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Time to reflect…


I am afraid of skellies. More than anything else.

I have the sound turned up for evil creatures.

I know I can kill a spider.

I know I can whack a zombie.

I can usually outrun a creeper. Or my cool armor protects me from the blasts.

But the skellies have an unfair advantage. They shoot arrows.

I am not adept at fighting. I keep accidentally picking up the wrong tools. You can’t kill a zombie with seeds. Or wheat. Or a block of sand.

But I did find out today that if I’m at high enough elevation, I can build guard snowmen. How cool is that?

And I can block myself in. As long as I have a torch.

The most important lessons I’ve learned is to never venture out without an extra set of tools and some torches. It can be deadly without them.

It’s more fun to fight when there are more people around.

I’ve never considered myself a hermit, and yet I built close to resources because I needed to survive the night. I would love to build a second home in the city, reflecting on my own desires to be close to someplace where things happen. And now that I have a compass, I won’t get lost.

I didn’t think I’d be won over as a Minecraft devotee. I took this EVO class because I didn’t see how it could possibly help with language learning. I could see social studies. I could see math. And maybe even some science/biology. But not really language.

Articles I had read talked about communication. But..

  • Talking to each other through texting works the same way as regular texting. There’s no control over how poorly I write.
  • If I set up a way to talk, my students tend to hang out in language subgroups and often default to the first language, so I didn’t buy into that either.
  • Writing books or signs takes time and resources. I still haven’t manufactured my first book. And, really, how is that different from texting? There’s not a whole lot of room to write, and therefore, not a whole lot of writing to assess.
  • And then there is the time to reflect, which is what I’m doing now. But why do we need Minecraft to reflect? When I was working with a second-grade teacher in her classroom a few years back, it was all we could do to have kids write about their real-life experiences instead of what Barbie or their favorite superhero had done. I really don’t want to read stories about roving mobs.

But I wanted to try. I wanted to give the class a chance to win me over.

Now, I see I have a lot to learn.

And I’m gravitating more to the “soft skills” we want students to develop. These soft skills include teamwork and cooperation, effective communication and patience. Creativity. “Outside the box” thinking. Resourcefulness. Planning. These skills are not innate. And usually we learn through trial and error. But sometimes when you are dealing with learning a new language, culture and school all at the same time, it leaves little space for refining soft skills.

All of these skills, however, are essential when working in Minecraft. And you learn that you can’t just throw things together and make them happen. Tools must be built in a certain pattern. To accomplish one feat, you must first do three other things to make it happen. Knowledge and tools and experience can be shared and passed on.

Recently, I listened to a podcast from NPR’s Hidden Brain.  It talks about how we are motivated not so much by success, but by almosts or near misses. And constructed video game designers know this. It’s what makes people come back. Just one more try and I’ll make it. But this concept is also inherent in Minecraft. It’s what gets us to come back. If I try something THIS way instead of THAT way, maybe I can make it work. Maybe I can create something even better.

In our school, our ELL population is primarily former refugees. My colleague and I have been working on a class for new students in the past couple years to build community, so that students feel comfortable eating lunch with people who don’t necessarily speak their own language. They know they have friends. They can work things out with other people. We fail and try and practice in a safe community. We learn to play and dance and breathe together.

But we miss those whose English proficiency is beyond beginning. What a better vehicle is there than Minecraft? Low stakes. Low commitment is necessary, but it’s addictive. You want to come back and see what else you can do. What else you can build. What else you can discover.

I can see so many possibilities.

Thanks to my EVO compadres for helping me see the light. I’m a newb who is really ready to dig in deeper.


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