Gamifying the Classroom with Minecraft – so Many Fun Possibilities!

by Jessica Marello on March 25, 2014

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The Popular Virtual World Game is Gaining the Attention of Educators at a Quickening Pace, and For Good Reason.

Minecraft is showing up with increasing frequency in education technology related social media and blog content. The gamification of education is a hot topic, ripe with possibilities for increased engagement and learning, and Minecraft is a highly creative and flexible application that is well suited to classroom adoption.

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft first hit the video game community in 2009 and took gamers of all ages by storm. The sandbox indie video game is fully customizable and offers a flexible gaming experience that everyone can enjoy. Do you like building structures, towns or cities out of blocks? Or maybe you prefer slaying monsters with enchanted weapons and powerful armor? Whether you want to build or destroy, you can do it in Minecraft. With the large amount of mods available for download, you can play Minecraft exactly how you want to.

Minecraft in classroom imageImage from MindcraftEDU home page

Minecraft runs in several game modes, making it easy to customize gameplay. Survival mode allows damage from mobs and starvation as well as player death. The focus is placed on gathering resources to survive as well as crafting tools, weapons, and armor. Creative mode, on the other hand, allows players complete access to the building blocks of Minecraft as well as immunity to damage and death. This is a great mode to learn the ins and outs of Minecraft in, as well as build immense structures or cities.

There has been a growing movement to use Minecraft in the classroom as a learning tool and a supplement to the overall curriculum. An advantage to using this sandbox game is it’s popularity; many students of various grades and ages are already familiar with Minecraft and its basic game mechanics. If you asked a group of students if they would rather spend a class lesson learning in Minecraft or taking notes to a lecture, you can be sure most would choose the video game.

How to Use Minecraft in the Classroom

Since Minecraft’s rise in popularity, teachers have realized the game’s potential in teaching students different subjects and skills in the classroom. Teachers are using the sandbox video game to give lessons about math, technology, science, history and even the English language. With a modified version of Minecraft called MinecraftEdu, teachers can get a version of the game for a discounted price that is specially tailored to classroom use. This modified version simplifies running a custom server in the classroom, along with additions like assignments and teacher-only blocks.

Several history teachers are using Minecraft’s open world to recreate ancient civilizations for their students to explore. At New Los Angeles Charter school, seventh graders actually founded their own civilizations in Minecraft, constructed their own buildings and interacted with other students’ civilizations. They went so far as to develop an economy and trading system with the players of other civilizations. The students displayed leadership, cooperation and learned about civilizations through playing Minecraft.

Minecraft doesn’t just benefit history teachers in the classroom; André Chercka, a Special Education teacher in Denmark, used Minecraft to teach English to his students. The students could play together as long as they communicated in English. Since then, Chercka has incorporated different subjects into his Minecraft lessons. His students have learned coding with the Minecraft mod Computercraft, practiced English verbs and tenses, and learned numerous math concepts. Using Minecraft as an incentive to learn languages makes the process more fun and exciting.

S.T.E.M. – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – especially benefits from the block-filled world of Minecraft. Minecraft is all about creating, whether it is a simple house to live in or a massive castle-like structure. Third grade teacher Jennifer Bond has used Minecraft with her students to construct scaled models of their bedrooms, learn geology by mining minerals, and determine area, volume, angles and more. There are dozens of mods available to practice even more uses of science and technology in Minecraft, such as IndustrialCraft, which introduces more machines and technology.

Why Use Minecraft to Teach Students?

So many teachers are using Minecraft in their curriculum because it is a fun way to learn, and students learn best when they are having fun. Everyone has had the student in math class who comments offhandedly, “When will I ever use this in real life, anyway?”. I’ll admit that I have fallen asleep in a class or two during an intense note-taking lecture. However, you do use educational skills in Minecraft. Even better, these skills get utilized when doing activities you enjoy doing, such as using symmetry to build a home or smelting ores to make advanced types of armor.

While some teachers have tried using simulation games like Second Life in the classroom, they have to tailor their lessons to fit the game. With Minecraft, you can change the game to fit your curriculum. You can download mods and create worlds to alter the game experience. You can set parameters for students with different game modes and objectives. The world is an open sandbox with endless possibilities.

It’s the endless possibilities that really make Minecraft enjoyable for all ages. While I love farming both food and animals in Minecraft, my playtime isn’t limited to collecting wheat and building animal pens. I can experiment with methods to make my farms more compact and productive. I can decorate them to make them look more modern and futuristic. Mods like Natura expand on what I can farm and how I can farm it. The customization in Minecraft makes it easy to play how I want and have fun learning new things. It’s great that educators are starting to realize the game’s potential.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Gaming Education: Are Parents, Teachers, and Schools Ready to Embrace Gaming as a Learning Tool?
8 Research Findings Supporting the Benefits of Gamification in Education
Introducing a Game-Based Curriculum in Higher Ed

About 

Jessica Marello graduated Alfred University with a Bachelors degree in English and a Spanish minor. She writes articles for HubPages about video games and other topics. She also writes freelance for Host The Game, a Minecraft server provider. You can find her on Google+, as well as on her personal WordPress blog.

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