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How Minecraft unlocks creativity and collaboration in classrooms

Andrew Hayward | Oct. 26, 2016
Microsoft's smash sandbox is expanding to more schools, and teachers claim real benefits.

Immersive learning

Minecraft can’t replace traditional instruction, obviously, but it can support many subjects in a school’s curriculum. The malleable game worlds let students and teachers create and collaborate as they learn about and/or apply knowledge related to science, history, math, art, and more. Its building blocks can be harnessed in many different ways, allowing students to interact with and understand concepts in an engrossing new format. 

Imagine learning seventh-grade history by exploring an elaborate medieval civilization in Minecraft. John Miller, a history teacher at Chalone Peaks Middle School in King City, California, crafted that unique experience for 150 of his students earlier this year. Selected students from an elective class helped construct a Minecraft recreation of 14th-century Birmingham, England, while a colleague created story prompts to help drive the learning process.

minecraft ee birmingham 
A part of the Birmingham recreation that John Miller’s classes used for their medieval simulation.

From there, Miller used the game and narrative threads to immerse students in concepts like feudalism, class structures, agriculture, and the role of the church as the plague rolled in. Across 10 class periods, the kids lived peasants’ lives in Minecraft, trying to survive while interacting with fellow students—and ultimately, seeking a cure for their afflictions in a thrilling finale. Each student then penned a story about his or her own experiences in the simulation.

“I can usually hear a pin drop, and am still impressed at seeing 150 middle-schoolers, most of whom struggle with writing, typing thousands of words of a truly original story,” wrote Miller in a detailed blog post on the unit (emphasis his). “Grading these is always a pleasure because everyone writes a story with a different interpretation of the events, and includes unique and creative details of a life led in a long ago time and place.”

He’s not the only educator to notice that kids are deeply motivated when using Minecraft to showcase skills and abilities. Steve Isaacs, a game design and development teacher at William Annin Middle School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, has witnessed much the same in his own classes and when students use Minecraft for projects for other subjects.

minecraft ee isaacs 
Instructor Steve Isaacs helps students with a Minecraft project at William Annin Middle School.

“If educators allow them to demonstrate their understanding of something in Minecraft, the level of work the kids put into it far exceeds what they would in other projects,” affirms Isaacs, a Minecraft Mentor for the Education Edition community. “It gives them a different approach to showing what they know. It’s not like they’re necessarily learning directly from Minecraft, but they’re using Minecraft to show it in a way that brings them much empowerment and pride.”


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