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15 real classroom uses for Minecraft

The sandbox game offers unlimited resources, and nearly unlimited ways to use Minecraft in the classroom.

These days, it seems like Minecraft is second-nature for many kids. The beauty of Minecraft lies in its sandbox structure–students can create anything, with limitless resources, and often their creations are astounding. Is it any wonder, then, that educators are incorporating the popular block-based game into their curriculum?

With a little creativity, educators can use Minecraft with history, math, writing and language arts, foreign language, and more.

And getting students active in Minecraft makes them more likely to participate and engage, because they’re having an impact on a virtual world shared by their peers.

During an ISTE 2017 session, Dr. Chris Haskell showed attendees how he and faculty at Boise State have created an expansive Minecraft virtual campus and how that virtual campus gives students a safe place to have fun, be creative and connect with others.

“Students love spaces they have a voice in, spaces they can contribute to,” Haskell said. “They want a space where they can belong–it’s that belonging that ties things together. Being a part of something that matters makes you much more likely to be successful.”

(Next page: 15 classroom uses for Minecraft)

He also shared 15 examples of Minecraft in use in classrooms across the nation:

1. Math manipulatives: Teachers assign different numbers or lengths to different colors of Minecraft blocks, and students build math knowledge as they work with the unlimited manipulatives.

2. Computational thinking: Minecraft allows for a version of electricity, and users can create circuits, design logic, and create arrays, delays and repeaters. They can transpose computational thinking to build things that work, or build things and use their new vocabulary to explain in their Minecraft world what those things are and how they work. Many teachers are using Minecraft for electrical design and visual design, Haskell said.

3. Prealgebra and geometry for early learners: Young students build things to specifications without using mathematical language, and when students are comfortable with the concepts after seeing them illustrated with Minecraft blocks, educators introduce math vocabulary and formulas or equations.

4. Foreign language learning: When students are learning a language, there are inherent problems in synchronous discussion, Haskell said. Using Minecraft for foreign language learning offers a semi-synchronous model. Players connect with someone who speaks the language they are learning, and while both players work in real time, they have time to process the messages and text chats in front of them before formulating their own response.

5. Immersive language learning: Haskell highlighted Glen Irvin, who teaches most of his classes in a completely immersive Minecraft world, El Mundo de Comercio. Players communicate completely in Spanish and all have their own jobs.

6. Economics and supply/demand: In this Minecraft world, there exist three groups who have different lists of objects they must obtain or grade for. Players go out on a “trading floor” and interact in a buy/sell or bartering scenario to complete their lists, but the world has natural economics-related problems written into its design to challenge students.

7. Simple board games: Some educators use Minecraft’s block construction to build board games for their students. “The real interesting piece is that we can build very quickly in these spaces, with unlimited resources and digital assets, and it gives us the ability to continue to build on a grand scale that we can’t in the classroom,” Haskell said.

8. Virtual field trips: Using Craft Master, students and teachers can download prebuilt objects or import any 3D model. One teacher, Haskell said, brought in various kingdoms from the HBO show Game of Thrones.

9. Hunter’s safety: An educator built a safety course to help middle school students learn the ethics and safety considerations involved in various hunting scenarios. Using Minecraft lets each student make decisions in a situation, authentic and personally relevant space. They’re allowed to make mistakes and come back from those mistakes with increased knowledge.

10. Agriculture and livestock: Some educators use Minecraft to help students learn about planning, overpopulation, and other agriculture-related issues by letting them build out their own farms and livestock.

11. Pixel/vexel art: “This is a wonderful opportunity and space for students to build stuff out and be creative,” Haskell said.

12. Advanced geometry: “You can, with 3D modeling and other tools, bring in massive unique shapes, and it’s also really interesting to give a student a shape or a recipe, an outcome, and have them develop a process for how they might build something like that,” Haskell said.

13. Writing and literature: We don’t think of Minecraft as a literary place, Haskell said, but that’s where many people are wrong. Some students use Minecraft to build worlds or landmarks from novels they read in class. Other teachers have students create journals in Minecraft and leave the journals in their class-created Minecraft world so other students can find the journals and react to different prompts or ideas.

14. Infinite creative space: This allows students to do things they can’t reasonably do, build things that excite them, and these often are things adults don’t think of–but kids do.

15. History and civics: “It’s a wonderful place to role play ideas,” Haskell said. “You can build historical places, but you also can download them and drop them into your world. With a little bit of creativity, you can relive some of those historical experiences–you can re-walk the Oregon Trail, and land a ship in a new place and figure out how to govern a society. And because you can die temporarily and you need food to survive it’s perfect for playing out lots of these problems.”

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