As an educator I have always believed that if you want students to rise up to a certain level of achievement, you first have to go to where they're at. If you want them to be interested in what you have to teach, use what they're interested in, and half the battle is already won.
About a month ago I had a student approach me in class. We are a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) class, and students have several digital options for completing their work. This time however, my student asked me a question no one else had: "Can I show you my work in Minecraft?"
My first reaction was to say"No!", but this was a student who has had difficulty in sharing his work in class due to real learning challenges with reading and writing. We were trying different digital alternatives, but this was not something I would have suggested.
I said: "Sure, why not. You are a smart guy, lets see what you can do."
Boy, am I glad I said that!
He shared his work, and he built the words out of blocks, and created images with the different blocks that represented the concepts we had just learned. This student would often reverse, or flip letters when trying to spell them on paper, in Minecraft, he constructed them perfectly in 3D blocks.
He learned the concepts, and he could retell the important characteristics of the four soil types. I was impressed.
The students in my class love Minecraft. It is unlike most video games. It is very open, meaning that their are a lot of options available. Whole medieval villages have been built by high school students, for elementary students to tour through and learn about medieval times.
Our class is creating a play, writing scenes based on characters from a book we enjoyed in class, "Wayside Stories at a Sideways School" by Louis Sachar. We decided to use Minecraft to construct the scenes from our play. The school is thirty stories high, and has a very large playground. I gave the go ahead, and expected to get a few rooms that we could use for backdrops (draw out onto cardboard backgrounds). I got so much more!
Students worked collaboratively, huddled around the iPads, iPods, and Galaxy Tabs. They helped each other get started, showed how to achieve different objectives, and ensured that everyone was being successful. Students that had never used the game before were working in three dimensions, building the library with books, placing signs on the wall with sayings from the story. They were upset when nutrition break snuck up on them. They wanted to keep working.
Students were going home and continuing to work on the school and the school yard at home. Students were problem solving when challenges arose.
"Oh, no! water is in my classroom, it is flooding!"
Someone quickly swooped in to help, not to do it for them, but rather to teach them what went wrong and how to solve the problem.
Thirty story buildings were constructed, playgrounds were complete, and some students that couldn't sit at their desk and brainstorm/write out their scenes, were suddenly running up to tell me the whole scene they had "written out" in Minecraft. As they constructed the props, and walls of their scene, the story came together for them, and they knew what they were going to write about.
Now we are going to experiment with projecting our Minecraft backgrounds onto the stage with a projector. Digital backgrounds. Will it work? Who knows, but we will have fun problem-solving, learning from our mistakes, and moving towards a successful play.
Is Minecraft in the class a smooth, perfect ride? No it is bumpy, it is messy, some things have worked, others won't. Is it the only way we are going to learn. NO! There are tons of fun ways to build and share our knowledge, but it is definitely another tool to add to my toolbox of teaching strategies.
My next idea is to try 3 digit addition and subtraction with the Minecraft blocks. Different colour blocks to represent the Hundreds, Tens, and Ones. If it works, I'll let you know.