How Teachers Used Minecraft For Education During COVID-19

With the emerging outbreak of a novel coronavirus, millions of people had to lock themselves inside their homes, schools and universities were shut for months, and a transition to remote teaching took place and amidst all, a sudden surge in video games has been witnessed.

However, there have been on-going debates on whether children benefit from playing video games. A group of researchers has demonstrated that video games can improve a number of competencies. On the other side, the popular conception of video games runs against the idea that playing on a computer can aid learning. But, a new study from Valerie Shute and her colleagues aims to counteract these concerns with an interesting new finding about the benefits of playing video games. Many scholars state that due to this continuation of pandemic many individuals have suffered from the anxiety of coronavirus and experienced social isolation, their psychological well-being started to be a matter of concern. In such a scenario, video games came into light as it eases the mood and in the real-time help students learn from it. 

Currently, as most students face school closures, Minecraft has become one of the most preferred games to aid learning as it is giving away a suite of educational lessons in its game just as it extended free access to its Education Edition for teachers.   

In this article, we talk about Minecraft and how teachers have brought it into use to teach their students.

What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is an independent computer game designed in 2009 by self-taught Swedish programmer Markus Persson.  

It is also termed as a first-person 'sandbox game' which means people create their own experience, although, in layman's terms, it is just a virtual landscape where people dig holes to collect blocks and make something out of it. This is where your imagination comes in, crafting anything from a small mud hut to a giant concrete city landscape.  

Why Minecraft in Education?

Back in 2016, Microsoft released a version of Minecraft specifically for educators called Minecraft: Education Edition or Minecraft EDU for short.  

The basics of the game are the same, but the education version adds extra features. It allows students to download the game at home without having to pay for their own version of the game, and take photos within the game and share them with other students.    

Benefits of Minecraft in Education

  • Minecraft helps kids learn problem-solving techniques  
  • Minecraft can support reading and writing skills  
  • Minecraft supports a curious mind  
  • Minecraft helps kids with maths problems  
  • Minecraft teaches children how to manage resources
  • Minecraft teaches kids the benefits of teamwork  
  • Minecraft can help to improve a child’s confidence  
  • Minecraft can help kids learn about the history  
  • Minecraft can improve a child’s creativity and imagination  
  • Minecraft can help a child learn to code
  • Minecraft offers valuable future work skills  

How Teachers Used Minecraft For Education During COVID

Since the pandemic, many teachers turned to Minecraft while scrambling for tools that could make remote learning work. In fact last year, Microsoft added an “education” section to the Minecraft Marketplace, and since March, 63 million pieces of content have already been downloaded and has more than 126 million active users.    

Minecraft has an entire educational component full of standards-aligned lessons. It offers an open-ended approach to the virtual world, essentially a limitless canvas for creativity; users are free to construct worlds which can include almost everything from cities to ships and rides to plants. To be precise, one can have a self-created universe and welcome others to join in their virtual adventure.    

Currently, Minecraft is paving its way into the classroom and spreading its wings to increase student interest in STEM. Minecraft offers free resources to help educators and families stay connected, navigate remote education and engage in creative learning. You can explore fun challenges, immersive worlds, STEM lessons, and more. The platform has introduced 11 newly created STEM lessons that have a particular focus on girls and middle school students to debunk the long-perceived thought that science, technology, engineering and math aren’t for them. These include simpler, game-oriented approaches, such as having students build a bee habitat to understand the importance the insects play in local climates and landscapes.  

Besides these, Microsoft rolled out new content to support social-emotional learning by giving educators and students social justice lessons to walk through together and the opportunity to work on projects and socialize in-game. Teachers can reach all students and use Minecraft as a tool for STEM and social-emotional learning, giving students that social connection, they’ve been looking for.    

Along with allowing players to construct and explore virtual worlds out of blocks that look something like Legos; Minecraft also offers 600 learning sessions with activities such as visiting a low-def version of Florence, Italy; hanging out in a “decimal/fraction garden”; or honing language skills while exploring a shipwreck.  It will also be launching these programs: A NASA-approved, student-built project that invites students to tour the International Space Station, complete with experiments; Exploring the human eye; Logic puzzle games to teach students how to code and think like programmers; A tour of D.C.'s most historical sites, including the Lincoln Memorial, the White House and the Pentagon and A tower game that teaches students about power generation from different sources like wind and nuclear.   

The Microsoft designed materials gear toward remote multiplayer options so students could connect through the game. Features like classroom multiplayer allow students to collaborate on projects in their Minecraft worlds, building, planning, learning and even chatting as they work together. Along with additional instruction, training and guides to support students and teachers from home, it has built new sets of lesson kits designed so that teachers could assign shorter activities for groups of students to work on together. Since remote learning has become a necessity for students at all income levels, Microsoft has made Minecraft: Education Edition is now available for Chrome books, the very time.  

According to Deirdre Quarnstrom, Minecraft general manager, Microsoft is responding to concerns that distant learning away from school isn’t possible in many districts. He added that “The shift we made was in how we were packaging things and onboarding educators and communicating to them;” which means putting together new remote learning kits for teachers, as well as additional resources for parents to help kids get set-up while at home. Mine craft’s website also gives interested educators the ability to connect with each other to share ideas and tips. Microsoft has also made the education version of Minecraft free to educators and students through June 2020

Since the game is used differently depending on the age of the students involved; there are arts lesson plans for kids as young as six, while high school level courses are generally focused on the STEM subjects, helping teachers make use of it accordingly. Meanwhile, college students tend to be more focused on the social aspect of Minecraft, so they may use the base game to re-create their campuses. Minecraft offers something unique to its users of all age. 

In actuality, Minecraft creates multiple opportunities for transformational learning experiences. It allows educators to help students develop empathy through gaming and imagine how they’d like to be treated, talk through scenarios in gaming and in their personal lives, and discuss how they would do something differently, then practice those skills. Such technologies don’t impede our ability to build relationships; conversely, with regard to gaming in the classroom, it serves to further bolster them. Using Minecraft, teachers are creating popular challenges for students where they use the game to build their own dream home. They create their own lessons where they manage what goes on inside the game through an app called “classroom mode.” It also includes tools for teachers to assess student projects and take snapshots of their projects with an in-game camera, which they can share with their classmates 

Not only this, for a better approach, teachers have started engaging kids in conversation by asking them what they like about Minecraft. Most answers are likely to revolve around the collective themes of creativity, collaboration, critical-thinking and communication. Having such conversation in class or during leisure time have helped teachers form implementation strategies and which ultimately led to the founding of a Minecraft club complete with membership cards. 

They’ve also asked learners to watch mine craft videos and create one. This will hone their skills as content producers. Besides these, teachers at Broward County Public Schools in Florida are creating lessons through Minecraft. They are using Minecraft to teach students science, engineering, history, geography, math, and many more subjects. Others are using the game to teach geometric math concepts and the impact of climate change.   

Needless to say, progressing through Minecraft will provide a number of opportunities to gently steer your kid toward good decision-making and preparation skills, as well as teaching patience and perseverance. 

If you’re an educator and struggling with keeping students engaged while learning remotely, then Minecraft Edu is for you. Just give it a shot. 

About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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