When Sara Kaviar’s students study comparative religions, they don’t just read and view videos. They visit houses of worship, then recreate them in the Minecraft online sandbox and design games in their virtual world that test each others’ knowledge. For these students, the process of building and then navigating through models of physical churches, temples, and mosques gives them both a medium through which they can co-construct knowledge and a social environment that encourages collaborative learning. The pizazz of the technology many students choose to use even when their teachers aren’t encouraging it certainly plays a role in the students’ engagement. But it is not just the tool for using pixels as building blocks that drives their enthusiasm for learning. It’s the sense of autonomy, excitement of creating and sharing, challenges of design and collaboration, and opportunities for social learning.
The community of educators who use Minecraft in schools is still in its formative stages. Existing resources show the palette of possibilities. There’s the Minecraft in Schools wiki, which links to examples such as the machinama fly-through of the Pender County Schools Minecraft server. A teacher in a New York private school blogs about his use of Minecraft in the classroom. This PDF offers a lesson plan for using Minecraft to teach the periodic table. Or how about a video of a Minecraft simulation to teach how neurotransmitters cross a synapse, connect to receptors, and continue to propagate the signal? Showing your Minecraft creations to the world involves mastering elementary video editing skills.
Toronto teacher Liam O’Donnell, interviewed in the first installment of this series, contributes his quick guide to “Getting Started in Minecraft: From Zero to Punching Wood.” Craft Academy and Edutopia’s “Ideas for Using Minecraft in the Classroom” are also good resources.
In this video interview, Los Angeles teacher Sara Kaviar describes the way her comparative religion class uses Minecraft – the ‘how’ as well as the ‘why’.
Banner image credit: zigazou76 http://www.flickr.com/photos/zigazou76/7175442399/