Benjamin Kelly - Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert
In the very near future students could be playing video games for homework! At first this notion sounds absurd but once you become familiar with Microsoft's Minecraft Education Edition it quickly seems inevitable.
A Canadian organization known as C21 Canada after much research has created a document titled "Shifting Minds (ver 4.0)" which details the seven 21st century essential skills our students will need to reach overall success in their careers and personal lives. These skills conveniently all begin with the letter C. The core 4 C's which have been encouraged for years include Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking. The Shifting Minds document adds three additional essential skills. Citizenship, Character and Computational Thinking are skills that are equally as powerful yet not present in the core four skills.
Minecraft Education Edition (MCEE) is a classroom educational technology solution which can strengthen each of these 7 C's and prepare students for the rest of their modern lives. Let's examine each of the skills and how Minecraft Education Edition can strengthen and support teacher efforts to develop these skills.
When a school or program adds Microsoft's Minecraft Education Edition and Office 365 accounts for their students it opens a new world of learning! Up to 30 students can participate together in the same online environment before the need for additional servers. Teachers can use embedded message boards or Non-Player Characters to give directions and support while students use chat features and virtual body language to work together on a common mission. Together students create their collaborative story in Minecraft Education Edition and disagreements are often settled with agreed compromises as the team moves forward in their mission. Due to the cloud-based registration and connection students and teachers spread over great distances can effectively work together in the world.
The chat feature in MCEE is very effective. Text lingers on the screen long enough for everyone in the Minecraft world (Minecraftia) to read and react. Classroom "noise" can increase when using a collaborative world due to actual in-class student communication. This "noise" however almost always is the GOOD type of noise which indicates an engaged group of learners. Often the most powerful form of communication is the actual Minecraft character's physical "Follow me and do what I do" lead-by-example type of communication. Though "Minecraftian" facial expressions are fixed their body language is quite effective in indicating direction, pleasure, displeasure and more! To see the range of character body language on full display simply try to organize 30 Minecraftians together for a picture!
Non-Player Characters add a personal touch to teacher directions and support enhancing the communication process further. Communication can be one-way or interactive in MCEE and both skills are essential for citizens of today and tomorrow.
Minecraft is often said to be like digital Lego bricks. (However, when you step on Minecraft in a dark room you don't need an ambulance!) Creativity bursts out of this wacky world with creatures (Mobs) having strange names and the game itself having multiple dimensions, potions, mysterious gems and even the ability for your Minecraftian to fly! You can't make this stuff up! Or, can you? The first way MCEE builds student creativity is by showing students it is okay to be strange, different and themselves.
Students can build castles in the sky or an underground network of tunnels. They can live beneath the oceans or in the middle of the desert. Minecraft allows for millions of creative choices to be made each utilizing unique colours and materials and resulting in different outcomes. Creativity is a skill that humans excel at compared to robots and therefore careers involving this skill are ideal targets for students.
How can I blast a mountain with TNT to create Niagara Falls' horseshoe shape? How can I live on the bottom of the ocean and not drown? Is there some way I can create a false wall to hide my treasure from others?
Every trip into Minecraftia presents students with unique problems that need to be solved in timely fashions. The Minecraft melodic music balances the frantic need to complete creations before sundown or worse... the end of class! In MCEE if students can imagine a problem or challenge they alone or in teams can solve it too!
Failure is often the first step in the road to Minecraftian success stories and students assess each critical choice they (and others) make with infinite redo opportunities. Minecraft Education Edition is the perfect tool to strengthen and quicken students' critical thinking skills.
The social emotional learning skills that support collaboration are essential 21st century skills if our students wish to find success in the knowledge economy and social environment. Minecraft Education Edition provides the ideal platform for students to practice and grow these skills. Life-long learning skills, leadership, accountability, adaptability, reliability and resiliency are all traits that make up the valuable skill of Character. Minecraft with some good teaching allows all students to hold leadership positions, be held accountable for tasks, build resiliency through controlled failures and adapt to world change. What is learned by students in Minecraftia can easily be translated to the real world with well-placed teacher guidance.
There are nine aspects of digital citizenship that create the acronym SCREWBALL:
All of these aspects that can be addressed with Minecraft game based learning. A discussion on how students should treat other Minecraftians and their belongings can easily translate to or from traditional (Non-digital) society. Establish a Minecraftian government. Create laws of the land and sea. Determine how disputes are settled or if and how voting will be a method of decision making? Claim or alter land based on debate and joint decisions. Great citizenship is the building block of great countries and Minecraftia offers the best training ground to support citizenship and digital citizenship skills for students.
You could rely on "Order of Operations" in math class to teach this priceless skill or turn to Minecraft Education Edition and its super powerful Redstone. Coding is correctly heralded as the ideal ability of the future but coding is just a small part of the larger skill called Computational Thinking. A good way to explain the skill is a sequencing of commands that are read by machines or followed by other humans to generate an intended result. Minecraft's Redstone is a powerful material capable of acting as an energy source or signal carrier and triggering intended events.
Students can spend hours building complex circuits only to find out one piece has caused the result to happen differently or not at all. This then requires they examine their "code" or sequence to find the error which is eventually repaired. Computational thinking is involved in puzzle solutions, maze navigation and coding software. Microsoft's Minecraft Education Edition with Redstone allows students everywhere to strengthen this skill in many ways.
The above skills, and quick thoughts about how Microsoft's Minecraft Education Edition can strengthen them, show how empowering this learning tool can be for all ages and subject areas. Minecraft is not just a tool best left to the technology classes but rather a technology support for every class! The seven 21st century essential skills that can be strengthened using Minecraft Education Edition must be considered equal or more important than prescribed curriculum in individual courses (in most situations). Sailing the 7 C's can help teachers empower their students and lead them to fulfilled dreams and a society filled with active and knowledgable citizens.
I have been developing an introductory resource to Minecraft in the classroom at www.SCREENAGER.ca with hope that it can be used to further encourage schools and districts to add the service for their students!
If you have thoughts about this article, Minecraft Education Edition or The 7Cs I would love to hear from you either via comment below or on Twitter! @BBTNB
I'm an experienced Global Minecraft Mentor, Published Educational Researcher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow, Apple Distinguished Educator, TeachSDGs Ambassador and grade 6-12 technology teacher. @BBTNB