CoolCat Teacher Vicki Davis Talks With Jeff Gearhart About Using Minecraft To Get Students Excited
Listen to the 10 Minute Teacher Show here on iTunes and check out the transcript below.
How Jeff is using Minecraft to get kids excited
So, Jeff, describe for us… How are you using Minecraft in your classroom, and what kind of things are you teaching?
Jeff: Ah, yeah… So I’m using Minecraft Education Edition in my technology classroom with my students. I’m at Brinnon School District in Brinnon, Washington. We’re a very small rural K-8 school.
One thing that I wanted to do with Minecraft Education Edition was bring something to the students that 1) they probably had never done before, and 2) give them opportunities for things that they wouldn’t be able to experience if it wasn’t for being in a technology class.
So with Minecraft Education Edition, that’s what I was able to accomplish. I was able to give these kids something to get excited about. We know kids these days. It’s all about technology. It’s all about gaming. When I brought up the subject of Minecraft, every eye went wide open, and the excitement was there.
What I was able to do with Minecraft Education Edition was I was able to engage students for an entire class period to the point where they didn’t want to stop because they loved doing it so much. That’s what Minecraft Education Edition does. It’s able to engage those students otherwise, where they wouldn’t do it if they’re just in a normal classroom doing pen and paper type stuff.
The great thing about that was that I was able to incorporate all different types of subject matter – whether it was art or science or history. I was able to bring that into Minecraft, and it allowed them to work on a lesson and collaborate together at the same time in one world of Minecraft. In a normal classroom setting, they probably wouldn’t do that.
Our students are very diverse, so we only have a total of three classrooms, and they’re all mixed with three grades each. So there are different learning levels and different learning environments for all these students. But the one thing Minecraft is able to do, regardless of that learning level, is it’s able to bring them all together to work collaboratively and be engaged at the same time and work together at the same time.
Vicki: Love it. Now, I’m totally onboard. My students have used Minecraft. We’ve participated in Givercraft.
(Editor’s Note: the Givercraft site isn’t there but my blog post has screenshots and explanations of this fantastic project.)
We did Gamifi-ED. So I totally get how you can teach with Minecraft. But let’s go into a lesson.
You know, lots of teachers listen, and they will say, “Sure, they want to play Minecraft a whole period. Of course they do.”
Example Lesson: Using Minecraft to Teach Science
But how would you teach a science lesson? Give us an example.
Jeff: So one of the things I did with science this year was I worked very closely with the other teachers and what they were doing in their normal classroom versus technology.
So let’s take the middle school class, sixth through eighth grade. They started working on a Mars project, reading about Mars and exploring Mars, and doing all this. A part of the Minecraft Education Edition and the entire Minecraft world, there are several Minecraft mentors – global mentors, which I am one of – and there’s just a huge plethora of resources out there that are available for other people who want to share their information or their worlds.
- This full lesson and assets are available on the Minecraft EDU site
So I was actually able to find a Mars simulated world on the Minecraft website which is available for everybody to go to. So I just took that world and I worked with the teachers as to what they were doing in their normal classroom. I paired each student up with another student. They were in this world together, and they basically – it was a simulated world – had to learn to work together on how to survive Mars.
They were given a basic structure of being able to live with some food and resources and stuff. But then they had to work together and figure out how they were going to grow on that or improve their world or their habitat, and how they would be able to go out and “mine” or look for other resources that would help them along their way while they’re in this simulated Mars world.
It just worked fabulously because it coincided with what they were doing in their normal class and with their teacher, talking about Mars. I was able to modify the world and make those changes that they were working on, so that at the same time they were getting that same information together, only in a different environment. It was normal classroom versus gaming with Minecraft.
Teacher as the Game Master
Vicki: You know, one of the most fun things about this approach is that the teacher is a game master. I remember when I first took my kids into Minecraft, they just kind of wanted to play and be silly.
I literally levitated myself and then turned on monsters and made it go night – so that they would have to craft. I said, “OK, guys, you’ve got five minutes to craft something so that you can defend yourself.”
For people who don’t understand Minecraft, you’ll say that’s crazy. But we as the teachers do have an ability to kind of add a gaming element. So how do you play game master in this type of environment?
Jeff: I give them specific tasks or challenges that they have to do. Like I said, with the world they were given basic resources. But I told them, “OK, this is what you have to do. You have to add on another wing to your environment for farming, or for crafting resources, or for living quarters if you have more people coming into your simulated Mars colony.”
They would have to go out – and because the entrance to the outside world from their habitat was just a one-way door, one of them would have to then have to go out and work, while the other one stayed in so that they could get back into their habitat. And then vice-versa.
One would go out during the daytime and do stuff while one stayed and did work within their habitat. Then when it became night, one would go out and venture a little bit and look for those resources while the other one swapped roles with them and did stuff inside.
They were just able to go out and collect those resources that they need to add on a wing for additional housing or additional farming or additional crafting type resources – stuff like that. They had a specific task they were given and a certain amount of time frame. They were able to go out and do that.
A Key Tip: The Non-Playable Character and Linkable Information Inside Minecraft
Vicki: So Jeff, how did the teacher that you worked with in this particular example feel about what these kids understood about Mars?
Jeff: She loved it.
That’s the great thing about Minecraft Education Edition. There are specific elements that you can add into the game – that you can’t do with the normal console version. One of those is called and NPC, or a Non-Playable Character. Basically, you just put this character in there, and you can put information about something with the hyperlinks.
So if they were talking about airlocks or something, there would be an NPC that would talk about airlocks, and then there would be a URL that they would click on that would take them outside of the Minecraft environment to a specific website or video. That would explain what that is.
So for this instance, and airlock would take them to NASA’s website, and it would talk about airlocks and how they work. So they were able to understand that at the same time. Bringing in what the teacher was doing just reinforced what the teacher was talking about, in how you would live and colonize on Mars. I was able to incorporate that right in the world, and give them those outside resources even though they’re still in the game.
30-second Pep Talk to Get Started in Minecraft EDU
Vicki: OK Jeff. We have 30 seconds to give information to teachers who want to get started using Minecraft Education Edition in their classroom. Go.
Jeff: Go to education.minecraft.net There’s a plethora of information. It has resources. It has worlds. You can connect with Minecraft global mentors all across the world, myself included. There’s tons of information on there, and if you want to know anything about it, please feel free to reach out to me on social media, through Twitter or my e-mail address. Or you can get me on the Minecraft Education website.
Vicki: So many things are happening in Minecraft Education. It is a powerful tool. It has been around for a while. There are a lot of those practices about how to really engage kids.
There’s another show that I’ll link to that actually shows that kids who are using Minecraft can improve in their social-emotional learning.
- Dr. Michelle Zimmerman – Edtech and Social Emotional Learning – talks about this research.
So this is serious games. These are serious ways to teach and really make for remarkable experiences. So if you’re looking for something to really hook those kids in, think about Minecraft.
- Also see: Why Minecraft in Schools in the Modern Marvel: 5 Epic Ideas(Lucas Gillispie)
- 3 Ways Monsters and Minecraft Can Drive Exceptional Learning (Joel Levin)