Minecraft: Zen and the Art of Letting Go

By Steven Isaacs, Game Design and Development, grade 8. Connect with Steven Isaacs on the Educator community.

It took me a little while to adopt Minecraft in the Classroom. It had been on my radar for some time, but I didn’t quite get the allure. However, kids were clearly so passionate about this game, that I couldn’t help but acknowledge the great value and relevance it had to them. That was enough to push me over the edge. In 2013, I purchased a class set of Minecraft accounts with the help of our school parent/teacher organization.

Following the learning

I teach a game design and development course, and my original thought was to have students create adventure maps. I had heard of adventure maps and they seemed like a reasonable approach to game design with Minecraft. Fortunately, I had some forward-thinkers in my professional learning network (PLN).

Marianne Malmstrom (aka @Knowclue) and I had some discussions that really stand out in my memory. Marianne is a proponent of following the learning, and as we talked, it became more and more apparent that I needed to let go of controlling the assignment.

The flexibility that Minecraft brings truly opens a space for students to be wildly creative. While I didn’t know everything (or much) about the game, Marianne assured me that it would be OK to trust the kids and honor them as the experts. My class’s project went from “Create an adventure map in Minecraft” to “Create a game in Minecraft.”

The open-ended nature of the assignment would allow for students to take true ownership of their learning. While my expertise is in guiding students through the design process, I quickly learned that the students could be the experts in terms of the particular tool.

Learning without an instruction manual

This brings me to a point that has had a huge impact on my teaching practice. Minecraft does not come with an instruction manual. Have you ever seen how kids learn how to play Minecraft? They go right to YouTube, Minecraft websites and wikis. Virtually all of the content they find and use to learn about Minecraft is player-generated. The gamer community has constructed an immense knowledge base and people are excited to share what they know.

 Screen Shots from Supremacy SMP Episode 4 Student YouTube Series  Screen Shots from Supremacy SMP Episode 4 Student YouTube Series

Screen Shots from Supremacy SMP Episode 4 Student YouTube Series

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I saw first-hand that when kids want to figure out how to do something, they find the appropriate resource and have at it. Going a step further, they then become eager to contribute to the community. They learn from their like-minded peers, extend their understanding, and share what they can with the community. Kids idolize their favorite YouTubers, learn from their style, and try to hone their skills in response. It’s pretty remarkable to watch.

Becoming a community of learners

Tackling Minecraft in the classroom has given us the confidence to take on even more challenges. Some of my students have created a server for our class and are customizing it to meet our needs. The students have taught me what I need to know so that I, too, can administer the server. We have become a community of learners.

I have created opportunities for my students to get credit and notoriety for contributing to the community. My students create Snapguide (step-by-step) and YouTube tutorials to teach others.

Redstone creations and contraptions

The degree of empowerment and pride I see when a student is considered an expert is pretty awesome. The work of my students is showcased here via Pinterest and on our class YouTube channel.

My students were asked by Microsoft to create tutorials when Redstone was being introduced to the Windows 10 and Pocket Edition versions of Minecraft. Redstone allows players to automate operations by working with circuits. The complexity of their creations and deep understanding that evolves is often mind blowing. This was a wonderful experience for them.

I feel very fortunate. I have grown so much by letting go. I love nothing more than learning with and from my students.

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