Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Minecraft as a Learning Tool for Geography

I was approached by the third grade teaching team to consider possible ways that the Minecraft game application might be used to enhance and enrich learning and technology use for students.  I love when teachers are working to engage students with tools they know the students are passionate about...and Minecraft is definitely one of those current high engagement tools, so I was excited to collaborate on this idea.  We decided that it would make sense to try a pilot project in which a small group of students would extend their learning about geographical biomes by creating them in Minecraft.

With a teaching goal in mind, we next had to consider:  software availability, student knowledge and ability to use the technology, and any project guidelines.  Currently RES does not have a school or class Minecraft license, so this project was done on personal and library iPads with a tablet Minecraft version.  Before the project began I gauged student knowledge through a small group discussion.  Students ranged from feeling they were experts, to only a basic understanding of the application.  Due to the small group nature of our project we were able to team students together so that experts could support novice players (I believe this would work in a whole class as well). Next, we explored the application.  I quickly learned that guidelines needed to be developed to ensure that students could stay focused on the task at hand.  (It does not make sense to create a group of sheep in your biome if you are creating a jungle....despite how fun it is to watch them run around and bleet!)'

When students understood the tool useage expectations, they got right to work! I could clearly see their informational knowledge as they designed, built and created!  Students had to problem solve how to create animals, stop ice from melting, and more.  They also collaborated on how to add labels (most settled on capturing a screenshot of their biome and them editing it in Explain Everything, but then others found a way to make signs inside of Minecraft!) 

This project was a way to share already understood information.  Students could have certainly drawn a picture or written a description of their understanding...but I believe the Minecraft tool added three additional components to their learning:  a need to collaborate and learn from each other, high (very high!) engagement, and problem solving.  My opinion is that technology tools are an amazing avenue for students to develop creativity and Minecraft has a lot of potential as we look at methods for sharing our work and knowledge. As a group of teachers we will continue to look for ways to leverage this tool in our work with students.

Below are two images created during our small group pilot.

Do you use Minecraft at home or in your classroom?   What do you think is the best way to enhance learning with this tool?

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