I’ve been embedded in a few conversations on Twitter this weekend regarding the use of Minecraft in education. I should first point out that I am not at all questioning the teachers who are using it well. I know some of them personally, and I know that they use it efficiently, effectively, and with great purpose. It is those teachers who tempt me to go out and try to figure out how to create a board server, to capture what they are doing at a system level. My worry is that in the current media blitz surrounding utilizing Minecraft in the classroom some may mistakenly conclude that Minecraft in and of itself is a good educational tool. Minecraft is like any tool. When left without guidance, ( like an iPad, blog, wiki) merely placing the tool in a classroom in and of itself has no virtue in education. The difference though I think with Minecraft is that out of the box it may in fact be detrimental. Without a teacher who creates a bounded environment, either through expertise with the tool, or with something like Minecraft EDU to help customizing the tool to be utilized in minecrafteducation, it’s just a video game about building shelter before the creepers try to kill you (I know this is a complete oversimplification). This in counterbalance to an iPad which in and of itself has no inherent violence (you can download apps that have you firing birds at pigs, but you have to go looking for the violence). My fear is the free-time-in-the-computer-lab-teacher, being duped by the student saying I’m just playing Minecraft, and thinking that’s an educational tool, and that it’s probably appropriate.

It’s not necessarily appropriate.

Depending on the age of the student it might be completely inappropriate if there is no teacher within that world moderating and providing context.

Like anything: put the learning first, then find the right tool.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

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  1. Jared, I’m so glad that you chose to write this post. I’ve enjoyed reading your tweets this weekend on Minecraft, and you’ve got me thinking a lot. My problem with Minecraft is that I don’t know it well. I’ve sat down with students and learned a lot about it, I’ve read many blogs about it, and I’ve done some of my own research on it. Until this year, I never even considered using it in education. I know that it’s become popular, but I was sceptical.

    This year though, I have a group of Grade 6 students that love the game and are reluctant learners. I know that they can produce amazing things, but they often lack the drive to do so. That’s when I started considering the use of Minecraft. Yes, I use Minecraft in the classroom, but only in specific cases, and ALWAYS with the learning first. I’ve actually found it most effective in math, but I’ve also used it with small groups of students for Language and Social Studies. It’s been a wonderful way for students to show me what they know in a different way, and with the use of screenshots and screen recording, they’ve been able to elaborate on their thinking and add another level to their work.

    I agree with you though that the learning (and the curriculum expectations) need to come first. Students can (and will) play the game at home, but I do truly believe, that school is for learning and I need to ensure that this happens. Minecraft isn’t for everything or everyone (at least in my opinion). I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this. I’m still learning …


    1. …and I never worry about what goes on in your classroom; but a parent of a 6 year old mentioned that his teacher lets the kids play minecraft when the are done their “work” in the computer lab. I find this shocking, and as a parent of a soon to be six year old, I feel I’m in a pretty good position to gauge appropriateness. If my son came home from school saying he had been playing minecraft in school, and couldn’t effectively explain the purpose, I would have issues that would warrant further conversation.

      1. Thanks Jared! I completely understand. As with any games, I don’t think that they should be done just because there’s “free time.” Why is there free time anyway? Maybe it’s just me, but I really feel like school is for learning, and if students do finish activities at different rates, we should be considering extensions and looking at meaningful ways to move ALL students forward.

        There are other games like Minecraft without the violent nature that may be better educational options for students to explore. I think that there can be value to creating together, and maybe gaming is a good way to do this. I saw a tweet from a fantastic teacher that showed how he uses Skitch for transformations. What an awesome way to merge gaming and math! This week, I’m hoping to have some students explore Skitch as an extension for a math project. It’s a great way to review transformations, and it’s also fun! Students can create (maybe not build), but without the violence.

        So much to think about …

        1. The free time in the computer lab beast is a completely separate battle: one that won’t be completely beaten until we take apart all of the computer labs and figure out a way to put enough technology at the point of learning to ensure that technology integration into practice isn’t an “event” scheduled once a week.

          1. Very true, Jared! With the risk of going off topic though :), I think that even with technology in the classroom, we need to look at more ways to show that it’s not an add-on. I’ve said it more times than I can count: “I’m not teaching technology; I’m teaching curriculum, & technology is one of the vehicles I use to deliver the content.” Changing a mindset is hard though …

            Maybe this is why we’re even discussing Minecraft in education. Some people may be looking at using Minecraft as integrating technology, instead of starting with the expectations & thinking about why they’re using it in the first place. All of this still comes down to, how do you bring about change?


          2. This is certainly part of the current discussion in my board. I am thinking a lot about the use of a technology integration continuum like TIM or a transformation model like SAMR with admins and teachers as both a reflective tool (where am I right now?) and as a goal setting tool (what can I work on integrating this year?). If educators are not using technology in any way (other than email and Facebook), then they have no context for how the tool/game/etc might be integrated; they just don’t know.

            I have been working with teachers to move them from thinking about technology use as you describe those weekly lab events as ‘free time’ to thinking about how to use a tool like Glogster as a way for students to provide evidence of learning. Sure, initially this may be straight up substitution, but it’s a start.

            Are you using a continuum for integration with your teachers?

            Looking forward to hearing your thoughts,

          3. I really like the SAMR model as an integration model. It does tend to be a bit difficult for early integrators to fit themselves into (the differences between A and M can be nebulous). I have thought about this before in the context of specific tools, blogging being the example I have the most documentation regarding (http://dev.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/2011/10/19/278/).

            I’m often conflicted by the entrypoint. Sometimes the tool can open the door to affect practice. It may be that a teacher who is passionate about minecraft in their personal life may grapple with how to bring that into the classroom as more than just an engaging pastime. I think the examples provided by Brian Sharland provide some excellent examples of the possibilities for Minecraft. Perhaps more thought should be put into creating adoption models, that keep the entrypoints accessible, then ramp up into the kind of uses that reinvent what is possible.

      2. I’ve been watching this discussion all week and finally have time to jump in and add my thoughts.

        First off, this is a great discussion and one that we should be having as off the shelf video games in schools become more mainstream, and Minecraft seems to become the flagship of this trend, as seen by that Toronto Star article.

        As shiny, new things hit that tipping point of mass adoption, there will always people who think it’s the silver bullet that will solve all their problems. You are right to to take issue with teachers who think simply putting their students in front of Minecraft will result in the type of learning that goes onto a report card. There is only so much math you can learn from killing creepers. However, there is definitely learning happening every time a student plays Minecraft or any video game, during their (teacher supervised) free time.

        It’s when the kid who is bullied learns he’s valued because he becomes the expert and teaches the bullies how to create an iron pickaxe. It’s when the student who stresses out over group activities, learns that her idea of fun is accepted because she finally gets a chance to parallel play and go exploring on her own. Or maybe it’s the student who learns to feel acceptance because he finally has a chance to actually play the game after spending hours watching his brother hog the computer at home.

        These are the stories I’ve seen unfold with my students during our free time with Minecraft. These aren’t recreations of a medieval village, they’re not plotting graphs using coloured wool or being led through some teacher-created redstone science experiment. You’re not going to see any Youtube videos showcasing the amazing work of these students. That’s totally fine with them and me. But it doesn’t mean there’s no learning happening during these free play sessions.

        There’s tons of learning going on. It’s just the fuzzy learning that’s hard to fit into a 500 character box in a specific curriculum expectation. But it’s still learning. Student-led, inquiry-based, authentic learning. All happening with a text that students willingly engage in outside of school. And it’s happening in school. That’s what is so amazing to these kids right now: they get to play that incredible game while they’re stuck in a not so incredible place.

        We’re in a special moment right now with video games and Minecraft and it won’t last.

        I’ve been using Minecraft with students since early 2011, when it was still in beta. When I first brought it in, the kids had never heard of it. In 2012, when I started using it, the kids had heard of it but many never played it. In January 2013, I had two students who turned up their noses at it because their brothers played it and they *hated* Minecraft. Nothing I could do could get them engaged with the game. The novelty is wearing off. The kids already have pre-loaded, out of school experiences with the game and they don’t fit with our teacher ideas about how to teach with it.

        As Minecraft becomes more common in our schools and more educators use it to squeeze out report card learning, engagement levels will drop and classroom management issues will rise again. Forcing students to do specific learning tasks with a game they use very differently when they have the choice will meet with resistance. Right now they’re more than happy, because the alternative is Dance Mat Typing or quietly reading a book.

        If educators are truly looking to bring learning into the 21st century and not just have a quick fix until the next big education trend comes rolling in, then we need to nurture the authenticity of off the shelf video games and not smother it with report card learning.

        One way to do that is to ensure there is teacher supervised free play time with the school computers. Better yet, teachers should roll up their sleeves and join in the gaming fun with their students during this free time. I know many who already do this and it provides amazing learning opportunities for everyone.

        With a little innovation, some of that learning just might make it on to the report card.

        One final thing, if anyone is in Toronto on June 20, 2013 myself and my GamingEdu colleagues are hosting an Open Minecraft Discussion night at the Academy of the Impossible. We’re going to talk Minecraft and learning and I am really hoping there will be folks who have ideas and opinions about where this stuff should be going in education. Join us if you can!

        If you’re interested in learning more about how to play Minecraft and connect with other educators, please consider visiting GamingEdus.org and joining our GamingEdus Professional Play server. It’s a free and open Minecraft server for teachers and their families. We can lend you an account, so you can try before you buy! Minecraft n00bs are very, very welcome.

        And, finally, finally, if you want a server for your class but don’t want the hassle of setting one up, check out our Multi-School Minecraft server, hosted by the great people at EDGELab Ryerson. It’s an amazing server shared by 40 students in 4 schools. Teachers and schools get their own area to do what you want and there’s a shared common area where we build together. It’s a blast! (literally, when creepers are around.)


  2. For those who are worrying about pupils not learning whilst using Minecraft I would suggest taking a look at some of the things you can do within Minecraft such as interactive stories, film making or even detailed programming using Lua or Javascript. It is simply a tool which teachers can draw upon when required. Pupils can be directed quite strongly whilst using Minecraft or if possible be left to discover or build on their own (so long as there still are some constraints). Of course outside of lesson time just as much as we encourage pupils to go out and discover their own things to do in school why not give them the chance to explore further within Minecraft and see what they can build or do.

    1. You help make the point. All of those initial things require teacher direction. I don’t doubt the power of Minecraft, only that I’ve seen it being used poorly in schools, and the Toronto Star article recently published doesn’t attend to those issues. http://bit.ly/11c03Xt

  3. @sharland has just tweeted that the charges should be laid at the feet of the lazy teacher, rather than at the tool. I would certainly agree, and think I have contended from the start that the attack isn’t on Minecraft. My issue is that Minecraft is being touted as a tool for education, and what I’m seeing is uninformed teachers failing to realize that unlike something like https://www.prodigygame.com/index.php/free-theme?utm_expid=71678278-2 which requires nothing in order to be “educational”, something like Minecraft requires good pedagogy. I assume there are teachers out there placated by stories about the great things @zbpipe is doing with Minecraft, as if that work is easy. They need to re-examine their practice, because doing what Zoe does takes work, and sometimes teachers assume that video games will propel the user on an educational path like the Prodigy link shared above. Minecraft will promote inquiry out of the box, but beyond that it needs a teacher guiding its use. Yes, this kind of thinking should inform everything we do, but I recognize that technology can be a barrier, and adopting something like Minecraft requires a teacher who is an expert in integrating technology into learning, because it needs to be bent somewhat.

    Are there other horror stories? Sure. Everytime I hear someone say they didn’t know how to set up their classroom iPad so they gave the kids the iTunes password I cringe. This post really isn’t about Minecraft at all; it’s about vetting and contextualizing the tools we use in education, ensuring they are age and task appropriate. Minecraft is just the latest in a long list of tools we use in education that fall into this category. I’m not attacking Minecraft, but I do worry when a media outlet celebrates a tool, and that some may mistakenly believe that the tool does all of these things automatically, when the game itself isn’t an educational game (not like starfall.com is an educational website). I don’t say this to diminish Minecraft. It’s a much richer resource than starfall, and on the spectrum of technology integration, I am equally as appalled by the computer lab full of students mindlessly shooting math fact asteroids. Gaming in education should have rich inquiry-based games at its heart (like Minecraft). A lot of this was influenced by a friend who’s grade 1 child came home saying he had been playing Minecraft at school: the free online version, as a free time activity in the lab. This isn’t the gamification of education, it’s just bad teaching.

    Technology is moving faster than practice in some cases, and we can’t let that happen.

    1. Great discussion!

      To expand on my point from Twitter, I believe you need to meet two criteria in order to justify a particular technology’s use in education. The first criteria is merely helpful, but the second I believe is mandatory.
      1) The technological tool must be broad enough to be used openly and creatively by any teacher at a variety of levels and in a variety of areas. For example an iPad is not merely a tool for grade 3 math or whatever. Compare this with say, clickers, that have a much narrower utility.
      2) The teacher using the tool must be passionate about using that tool. If a teacher is NOT passionate about teaching with a tool than it will very easily end up in a corner, or be used as an alternative way to deliver worksheets. This is the risk with board-wide initiatives, particularly when you still have a lot of technologically illiterate teachers.

      It’s not so much about teacher training (though that is obviously important), we just shouldn’t start there. A passionate teacher will by definition be pushing and striving to learn more on their own (as long as the school, board or ministry haven’t put roadblocks up!). How many mandated workshops have I gone to? How much do I actually remember from them? How much have I incorporated into my pedagogy because of them?

      3 Examples:
      -I know several of my colleagues who use iPads. I know they HAVE to be passionate and believe in using these tools because of the extra work they require beyond regular teaching duties!
      -I had a smartboard in my class, but I recognized that I wasn’t using it very effectively, (in fact I wasn’t passionate about it) so I gave it to a colleague who is VERY passionate and uses it effectively and extensively!
      -I applied for special funds for technology in my family of schools, and purchased a MakerBot 3D Printer. Many others in my family wanted iPads, but personally I’m not passionate about using them in my practice at this time. I felt more passionately about using a 3D printer, and since it’s a lot of extra work, I wouldn’t recommend it UNLESS you are passionate about it and willing to put in the extra work (this is my working thesis for my ECOO13)!

      So it seems to follow then, that with board-wide initiatives they will need to mandate teacher passion, and that seems a bit disturbing, as it assumes we are all the same. In fact, while we may all be passionate about teaching, we may NOT be passionate about the same tools, and that’s where board/ministry initiatives can fall apart.

    2. Absolutely it takes a lot of work to get it setup. The reason I don’t use it extensively in class is that I like the structure to make sure that open-ended work by pupils still achieves appropriate outcomes.

      I am working though on using Minecraft as a tool for teaching Computing from September (Click here) and through that I hope to be able to deliver the structured approach such as “Let’s learn about WHILE loops” but then give the pupils the open-ended chance to go and see what they can create (or destroy) using while loops.

      I think the reason I picked up on some of those earlier tweets over the weekend is that I do worry about people attacking the tool and not the method especially when they see words like ‘Minecraft’ and ‘games in class!’. The tool is good as long as the method is sound and rigorous and I am pleased to see you support that.

  4. Well I think your last reply hit the nail on the head. It is all about good pedagogy and best practice. Any “new”tool is going to be misused and exploited by some teachers: SmartBoards and iPads come to mind as tools that have been meaningfully integrated into sound teaching practice by many, while at the same time been used as cute, mindless fun time by others. We need to ensure that anything, tech based or otherwise, that we introduce to our students, is connected to curriculum expectations, achievement chart and higher-level thinking, while being engaging. Purposeful use.

    It seems that the difference between some tech and Minecraft, from what I understand from Jared, is the potential for violence if there are no clear goals and limits set out. Teachers need to be accountable for this if they introduce Minecraft to their classroom. Like anything else being introduced, teachers need to understand the tech, be comfortable with it, immerse themselves in it, so that they can reflect on the pros and cons, the what ifs.

    I love that you’ve started this conversation, Jared. It’s another reflection piece for me. I do plan on using Minecraft next year, so my 17-year-old is teaching me this summer :). As I become more comfortable with it, that is when I will decide if it’s something that will help me help my students learn and be successful.

  5. I read your post and agreed with your idea to make a board server. I though that you could make a server mod to limit what is on the server and to change settings such as peaceful (no hostile mobs e.g. Creeper, Zombies, and Skeletons) or make it creative so that it has unlimited resources. You could remove certain blocks and even replace these with more educational blocks. I could help with this if needed.
    Thank you for your time,
    Jason (@jasonamri) a student in @avivaloca’s class.

    1. Thanks for the comment, and for the offer to help. I think the things you offer are important elements for teachers to consider as they start to introduce tools like minecraft into their classroom.

  6. So as a teacher that has used Minecraft in the classroom before, and would like to explore other educational uses, can I go about making these changes to Minecraft to help limit the violent options? What would I do? Jason’s suggestion intrigues me. I’d love to know more about possibilities.


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