As part of my current role, I have been working on a number of small projects with teachers who wish to explore some technology enhanced education ‘juiciness’. This was a very early exploration into the use of Minecraft for teaching a History topic, in this case Feudal Japan. The world had been built by a student Minecraft group on Minecraft Edu. There had been a number of technical issues and hurdles to overcome to get to this ‘pilot’ stage.
It is hoped that by sharing this, other educators may get an insight into this facet of games based learning, some of the pros and cons, the logistics and a realistic look at what will/can happen in such a lesson.
- First lesson using Minecraft
- Mixed ability Year 8 class
- One special needs students
- A group of experienced Minecraft users (boys)
- BYOD, wireless provision in classroom, one Mac and one Windows Surface Tablet (remainder Windows laptops)
- Teacher running Minecraft server from Teacher laptop
- Minecraft admin/Teacher role also run from Teacher laptop
- Student from Minecraft group assisting in a Minecraft admin/Teacher role using Teacher laptop
- Technical issues
- Mac and Windows Surface Tablet would not load Minecraft Edu
- A couple of early issues were fixed by IT Support – both Java
- Some minor lagging on lower capacity laptops
- Sever crash after about 1 hour 15 min of double lesson
As this was a pilot and given previous technical issues, the structure of the lesson was loose. Teacher had to spend time getting everyone on to the Minecraft Edu server and into the Japanese world. This involved a few students having to visit IT Helpdesk and a few successful re-tries from students.
After approx. 15 mins, most students were into the Japanese world and most were freely exploring. Hardly any students were challenged by being able to move about in the world and operate Minecraft controls even though when asked, some students had never or hardly ever played it before. The first exercise was to find the Command Block and all students seemed able to do that. In this area, they were supposed to be able to build. Sand block was in use but some issues in discovering how to share Sand Block.
Some early exploratory exercises were introduced. These seemed very simple for some students (issues of differentiation). However they did allow for exploration and it was clear students were noticing architecture, asking relevant questions such as, “What is a dojo?” Students did not think to come out of the world and search for what a dojo should look like. All of this is clearly an area for development.
Students often used signs to locate objects/buildings and other students seemed to find it hard to remove themselves from distractions of ‘chasey’ games and general exploration in the world to focus on exploratory exercises. Also, difficult for teacher to assist students in exploration as different issues for teacher to deal with.
From quite early on, the group of experienced Minecraft users were attempting to disrupt the world, escape from it and destroy elements of it. They saw this as the challenge and attracted interest from other boys also interested in same but with less experience. Some of this seemed to be related to challenging student from Minecraft group. They found glitches and exploited them. Student from Minecraft group ‘punished’ them (such as freezing) in return. This seemed something of a power battle.
Task was given (orally) to explore and think of a question/activity that could be given to a teacher/students exploring this world. It was difficult to ascertain who actually invested any time in this task given distractions already mentioned. In my view, this was a worthwhile exercise and would produce solid, early thinking that would help students in focussing.
Engagement of students in Minecraft was very high (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4oS3Klr6G8 ). Students were sharing, interacting and generally enthralled in the online environment. There was healthy and very enthusiastic learning in respect of Minecraft itself and in terms of collaboration, interaction, sharing. How this transferred into learning about the intended topic – Feudal Japan is questionable. This was reflected in both the comments they made and in observations of their behaviour.
From a well-being point of view, there was clear evidence in growth mindset, in positive behaviour and collaboration during the interactions in the world. The atmosphere in the classroom was one of excitement from all students (Minecraft users and non-users). Those unable to use their own device were still able to partake in the activities through sharing with those connected although they commented that it would have been better to have had their own connection.