Tag Team Tech: Wrestling with Teens and Technology June 2014
Minecraft in the Classroom
In my last column, I wrote about playing Minecraft in the library, in a club, or informal group setting. This month, I’d like to share some ways librarians can use Minecraft in the classroom setting.
Using Minecraft in the classroom can differ from using it with a club in that students will need access to a different set of tools to work on classroom projects. You will want to make sure that students do not use their own accounts, that teachers have control over the Minecraft environment, and that students can revisit their work over the course of a project.
The simplest way to do all this is to use MinecraftEdu, a modification (or “mod”) for Minecraft that is produced by Teacher Gaming–“an international group of educators and programmers looking to reinvent how digital games are used in the classroom.” MinecraftEdu offers not only a host of teacher tools, but also accounts that can be used by multiple students throughout the day.
In order to use MinecraftEdu, you will need to purchase a MinecraftEdu server ($41) and student accounts (discounted at $18 each, or $14 when purchasing 25 or more). These accounts are actually discount codes that you can use to register accounts through Minecraft itself. So, you could buy one account for each computer in your library, naming them “Minecraft EWS 1,” “Minecraft EWS 2,” etc.
The MinecraftEdu environment is highly teacher-friendly, offering tools for building, assigning work, managing student activity (freezing everyone, for example, or transporting all players to the teacher at once), and creating lesson plans. A large library of lesson plans is also available to educators who are not ready to create their own, as well as pre-made “worlds” that are ready-made for particular activities. I’ll list some of these later in the column. The MinecraftEdu forum is a great place to learn from other educators and get help with any challenges you’re facing in using the program, and their wiki is also a helpful knowledge base.
As with setting up a regular Minecraft server, if you are going to use MinecraftEdu, it’s probably best to try to partner with someone who’s good at building and maintaining servers. MinecraftEdu does take some of the guesswork out, and offers good support, but servers can be intimidating to set up and manage.
Once you have things up and running, test out the game on your computers, make sure you can log into multiple accounts, and spend some time getting to know the world you’re going to be playing in. Perhaps even more so for experienced players, MinecraftEdu looks different. There are different methods for building, and different blocks than you may be used to. You will also want to be sure that multiple users can log on at once without slowing down the game. Talk to your tech partner about game and server requirements before you even begin.
Once you have Minecraft up and running, you will need to figure out how it’s going to actually act in the classroom. If you are working with multiple classes on one server, then you will need to facilitate an environment where students have designated places to play and specific expectations about manipulating the world. In addition, you’ll need to figure out how long it will take for your students to complete a project and what you want the learning outcomes to be. It’s best if you can undertake these conversations with your teaching partner, if you have one.
MinecraftEdu’s powerful building tools make it easy for you to quickly create designated areas for different classes to work in. Even if you’re not using MinecraftEdu, but rather a “vanilla” version of Minecraft that you have set up yourself, there are ways to do this.
All players arrive at the same spawn point. This is a random spot on the server where you show up when you first log in and if you regenerate after you die. This may be a great place for your players to begin, or you might want to set a new spawn point. In MinecraftEdu, all players enter the game at one spot, where they have to go through the paces of an obstacle course/tutorial. Depending on the skill and experience of your students, you may want them to go through this process before beginning. It will be easy for students who have played Minecraft before, and even those who are longtime players may need to learn about the special blocks and building tools in MinecraftEdu.
No matter what, the best way to ensure that student projects take place in the right place is to create designated areas for work. This can be done easily using blocks to create flat, square spaces, or building fences, or putting up signs. At the spawn point, you could direct students where to go (“Class A, follow the path to the right. Class B, follow the path to the left,” etc.). Then, once students arrive at their designated area, signs could instruct them on what to do there. MinecraftEdu, as you can imagine, offers tools for doing this, but it’s absolutely possible to manage your spaces without it.
MinecraftEdu’s Admin Panel offers educators a great deal of control over gameplay, including:
- teleporting yourself to the spawn point
- teleporting all students to the spawn point
- teleporting all students to you
- freezing students
- muting students
- enable or disable creative mode for all players on the server
- change the time to day or night
- allow or disallow the use of fire
- allow or disallow students to build
- enable or disable monsters
- give items or blocks to players (adding those things to their inventory)
- give assignments
If you are not using MinecraftEdu, you will need to make your expectations for gameplay clear to students. No griefing, stealing, use of fire, or PVP (player vs. player violence), for example. The tricky thing is making sure students follow these rules. You may want to shut down the server when classes are not in session, and make sure to be online with students when they are.
With operator commands, you can teleport yourself, teleport students, give items, change the time of day, toggle weather, and much more–many of the commands that MinecraftEdu features in its Admin Panel. A list of these commands can be found on the Minecraft Wiki.
After you have your server up and running and have tested out the game, it’s time to invite classes in. So where to start? Here are some sample assignments, gathered from around the web:
- The Graphing Zone from “MisterA,” where students “use a variety of data collection methods including fishing, archery, and wood chopping. Once they have collected data, they will complete graphs ranging from picture graphs to bar graphs to line plots.”
- The Basics of Motion from Matt Coia. “Students will use three different tasks to calculate speed or components of speed. They will use the mechanics of the game to experience varying situations with moving objects.”
- Cell-acious from Chris Miko. Students create models of plant and animal cells.
- Paleontology from “DrDevinKing.” A buried dinosaur skeleton is uncovered by students.
- Genetics in Minecraft from Bob Kahn. Students predict and test theories about sheep breeding and colors.
- Ancient Civilizations from Mrs. Dwyer. Students research “I wonder” statements about ancient civilizations and then re-create ancient landmarks.
- Medieval English Villages from Jon Miller. Students “recreated five English villages (Oxford, Winchester, Canterbury, York, and Norwich) and linked them together by road. Each student made their own building or developed a resource like a planted field or orchard. They had to create a slideshow with a description of the villagers that would have lived there along with photos and a short video tour. They learned about what life was like during that time period by living it!”
Of course, these assignments are just a place to get started and get inspired. Based on some of these ideas, you will be able to build your own assignments, which relate to what students are working on in the classroom. Be sure to bring classroom teachers in as partners, and show them some projects that you think are manageable in your own environment. Together, you should be able to come up with meaningful projects that connect students with what they’re learning in class.
In the final installment of this series, we’ll be talking about how to promote MinecraftEdu with teaching and administrative partners, how to showcase and share student work, and how to get students involved in managing your Minecraft program.
Sarah Ludwig is the dean of Digital & Library Services at The Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, CT. She comes to this position having managed two independent school libraries (Wilbraham & Monson and Hamden Hall Country Day), as well as multiple departments at the award-winning Darien Library. ABC-CLIO published Sarah’s book, Starting from Scratch: Building a Teen Library Program, in June 2011. In 2010, Ludwig was selected as an American Library Association Emerging Leader. She is an instructor for Simmons College’s continuing education program and speaks locally and nationally on topics such as promoting reading, digital and information literacy, and integrating library skills into the curriculum.