Gaming is a powerful tool for teaching. You don't have to work so hard to get your students to love the medium, because it is already designed to engage and entertain. There are plenty of educational resources out there in the form of games, why not use those? Science communication guru Steve Ting reckons "Kids are smart and will smell an educational game a mile away" because game developers and producers who "tend to focus on education as the primary function of creative content may not get the balance right between entertainment and education. It is notoriously difficult to achieve." In contrast, video games like Minecraft "exists in the current gaming culture and has the street cred of a legitimate game" which sets it apart from regular educational games.
So what is Minecraft?
Minecraft is an extremely popular video game released in 2011, in fact the second best-selling game ever! It is a 3D, open-world game with low resolution graphics where everything looks like it's made of blocks. There are no specific objectives. Just you, and all the resources around you to build and craft whatever your heart desires. Players can even share their creation by inviting others to explore their world, or work on a project together.
Minecraft: Education Edition
Over the years, the game remained popular and the education world began to notice the game's vast potential. In November 2016, Minecraft: Education Edition or MinecraftEDU was launched, which promises a game that "promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving in an immersive environment where the only limit is your imagination". Check out this video full of success stories from educators who have tried using Minecraft in their classrooms!
What STEM lessons can I teach with Minecraft?
Aside from the obvious engineering component from the building aspect of the game, what other STEM topics could you teach with this game? You can find out on the MinecraftEDU website, which offers resources, ideas and lesson plans, including contributions from a community of educators that you can access! Modifications (mods) are widely available for adding new items or functions to the game, and many educators have taken to developing mods for teaching. Check out these mods for teaching materials science and coding! Search the web for videos, tutorials and other mods for your next module! Here are some examples that we thought were pretty awesome:
- Physics: the in-game world itself has some fascinating physics. Here's a video that relates the Minecraft world to our own:
- Chemistry: Undergraduate students at the University of Hull, with the support of the Royal Society of Chemistry, created a world called Molcraft as part of an outreach project. Players can explore the structure of a wide range of molecules: navigate through a maze of a protein, or learn facts about chemicals that go 'bang'!
- Biology: this lesson plan for modelling a heart was submitted by Rachel, a high school chemistry teacher. Her Year 10 students designed and built this themselves in-game, to help their peers learn about how the heart works!
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