“Do you think diamond armor is stronger than iron armor?”
If you have spent anytime with a 5–12-year-old recently you may have heard conversations like this one. Kids are obsessed with Minecraft® (Mojang, 2009), a video game with wide appeal to both boys and girls from children to adults. Unlike other games, Minecraft has educational value and potential.
What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a video game that can be played on multiple platforms, including game systems, computers, and tablets. It has been described as analogous to virtual Legos® or a virtual sandbox. Players arrive in a world that is populated with a landscape that can include mountains, trees, oceans, and rocky plateaus. The world also includes animals, such as sheep and dogs. Within this world, the player can explore by walking, jumping, or flying. He or she can trade with villagers or defend against hostile monsters, such as Creepers and Zombies. The overall goal is to explore the world and build. A player builds by mining blocks of different materials, including commonly occurring stone and rare gems, then placing the blocks where they see fit.
The player sets the agenda of what to build, how to build, and where to build. Players can build houses, roads, or farms but also elaborate traps, boats, and even spacecraft. As players become more advanced, they can experiment with not only mining and building but also using mechanical and electrical components. Thus, the gamer is limited to what he or she can build only by his or her own imagination.
What do teachers need to know?
There are several potential educational benefits to Minecraft play.
- Social Development: Effective teachers get to know their students’ personal interests in order to make meaningful connections. A teacher who knows what Minecraft is and a little bit about how to play it can literally speak the language of his or her elementary students. If you know something about the popular trend du jour, whether it is Pokemon, Rainbow Loom, or Minecraft, students will believe that you genuinely care about them as human beings. Countless surveys of former students indicate that the teachers who make the difference in their lives are the ones that seem to care about them.
A second social benefit of Minecraft is a common topic that encourages conversations among peers in the classroom. While too much conversation among peers may not be desired all the time, you can certainly use the universal appeal of it as a mechanism for encouraging new friendships and a classroom sense of community.
- Geometric Spatial-Relations: Minecraft is a geometry teacher’s dream! In order to build in Minecraft, players must conceptualize an idea and then translate the idea into a three-dimensional space. The game’s parameters require consideration of shape and distance but also allow the player to make mistakes and retry if something does not quite fit. Players are learning fundamentals of geometry and having fun at the same time!
- Oral Language and Vocabulary: The world of Minecraft affords students and their teachers many opportunities to learn and discuss new words across content areas. When playing Minecraft, children are confronted with new habitats, such as forest, desert, village, and swamp. Players use different kinds of tools, including axes and anvils. Students use pistons and circuits to engineer new creations and solve problems the game presents. The game provides a context for students learning new words and applying their understandings in meaningful ways.
- Problem-Solving: Minecraft players must solve problems in order to survive by collecting resources and avoiding danger. For example, within the first ten minutes a player must have the appropriate materials to craft a torch before nightfall. Problem solving extends to complicated builds that involve electrical circuits and multiple moving parts. Players can find such tasks frustrating but also rewarding because they can greatly simplify efforts.
- Literacy Opportunities: In addition to playing the game, students can use Minecraft as a springboard for interest in reading and writing. Several authors have capitalized on the game’s popularity and published adventure books based on living in the Minecraft world; while not great literature, if the books encourage a reluctant or struggling reader to engage in reading, then why not? Similarly, students can use the world as inspiration for creative writing.
Before dismissing it as the next popular game, consider Minecraft’s numerous educational possibilities. At the very least, knowing about Minecraft can help you understand countless conversations in the hallways this year!
Cordeiro, J. (2013). Minecraft for Dummies. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Milton, S. (2013). Minecraft Essential Handbook. New York: Scholastic.
Mojang (2009). Official Minecraft web site. www.minecraft.net
Morgan, W. (2014). The Quest for the Diamond Sword. New York: Sky Pony Press.
Katrin Blamey, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Education and Chair of the Early Childhood and Elementary Education program at DeSales University. Dr. Blamey is responsible for teaching literacy methods, early childhood foundations, and research methods courses to undergraduate and graduate students. Her research interests include developing vocabulary knowledge in young children, professional development models, and effective use of educational technology.