Video games have always been hugely popular with kids, and these teachers are using Minecraft to teach them valuable learning and social skills.
Minecraft is a "sandbox" game where players explore, craft and build their own world which is based on real-world chemistry and engineering. It's one of the highest selling games in history.
A special Education Edition is available for classrooms that uses the Minecraft world, which is familiar to many children, as a platform for school projects. While coding and design are clear learning outcomes from playing Minecraft, teachers are also using it for science, maths, humanities and working with autistic students.
Exploring a digital world
Numurkah Secondary College Humanities KLA leader Fiona Carruthers uses Minecraft EE to teach humanities and literacy. She says it helps students understand difficult concepts. 'Humanities subjects relate to the world students live in,' Fiona explains.
'Minecraft EE enables students to experience and test their ideas about the world in a safe environment.'
Fiona's Year 7 class used Minecraft EE as part of their unit on Natural Disasters. After reading about natural disasters, Fiona tasked the students with building a virtual village, preparing it for a flood, observing the effects of the flood, and cleaning up - just like a real natural disaster. 'For some students, this consolidated their understanding. But for others, this is where they learnt about natural disasters,' Fiona says.
The game also has a camera and journal function so students can record their activities and reflect later on what they learned.
At Bulleen Heights School, teacher James Paraskeva uses Minecraft EE to engage with his students who are on the autism spectrum. 'Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder sometimes have communicative or social needs that differ from the mainstream,' James explains.
James asked his students what they thought about playing Minecraft at school. They said that they like talking to each other about the game and helping each other while playing – a great outcome for students who otherwise find it difficult to socialise.
'Minecraft removes some barriers to accessing certain skills and content,' James says.
James says games show clear action and response, 'which means they can build confidence knowing what outcome they will achieve with each action, they can therefore anticipate the lesson and rewards and feel comfortable within that world,' James says.
James uses Minecraft EE for many different activities including maths, English, science and social skills lessons. 'Not only are they accessing cooperative skills, they are learning genuine twenty first century skills based on timely team work and STEM content,' James says.
James also uses other educational games at Bulleen Heights School like Kahootz, BrainPop, Mathletics, Mathseeds, Reading Eggs and Code.org.
Even though playing video games might be just seen as a bit of fun, teachers say that games provide a healthy balance of play and learning.
'The focus of play within a school environment when coupled with distinct or implicit teachings is always more powerful than teaching without play.'
'Any task which provides an equal playing field between students, that removes barriers, enhances accessibility to content and skills is of great benefit,' James says.
'In early childhood and primary education children are encouraged to play games to test, consolidate and learn new things,' Fiona says. 'Why should that be any different at secondary school?'
'We live in a world where there is loads of interactive material and students these days are using more and more technology. So why not include this into the classroom, especially if it is engaging them in learning?'
Minecraft Education Edition is available for all Victorian government schools to promote creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration.
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Minecraft in schools.