Video games in a classroom? Why would a teacher want to include something like video games that seem to be all-consuming to our nation’s youth? The reason many of us educators immediately think of these two questions is likely due to the thinking that video games and education are incompatible. Do video games seem to be all-consuming to our students? Yes! But we should work smarter, not harder. We need to start considering using resources outside the traditional realms of education.
Minecraft Education was a resource that I found in one of my masters classes for Educational Technology. Minecraft Education became an invaluable resource not only to help get students to reach academic mastery but also for embedding social and emotional aspects. Long Branch Public Schools has made it a goal to meet the needs of its students and this means going beyond just academics. Now, I know change can be burdensome to many educators, but as educators it is our responsibility to grow and share our growth with our students and colleagues.. With that being said, let me break down Minecraft Education to help explain how technology can work for you and not the other way around.
Misconception: Minecraft Education Edition is Just Extra Work?
Minecraft Education provides numerous done-for-you lessons and worlds for students to explore concepts for deeper learning. Maybe you’re a Science teacher who is struggling with getting students to understand cells and differentiate between plant cells and animal cells. There is a lesson for that! What if you are an ELA teacher that is focusing on descriptive writing? There is a lesson for that! Trying to meet your students' social and emotional needs to be active citizens? Minecraft as a lesson for you! All of these lessons have almost everything you need as educators when submitting lesson plans: objectives, guided ideas, student activities, as well as performance expectations. The only part we would have to do is find the right standards that connect to the end goal.
Misconception: It is just a game that requires no thinking.
Wrong. Deeper, authentic learning occurs when students like what they are doing and when they are immersed in exploring learning and “creating something.” According to Noelene Callaghan in her scholarly article Investigating the Role of Minecraft in Educational Learning Environments, “Games in class permit students to construct knowledge, engage in authentic practices, enhance literacy skills and learn how to create “‘big ideas’” (2016). Minecraft Education almost always involves students creating something in a world that is specific for your lesson or skill, and this is usually done through teaching students to explore and to be curious learners. (Side Note: Want to learn more about Constructivism? Take a look here.) This unlocks students’ creativity which usually implies higher order thinking skills are being used. Take the world Good Trouble in Minecraft Education. Students explore activism throughout the world and help Malala Yousafzai in building a school for girls in Pakistan. Decisions on how to go about creating a building for girls in Pakistan require making in-the-moment decisions and revising their design based on feedback provided by us. This is a skill that goes beyond the classroom; learning that making mistakes and trying again is okay.
When surveying my homeroom class, every single student told me that they know how to play Minecraft and do so quite often. In my Unit 4: Fight for Freedom, students have the opportunity to meet leaders and activists from the past and present. Not only is that of importance, but students become globally aware of other activists in various parts of the world through exploration. Activism is no longer just about what is happening in America, but now students are exploring what is happening on a more global scale.. It is eye opening to me, and I am sure to you, when some of the students had no idea where Pakistan is globally; ultimately, this reminds us that we need to incorporate more content outside of the U.S. If you want to take a look at how I was able to connect Minecraft Education to an existing unit, feel free to take a look here.
Minecraft Education, like almost everything in gamification, is learning in disguise. Students become so immersed in the world, and more often than not, they do not even realize learning is occurring because it is happening so organically. This is what I live for as an educator. Organic and authentic learning. Having students so curious about certain aspects of activism that they go look up these things outside of my classroom, on their own time, is all the proof I need that games like Minecraft Education can have a lasting impact on my students.
But, where do I even get started?
Exploring. Explore the Minecraft Education world and see if there is just one lesson you can use to test out if it is for you. If your students aren’t engaged, then you can tell me I was wrong; but, what I will say is that you likely won’t be able to tell me that. Minecraft Education can be used as a stand-alone lesson that ties into your unit, or it can be used as a whole unit with various Minecraft worlds. All in all, Minecraft Education is so versatile that you can use it however is best for you.
I think it is time that educators start using gamified learning, not to replace our teaching but as a resource to enhance what we are already great at doing. So what if it is a video game? Education can be compatible with video games. Simply login using Long Branch Public Schools email, try one lesson, and look at the data. After looking at the data and student engagement, it is clear that this program is certainly worth the purchase. I could have introduced students to activism in a traditional sense, like I did in the past where there was a lecture and notes, and kids likely falling asleep. Instead, through Minecraft Education, students were consumed by the message I used to do traditionally. Take a look at what you are doing in your classroom, and ask yourself, “Could technology/games help create a lasting connection with my students, ultimately improving their learning outcomes?” I think yes.
My name is Angeline Flores, and I am currently teaching 8th grade English Language Arts at Long Branch Middle School. I am in the process of getting my masters degree at Rowan University for Educational Technology. I have been teaching at Long Branch Public School for the last six years. I am a book fanatic, who loves dystopian fiction and YA literature.