Isaacs believes that Minecraft fosters a “community of learners,” in which game-savvy students work hand-in-hand with instructors. The teacher’s role is crucially important, however: they must guide the lessons, assist individual students, and connect the gameplay to real-world takeaways. And the pupils are improving their social skills, too. “When the kids are working together in Minecraft, those roles form organically. They’re learning about collaboration in a very authentic and meaningful way to them,” says Isaacs. “The communication that comes out of that is very natural.”
Isaacs has seen in his own classroom that collaboration flourishes when students work together on Minecraft-aided assignments.
Kids who are cautious in the classroom may also feel empowered in the game. Quarnstrom recalls observing a third-grade literature unit at an elementary school in Round Rock, Texas last year. One young girl seemed reluctant to participate as all of the kids shaped a fantasy storyline in the classroom, but when they went to the computer lab to bring the story’s setting to life, her demeanor sharply changed.
“Once she got into Minecraft, she was in chat and directing people on what tasks to do,” shares Quarnstrom. “Sometimes it’s the shyest, quietest student in the class that finds their voice in Minecraft.”
Building a foundation
Still, the Education Edition has its share of obstacles. Teachers’ schedules are already strained without asking them to learn and manage a computer game, although community support and shared plans can help. And there is resistance to bringing video games into learning environments, whether it’s from parents who worry about excessive screen time or from administrators who don’t understand the increasingly accepted value of games-based learning.
Cost is also a huge factor: English teacher and Minecraft Mentor Simon Baddeley recently called for “urgent reconsideration” in the licensing model. However, teachers who use Minecraft in their curriculum claim real benefits, and students are responding enthusiastically. In fact, what convinced Davis and some reluctant principals in her East Texas district was an initial trial run with a club of at-risk students, which showed how motivational this learning game can be.
“What they saw was that on Monday morning at 7:00 a.m., the kids were at school before the principal because they wanted to get there to play Minecraft,” she asserts. “That honestly is what it took, and it changed the conversation.”
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