Six years ago my dear nephew, Lee, was teaching us how to ‘play’ Minecraft. He spent countless hours with his Mom’s Kindle Fire creating, building, and figuring out Minecraft work arounds that he would show us. We were clueless about what he was actually doing.
Yesterday, the New York Times Magazine’s story, “The Minecraft Generation”, made it crystal clear. Seth Frey of Dartmouth said, “(Minecraft)….has (users) trying to solve some of the hardest issues facing humanity.” Individual and collaborative users are confronted with a myriad of obstacles, inner workings and conflictual relationships. In order to play and be an accepted user on the many servers that exist, players have to respectful and play by the rules of a diverse society/culture that has been collaboratively created. Okay, so that in itself didn’t make all things clear about the power and upsides of playing this game. There is a lot more detail in the story. I had Lee read the article and comment. He did. Then said, “Yeah…that’s all true.”
A key takeaway for me was that the original game has no tutorials (the developer didn’t have funds to create them). Users have to figure things out themselves – including how to play; how everything works and how all those things/activities intersect, have consequences and allow for strategizing and creation. It is further true that Minecraft updates often ‘destroy’ users’ creations (unintentional consequence of updates). So users have to figure out how to rebuild. This is an ongoing problem-solving task that takes perseverance, patience, decision-making, decoding and recoding. Yes, it’s a total STEAM experience.
A subtle but key effect is that the game forces kids to use logic and hypotheses as fun thinking processes to fool around with. I understand that computer coders and programmers do these kinds of things all day. They aren’t just writing code for software but more often figuring out what went wrong, getting rid of bugs and finding fixes.
Computer programmers have noted that the point-and-click syndrome has decreased users’ need to understand systems. Today we plug in and play. We do hard reboots to get rid of bugs. We control computers with a mouse, a click, a download re-do, etc. In the 70s and 80s computers were controlled using text. We had to find solutions that led to desired computer behavior and outcomes. Minecraft forces players to think, to do trial and error, to fail and fix through a variety of deep thought and experimental processes.
When kids go into the hack side of the game, they can create common blocks, Redstone devices which also cause them to reach out to global experts for explanations and deeper
understanding of inner workings. This also exposes kids to career pathways and opportunities to obtain powerful mentors in their areas of interest.
There are robust online forums, collaborations and discussions where kids learn new concepts, their applications which help them scaffold to deeper learning and application of that knowledge. The article provides numerous real-student examples.
I discovered and learned a lot. I’m intrigued by the power of this tool to be a game changer in schools…especially where learners have uninterrupted access to personal, portable technologies. There are many ways to integrate Minecraft across disciplines and for problem-based, inquiry learning. Another thing I learned is the significance of leaners jumping in to the game and having to completely teach themselves how to play. What each figure, building block means and/or can do. And what goals/creations does the learner want to create on his/her own or with peers. You cannot just hand the game to a student and be assured he/she can jump in and ‘do’ it. They have to figure it all out themselves. There is no one, right answer. There are many pathways and strategies to get to the end game desired result.
Lastly, I thought about how so many districts have decided to purchase personal, portable technologies for their students without tutorials or guides for meaningful integration, transformation of pedagogy, learning and results. That’s a recipe for disaster as we’ve seen in a variety of places. Unlike Minecraft where learning to play is supposed to be personal and exploratory, there is too great a risk to follow the same path when moving to robust edtech implementations. We know the important factors for quality implementations. Those not followed put districts/schools in peril.
When edtech implementations, especially 1:1 programs, are done well, Minecraft can be used to allow learners to soar in the development of universal skills (aka 21st century skills) that the game fosters.