When NOT to use Minecraft in the Classroom

I do not share this post with the intent to judge others in their attempts to educate students by using specific tools.  Instead, I want to encourage critical thinking, reflection and discussion. I share it as a way to ask for support and guidance as to when we should be using Game-Based tools to engage and teach certain content.

I struggle with incorporating the popular “Craft Reconciliation” project into my current Inquiry Lesson about Truth and Reconciliation between the Canadian Government and First Nations Peoples. I struggle at the thought of using a tool that for many students is considered a “game” to address such a deep, personal and difficult topic. I do not want to put light on an issue that has had such dark implications and caused so much harm for so many.

It is important to me as an Educator to have my students truly understand why Canada is involved in the process of Truth and Reconciliation as it pertains to our First Nations, Metis and Inuit. This isn’t just part of our history – our past and present – but it is part of our own individual need to understand why reconciliation, truth and forgiveness, is necessary for individual growth so that we can authentically make and act upon changes – not just say reconciliation, but also demonstrate it. These are the values that we uphold as Canadians.

In my role as a Teacher for Gifted (ages 9-14), I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity for students to dive into some of the deeper issues that involve First Nations, Inuit and Metis (FNMI) not just as Peoples of the Past, but of the Present. I was also thrilled at the potential of using creative approaches, like Minecraft, for students to engage in this initiative – Craft Reconciliation is an initiatve  –https://www.facebook.com/WabKinew/posts/10153017657506618:0 where students would engage in a inquiry process and design thinking.

I was excited to participate in this process – at first.

But then, as my colleague (Kristy Luker) and I began designing the inquiry lesson, I became more and more uncomfortable with having students sharing and demonstrating their thoughts in Minecraft. The task yes, but why was I so uncomfortable with my Minecraft when I have done so many lessons using Minecraft in the past?

Let me be clear here. I am a HUGE advocate of Minecraft in the classroom. I have used Minecraft for almost six years and have presented locally and Internationally over the past several years on why Minecraft is a choice learning tool for design (and for thinking, engineering, collaboration, math, science, literacy …you get the point). I write blog posts about Minecraft and have even won awards based on my use of Minecraft within an Inquiry driven classroom (The Enrichment and Innovation Centre).  My point is that  I am in FULL agreement that Minecraft is a fantastic tool.

BUT….I am uncomfortable with students using Minecraft for this particular topic. Am I afraid of minimizing the content? Am I afraid that students will be distracted from the seriousness of the issue? Am I worried that they will not give attention and justice to an issue that has had such dark and destructive impacts on an entire culture? Are we over using Game-Based tools…to the point that we have lost perspective?

I can attest that I know how student work in Minecraft. I have worked on Minecraft related projects with over 600 students over the last few years.  Keep in mind, I am talking about students at the Junior or Middle school ages (9 – 14). I’m not sure how this would be different for Secondary level students or adults. I wonder if it is different for those students who have only used Minecraft in an Educational sense? 

Watching them work, play and create is what made me love it so much as a learning tool. But I have learned that they work differently in this platform. Even in a most focused and rich design task, they are in “play mode”. This isn’t bad, it is just a fact. Most of them have been ‘playing’ Minecraft before any teacher or school ever introduced it to them. They know well and and used the tool well before most teachers. They go into “Minecraft Mode”.  It is almost impossible for us to tell them to stop “playing” and get to the task/design. FULL ENGAGEMENT. I am certain that any teacher who has used this tool in the classroom can attest to this.  They can’t help but get giddy and excited – like anyone would that is allowed to use a creative, open-ended and collaborative tool. Plus, it’s Minecraft!!  And, too often, they need some reminding to stay on task (they love to build Minecarts or anything involving redstone for just about anything).  They also need a lot of time and thinking as part of the process. A lot.

It is exactly these reasons that I am uncomfortable with students using Minecraft to explore and recognize Truth and Reconciliation between Canada and the FNMI people. Why? Honestly-   I don’t want them to get “giddy and excited” in this topic. I don’t want them to Play when talking about the Residential schools. As I read and read (and read) the information and documents released, I realized that the issues go so deep and personal. We are not just talking about the physical symbols and cultural values that our First Nations have brought to Canada. We are talking about the the fact that over the years, Canada has policies that were geared at eliminating Aboriginal rights. The report released in 2015 explains, “For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation and cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, 2015)

The more that I learned from the report about the Residential Schools in detail the more angry and upset I felt. “For the students, education and technical training too often gave way to the drudgery of doing the chores necessary to make the schools self-sustaining. Child neglect was institutionalized, and the lack of supervision created situations where students were prey to sexual and physical abusers (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, 2015) .

If you have ever read my blog or tweets, you know I am an advocate for the use of engaging and current learning tools. I believe that we need to do better at engaging our students. But as an advocate, I am also cautious and I tend to think critically about how we do this in a balanced and respectful way.

I hope this doesn’t get read with offense but more as a discussion starter about when we should be employing Game Based tools in our curriculum. Does the content matter? Are students able to recognize the seriousness of a topic when using a tool that they are used to using for fun? Maybe I’m way off. Maybe fun and engagement can help us understand hard topics better? But in this case, I am going with my gut.

Consider joining in the conversation.

EndNote:

We did our first of 5 lessons about Truth and Reconciliation. We talked about why we were not participating in the Craft Reconciliation Project. They said, “It doesn’t feel right”.

Here is the overview (just an overview) of our lesson. Keep in mind, it is changing as we go along.

-Zoe

 

11 thoughts on “When NOT to use Minecraft in the Classroom

  1. Hi Zoe,

    I question what kinds of plans or thoughts you had in mind for using Minecraft that led to “it not feeling right”? In the case of #CraftReconciliation, Minecraft is very, very far from the front and centre. It actually has nothing to do with Minecraft, with the exception that it is a collaborative place where students in different physical locations can create and build things together while developing community norms.

    The learning is not done through Minecraft. The learning is done through talking. Lots and lots of talking. And community building activities. In a collaboration among a group of teachers that I’m working with, the students begin connecting and sharing their about their communities and different perspectives next week. Minecraft doesn’t enter into the equation for a few months. Students will get to know each other by introducing themselves in a variety of ways. They will co-create an interactive map about the different communities participating. They will do some reading and collaborative annotation together. They will create a lip dub mash to a song that is empowering. Then, after they talk about reconciliation and what their vision of it is within their lifetime, they decide what they will build or craft to represent this. If they choose Minecraft (they have the option of creating anything they wish – a song, a video, a poem, design something in 3D and print it, build something, cook something, etc.), they will all be working in the same Minecraft world. Students from different communities may choose to build things together in Minecraft. Some may choose to create independently. Regardless, they will have merge their visions enough to build cohesively within the same Minecraft world. After they are done, each student will complete a reflection on what they built and how it reflects their vision of reconciliation. Throughout the project each class will be learning about history and the TRC in ways that make sense for their course, grade, subject, etc.

    We are anticipating that students will develop an understanding together throughout the process. Develop their own vision of what reconciliation can look like in their future – not adopt the adults vision. They are the ones who will carry this forward.

    In the end, Minecraft barely enters into this project. It is one option that allows for students to connect and build together. Wab Kinew explained choosing Minecraft because “students relate and connect to it”.

    In my personal opinion, I see many uses of games and “trendy” tools like Minecraft in the classroom that are groundless. They are often mainly for the flash and show. In this case I can see the power of a world “owned” by students where they set up community norms and work to build their vision together. It mimics the real world in many ways and provides one option for students to put the values and skills they talk about to action.

  2. Hi Zoe and Jaclyn,

    Jaclyn – your project sounds wonderful! I teach with Zoe at the Enrichment & Innovation Centre. Your project is very different than we were able to do with our students, mainly because of time. We see our students once every six weeks. There is no way that we could have done the topic justice before the students entered Minecraft so that they entered with a different mindset than game play. In fact, we brought this up with our students and they saw this too. In a regular class I may be able to use the tool at the end of a six week unit, but even then I worry if the age group that I work with could put the “player” in them aside and address the seriousness of the issue.

    I love Minecraft for education and have used it regularly over the last few years for Math, Science, Social Studies, and Language. Your comments combined with the many discussions Zoe and I had leave me wondering how age and time factor into the equation of when and how we use Minecraft?

    What I leave this blog ultimately realizing is that it is still my decision as an educator to determine which tools I use when I am teaching. I need to be reflective in my practice and reach for what will best help me teach a certain concept. I need to be able to articulate why I am using a certain tool and not just because kids like it.

    Kristy

  3. Hi there Zoe,

    In reflecting, I just want to clarify – when I say “I question the types of activities…”, I do mean that I am curious. I’d love to know what types of activities you were thinking of that made you and your students uncomfortable. I think the types of activities and our use of Minecraft may be part of our difference of opinion on this one. You view Minecraft as a game (I think – based on your post). I view it as a virtual world. I have only ever used Minecraft in math classes and it has always been about building things together. During these times there was no “game mentality” – they were all co-designing and building a school.

    Perhaps this difference in view and use of Minecraft is part of our difference in opinion? Or, perhaps not… but I figured it was something worth exploring! 🙂

  4. Hi Zoe,

    I agree with Jaclyn. This is about connecting and collaboration. If you are taking the challenge as Wab Kinew has described it. Part of that challenge is partnering up with a First Nations school. That is the key here. You are potentially building relationships that will last a life time. Your kids get to hear and listen about First Nations culture first hand – not from a book, not from an article, but from a person their age. You are adding a human component that is so, so much more powerful and so much more important. The biggest hurdle the FNMI people have at the moment is ignorance. We as the rest of Canada have been ignorant of the conditions they have had to live through. I don’t mean that in a mean way; unless you have lived on or near a reserve odds are you really never knew. But that need to change, and one of the ways to make that change is to education the rest of Canada. But with that education needs to come compassion. There was and still is so much damage being done to the FNMI. But it is through compassion that we find the ways to help and build and make things better. The reality is that you and I, our generation we will only touch the tip of that. Your kids and the FNMI kids they partner up with – they will be the game changers. They will stand up for each other, not only because they believe an injustice has been done, but because they are friends.

    Cheers,
    Dianne

  5. Hi Zoe,
    I was a little surprised to read you post as CraftReconciliation initially seemed like an excellent fit with your interests, passions and skills. I also know how passionate gifted learners become when social justice and making change coincide. I wonder if a part of the decision you and Kristy came to relates to the “workshop” nature of the Enrichment and Innovation Centre. It will take substantial time for learners in partnering schools to listen to one another’s feelings, experiences, understandings, and ideas before beginning to craft possible futures. If you were teaching in one of HWDSB’s Self-Contained Gifted Classes then do you think this could have been a better fit for some of your learners?

  6. Zoe, I applaud you for this, and I think that you’ve actually shared here, many of my own concerns when it comes to using Minecraft in the classroom. Please note that I have used it before, in multiple grades, but every time I do, I wonder if it’s the right choice. Yes, there’s value in the learning that can happen through the game, but if in “game mode,” students are struggling with discussing the academic topic of focus, then is Minecraft the best tool for deep, critical thinking and learning? I also wonder if your questions with regards to this project, have you re-thinking Minecraft in other cases. When is it best?

    I’ll admit that I don’t know much about this project, but when Jaclyn talks about how “far away Minecraft is from the front and centre,” I wonder, why use Minecraft at all? I’m curious to know what others think about this. Maybe I’m missing something here. Thanks for giving me so much to think about!

    Aviva

  7. Hi Zoe;

    One of the most valuable things about having a PLN is that we can share our thinking about our work, and we can have critical friends help to challenge us and help us grow in our understanding.

    The last thing any of us need is another echo chamber!

    Years ago, Ira Socol challenged my thinking as a young principal. Since then, I have come to greatly admire his work, and Toolbelt Theory, which he writes on extensively, is a core belief for me.

    https://sites.google.com/site/iradavidsocol/home/toolbelt-theory

    Essentially, it says that we need to have the option to choose the tools to best help us do our work – to learn and to demonstrate our learning. And this is different for each person.

    Here is an example of how students have been encouraged to use the tools they need to demonstrate learning together, and to share with us the work that is important to them.

    Thanks to Colleen for taking the time to document the learning in her classroom:
    https://kidblog.org/class/grade-9-geography/posts/85egma5sef2mp6fn7wfin6s8i

    Thank you, Zoe, for continuing to make your practice and your thinking open to others so that we may all deeply consider the roles we play in the lives of our future generations.

    Donna

  8. Hi Aviva (and Zoe of course)

    In response to your question “why use Minecraft at all?” I think we need to refocus on Wab Kinew’s intention for this challenge. Youth from “mainstream” and First Nations communities spending time getting to know each other, learning about each others communities and then building their vision of reconciliation together. The goals being an awareness of the past, cultural awareness and then starting the process of healing by building together. Starting fresh and building visions or representations of reconciliation. Minecraft allows students from Wikwemikong, Barrie, Midland, Chippewas of Rama First Nation, Edmonton, Penetanguishene, Orillia, Toronto, Durham, Orangeville, Iqaluit and Edmonton to all build things together either synchronously or at different times. Working with the other students in the same space. All of this requires the creation of community norms and a cultural awareness that can only be developed by working together towards common goals. All connected to the process of reconciliation. We’re not learning about history within Minecraft, we’re learning about the future. How to work together. Talking about what things can represent reconciliation. Wab Kinew says in a radio interview something along the lines of “virtual worlds are very important to many youth of today”. I think he is referring to the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth he speaks to and works with. I believe his goal is to empower them to take a risk and try things and thinks that Minecraft may be the place to try this. I’m not exactly sure how he words it because the interview is in French and my French is very limited 🙂 .

    Our students may or may not choose to do this in Minecraft. For example, if a group of students decide to co-create something text based (a poem, lyrics, blog post, report, etc.) then they can work together in Google Docs or Word Online. If students want to co-create a video they could use WeVideo and all work on the same product collaboratively. If a group wants to create a mind-map to explain something, they can work together in Mindomo. If students want to design something that we’ll 3D print they can collaborate in Tinkercad. Visuals can be done in Google Drawings. If they want to build something together – where else can they do that? Minecraft lets them all work in the same space and build together. If you have other platforms and ideas we’d love to hear about them because we are trying to provide as many options for our students as possible. I believe that Minecraft is a great environment for students who wish to build together to work in. If students do go into this with a hard core “gamers mentality” and aren’t focused on the goals of the project, I view this as a learning opportunity. A conversation opener about the role of gaming and how we feel when playing games. We also have back up for students who aren’t ready to work in our collaborative world right away. They will have access to a tablet with a stand-alone Minecraft world to work in on their own to finish their planning before they move into our collaborative space.

    Jac

  9. Hi Donna,
    Thanks for taking the time to reply to the post. I agree – it is so valuable to have these discussions. It makes us all think just a little more deeply and connects us stronger.
    I love the work that Colleen does with her class! Thanks for adding this link. She has a strong Social Justice focus!

    I resonate with your statements, …. we need to have the option to choose the tools to best help us do our work – to learn and to demonstrate our learning. And this is different for each person.we need to have the option to choose the tools to best help us do our work – to learn and to demonstrate our learning. And this is different for each person….

    Yes, autonomy when choosing a tool is valuable and essential – for professional grown and also to inspire innovation.
    IN the case of Minecraft, I wanted people to just take a second “think” about when it is being used. My colleague, Kristy, summarized it well when she stated that some students have trouble transferring ‘Game Play” into more serious topics.
    As you know, Minecraft is something I value and advocate, for many reasons that I’ve already written about. This conversations was a fantastic way to hear about the wonderful things that people are doing!

  10. Thanks for the Comment Aviva. I do feel that Minecraft DOES have a place for deep thinking and critical thinking. We have use it to explore some rich topics and the tool has benefited students in many ways. However, I also have had many years of experience watching and research students using this tool, and recognize that they have difficult transferring from Game Mode. It takes practise and it can be done. Minecraft is an BIG interest in the Education community and it takes avocates like myself, you, Jaclyn -and others to ensure it is being used well. Otherwise, the benefit of the tool, will be lost.
    Zoe

  11. It sure is great to have people we can debate ideas with. It certainly makes me a better teacher. The value of social media truly is that of having multiple perspectives. Thanks for getting conversations going Zoe!

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