Minecraft: Learning By Doing

I recently helped a friend put his IKEA kitchen table together. After half an hour or so of building this table, the ever-so-simple directions walked us through to having a table that stood mostly upright. We beat our chests, reveled in glory and life was good. Hurray for us. Hurray for dinner. End of anecdote.

Maybe you can’t relate to my built-it-yourself adventure, but here’s the idea: the instructions and the table are a perfect pair – but separate them and they’re practically useless.  Without the directions the table goes unutilized. While on the other hand, if you have all the table’s parts but no directions, the process can easily be stifled.

Author James Paul Gee, PhD, illustrates the same idea with the example of a video game.  A prepackaged video game normally comes with two main features: the game itself and the instruction manual. While you can get along just fine without the manual, it does come in handy every now and again when help is sought or needed.

 4th grade students use MinecraftEdu to build and design a shop for classmates and friends.

4th grade students use MinecraftEdu to build and design a shop for classmates and friends.

But don’t try giving someone a game manual without giving them the actual game. Why? Because no one wants the manual without the actual game. What’s the point of reading about the game if we never get to play? What’s the point in memorizing facts in the manual if we never get to simulate or experience it?

You can see where this argument eventually leads when it comes to school. One could argue that we spend far too much time concerning ourselves with content rather than working to blend it with experience. In other words, we take the time to read all the manuals but never leave any time to play the game. We leave out one of the most essential components of understanding: learning by doing.

What if after we read the manual, we could actually play the game? What if we actually gave kids a chance to simulate newly acquired information and turn it into knowledge? What if we could synthesize the information in such a way that kids found it relevant to their lives? What if rather than just learning about the Transcontinental Railroad, a Sioux earthlodge or the Eiffel Tower - what if we could just build the them from scratch?

 1st Graders Gomana and Andriana explore ancient lands with MinecraftEdu's World of Humanities

1st Graders Gomana and Andriana explore ancient lands with MinecraftEdu's World of Humanities

Well, there is a way. It’s called Minecraft. It’s a game and it’s awesome for learning.

With Minecraft, students aren’t just consumers of manuals, they’re artists. Artists that innovate, imagine and create. Eiffel tower? We could build that (we have built that). We could build a pirate ship, a Pilgrim village, explore the Coliseum or whatever else we wanted. We could even build that table.

With Minecraft, students can craft their own understanding using mediums they actually find applicable. Minecraft is a language kids speak; it's a part of their culture. So, why not tap into that? Why not meet the kids halfway? Why not take an environment primed for learning and blend it with what we're already doing? What could be so wrong with spending some of the school day letting kids control their own learning? Just think of how pumped kids would be to actually create the manuals rather than just consuming them.  

It's not a stretch. It's not some crazy idea. It happens in my classroom everyday. It's happening in a lot more classrooms and the idea is starting to explode worldwide. We educators know that actual learning happens when we start connecting information with experiences and/or simulations. Manuals, instructions and directions - they are only part of the whole.

The other part? Well, that is up to crazy people like you and me - educators who are looking to make school more about kids by using mediums and platforms kids find relevant. It may look messy. It may not be perfect. But isn't that what learning looks like?

With Minecraft (and wonderful platforms like MinecraftEdu bringing it to schools) kids get opportunities to collaborate with partners and team up with classmates. They learn to set team goals, talk things through, work through conflict, and learn a lot of valuable real-life skills. They are learning about servers, IPs and setting up local area networks - again, all real things that our world uses to connect and share information.

Minecraft is more than just some computer game. Minecraft is a pixelated powerhouse for digital play. It is a virtual environment where ideas run wild and opportunities arise endlessly. Minecraft is a meeting place of potential and a common ground for kids. It is an arena for creativity and collaboration, of partnering and mentoring. Yes, it's a game, yes it comes on a electronic screen, but Minecraft just might be the next best educational tool for the classroom.


For more on using Minecraft in the classroom, feel free to check out my Minecraft page or the socials below. Gracias!