Let’s face it: Getting middle school students to engage with math and science is not an easy thing to do (even for experienced and dedicated teachers.) BUT… getting those same students hooked on a computer game is not hard at all. And when that game is Minecraft, well, all kinds of good things can start to happen.
So what is Minecraft and why should teachers care?
I have to admit; when my sons started playing it I was not particularly impressed. The blocky graphics and pixelated vistas reminded me of the games I used to play in the garage on my Atari: slow, grainy and a bit simplistic. It seemed like nothing any high-tech modern kid would give a second glance, and yet my boys were enthralled. For them, it was about building improbable athletic stadiums or large-scale sheep breeding operations that teemed with frothy pink livestock. And they are not alone, as of March 2016, more than 22 million people have purchased the game, making it one of the most popular video games in history.
At its core, Minecraft is a game about making connections. It involves building structures in an open-ended 3D environment, either singly or collaboratively, and in the process developing a wealth of higher-order thinking skills. Classroom educators have been able to use Minecraft to bridge gaps between different types of learners, develop channels of communication and cooperation between students and challenge students to deepen their problem-solving prowess with tools like An Educator's Guide To Using Minecraft in the Classroom.
Educators across the country are finding ways to innovatively incorporate the gaming platform into their classroom. A 2012 article on EduTopia.com, for instance, provides specific suggestions, such as using Minecraft to teach ratio and proportion or to introduce students to 3D renditions of real-life structures such as the Roman Coliseum.
“In education, we are constantly seeking pathways to explore learning beyond the confines of a textbook. Minecraft allows us that opportunity,” said Rafranz Davis, Executive Director of Professional Development and Learning, Lufkin ISD. “When we see our kids enjoying the process of learning in this way, it’s a game changer.”
A new initiative, Minecraft: Education Edition, is being launched as a way to reach educators around the world with inventive and fun ways to engage students in STEM learning. While this program is currently being offered as a free trial, the expectation is that it will eventually cost schools and districts money to effectively implement.
GrantWatch.com has grants for education in states across the nation. According to Libby Hikind, CEO and Founder of Grantwatch.com, “Using the advanced keyword search, you may find the exact grant for your organizations, or you can choose a category on the right of the website, like Secondary Education and match your program to the goals of the funding source.”
*Minecraft is a registered trademark of Mojang Synergies AB., a division of the Microsoft Corporation
About the Author: Julia Harris is a seasoned communications professional with more than 16 years of experience in the higher education and non-profit arena. Her areas of interest include K-12 education, first-time-in-college success stories and developments in medical research.