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MineCraft in the Classroom?

By Simon Gauci

04/29/2014

To begin, I am not a gamer, never have been, and at this point in my life it’s unlikely I will be one. I am, however, an educator. As classrooms continue to be outfitted with machines and as current [trendy] educational resources are introduced, they both transform schooling.

One item that is on the rise is gaming in the classroom or its use as an educational tool. Frankly, my cynicism is a symbol for not using gaming/video games as a 21st Century tech-integration classroom resource. Children get enough of gaming on their own time, never mind more of it in school, I thought. Is it best practice to permit gaming in the classroom?

Three points come to mind. One, games such as MineCraft (MC), with over 30 million users worldwide, are a global sensation, and children love them. Could this be an opportunity to maximize screenagers’ motivation, and employ MC as an authentic learning activity?

Two, I need to get over my ideas about best practice and open my instructional strategies to exploring gaming in the classroom.

And finally, gaming is addictive. Should schools be condoning an edu-gaming activity any more than they would overlook or even implement other activities that scaffold additive behavior?

Here is a brief overview of my in-classroom use of MineCraft. In my Social Studies class we do a Five Themes of Geography Unit. Part of that unit is a project in which the students complete an urban planning project—they create a fictitious building within the city of Guangzhou, China. In the past students created series of posters with drawings, a PowerPoint, iMovies, 3D models etc.

Last year, one team asked if they could use MineCraft. I shared my concerns with them but after they petitioned, quite strongly, for a chance, I offered a reluctant “I guess so,” as a long as they submitted a screen capture of their MC process. Their fire was lit and they joyfully clicked their way to an outstanding project outcome. I was impressed.

This year MineCraft was on the table right from the start, with the same guidelines as last year. My screenagers’ burst of excitement, wide-eyed eagerness, and focused screen-ergy was welcome. Of the 12 teams, nine used MC. Some used MC as a supportive media along with their drawings, a PowerPoint, a 3D model and so on.

As I roamed around the room visiting each team using MC, and as they explained to me how they collaborate and use MC as a tool, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of not only their MC knowledge but was won over by the virtual structures [virtual communities actually] they manufactured while operating the “toy”—all along they remained aligned to learning goals, essential questions, and the assignment requirements. I began to soften, but remained apprehensive.

The final outcomes of using MineCraft in this year’s social studies classroom met the learning goals without a hitch. Because I am not a gamer but a skeptical observer, I am still holding off on weighing the actual effects of MC as a learning tool in terms of best practice in our profession. Sure, the children created impressive structures; sure, they were as excited as my wife getting her iPhone 5; and sure, it looked like a win-win.

However, is an affective outcome enough to justify what may be characterized as encouraging addictive behavior? In this case, is student achievement an accurate measurement for the deployment of a deliberate best practice?

We know that, theoretically, best practice is about more than achievement. And here I have lingering doubts. Should I be cultivating “addictive behaviors” in the classroom? Few will argue against gaming being addictive—so, if that one thing here is what most educators agree on, is it ethical to permit edu-gaming in the classroom?

Wait. I get it! We can control it. We can monitor it. We can “educate” it, curricularize and standardize it all; but if we practice it, does that habit not contribute to an already pervasive concern about youth gaming addiction?

Will I use MineCraft again? I am not sure. I need to experiment and do some research. One such possible educational resource is http://www.minecraftedu.com, which states: “Every day, more and more teachers are using the world-building game MineCraft to engage and educate. The game is a true phenomenon, and gamers young and old are using it in countless creative ways. Practitioners of Games Based Education have realized the potential and have embraced MineCraft in classrooms around the world. Now you can too!”

In the end, I do not desire to be viewed as an educator who just went along with the latest and greatest edu-tech in silent consent. I prefer to stop and deeply question best practices and their effects on our most valuable off-line, real-time 21st Century resource.

Mr. Gauci is currently a middle school social studies teacher at the American International School of Guangzhou, China.




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