Following last month's UK launch event for Minecraft: Education Edition, we are pleased to share another guest post from one of the keynote speakers. Below, teacher and author Tracy Broadbent reflects on her experiences of using Minecraft with young learners, and offers some advice on how other educators can get started and bring their own curriculums to life.
Using Minecraft as a tool for learning with very young children.
It can be a daunting thing, using Minecraft Education Edition in the classroom when your charges are only about 5 years old and already have a strong idea about what they should do in Minecraft. Often, this opinion is informed by watching players online, seeing siblings and grown-ups play or from everyday conversations between children with even a passing interest in the words Steve or Alex. It’s often the case that the children don’t have first-hand experience and sometimes the teacher doesn’t either. So I am often asked, how? How does anyone begin to use Minecraft as a tool for learning with very young children?
The truth is, there is no one way to go about it, but here are the things I’ve discovered that might lend you some insight and put you on the path to confident teaching and learning through Minecraft.
Before getting hands on
For any adult leading the learning, one of the biggest worries is the potential for chaos or loss of control. Say the word ‘Minecraft’ to a classroom of KS1 children and you will almost certainly be greeted with squeals of excitement and an outpouring of who’s who in the world of Minecraft and all the fabulous things that can and should be built in it. They key here is simply accepting that it’s helpful to have this conversation before anyone gets anywhere near the game.
It’s an opportunity to introduce the concept of using Minecraft as a tool for learning. Ask questions of the children;
“Can we really learn about colours, counting, texture, animals, writing, etc., using Minecraft?”
“How can we use Minecraft to help us with our learning?”
You have their attention and, given the opportunity to voice their thoughts and imaginations, they could have more ideas than you ever thought possible.
It’s also an opportunity to be clear at this very early stage that this is about learning and to explain that your expectations are as high during a Minecraft session as they are for all other lesson. Show the children what Minecraft Education Edition and the Classroom Mode app look like and how they work together from a teacher’s point of view. Explore the inventory and find in-game mechanics unique to Minecraft Education Edition, such as NPC’s and boards. Ask children for suggestions on what to look for and finally, ask them to create a simple set of instructions on paper for all Minecraft users, so they have a visual reference for a hands on session.
Getting hands on
Something that becomes apparent very quickly during a hands on session is the different levels of mouse and keyboard skills amongst the younger children. It’s a learning curve all by itself, and one that takes time to master. As well as this, their experience of using Minecraft on a PC is likely to be less than their experience using the Pocket Edition for example. So, with these things in mind, the very first time you use Minecraft Education Edition in the classroom, keep it simple, really simple. If the children have already had the opportunity to create a set of visuals to help them navigate the controls, set them a task and let them explore the inventory.
A great early exercise is simply counting blocks. For example, create lines of five or ten, stack them in pairs, use coloured blocks to create simple number bonds or all of these things! It’s really important that the adults in the room engage with the children and get hands on too; ask questions to reinforce the learning and keep the children on task, get to know who your young experts are and ask them to share their expertise with their neighbours. It’s going to be a bit noisy and it’s going to be hard work but it’s lots of fun and by the end of the session, everyone will have a better understanding of how Minecraft Education Edition works and will have taken great strides towards using it to bring the curriculum to life.
The children will also be buzzing with excitement and you will have noticed lots of collaboration, peer support and problem solving, things that go hand in hand with using Minecraft in the classroom.
Bringing the curriculum to life
Like all the tools in a teacher’s armoury, it’s not what you have but the way you use it that’s important. Of course, when we use Minecraft Education Edition, we start with the curriculum and learning outcomes and build the learning around it, so go with what you’re already doing. For example, if your topic is The Seasons, ask the children at the beginning of the term to create something in Minecraft from a seasonal celebration that’s important to them and compare them with each other. Nothing needs to be perfect or even finished!
This starter session can be built on as the term progresses or be used as inspiration for all sorts of other topic related activity from speaking and listening, poetry and creative writing to art, maths and science. It’s a revelation how Minecraft inspires the children to take the learning beyond the session itself, and when teachers harness this enthusiasm, it can be more readily directed towards learning outcomes that are meaningful and relevant to the children and the task.
So when it comes to using Minecraft Education Edition in the classroom with the very young children, my advice is for the adult in the room is to be as adventurous and creative as the children will be and get stuck in as the magic unfolds.