The Minecraft Teacher

May 3

Gaming teacher case studies

Recently, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Jessica Millstone a filmmaker and researcher working with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.  She, along the good folks at BrainPOP such as Allisyn Levy pioneered a groundbreaking study into teacher attitudes towards gaming.  They’ve just made public their survey results and it’s a fascinating read.  Lots of confirmation that we gaming teachers are really on to something!

Read this announcement to learn more and access the full results of the survey.

As a core part of the study, they are also presenting case studies of various teachers using games in their classrooms.  I am honored to be in the first round of case studies!

They edited together this fantastic video which I’m delighted to share:

There are two more inspiring videos that were released along with mine, that you should also totally go watch.

MinecraftEdu collaborative server project for teachers

The talented and handsome @warrenbez has taken the initiative to start a great server project for teachers using MinecraftEdu.  I’ll let him explain:

I am setting up a MinecraftEDU server that can be accessed by any teacher. The hope is to have teachers collaborate and create a Minecraft unit that can then be made available for download. I think that having teachers collaborate on a particular unit will yield a better product than if any one teacher attempted this on their own. So, my initial idea is to create a Unit or Lesson based on the architecture and history of Ancient Rome. The idea came to me after finding this map available for download. The map has several identifiable Roman structures that could be used in a lesson about Roman architecture. My hope is that teachers will jump in and start adding assignments.

There’s more information and instructions for how to jump in and get started here on Warren’s blog.  Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea.  I’ve been hoping to do something like this, myself, for a while.  But kudos to Warren for getting the ball rolling.

Hmm. Maybe I’ll log in and build some columns…

Worth a read (and listen!)

Lately I haven’t been posting here when me or my projects are covered in the media.  Mostly because I got sick of talking about myself.  ;)

But there have been two really good pieces lately that I’m proud to share.

The first is an article by the prolific and talented Audrey Watters of Hack Education called MinecraftEDU: Minecraft for the Classroom.  Audrey was one of the first reporters to write about me last year, so it was fun to catch up with her at DML2012 and show her how far all of this has come since then.

Next up is a podcast I did with some fellow NYC teachers last week for the EdTechTalk network.  I managed to yammer on for over 20 minutes, but I think I did a decent job of explaining some background and the potential for Minecraft in schools. Go listen!

And if you like this kind of stuff, I usually throw interesting, on-topic links on to my Pinterest page.  So if you like this stuff, go read: Minecraft/EdTech/GBL on Pinterest.

Wanted: Teacher and Student Testimonials

Students and fellow teachers!  I need your help for a super-secret, super-exciting project that I’m working on.  I need a large number of testimonials and soundbites about why Minecraft is so great in an educational setting.

I’m not looking for a lengthy dissertation.  I really just want a paragraph that sums up your own experiences with the game.  You can leave it in the comments of this post, or email it to me directly.  Even better than writing a paragraph would be filming yourself speaking your thoughts!

Say whatever you’d like, but if you are unsure what to talk about, here are some questions to consider:

  • What made Minecraft click for you as an educational tool?
  • Why is it effective?
  • What was learned?
  • What do you see as the future of Minecraft
  • What’s a real-world example of something cool that happened with Minecraft in school?
  • Why does playing Minecraft in school represent something fundmentally new and awesome?

If possible, please include your name, and the name and location of your school.  If you are a teacher, please say what you teach. If you are a student, say what subject you used Minecraft with.

And if you’ve specifically used MinecraftEdu, I’d appreciate if you’d mentioned that fact.  And I should probably say that if you share something really glowing about MCEdu (and you don’t mind), I’d love to put your words on the site.

Even if you’ve sent me something before, please paste it in again… I’m terribly disorganized these days!

Thank you so much.  This is going to be cool!

Mar 7

Trending Topic: Structured vs. Unstructured Play

Recently some spirited debate has unfolded between several teachers whose work I admire and whose opinions I respect.  And there seems to be a rift forming about the “correct” way to use Minecraft in the classroom.

I’m going to oversimplify things a bit, but here is the crux of the debate.

One camp argues that teachers should take a “hands off” approach and just let the kids play the game the way they want to.  There is plenty of self-directed learning to be found and kids will constantly amaze you with the ingenious things they come up with. There is a belief that play has its own intrinsic value which can become diminished when a teacher imposes his or her own goals and restrictions.  Minecraft worlds that support this approach tend to be large and the students return to them over and over.

The other camp sees value in using Minecraft as a platform for more structured lessons. They will place restrictions on where the students can go and what they are allowed to do. The teacher creates content and customizes the world before the students ever see it, and then outlines goals that the students will attempt to achieve.  There is usually a specific set of information that will be communicated and/or skills to be learned and practiced before the lesson is over.  Minecraft worlds that support this approach tend to be small and the students spend a shorter, more focused, amount of time in them.

And of course there are teachers whose opinion falls somewhere between these two extremes.  I guess I’m one of them.

How a teacher chooses to interact with a class is such a personal decision.  There are so many factors to consider.  The age and genders of the students.  The culture of the school and its philosophy.  The teacher’s comfort level with the subject matter and teaching tools. The objectives of a given lesson. And of course there’s that intangible and organic social dynamic in the room that forms with any group of human beings. No one would dream of saying that there is one best teaching practice. This applies to game-based learning just as it would to any other methodology. 

I have a (bad?) habit of treating each group of students I teach as test subjects to be experimented on.  I modify my approach for each class.  Sometimes it can be as simple as explaining things differently.  Sometimes I design an entirely new activity for a class.  And after all this experiemntation, I still can’t claim to have figured out what works best.

Some of my students thrive in an unstructured environment, each rising to self-imposed challenges, finding ways to leave their own personal mark on the world.  However, other kids tend to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to them in an open world, and need constant direction.  These students respond much better with clearly defined limits to work within. In fact, these students are more likely to approach the activity as a self-contained adventure or quest and proudly speak of “winning” Minecraft. (A concept I find amusing… but I’m not about to question their feelings of triumph!)

I’m starting to believe that the best designed lessons and activities provide options and multiple paths to success, catering to various play styles.  This lines up nicely with traditional classroom practices of embracing a wide variety of learning styles.

We are all in uncharted territory here.  Never before have teachers had a game with the breadth of experiences and malleability that Minecraft offers.  If you are using Minecraft in your classroom, you should be paying close attention to how other teachers implementing it.  Especially if their approach is very different from your own!

MinecraftEdu: New version soon!

Repost from MinecraftEdu:

We’ve been quite busy preparing the first public release of MinecraftEdu. You can see screenshots of the latest build below. This version will first be sent to our pilot schools in the next week, or so. And then after some testing, we will make MinecraftEdu available to the general public!

Read more…

Looking for ideas

What would make Minecraft the perfect tool for your classroom? This post is mainly aimed at other teachers, but we’d welcome anyone’s input!

My MinecraftEdu colleagues and I are hard at work on our custom version of the game.  The focus has been on a powerful (yet easy to use) set of tools to help teachers utilize the game in their classrooms.  But so far, most of our additions have been either basic student management tools or world construction shortcuts.

We are starting to look ahead at some fundamental changes to the game that educators would find useful.  We want to know what specific additions we could make to mesh with your curriculum.  I’m talking about actual changes to game mechanics.

For example, if you wanted to teach chemistry, we could add a certain number of compounds and then program their interactions.  That kind of thing.

Please let us know your thoughts.  Don’t worry if you think your ideas are too ambitious… we’re just brainstorming now.  Add a comment below, email me, or join the under-utilized Minecraft Teachers Google Group.

This just in…

I’m really bad at updating my blog.  It’s unfortunate.

I am much, MUCH better at getting out my thoughts (and links to interesting content) on Twitter.  Please consider following me there if you aren’t already.  That is… if you are into that sort of thing.  If not, I totally understand.  No pressure.  I’m coming on too strong, aren’t I?

Anyhoo, I’m @MinecraftTeachr over there.  Maybe you’ll swing by later if you aren’t too busy.

Jan 5

Digital game based learning: Minecraft English - final evaluation


After yesterdays final lesson in minecraft english I did an evaluation with the students. I have also regrouped and reflected on my failures, and here’s a list of things I will be considering for my next course:
Server, server, server!
Before I start next time I will need to run some…

MincraftEdu’s upcoming features.

Wow.  Things have been moving very fast for me.  I have a backlog of Really Cool Stuff that I need to post on here.  I will do that very soon.  But for now, an update from Aleksi Postari about one of the things that are keeping myself and my partners busy.  Aleksi is the Lead Developer for MinecraftEdu.  Check out the progress of our custom Minecraft mod designed for educational use!

Aleksi / kulttuuri writes:

Peek of new features…

Few screenies here about what’s coming up… We will try to aim next release to be also available for individuals, so that has taken some time from us (had to develop separate mod install tool and such for it), but now we are mostly just waiting for the bugfixes for 1.0 and next release that could be merged into Edu!

But for the screenies, here we go: