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?