Why I Started Teaching With Minecraft

I was recently featured on the Lincoln Public Schools doing a Q & A about teaching with Minecraft. If you want to read the article on lps.org you can click here

Here's the Q & A:

Jason Wilmot is the computer teacher at Campbell Elementary School, and he uses Minecraft as part of his curriculum. Minecraft is a relatively new element in education, and was recently purchased by Microsoft in a deal for $2.5 billion. Wilmot - and his students - explain the benefits of Minecraft and why it works in his classroom.


What is Minecraft?

Minecraft is a digital platform that can be used in a wide variety of ways. It can be played on a number of devices including computers, Xbox, PlayStation, the iPad and some Android devices.

First of all, it can be played as a game centering on strategic thinking and deductive reasoning. The user must prioritize; set goals and problem solve to explore the in-game world. Throw in an optional threat of danger (monsters) and this fosters a need for security and necessitates preservation strategies.

Secondly, Minecraft can be played in a creative mode. This mode provides for an endless virtual sandbox of creativity (think digital Legos). Here kids can imagine, design, build, engineer, program, develop, code, and simulate almost any type of learning environment. Users can play individually, in small groups or can play on servers holding hundreds of players.

On top of all that, the game also allows for virtual field trips. Here, a teacher could drop the entire class into a pre-created world. There are ancient Roman dwellings, China’s Forbidden City and Egyptian pyramids. This feature is called Adventure Mode. It gives students the ability to visit a world but disables their ability to break anything within it.Basically, it’s a class trip to the art gallery with no need to worry about oily fingers.

4th Grade Solar System Project

4th Grade Solar System Project

How do kids use it in class?

I started using Minecraft in my classroom last year with the help of Dr. Trainin of the University of Nebraska. Since then, I’ve used it in several different ways. I’ve used it for individual, whole-class, and entire-school builds. Our most complex project to date was building Campbell City: a 500+ student project where each student was given a creative space within the city to build whatever they could imagine.

We’ve learned about digital citizenship, computational thinking and connected everyday classroom curriculum into student creations. Kids have solved math problems, created digital dioramas, and have built projects like the Great Wall of China, the Orphan Train, our solar system, water conservation tutorials, and everything in between. We’ve simulated learning goals from Language Arts, Junior Achievement and extra curricular activities. Really, I could keep going, but I think you get point: with Minecraft the possibilities are endless.

Castle Campbell

Castle Campbell

What are the Educational Benefits?

When people ask about educational benefits, I often ask them to clarify what they mean. Yeah, I’m pedantic like that, but “Educational” can mean a lot different things to different people – and really, that’s probably right where we should keep it – amorphous and all. I subscribe to the idea that education can happen anytime and anywhere. Learning is like breathing. We breathe in oxygen - we grow cells; we take in impulses - we connect dendrites. It’s natural, it’s normal and it’s done best when there’s an intrinsic interest.

Before I was a computer specialist at Campbell, I was a classroom teacher for six years at Saratoga. I made the move for a number of reasons, but one of my primary motivations for the switch was to learn how to further embedded technology into education. But it was more than that – I didn’t just want to sprinkle in techy gadgets or electronic worksheets - I wanted to find where curriculum, creativity and student desires could meet.

Maybe I’m old skool, new school, or something in the realm of other – but as an educator, what I hold onto more than anything else is this: learning must be meaningful, and it must be relevant. That means content must be presented in real world ways. It should make sense and whenever possible it should be simulated, not just presented in information-only forms.

Our job as educators is not to provide the dots, but to facilitate the connecting of dots. This means taking student experiences and building into that specific knowledge base. It means getting to know the students on an individual basis. It’s discovering what they find interesting, what they believe about the world, and where they find significance. And for all these things - for this affinity space – the best place to start was Minecraft.

Roller Coaster built by Kindergartener Chris

Roller Coaster built by Kindergartener Chris

What do the kids think about Minecraft?

So, rather than just hearing my opinion on this, I decided to throw this question out to my Campbell Elementary students on Google Classroom. I asked students if they thought Minecraft should be in more schools. Here are a few responses:

Minecraft belongs in schools because it helps kids be creative and different. Minecraft also helps kids learn about objects in the world....we get to EXPLORE! 

Minecraft belong in school because it helps kids think and be more creative. Its also makes them think and focus on what they’re building in Minecraft.

Minecraft belongs in school because you get to create things people haven’t before. And kids can think more and be creative and can use their imaginations.

Minecraft belongs in school because it helps kids learn to build things. And it is fun for some kids.

Minecraft allows you to express your feelings. And it’s something for you to be creative.

Kids want to play Minecraft because they want to have fun.

It lets kids express their feelings and brings your imagination to life.

Because it is a fun building experience to build whatever you want. You get to have fun and build with your friends.

It is fun to create creations and it is creative and awesome. It’s cool that some creation can be used.

Minecraft teaches kids to be creative. The kids will be happy and learn stuff.

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This basketball arena was created by Cameron, a 5th grader. He eventually had to recruit his friends to come in during recess to finish the project but finished it the last few days of school.

If you'd like to see more student creations follow the social links below