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Is Minecraft a Legit Learning Tool?

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There are many people who are using Minecraft in there classrooms. There are probably even more who question its validity as an education tool. Is it a powerful tool for learning or is it just replacing the tri-fold project board. 

I am at the point in the year where I start reflecting on some of my practices and the use of Minecraft in my class is one that I am evaluating. Students have been using Minecraft all year in my class and the results have been mixed. 

Before I get into the results let me explain how I integrate Minecraft into my 6th grade Ancient World History class. In my class we cover the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and India. We start the year off by creating our own civilization where the students have to show their village has all the necessities like access to foods and water. Then as we progress the students add to their civilization by building items in which we are studying. It is like an ongoing project. In theory I am replacing the "build a pyramid" assignment with an activity in Minecraft. Not really a huge Depth of Knowledge (DOK) activity, but does everything have to be at a DOK level 2 or 3 to make a difference in a student's learning experience?

One of the cool things I have noticed, especially as we gear up for our End of Year assessment, is that pretty much the only thing my kids remember are the items attached to building in Minecraft. These are their hands on building experiences. They remember successful civilizations are built by rivers because they built their own civilization by a river. Does this hold true for every student ... NO ... because I have a couple who absolutely refuse to do the Minecraft activity so I usually give them another type of activity. I have not noticed them having to struggle with learning because they are not doing the Minecraft activity. Most of the kids are engaged by the activity. 

I am fortunate to have computers available for my kids to use during class, but many of my top Minecraft users usually use their own device to create in Minecraft. Even though this is designed to be completed in class I have several students who use their own computer at home and submit pictures to me illustrating the completed work. 

One drawback to using Minecraft is some kids get to sucked into the activity and do not give due diligence to the other activities. In my class the students work at five different centers throughout the course of the week with each activity designed to take about one class period to complete and then the students shift to the next learning station. The problem is there is a small minority of students who will spend more time working in Minecraft than working on the other activities. Many of them are starting to learn to budget their time when it comes to completing the assignments, which I guess is a pretty valuable life skill to learn. 

Here is a video example created by Jackson illustrating a trade route. 


One thing I do need to do a better job at doing is getting the kids to explain their work in the system. While they are building I question them to ensure they understand what they are doing, but I have not been requiring them to put up signs in Minecraft that would illustrate understanding. I also think they need to create some video explanations. The only issue there would be the amount of time it would take to complete the activity. 

What are your thoughts on Minecraft?

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Dennis Dill is a Social Studies and Instructional Television teacher at Jewett School of the Arts, a STEAM PreK - 8th grade school, in Winter Haven, Florida. Dennis earned a BA in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences from the University of South Florida and an MS in Education Media Design and Technology from FullSail University. Dennis has been teaching for 14 years.

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Guest Friday, 21 October 2016