Minecraft is a hugely popular game available on video game consoles and computers, and Minecraft apps are popular on mobile platforms as well. Originally premiering in November 2011, the game allows networked players to build worlds together in real-time, using blocky, textured cubes in 3D space. In addition to playing in creative mode where building takes place, the commercial game allows for a survival mode and an adventure mode as a bonafide open game. More recently, an educational version of the game has become available and has been explored by two teachers this year in Goochland. Students can only interact with one another from their classes, and therefore the environment is monitored by teachers.
In Joe Beasley’s classroom at GES, we recently visited to see students working in collaborative groups using a collaboration protocol called Scrum. Borrowed from the agile software framework used by programmers, the method used in Beasley’s classroom has facilitated strong collaboration among students in working towards common solutions and in the development of products. With Minecraft, their products are virtual, and the building taking place within this virtual space can work for learning in a lot of different ways. In a recent project, one student recreated model animal and plant cells in 3D, and other students can tour these models, learning about the function of each cell organelle. While learning about cells is usually done through a flat, two-dimensional diagram, in Minecraft, the modeling takes on a more realistic representation in three dimensions.
In Karen Harden’s class at GMS, we recently observed students working in two- and three-person teams to develop historically-important monuments, buildings, and structures, including the St. Louis Arch, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Mayan pyramid El Castillo at Chichén-Itzá, and the Egyptian Sphinx near Giza. Some students also elected to work independently. When we talked to students about working in Minecraft, some had experience playing the game at home, while others did not. While some students found building more difficult than others, all the students in Harden’s class had figured out how to work together effectively within their teams. The ability to shout-out to a partner in the same room as a means to communicate was viewed as important, but we pressed students further on how they might someday work collaboratively in an environment like this, especially if they could not be in close proximity to students. “It might be more difficult, but I think we could do it. There’s a chat function in here as well, so we could always use that to talk to a partner or team,” one student suggested. Another student suggested using a cell phone to be able to talk while he and a friend worked in Minecraft together. “That’s what I do at home sometimes, we connect via FaceTime audio and that way we can chat while we’re in the same online environment.” Seeing students work so effectively together in a 3D virtual space, it was exciting to see how they could apply this ability to collaborate later in school and in life.
Students at GMS did pre-planning using Schoology before using the Minecraft software. They also used the platform to share videos and utilized other online resources to learn best practices.
Back at Goochland Elementary, students were in a planning session for their work using 1:1 iPads before they moved to laptops to start in Minecraft using discussions. When asked why students were planning this way, they spoke to their preference for having all their ideas recorded. “Have you seen some older kids chatting at the same table with their cell phones? You can be very social and chatty yet be very quiet. In some ways it helps us come up with our own original thoughts and makes us all accountable for having ideas.” Students also reported by planning within Schoology, their progress could be better monitored by their teacher.
The Minecraft project this year is a pilot that has been supported by our CTE Director, Bruce Watson, so that we could provide this type of environment using a dedicated Minecraft server for safety and teacher control.
In the next update, we’ll explore how students between GES and GMS learn to collaborate and work together, when separated between two buildings. We’ll also share more student and teacher perspectives on this innovative way to learn!
Story contributed by John Hendron, Director of Innovation & Strategy for Goochland County Public Schools