We've come a long way in gaming. The days of "you'll rot out your brain playing that junk!" seem largely behind us, as games have eked out of the console era and onto our phones, tablets and virtually every other platform with an internet connection. While mega-violent shooters still rule the agendas of college students across the country, the nuance present in video games is as great as its ever been, with a wide range of games that do everything from get us in shape, training our brains for the ACT or even teaching us programming concepts. One such game is Minecraft, a popular game among kids and adults, known for its large open world concept, ingenious in-game capabilities and supportive online community. Here's 5 reasons we DIG Minecraft as a teaching tool. (See what I did there?)
1. It's a Sandbox Game
Essentially, "sandbox games" are those which have no predetermined storyline or set order to objectives, and instead encourage players to engage the game at their own speed. They encourage building, creating, exploring and finding unique ways to progress in the game...and that progress is entirely determined by the gamer! Whether playing in Survival or Creative mode, Minecraft encourages real time problem-solving by giving players myriad choices in how they choose to complete the game. Some will spend their time digging labyrinthine tunnels beneath the soil, others will construct elaborate mansions or a working teleportation system to navigate the world, while others simply want to stave off monsters and try to protect their civilization. There's no wrong way to play Minecraft, and that's what makes it so great. There's something in it for every gamer at every level.
2. Minecraft EDU
Mojang, the developers behind Minecraft aren't shy about their connections to education. In fact, Minecraft Education Edition (Minecraft EDU) is a streamlined version of the Minecraft game, with a heavy emphasis on classroom collaboration and problem solving within the game. Teachers can build worlds and monitor those worlds in real time, while students engage in game-set challenges or ones the teacher develops. It can be tweaked to fit any curriculum goals, and since it's so popular with students, many educators report increased classroom engagement simply from using it as a teaching tool!
Along with its identity as an open world sandbox game, Minecraft loves to encourages players to make their own tweaks. In Minecraft speak, this is called "modding" and it basically means you can tweak or re-program the game's source code to introduce new elements to the game. These may be modified "skins" or objects (for example, the Pixelmon mod combined Pokemon characters with the basic Minecraft framework) or altered physics within the game (for example, you can make a sword that shoots lightning!). Whether gamers are interested in modding their Minecraft games themselves, or simply downloading Mods other programmers have made, it's a unique lesson in customizability, and one of the reasons why Minecraft endures. There's really no end to what you can do with it!
4. In Game Engineering
Minecraft offers numerous ways to practice legitimate engineering skills directly in the game to immediate results! Whether it's using the ComputerCraft mod to program mining turtles to dig in set patterns (check out this program that uses basic C++ to program turtle robots), Red Stone blocks to apply concepts of circuitry to create a working rail system, or simply calling upon prior knowledge of physics and mechanics to create working levers, pulleys and switches to further your progress in the game, Minecraft rewards players for building working machines to make their jobs easier which in turn, teaches problem solving skills and nurtures out of the box thinking.
5. The Online Community
Most of what makes Minecraft so irresistible to players is the opportunity to play online and engage other gamers' creations in real time. Players get immediate feedback on their constructions and can collaborate to form "worldwide" directives in the digital sphere which is excellent for classroom integration in both structured and non-structured play environments. It encourages strong digital citizenship as well as hours of enjoyment, and helps relieve the stigma that video games are dissociative time wasters bent on keeping us isolated from one another.
Do you "dig" Minecraft? Why not check out one of our Parents Night Out Friday Night classes, or host a Minecraft birthday party for your child! More info here. We provide the technology and mission directives for a fun, team-centered exploration of Minecraft challenges!