A choice, a voice, and a place to make learning come to life

October 9, 2018

Two Minecraft characters, with the "Minecraft: Education Edition" logo

When we first tell people that we're using Minecraft: Education Edition in our grade 9 Science and Geography classrooms, we often get the same reactions. Do you really let them play Minecraft in the classroom? What are they actually learning playing video games? Do you worry that students won’t speak to each other if they're playing Minecraft?

It doesn’t take long to convince people that great things can happen in a classroom when students are given a choice, a voice, and a place to make things come to life. This is exactly what happened when we introduced our Minecraft project to our grade 9 Science and Geography classes.

In our project, students work in small groups to assess the sustainability and liveability of select communities in Canada. Based on their assessment and research, students design, innovate, and create these communities in Minecraft.  Once the communities are completed, students present their ideas to professionals, teachers, and administrators, and take them on a guided tour of their build. They highlight some of the creative and functional features they've included to make the community more sustainable and livable.

Bringing Minecraft into our classroom has helped promote creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.  It's not uncommon for us to walk around the class and hear students discussing the correct placement of a structure or what type of improvements can be made on a home to decrease carbon footprint. The conversations and discussions students are having about building, designing and implementing their plans are worth every bit of time and effort it takes to implement project-based learning into our classroom.

As teachers, we've seen how Minecraft has also helped to improve social skills and classroom culture.  Students who have never played Minecraft are mentored by student experts, who then work together to create something innovative as well as socially conscious. It's also amazing to see students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder become leaders of their groups and communicate easily and effectively through the chat feature.  There are students who struggle with learning, who then became the “go-to Minecraft expert,” and it gives them a sense of pride and success they may have not experienced in a regular classroom setting.  We've also had introverted students discuss their builds with such pride and conviction that you'd never know they were shy.  These small successes have changed the culture of our classrooms in such a positive way!

Students are invested in their learning and focused on creating an amazing community by the end of the project. This is all possible because Minecraft provides students with a blank slate, a hook, and a place where their ideas can be brought to life. They're able to build and change things easily, and help each other out when things get tough. Students take ownership of their builds and present their work with pride and excitement. Feedback from both students and people who've interacted with our classes has been amazing, and Minecraft has opened the door to this learning.  Our classroom used to be a place of “Do we have to learn this?“ Now it's become “Can we learn how to do this?” We can't wait to see where the next iteration of this project will take us on our journey through Minecraft.

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Raffaella Coletta and Heather Chalmers are passionate secondary teachers at the York Catholic District School Board, and teach Geography and Science in a STEM-focused school. They're committed to problem-based learning and empowering the next generation of learners to think critically and creatively.

To get started with Minecraft: Education Edition in your classroom, visit education.minecraft.net. You can access free PD on Minecraft and a variety of other topics at microsoft.ca/education. Get free courses, resources, and access to a community of edtech-empowered educators at education.microsoft.com.

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