Minecraft Education Edition is becoming more popular each day and there are many teachers who are starting to use this fantastic tool. There are numerous benefits that this video game can offer both students and teachers. But there are as many benefits as the problems it can cause if its implementation is not done correctly.
Minecraft Education is a video game, with an educational version that enhances its academic benefits, but after all, it is still a video game. This is a very important point to understand some behaviors that occur in the classroom when this tool is applied.
The line between a recreational video game and a learning tool is very fine. From a students' point of view, video games are virtual environments in which almost everything is allowed and their freedoms are limited only by the characteristics of the game. How do we turn a video game into an educational tool? And more important... How do we change this recreational mindset with which our students have when using of this tool?
The answer is easy: Organization, meaningful structure and purpose.
The teacher's greatest enemy within a Minecraft project is lack of organization, which produces a lack of purpose in the activity and generates free time for students to transition to a playful mindset within the game. When we design our Minecraft projects with a meaningful structure, organization, and purpose, we're creating an environment where students know what to do and how they have to do it, eliminating those downtimes that create problems both inside and outside the virtual world they're in.
To provide these three important elements to our Minecraft project (Organization, Structure, and Purpose) we have divided the actions to be carried out by the teacher and students into three chunks of time: before building, during building, and after building.
This is the most important stage when carrying out a Minecraft Education project. Actions taken by students and teachers during this time will dictate the success of the activity.
When students enter the Minecraft world to start navigating and building in this endless playground, they need to know what they have to build, how they are going to build it, and what steps they need to take to complete their tasks.
There are four keys or steps we need to take to guide students through this planning process:
1. Teacher planning
The steps we have to take as a teacher to plan activities within Minecraft don't differ much from the steps we take for any other activity. As with any other activity we do in our class, the first step we need to take is to get to know our students to identify their weaknesses and strengths. In this case, we need to look at students' ability to handle Minecraft and other skills such as leadership or the ability to work as a group.
Identifying Minecraft experts in your class will help you create compensated groups in which students with previous experience in Minecraft lead the group and share this previous knowledge with the rest of the members. Also, it will improve point number three that we will talk about later, the design of your timetable. When we have skill-balanced groups we prevent one group from ending up excessively soon and another ending excessively late due to their lack of ability to create in the Minecraft world what was previously planned.
2. Set expectations
The expectations teachers have when using Minecraft Education are the turning point that will determine the number of problems we will face during the project.
Each Minecraft project must have a rubric. A rubric that explains what the teacher expects from students. For example, if we are studying ancient Rome and students need to build the city of Rome in our rubric we need to explain what buildings need to be built and what social studies content must be included in the world (show me how the people lived in Rome, how their houses and their social life looked like, etc.)
We also need to share the rules and expectations that students need to follow while building in Minecraft Education. For example: avoid the use of TNT, avoid excessive use of animals, ban the use of potions, or avoid the creation of monsters or portals.
All these expectations and standards will help students understand what is expected from them, as well as the teacher to set boundaries that will help students not to cross the line between a pedagogical tool and recreational video games.
3. Design your timeline
A timeline is key in the design of our Minecraft project. In this timeline, the teacher needs to show the checkpoints and the deadlines of the assignments. For example: On February 12th, students have the first deadline, in which they need to complete the first two points of the rubric.
In this way, students have a purpose and an intention when building. Thanks to the use of a guideline students know when they need to complete each part of their world and can plan their actions based on their next deadline.
4. Organization of the group
Before starting building, each group of students must organize and plan their project. The first step for planning is to design the map of their world using the rubric provided by the teacher. What are they going to build? Where are they going to build it?
Once they have designed the map of the world, students in each group need to know how they will carry out their plan. Who will build what? What are the steps we need to take to finish each building? These questions will lead them to design a personalized to-do list for each student. Students will follow this to-do list giving them an organization and structure that will continue to avoid downtime that causes distractions. This division of tasks by group members will also increase efficiency and reduce the time it will take to carry out their plan.
Group members can also be organized into pairs or small groups that will complete different tasks.
The most important and extensive part of the project is already completed, we have already planned our activity and organized the tasks that have to be carried out for a successful conclusion of the project so now it is time to start building.
As we build, we need to reinforce the ideas that have been implemented in the previous phase. We need to reinforce the strict rules we have communicated to students before, as well as reinforce the importance of following the list of individual assignments they've designed before they started building.
We also need to highlight two more points during this phase: The importance of problem-solving skills and how crucial is to have an open mindset while collaborating with others.
As in any other group project, while working in Minecraft Education we will notice some group work issues. It is very important to use this opportunity to develop the problem-solving skills and the social and emotional learning skills of our students.
Also, we need to emphasize how important it is to have a flexible and open mindset to embrace changes in the initial plan since deadlines and tasks can be modified depending on the needs of both the individual and the whole group.
The structure of the activity and its purpose have to be maintained throughout the project. From the beginning of the activity, when we plan, to the end of the activity when we deliver the final result.
When planning their project, each group needs to decide how they are going to present the final product. This graphic shows four ways to share the result and its different applications in both face-to-face and online contexts.
1. Live presentation: Each group presents their world live to the rest of the class using a television, projector, or digital screen. This is the most interesting option since it allows students to ask questions, but at the same time it is the option that takes the longest and we often don´t have this much time in class.
2. Uploading the world: The world is downloaded to the student's computer and turned in as a file on platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Moodle, or Canvas.
3. The Minecraft camera: This tool allows us to take photos that are sent to the portfolio and can later be shared with the teacher or classmates.
4. Record the screen with Flipgrid: This option is one of the most popular options to “turn in” the final result. Students record their screen using Flipgrid. During this recording, the students navigate through the world explaining the different parts of it to their classmates and the teacher.
A very important point that we need to take into account when planning this project is that we need to add the final deadline to our timetable for students to plan their work around this very important date.
Minecraft Education is a very powerful tool to develop authentic activities in class that develop future skills as well as help students to apply the content learned. Thanks to the steps mentioned in this blog post, the application of this tool reach its maximum potential, reducing the problems caused by its use.
The development and implementation of this methodology are the results of years of experience and many mistakes when using Minecraft Education in the classroom. If you are interested in more content about Minecraft Education, we recommend that you follow us on social media!