Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gaming in Education- Observing Minecraft in the Classroom

In the last couple of weeks I have observed a few classrooms from Kindergarten to middle school using Minecraft EDU to support 21st century learning. To be completely honest I have not played Minecraft before this week, although I have watched my kids play it on the iPad and computer. I understood the theoretical affordances but for the first time I actually saw it in action in classrooms.

My first visit was to a fourth grade classroom facilitated by Jason Wilmot. As we walked into the classroom you could immediately sense the buzz of activity. As Matt Gordon shared later: "the first thing you get is engagement". All students were engaged moving around (the virtual world), asking for peer help, showing each other how to accomplish specific task. We (Jason, Ji and I) decided to start students with unstructured time seeing what patterns emerge. Jason is weaving in specific skills required by district and state standards making sure that students are receiving all the skills necessary.

I settled next to two students building houses one right next to each other. They were discovering functions and clearly helping each other produce the outline for their respective creations making sure that they each have enough space. This simultaneous communication off and on line is something we have observed across all grades. This is a fantastic illustration of the 21st century skills of Communication and Collaboration.

Moving to a different group I saw a student avatar in what seemed to be a vast underground cavern creating bales of wool and setting them on fire in large quantity. As I watched I could see no real reason for his actions. I casually asked: "I see that you are lighting a lot on fire". "Yes" he answered eagerly, "you see I am lost and can't find my way out. My friend is in the area", here he tapped the shoulder of his friend on the adjacent computer "he knows where he is. I hope that if the fire is strong enough he can see it and help me get out." I smiled. What I initially saw as a mindless activity, turned to be Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.

Two students were introduced to me as the "resident experts" since they have been playing at home for a few months. These two were mindlessly building, it seemed as if their position as experts was actually stopping them from exploring and innovating. I asked "What are building?"
"a house" they both answered almost in unison.
"can you make doors or windows in Minecraft?" I asked. One started showing me how you can make windows and seemed invigorated by the more structured task. Later I challenged him to create a second story with stairs leading up. He seemed somewhat disinterested but before I left he proudly showed me his new house with a roof garden and stairs that actually worked. His friend switched to creating a water area, a challenge to create a pool with a slide sent him on a creative bend as well.

On a visit to Matt Gordon's class in Horizon Middle School in Kearny we saw a real "Digital Making Space". His classroom hosted a variety of students working in Minecraft (set of tasks), creating video with iPads, editing work and probably a few other tasks that I failed to catch.

Both Matt's and Jason's spaces showed that the interaction of virtual world and a challenge led to Creativity and Innovation.

The biggest challenge that I observed across settings is the power of students to damage each others creation. While this problem can be managed with the tools embedded in Minecraft EDU, we would like to challenge students to create a civil society and foster democratic principles in which students set the norms and explore implication of personal and community boundaries. In this way we can address not just digital citizenship but citizenship in it's broadest sense.

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