The Power to Enrich

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Minecraft or MINDcraft?

Posted by Angela Spanier February - 25 - 2013 7 Comments

RVS Guest Author: David Smith, Principal, Langdon School – Some months back as I was walking down the hall in our school, I came across a boy who was playing a game called Minecraft on our school computer. My assumption initially was that this student was off topic, however I was completely wrong.

I pulled up a chair and sat down beside this gentleman. With his left hand he was typing, imputing numbers, creating structures through hot-keys, and with his right hand he was moving the mouse, directing a little man similar to a Lego character through a beta-looking screen. After sitting for 30 seconds to his right, I saw his eyes glance over at me and then back to the screen.

“How’s it going Mr. Smith?”,  he said with a grin.

“Oh fine Sam, how are you?”

“I am doing great! You are probably wondering why I am on Minecraft right now aren’t you?”, he said with a slight smirk.

“Well, I have a feeling you are going to tell me aren’t you?”

Before I go any further I should give you a snapshot of what Minecraft is. This game thrives on self-creation and imagination. It allows users to create their own world and to move amongst that world in a 3-D form, mainly using icons and geometric shapes. Students can create worlds that are similar to that of Lego, but that have higher detail. They can share these worlds with each other and effectively create and destroy their creations very easily. The game itself is not very ‘fancy’; it does not have smooth graphics, it does not have superior detail or high-end background music with a score written by John Williams, rather, it is a form similar to that of the early video games, something I would call a ‘beta-game’.

As Sam spoke, I became fascinated with why he enjoyed this game so much, in fact, why so many students enjoy using this game when it didn’t have what so many of our game makers thrive on today – that is HD graphics, original music, AI interaction, violence, speed, and more. As Sam spoke it became clear to me that he enjoyed this game because he had the option to create, explore, and apply his knowledge with simplicity. The game itself is built upon geometric shapes. The more detailed and symmetrical you are in your creation, the better your world appears to the viewer. Furthermore, it is limitless and it allows for cooperation.

What does this have to do with school? Grade 6 student Austin used his knowledge of Minecraft to explain to his science teacher how the ecosystem of plants and trees work in nature. If you would like to see more, click here for a short video of his demonstration.

To bring this home, it was an entry point in his learning. He was engaged, he was excited, and he was able to communicate his learning to me. If you are interested in seeing a snapshot of his work, go to our Langdon School web page and then go to student showcase. You can also find it on our YouTube Channel, The Langdon School (which is currently under construction).



7 Responses so far.

  1. Julianne Harvey says:

    Thank you so much for this post! My kids are 6 and 9 and they both love Minecraft. They work together on their worlds and my 6 year old son’s reading skills improved in leaps and bounds through the game. He got tired of coming to find me to read him something, so he just figured it out himself.

    In a society where violent video games abound, I’m grateful for a game like Minecraft which is all about stretching your imagination and creating your own worlds.

    • davidsmith says:

      Thank you for your responses. Ironically, when I first saw the game at school my inclination was to shut it down, but my lego experience kicked and I became curious. Often in the lower middle levels our boys find it difficult to engage in school, any tool we as educators can use as an entry point to learning will build engagement. Great comments thank you.

  2. TR Rickey says:

    Like Julianne, my son is obsessed with Minecraft. He is 12. I am amazed at the way he can replicate buildings from ancient Greece for his SS learning and the way he creates his own landscapes. He also occasionally uses his LEGO to plan out his buildings, but not often.

    I love the way that Austin utilized it to demonstrate his understanding.

  3. Susan says:

    Excellent article & I’m glad to hear about the benefits of Minecraft, especially from an educator’s perspective. Now, shhhh! We musn’t tell the children about this! They’ll become disinterested at once. Let’s all pretend to be annoyed with Mincraft, right??? **Wink**

    • davidsmith says:

      Yes, it is like telling students to eat their veggies! Recently we have been using another program called Mathletics, this program also builds in the problem solving side of learning. As our teachers continue to use inquiry based learning and problem based learning we will see more and more students rising to the challenge.

  4. Susan M Parker says:

    Thank you David for sharing your experience with Austin and Mindcraft. What a wonderful journey you shared in finding out more about it, to our benefit as well. We have a student who has had great experiences using Mindcraft as well and it has also helped him enter into other educational openings that he may have otherwise looked over.

  5. davidsmith says:

    Susan, your last comment is the crux of it. These are experiences we would normally overlook. Why are these learning experiences overlooked? I believe because of a somewhat narrow view of what is possible for today’s students. It is difficult to know where a student will find engagement, however, a classroom that is open to these experiences rather than prescribing every deliverable outcome, will allow students to bring their interests to the learning table (as it were).