My Week 2 blog post is seeing the light of day during Week 3 due to real life. I spent 10 days in Minnesota at my childhood home thinking I would have ALL kinds of time to work on #diffimooc and two other courses I'm taking (as well as get caught up on a zillion errant work-related tasks) while caring for my mom in her days after major surgery. In reality, none of that happened. My parents' Internet connection leaves much to be desired and, considering the circumstances, the last thing on my mind was Minecraft, email, or graduate-level studies. I'm nearly 50 years old, for crying out loud; MINECRAFT?! I knew my reluctance to figure it out was fear of failure, but the fact that it was a game I was supposed to be learning helped me put it off.
So, during this, the third week of class, I'm back...trying to figure out where to begin with this Minecraft business. True confession: Prior to this week, I had heard of Minecraft, and I knew that students in one of our junior high classes had a grand time participating in the Givercraft project last semester, and my middle school age nephew knew all about it, and my nine-year-old niece pulled up some YouTube tutorials for me on her iPad one night over pizza at my parents' house...but that is about where my Minecraft knowledge ended. Last night's #diffimooc Twitter chat gave me a bit of hope as I laughed aloud reading my colleagues' Tweets about their initial experiences with Minecraft: hiding in their houses to avoid the Creepers; figuring out how to construct an ax but not knowing how to put it down; feeling a strange and tangible fear when the lights went out when they were in a mine. I laughed...but I felt it, too. Last night, I accessed "the world" after the Twitter chat; it was raining there: blue pixels falling from the huge white pixel clouds, complete with sound effects...and I felt truly freaked out. It's a GAME...pixels on a screen that resemble trees and buildings and weird people-looking things...and I was afraid. I had no idea what I was doing.
In this virtual world, I have no idea what I'm doing, but students do. McCarthy (2014) notes that "effective differentiation starts with knowing the students' academic strengths, interests, and perspectives." Remove the word "academic," and there is still an important message here for educators. It's likely that every educator in America is familiar with Madeline Hunter's lesson planning methodology...so we all know how important the anticipatory set is in a lesson; the "hook" is what draws students in. Connecting to learners' strengths, interests, and perspectives is what will make them want to be involved in the learning. In today's world, games like Minecraft are "it" for students...so what better hook could there be? Still, as someone with no experience with Minecraft and very limited knowledge of "gaming," in general, I was skeptical.
Proof came today during the lunch break when two middle school students walked across the parking lot to district office to serve as my "Minecraft tutors" for 45 minutes. The girls (one 6th grader and one 7th grader) had participated in the Givercraft project last fall. They laughed as I told the story of being terrified by the rain when I entered "the world" last night. I exchanged knowing looks as I shared a couple examples of other educators in the class feeling the same fears and frustrations. The girls admitted that learning Minecraft last semester was frustrating at first, but once they got they hang of it, it was fun. So...it's a game, right? How can it be used to differentiate instruction?
That answer came quickly, too. While patiently teaching me to walk and jump and defend myself against Creepers, they explained some of the Givercraft challenges from last semester. They recounted specifics from The Giver as they were brought to life in the Givercraft challenges.
According to the MinecraftEdu website, the game is played by over 30 million people worldwide. MinecraftEdu only hit the market late in 2011 (MinecraftEdu Wiki) and "has been used to teach all kinds of skills and subjects from math to foreign languages to social justice and fair trade." A single tool that can be used in such diverse ways is rare in education. It may all be very new to me, but not to thousands of educators who have been capitalizing on the game as a tool for differentiating and learning in the classroom. The Minecraft Teachers Google Group has more than 2,100 members.
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The #minecraftedu hashtag is associated with thousands of Twitter posts features photos, comments, and examples of how the game is being used as a tool for learning in classrooms around the world. Students in these classrooms aren't just playing games. They are learning about design, problem solving, teamwork, collaboration, history, literature, social studies, science, you name it. WHERE have I been?!
Hunter, R. (2004). Madeline Hunter's Mastery Teaching: Increasing Instructional Effectiveness in Elementary and Secondary Schools. Updated edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Komando, K. (January 16, 2015). Five things Minecraft teaches kids. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2015/01/16/minecraft-kids/21800605/
McCarthy, J. (2014, January 18). Student Voice & Minecraft PBL. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from http://openingpaths.org/blog/2014/01/studentvoice-minecraft-fronteer/
MinecraftEdu website. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from http://minecraftedu.com/.
MinecraftEdu Wiki. "Teaching with MinecraftEdu." Retrieved January 29, 2015, from
Twitter #minecraftedu. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from https://twitter.com/hashtag/minecraftedu?f=realtime&src=hash