The Minecraft Teacher

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Answers to your Questions

When I woke up this morning, I was not expecting the day to go this way.  I knew that what I was working on was pretty unique, but I seriously underestimated the amount of interest it would generate.  Front page of Reddit!  Crazy…

The questions have been pouring in via Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit.  I will try to address a few common ones here, and then stay up late answering as many of the rest as I can, individually.  Here goes.

Anonymous asked via TumblrBot:
How were you able to justify using the game in an educational context ? You say you are a “computer teacher” could you be a little more specific, do you just teach a general fundamental basics of computer usage ?

I sort of answered the first part earlier today, so I’ll just paste it again.  But I’ll begin by addressing the second part.  I teach a basic computer skills class to first and second grade.  The students rotate through cycles with computer, art, music, etc.  I am currently only using Minecraft with my second graders.  They are split into a total of eight groups, each of which I see about 10 times per semester.  

While the kids are playing, they are getting practice typing commands, manipulating little boxes with the mouse, and visualizing spatial relationships.  All general skills which translate well to other computing tasks.  At seven years old, most kids really need this type of practice drilled regularly.  Minecraft makes it fun for them.

However, I feel an even greater educational value comes from the community-building aspects.  I structure activities so they MUST work together to succeed.  Share resources, help each other, communicate.  All basic second grade core content.  And when a kid act inappropriately, I come down hard on him… just as if he had done the act in real life. Common infractions are: being destructive with another’s work, hoarding objects, not following directions. Hopefully, they will begin to realize that their actions in games (and online, in general) reflect upon them as people and have real consequences.

@tbradshaw asked:
Minecraft is often regarded as a “rough around the edges” gaming experience. Do you find that this impacts the effectiveness of Minecraft in the classroom? Additionally, do you have a “wishlist” of features that would make Minecraft better in the classroom?

It is indeed quite rough around the edges, especially compared to the console games these kids are used to.  I was certainly close to pulling my hair out a few times before they made auto-patching optional.  As a result, I have had to put in an incredible amount of work to streamline the experience for the kids.  This includes printing out handouts and guides, creating custom worlds, and fine-tuning a set of server rules that add or subtract key game features.  Beyond that, I’ve had to write back-stories and scripts for the students to follow.  The sheer open-ended nature of the game was overwhelming for many kids and proved to be a distraction from my lesson goals.  I realized that this age group really needs a defined structure to follow.  They need a narrative.

To improve on all of the above, I’ve actually been working on a tutorial world that I will use for all future classes.  I can’t wait to show it off here on the blog.  It’s turning into a massive undertaking.  But fortunately I’ve had a lot of help from a very talented designer friend of mine.

As for a wishlist of features for the classroom… hmmm, that sounds like a good idea for another blog entry!

@aklflash asked
@MinecraftTeachr How did u do the licensing for the students. Did everyone have their own account?

I was surprised at how many people asked about this.  Quite a few just assumed that I pirated the game somehow.  Not so!  I used my personal Minecraft account and the school’s credit card to purchase 15 gift codes. Enough for each computer in the Lower School Technology Lab.  I then registered these gift codes using a naming scheme that matched the computers in the room.  The accounts are associated with individual computers, not individual kids.

Anonymous asked via TumblrBot:
Could you send me your lesson plan or plans about this?

I do intend to share most of my materials on this blog, eventually.  I just have not decided the best way to do it since I don’t have much written documentation.  Most of the content is contained within the game worlds we use in class.  In the near future, I will share handouts, letters I’ve sent home to parents, and possibly even our game worlds.  But it’s not a straightforward thing since the worlds are tailored for our custom server, and vice versa.  I need to think about this.

@Speiderspeider asked
@MinecraftTeachr what mods do you use?

Client-side I’m only using BetterGrass and a texture pack called LAR Games (which is underrated and beautiful).

Server-side I’m using Craftbukkit with the following plugins:  (students do not have access to most of these tools)

  • Permissions - required for most plugins
  • Essentials - a large set of generic server tools
  • WorldEdit - incredibly powerful suite of tools used to quickly create custom worlds and activities
  • WorldGuard - used to limit what students can and cannot do
  • CreativeStick - place, replace, and delete blocks from a distance
  • FenceStack - makes fences not a nightmare to work with 
  • CraftBukkitUpToDate - keeps the server and most plugins up to date