Minecraft: Coming to a School Near You

Although it is considered low-tech compared to today’s computer games, Minecraft has become extremely popular among students in almost every grade level. The 16-bit computer game allows users to build homes, care for livestock and ward off “creepers,” or zombies. Education News reports that the game is now getting a new fan base: educators. In fact, this game, launched in 2011, is now being used in schools across the globe to teach concepts like community planning and environmental stewardship.

The Experts Weigh In

The use of Minecraft in education seems contradictory to the wishes of parents who try to get their children to spend less time playing video games. Available on computers, tablets and portable devices, Minecraft is actually a requirement for 13-year-old students at a school in Stockholm, Sweden. According to Viktor Rydberg schoolteacher, Monika Ekman, “They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done and even how to plan for the future.” Since the game is interactive, multiple students can work together to achieve shared goals.

Even child development experts have weighed in on the benefits of Minecraft, claiming that the game improves “spatial reasoning” and building skills. MIT’s Scheller Teacher Education Program professor, Eric Klopfer, believes that Minecraft has educational purposes for the aforementioned reasons.

That is not to say that children will always play the game properly. It is not unusual for some players to loot or destroy other houses and, like any other game, Minecraft should be played in moderation. Parents can get better insight into the game and teach their children ethical game-playing behavior by playing the game with their children. Klopfer stated, “While the game is clearly good for kids, it doesn’t mean there should be no limits. As with anything, I don’t want my kids to do any one thing for overly extended periods of time. Whether Legos or Minecraft, having limits is an important part their learning.”

How to Get Started

While anyone can join Minecraft online with a free or low-cost account, or purchase the app for their mobile devices, MinecraftEdu is the best source to implement Minecraft for educational purposes. A collaborative effort from game developers and educators in Sweden, Finland and the United States, the site offers steep discounts to schools, as well as customized gaming experiences and support.

The game is an excellent addition to school STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, and by purchasing a single classroom edition (that accommodates 100 players) for $41, teachers can use the MinecraftEdu “Custom Mod.” With the “Custom Mod,” teachers can share class assignments, manage a classroom server and control weather and time of day in the game. These are just a few of the many abilities teachers have with the classroom edition. Educators can also access the site forums, wikis and chat channel for more ideas and support.

To get a better glimpse into how educators are utilizing the game for educational purposes, MinecraftEdu offers real-world examples. Minecraft is being used to teach world history, computer technology, biology, English as a second language and ancient history. It is used to teach students who need special education services or participate in after-school programs. Educators are incorporating Minecraft with children as young as 4 years old and students in graduate school, giving an indication of just how versatile the game really is. The beauty lies in its simplicity, as it can easily be altered, manipulated and regularly updated. With so many students already playing Minecraft outside of the school, this game can serve as the “carrot” that really helps students dive right into a subject.