend to be): theoretical learners, they don't understand at all. Not the game thinking, the purpose or whatsoever.
They've been building their schools in Minecraft, and one group has also build an organic city, or that was the goal...
When the project ended I understood I had to come up with some 'hard data'. Because no matter what fantastic results I get, some people (read: teachers) need that to actually understand what happened. And the results are in. And again, it's not any science (this time 10 answers = 100% of participants!) research at all, but still interesting. I use a scale of 1 to 6 because I want to force my students to have a second thought, either they've learned a little bit less (3) or a little bit more (4).
The motivation has been high
And what makes the motivation keep that high? Well for example: build, experience, new way of learning, learn by doing.
Distance, work from home
This will surprise most educators I believe. It's much more fun to do it together, in a classroom, instead of doing it from home. Just because you have a ability to work from home you don't want to do it.
Minecraft instead of classic "rostrum teaching", with other words: be able to learn through a tool like Minecraft.
Have we reach the goals we put up together before the project started?
- Information search (youtube, wiki...)
- Environmental thinking
- Art and design
- Technical Drawing (3D from 2D)
What unintentional learning occurred?
This is a funny one and you can read more about it here, almost the same as the key competences for lifelong learning from the Finnish National Board of Education (FNBE)
- Be able to plan and be proactive (7)
- Boolean value (redstones = electrcal engineering) (3)
- Ability to manage information (4)
- Analysis Ability (2)
- Cooperation (6)
- Understanding how communities were built in the past and how to utilize natural resources (2)
- Materials properties and structure of (5)
- Interaction between man, society and nature (3)
- Design and creation (6)
- Programming and scripting (command block) (4)
- Solving Problems (8)
- Think Programming and Logic (command block) (2)
In what ways or channels have you solved upcoming problems?
How much have you enjoyed this project?
Did you experience that you got help from the teacher?
Knowledge about Minecraft
Have it felt strange that you might know more about the tool (Minecraft) than the teacher?
Do you feel that this elective course has given you something positive?
If I try to use Ruben R. Puentedura's SAMR model to Minecraft it might be something like this:
The lowest level is Substitution:
Technology acts as a direct substitute
Instead of work with papers, students use computers.
The second level is Augmentation:
Direct substitute with functional improvement
Instead of book encyclopedia students use wikis and YouTube to solve problems.
The third level is Modification:
Technology allows for a significant task redesign
With the Minecraft tool the students started to create 3D models of their schools and meanwhile learned different subjects, took screenshots, videoclips and used them in reports or microblogs.
The fourth level is Redefinition:
Technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable for example creating a calculator (electrical engineering), use a 2D sketch to create a 3D model (technical drawing), the experience: to actually walk around inside your 3D model and feel as you walk there in real life.
Finally, I have to agree with Techno Rookie about the best part. Neither did I had to move through these levels or through the SAMR model, I challenged my students, they adapt and overcome, with other words: they did the rest.