About two months ago In January of 2011, I decided to try something new.
I am a computer teacher at a private school in New York City. I teach mainly first and second grade as well as the occasional high school elective. Students come into my computer lab and spend 40 minutes completing whatever activities I have prepared for them. Most years after Winter break we do a geography project using Google Earth. But this year I instead decided to develop a unit using a wonderful new computer game called Minecraft. The game simulates an idyllic world and lets the players explore, collect resources, and then build anything they can imagine. Players can also play together in the same world and collaborate on larger projects. Think of it at 21st century online Legos that you can play with your friends.
A castle built in Minecraft (photo credit)
I didn’t know if the the experiment would work. I wasn’t sure I could squeeze enough educational value out of the game to justify the project. I wondered if the kids would get bored with a game without fast cars or aliens. I didn’t even know if a seven year old could master the controls — although my own five year old daughter’s successes gave me confidence. Beyond this, I had doubts about the technical feasibility of using a game that is brand new and still buggy.
As it turns out, all of these concerns were unfounded. The experiment was a rousing success. Not only did we have a productive and fun unit, but I would say that this was the best project I have ever done in the classroom. In my 8 years of teaching I have never seen students so excited and engaged. They run up to me in the halls to tell me what they plan to do next class. They draw pictures about the game in art. They sit at the lunch tables and strategize their next building projects. And not only the boys, but girls too.
I started this blog because I feel I need to share my experiences with other teachers and the general Minecraft community. I had to customize the game and invent activities as I went along. But hopefully my efforts can serve as the groundwork for another teacher who wishes to do the same thing. In upcoming posts I will outline the curriculum I planned and the philosophy behind it. I will talk about the tools I used to support the project and I will share some of the custom activities I created for the students. And I will share stories about my own mistakes and bad assumptions and the ways that the kids surprised me at almost every turn… in a good way!
I am just wrapping up the project with my first group of students, and right after Spring break I will start all over with 4 new groups of students. This is a great thing because I’m taking what I’ve learned and redesigning each of my lessons. And not only that. Due to overwhelming demand, I am also going to run two separate afterschool classes. It turns out that the kids could not get enough of the game and over half of them signed up for more. You know you are on to something when a kid chooses to stay in school after the bell rings!
The students and I stand atop a small structure we built using bricks