Microsoft Learning Development Specialist Ammar Aquil on game-based learning with Minecraft

October 1, 2018 Alex Fleck

A child works on a computer, with the "Minecraft: Education Edition" logo

Ammar Aquil is one of Microsoft in Education Canada's Learning Development Specialists and an expert in game-based learning for K-12 education. Read about his experience exploring Minecraft: Education Edition and how the Update Aquatic opened up new landscapes for learning.

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As a student, I struggled throughout most of my math education, and also parts of science as well. I found those two particular subjects to be irrelevant for what I saw myself doing in the future, which was to be a journalistspoiler alert: I didn't end up pursuing journalism as a career. I was further perplexed because I found assessments and assignments to be theoretical and difficult to grasp because they were usually not real-world scenarios.

When I entered teacher’s college, I realized that students could be engaged and interested in difficult concepts and lessons through the theory of game-based learning. Games provide motivation, narrative, structure, and purpose to learn difficult ideas. When I began writing my Master’s Thesis on commercial video games in Ontario classrooms, that’s when I first came across Minecraft, and it felt like I was a newborn baby discovering sound for the very first time. I discovered the variety of cross-curricular applications that Minecraft offered, as well as the potential and opportunity to have students learn socially and interactively with each other, and create deeper connections through their visceral, joined experiences.

Theoretically speaking, I know Minecraft: Education Edition has a great deal of research that supports the benefits of its implementation in classrooms. Practically speaking, I know it can be difficult and challenging for teachers to understand the game and start designing lessons for it. Luckily, the current Update Aquatic is the perfect jumping-in point for beginner and veteran teachers alike who want to use Minecraft: Education Edition in their classrooms.

The Update Aquatic improves the underwater biome by adding several creaturesdolphins, squid, salmon, coral, sea cucumbers, which provide light!and most importantly, educational activities to make use of these updates. This is where the simplicity of Minecraft: Education Edition really shines. Education.minecraft.net provides aquatic activities in the form of a downloadable PDF which includes simple, concise, and curriculum-aligned activities that are almost as simple as plugging and playing.

One of the activities I engaged in was aligned with the language arts curriculum. I spawned into the Arctic Shipwreck world, provided through the Minecraft: Education Edition website, and explored the shipwreck. The lesson plan was designed to allow students to play and explore the world and take notes on what they found. At the end of the designated playtime, they would have to construct a narrative out of their adventure.

An image of a Minecraft: Education Edition inventory screen with several items

During my brief exploration, I found the eponymous shipwreck of the world and swam down below to find it. I found what I thought to be the captain's quarters, and inside it was a chest that contained all kinds of treasuressilver, gems, gold, and an enchanting potion, to list a few things! I explored the ship further and found a hole leading to what I presumed to be the main hold which had a separate chest in it. This chest contained unreadable books and papers… but it did, more importantly, contain a treasure map!

The rest of my playtime was dedicated to a mad dash to find the buried treasure. Alas, I was unsuccessful and was left with only dreams of what the sunken treasure could be. The journey contained lots of visual details that I would now use to craft my narrative. I looked forward to writing about the S. S. Abigail, and its ill-fated pirate crew.

As a teacher, I put very little prep time into this activity. Everything was provided by the website. I read one paragraph explaining the activity and downloaded all the resources from education.minecraft.net. All teachers have access to 25 trial logins to Minecraft: Education Edition, and if you're curious about implementing it in your classroom, I highly recommend trying any of the aquatic activities, they're all very accessible.

The memory of my journey that sticks out the most is when I was swimming through the water and ran into a pod of dolphins. As I swam by them I heard their clicks, and the next thing I knew, they were racing behind me as we all glided through the water. For a moment I forgot everything and felt like I was swimming through the ocean with dolphins. I smiled to myself, perhaps wider than any other grin I had on that day.

Dolphins swimming through the ocean in a Minecraft Environment

Minecraft isn’t just for education… it’s a ton of fun too!

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Access a wealth of resources for bringing Minecraft: Education Edition into your classroom at education.minecraft.net. Connect with Ammar directly to schedule a free PD session, a Minecraft tutorial with students, or just to ask your burning Minecraft questions! You can also book sessions with any member of the Microsoft Learning Development Specialist team or one of our certified training partners at microsoft.ca/education.

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