How Minecraft is being used in education

Parents who have had the experience of having to tear a child’s attention away from the screen might question whether Minecraft can actually be educational. After all, something that engages children so much is evidently too much fun to also teach kids anything, right?

Wrong. In fact, Minecraft is a tool that is being used not only at home, but also in the classroom – and Microsoft, which bought Minecraft developer Mojang in 2014 for over $2 billion, is keen for the game to be seen as a way to “teach, learn and inspire”.

There are some obvious educational aspects to simply playing with Minecraft. Whether it’s learning the principles of farming, or getting to grips with economics by trading resources with villagers, or programming logic gates by setting doors to open when a certain combination of buttons are pressed, there’s more to Minecraft than hacking at zombies.

Indeed, some of the intricate architecture and in-game objects designed – brick by brick – by children are awe-inspiring. Take this video, in which a child describes how he made a working escalator. He prototypes different designs, learns from the failure in his early models, adapts the type of piston used to power the escalator, and finally cracks the problem.

Schools aren’t blind to the educational benefits of Minecraft, either. Santeri Koivisto is CEO of TeacherGaming, a Finnish company that sets up Minecraft servers for schools around the world.

The customised version of the game provides special features and tools for teachers, such as a library of pre-built levels and activities, the option for teachers to “freeze” students’ games so they can command attention in the classroom, and – critically – a licensing model that means schools don’t have to pay for 30 individual licences.

There’s already many great examples of how Minecraft has been used in classrooms. For example, middle-school students in Los Angeles used Minecraft as a method of learning about major world religions, but also as a way of learning how to collaborate as a team – researching, agreeing what to build, and working together in-game to execute the agreed build.

It’s this use of Minecraft as a tool to encourage children to collaborate that is perhaps the most exciting and positive way to use it in the classroom. Another example of this comes from closer to home in Dundee, where schoolchildren collaborated to reimagine the town’s waterfront district in Minecraft.

But Minecraft is capable of stretching a long way beyond this. In fact, as a platform, it’s so flexible that it’s been used as a platform for poetry.

My Mother’s House is a poem, but it’s also a Minecraft map. It’s a collaboration between poet Victoria Bennett and her partner, digital artist Adam Clarke, and was funded by a bursary from The Writing Platform. Open it and you’ll find a labyrinth built up of spaces separated by doors. As you move between areas, a disembodied voice reads a poem to you one stanza at a time. There’s a connection here: the original Italian meaning of stanza is “room”, and Bennett and Clarke used this as a way to structure their poem (or is it a game?).

“We looked at the idea of the stanza meaning, quite literally, a room you could enter,” they said. “We looked at the structure of the poem as being something you could move through and explore, something that could be built and taken apart. We experimented with the idea of the labyrinth, as a movement through a structure that begins and ends in the same place, but leaves the traveller changed in some way.”

Exploring the rooms in My Mother’s House feels as if you’re picking apart each stanza of the poem, trying to piece clues together – only for that to be obscured as you drift into the next area. When you consider that the poem is inspired by Bennett’s experience of caring for her terminally ill mother, and of reliving half-remembered memories from a loved one’s life, mapping the poem in this way makes sense.

If Minecraft can be used in this way, to create poetry, it can’t be too long before someone creates a PhD thesis using the game as a compositional tool. And at that point, Minecraft will truly have become a vital part of the entire spectrum of education, from primary schools to university.

This is an independent guide from the Alphr editorial team. This content was produced to the same impartial standards as the main content on our site but paid for by Intel because they like people who like this topic. Thank you, Intel!

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