Posts Tagged ‘Minecraft’

Minecraft minefield?

Author: Robin Browne

My son’s teacher recently made the debatable choice to let the students use Minecraft to do an assignment on building a biome (i.e. a physical environment containing distinct animals, plants and climate like a desert or grassland.)

I get why he did it.

He was trying to engage them in learning by letting them use the tools they’re already engaged in.

I was skeptical when my son first told me his teacher had not only let them use Minecraft – he had encouraged them to do so. I thought he would spend his time playing Minecraft instead of doing his project.

I was half right.

The assignment was to create a biome and describe it in an oral presentation. My son chose to create an Arctic tundra biome and did a great job creating, bleak, snowy beauty in Minecraft:

However, he wanted to spend all his time perfecting the look instead of doing the far harder task of finding and editing the descriptions of tundra animals, plants and climate – and practising his oral presentation of the info.

We battled for hours over this, resulting in a final presentation where he read lots of info while walking viewers through a mostly unrelated Minecraft tundra environment. The presentation was unengaging as reflected in the faces and comments of his classmates.

So, one key lesson learned was that, if students are going to be allowed/encouraged to use tools like Minecraft (or any other potentially distracting tool) for assignments, care must be taken to ensure they’re giving equal efforts to all aspects of the project and not just those that let them use the fun parts of the tool.

One way to do this might be to encourage them to do the tough parts with a partner or partners either in person or online (i.e. using Skype).

A number of times when my guy was working on his project, some of his classmates would try to call him on Skype. I would always say he couldn’t take the call and had to stay focussed on his project but, in retrospect, perhaps it would have been better to let him take the call and encourage him to ask his classmates for help with the tougher parts of the project (i.e. he could do his oral presentation over Skype and they could give him feedback)

What successful strategies do you use to help your kids integrate the tools they love in their learning?

If you know, or own, a boy between the ages of 8 and 12, he’s probably already addicted to Minecraft. If he’s not, trust me, he will be soon.

According to the Minecraft site, nearly 10 million people have bought the game (we paid $26 for it) – nearly 11,000 in the last 24 hours.

Minecraft is an online world entirely made of small blocks – and entirely made by its habitants. Kids can easily build things using the blocks like houses (essential for shelter against the nasty night predators), armour, or just about anything else, using a Halo-like interface. They can play with their friends seeing each other’s avatars walking around with their username floating above their blocky, square heads. And, as boys will do, they can kill each other with the only consequence being perhaps some hurt feelings and the lost time it takes to “respawn” back to life.

You can check it out here:


The avatars don’t speak so the kids use Skype instead. It’s a great example of social learning in some great ways.

They’re playing. They’re learning how to connect online with video and voice. They’re learning how to set up and keep appointments (“Meet you online at 7pm!) But, most importantly, they’re learning the power of being creators of the world they’re playing in, instead of just players. Yes, it’s like a video game – and parents of too many boys know the challenges of managing that addiction – but it lets them learn things they won’t by spending hours playing their Nintendo DS or Sony PlayStation. Why do boys love it so much? I need to ask my guy that…once I can pull him away from the game….