Last year, I wrote a DonorsChoose.org grant for MinecraftEDU.
I spent a week planning how to roll this out to my new students. I spent more than a month trying to figure out how to get it on our computers. I then ran out of time as our school year wound down.
New year, new administration.
I spent more than a month figuring out how to get people to let me have my club.
I spent another month trying to figure out how to make it work on the computers and with my students.
And then they hated it.
They didn’t have enough English to figure out how to run the game. And when you don’t understand, you quickly reach frustrational level, and you quit. And that’s what happened.
Now, it’s February. Nearly a year has passed since I fulfilled the grant. I feel like I’ve been taking baby steps, but I finally have a small group of dedicated gamers meeting me weekly to hang out in our world. It’s not always perfect, but I’ve found that the goal is being met. I got the grant to show that the game could help boost soft skills, those skills employers desire yet are rarely taught by schools. You have them or you don’t. Your family network taught you, or they didn’t. Employers want, nay, need these skills.
So in the new world of proficiency-based learning, our district has developed the following graduation expectations, which we are asking students to meet:
In our school, this is what that means:
- Cross-Cultural Understanding and Engagement
I actively seek to learn about and to understand peoples, cultures, and perspectives. I engage in the life of my community and the greater world.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
I ask challenging questions, examine authentic problems, and analyze possible solutions.
I use a variety of methods to express, receive, and respond to information and ideas.
I identify my strengths and weaknesses, advocate for my health and well-being, make positive choices, and take intentional steps to grow.
Curiosity and Creativity
I explore ideas with an open mind and try new and different ways to approach life and learning.
So what does this look like in Minecraft?
Cross-cultural understanding is furthered by the diverse group of gamers I’ve collected in my club. They shout to each other across the room and try to understand where the others are coming from. One of my boys ducked out of the game and started playing by himself last week. “They were all busy doing something. I just wanted to create.” A little later, one of the girls who was playing stopped and asked what he was doing and served up some praise for his building that he was working on. It was not just crossing cultures (she was American-born; he came to the United States a few years ago), but rather the extrovert was reaching out to someone with a few more introverted tendencies. Really, it was so beautiful to see!
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving develops in unexpected ways. The world we created had us starting the game on an island. They ran out of raw materials. So they asked me for the power to fly. They call out to me and ask that I, the benevolent runner of the game, gift them the tools they need. When I found a village for them, they decided they wanted to inhabit and expand the houses. Great! I thought they would build something that would help the game’s villagers multiply and be happy. And instead, the bloodthirsty group of teens killed them all. “They were annoying.” “We wanted their houses.” My heart broke a little, but they did solve their problems…in unexpected ways.
Effective Communication happens when they ask for peers to come help protect the houses or to help kill off the horde. They chatter constantly. And they also come to me with their needs. I feel a little like mom, but I think they’d make it work even without me. When they don’t know how to do something, they talk to each other to figure it out: “How do I tame a horse?” “How can I put the saddle on?” “Do you have any food? Can I have some?” “Who keeps leaving my door open?” (I just neglect to say that was me…)
Personal Development (within the game) comes with learning how to build or how to move past something difficult. A student showed me how to build a better roof one afternoon. Another brought a friend deep into a mine and together they discussed ways to build a house. They are gaining proficiency in the game, particularly those who were not so savvy the first time out. How does this translate into real life? They can see how the “how” in communicating matters. They can see that skill-building is a necessary tool to be successful. They set their own goals. They combine forces to determine what they should do next, such as determining how to get a horse/cow/sheep to a neighboring island. Could we build a spawner? Would that help us move forward? Maybe next week…
Curiosity and Creativity is built into the whole experience. What can you make? Where will your decisions take you?
My next steps are to create movies in simple English to help my newest arrivals become just as fascinated with this game as I am. I started out by teaching them such directional words as “left,” “right,” “forward,” “backward,” and I can envision getting them to take shots of their avatars demonstrating prepositions of location. But first I have to get them to feel comfortable moving and building. I think it’s a long-term investment of time. But I’m willing to do what it takes to get us there.