The debate on the relevance of games in education has raged for nearly thirty years now, but has a game finally appeared that can unite teachers and students through exploration and creativity? It’s possible, and the game is Minecraft.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a difficult game to describe in a few sentences. Some describe it as a world-building game, as Lego in virtual form, or as an adventure game dotted with dungeons, monsters, swords and magic. In reality Minecraft is all of these things, and more. Moreover, Minecraft can be what you want it to be.
The blocky world of Minecraft
In the past, games such as Second Life have come to the fore of the games in education debate, promising to use digital spaces to revolutionise the way we learn. That revolution never came, for a number of reasons. Second Life was difficult to run on most school computers, but more importantly, though Second Life allowed the users to explore and interact with its world, creation and the act of creativity was stifled by a complex and cluttered interface. The magic of Minecraft lies in its freedom for the user to express themselves creatively in countless ways, and to any scale.
Loading up Minecraft for the first time will see the user dropped into a world, a world where everything is made of blocks. This Minecraft world is unique, no other exists in the universe quite like this one. Whats more, this world is over eight times the size of our planet. So what do you do know?
Do you begin building a house? Climb the mountain range in the distance? Explore the deep caves beneath the ground? Begin mining for more useful and exotic minerals? Start a farm? Build a castle? A railroad? A giant, working computer? The possibilities really are endless in Minecraft. Add the ability for your class to play together on the same Minecraft world at the same time, and the number of educational opportunities begin mounting up.
How is Minecraft relevant to education?
The open-ended nature of Minecraft is what makes it so useful to educators. Whether you’re trying to teach English, history, geography, science, maths, design and technology or even PSHE, there is nearly always an opportunity to use Minecraft thanks to its myriad features.
Take the simple task of building a house in your Minecraft world. What material will you use to build your house? There are numerous different materials available to you, including stone, cobblestone, bricks, wood, wood logs and dirt to name but a few. How will you test which material is the strongest? If you want to have glass in your windows, how will you make it? What kind of state change has occurred in transforming the sand into glass?
This kind of scientific investigation is the sort of thing that Minecraft players engage in constantly, without even realising it. A simple activity such as this can be expanded in any number of directions. Introduce planning and evaluation stages to the experiment to include Design & Technology, data collection and interpretation from the material strength experiment to include Maths and data handling. Ask your pupils to work together to build their houses and you begin to add in elements of PSHE and Citizenship. A task as simple as building a house has yielded a number of teaching and learning opportunities, yet there are so many more available to you in the world of Minecraft.
Make history come to life with historic building recreations in Minecraft. This is a Roman Villa
A quick search of Minecraft in YouTube can tell you so much more about the game than this blog post ever could, and will deliver a dizzying array of constructions, contraptions and artwork ranging from the small to the astonishingly huge and ambitious. If, like me, you were overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of some of the Minecraft communities’ projects, you’re probably asking “What could my class do in the world of Minecraft?”
Dan Birchinall is the Lead Designer at Inspyro (http://www.inspyro.co.uk), a creative learning company developing cross-curricular projects for primary schools. He can be found on Twitter at @DanMB_