Minecraft In Education: How Video Games Are Teaching Kids

MINECON 2012: Some enterprising teachers are using Minecraft to teach subjects like physics, geography, and English language with promising results.

If we're to believe much of the mainstream press, then video games are little more than a plague upon our youth, a disease that turns delightful, law-abiding young citizens into diabetes-ridden, sociopathic adolescents without a firm grip on reality. That's not to make light of such issues, but to lay the blame solely on games is to be as ignorant as those who claimed rock-and-roll would be the downfall of society, or that TV would result in a generation of brain dead morons; the Stones are still rocking, and Jersey Shore is classed as entertainment, but we've not reached Ayn Rand levels of dystopia just yet.

There's far less focus on the positive aspects of games--and there are many--just like the increased hand-eye coordination and social problem solving that my esteemed colleague Cameron Robinson discovered in the last episode of The What If Machine. Here at Minecon, some attendees have taken the next step by using Minecraft to aid them in teaching children. It's a bold move, and one that's encountered some resistance, but they've seen some very positive results: increased attention levels, better collaboration with other students, and of course, better grades.

What's more impressive is that those improvements have been made in subjects that Minecraft so fragrantly bends the rules of. Take physics: there's no question that Minecraft's physics system bears little resemblance to reality. And yet, students are learning via that very idiosyncrasy. Why is it unrealistic for blocks float in mid air? Why would your character not really be able to chop through solid rock in seconds? And why can't you swim up a vertical shaft of water? As video game teaching advocate Stephen Reid put it, "teachers can look at the tools and encourage learning from them regardless".

"teachers can look at the tools and encourage learning from them regardless"

Reid also pointed to other examples, such as using Minecraft's large maps to demonstrate population displacement in geography lessons, and its varied biomes to discuss the growth of plant life on earth. There's also Red Stone, an element in Minecraft that's been used to create everything from simple railway switching systems, to fully working computer systems. The principles of Red Stone--being so similar to that of real-world circuits and logic gates--mean that some teachers have found it a compelling way to demonstrate electronics to students.

Indeed, many children have already been teaching themselves the principles of electronics, even if they don't know it yet. Reid pointed to the millions of Minecraft tutorial videos uploaded to YouTube, many of which have been created by children. "Self learning is more powerful than listening to what any teacher has to say", he quipped. And there are other benefits too. Building structures with others teaches children the power of collaboration, and opens them up to interacting with others outside of their own friendship circles, often with people from across the globe.

Language skills, particularly for non-native English speakers, also see an improvement, says Reid. The simple English used, and the quick pace that forgives mistakes encourages them to take risks, more than being put on the spot in an English lesson does. Even students that aren't into video games have seen benefits from its introduction, with classes being divided up into groups; some children work on designing buildings, and others keep a diary of their progress.

"Self learning is more powerful than listening to what any teacher has to say"

Of course, using video games to teach is still a relatively new concept, and only a handful of schools have implemented it in their curriculums. It's something Reid attributes to a "cultural fear", as well as an issue of cost in poorer areas. But these aren't insurmountable issues. Many schools are beginning to see the benefits of video game teaching, not just in games like Minecraft, but also in titles like Little Big Planet too. Even Call Of Duty got a nod for its use in teaching ethics to students.

It's certainly early days for Minecraft's educational efforts, but with projects like Minecraft EDU--which offers a 50 percent discount and teacher-specific tools--and another that aims to digitize the world's libraries and rent out books for free within the game, there's no shortage of ways for teachers and children use Minecraft in schools.

"Mankind has an inherent urge to create", says Reid. "It's that process of creation, that process of working with others and building wonderful things, which makes it so appealing".

Do you think videogames are a valid learning tool? Are you in a school that already uses games to teach? Let us know in the comments below.

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Discussion

3 comments
Dragoneous68
Dragoneous68

We used to call it inquiry.  The new buzzword is "Self learning".  Either way it is a valuable to the physical, mental, and emotional development of each one of us.  Whether you are repairing your car or "forging" the ultimate level it is helping you to think in new ways.  Game on! but dont forget to empty the trash too.

Mifflinite45
Mifflinite45

Also, don't be suprised to here about kids breaking their hands from punching trees.

dnguyen3
dnguyen3

No. No. Jersey Shore is not entertainment. Period.

vadagar1
vadagar1

ARGGGGG.. must build bigger castle >:(

flashn00b
flashn00b

What...? But minecraft's physics is far from realistic.

GetafixOz
GetafixOz

Games got me interested in computers. I used to sit there typing code from magazines into my VIC20 and seeing the cool pixels and pew pew games. That interest leas to a long and profitable career in IT. Games can be powerful tools for good. Shogun Total War was and is an excellent example, if you want to become an armchair expert on Shogunate Japan, play that for 100 hours. Great story!

commando1992
commando1992

Well, lord knows I certainly learned typing skills from WoW rather then the ridiculous typing programs in school with the talking key that sounds like a dying robot. 

sam441
sam441

"Self learning is more powerful than listening to what any teacher has to say"

could not agree more I am from Syria I learned English through video games I also learned a lot about programing through modding gamesand I have a great experience in computer hardware so now I work in this field and I am very good at it all thanks to video games but I do admit it can be destructively addictive. 

cipo89
cipo89

Please explain to me how teachers are using Minecraft to teach physics. I mean some of the blocks float in the air, exactly how can they explain that?

halo-freak
halo-freak

I learned english through cartoons.

TNTDragon11
TNTDragon11

I'm a student and if this ever happens i would love school even more than i do now. This would be awesome for kids that get  bored in class and slack off because they would be playing video games in school and what's better and funner than that. And the military could use the fighting hostile mobs as enemy soldiers in their trainings

TNTDragon11
TNTDragon11

They should do this for a lot of grades and schools i'm a student and if this will ever happen i would even love school more than i do now!!

SANDMAN201
SANDMAN201

Teaching physics through Minecraft? That doesn't sound promising.

jacksamuk
jacksamuk

Yeah like when tI was in the second grade and in the test had a question: What was photosynthesis . The only reason that I knew the answer was because I played Pokemon and really liked to use Bulbasaur. 

Copyright134
Copyright134

I disagree, sinistery. Yes, 3ds max and programs of the like are artistic, but so are games like minecraft. You put down minecraft, calling it "unreal construction", but it is the same for other programs like those which you have named. Programs like those listed are more expensive and also just make the developers richer. I loved this article. I completely agree with the points given.

sinistery
sinistery

When you teach children to play video games such as these you are sacrificing months from their adolescence in return for a few moments of pale feeling of accomplishment from building something that does not exist. If you really want to teach your children something, have the schools invest money in great educational and artistic programs such as 3dsmax, zbrush, etc, and not teach children to invest their time in pointless construction that has nothing to return except making richer the developers of this should be dead genre that exploited the great surge in level design from Half Life era.

Pastachip
Pastachip

The only reason I still remember Newton's first law is because of Mass Effect 2, so I think it would be great if this sort of thing were implemented in more schools. It would be especially helpful to visual learners, I think, because they can watch what is happening in the game while the teacher explains it.

DADA_007
DADA_007

I learned a lot from Video Games than school...

UsernameofDoom
UsernameofDoom

I wish the day would come where I can see my children learning from games at school and actually getting good grades doing so without someone bashing at video games saying they are merely but a waste of time...maybe the world would realise that when my grand grand sons are born.

TaoranPrince
TaoranPrince

The link under "sociopathic adolescents" actually contained very concerning evidence, though not of sociopathy. Still, the link that study clearly establishes between violent video games and aggression is the first I've seen of it. Very concerning indeed. O_o

 

Not to trash the teaching thing. I find that alternative teaching methods like this tend to be extremely helpful and almost always have positive results.

Kain0067
Kain0067

If you have time, take a look at what I'm doing in my own classroom. It trumps all the "anti" arguments since it doesn't REPLACE any traditional learning whatsoever, only adds to and enriches it.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y6zwv5MZpo

 

 

kierwinyoung
kierwinyoung

Hell no! My School sucks duck eggs! They were never able to see video games as learning tools. they despised it whatever you tell them, however you prettify it, They hate video games so much! No wonder I'm being hated so much in there. but This article is one of my dreams, Video games as teaching schools, it'll give a new name for gamers and video games alike, take a look at Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty(history lessons) Mass Effect and Dragon Age(English and social decisions) MineCraft and Little Big Planet(creativity and cooperation with people you don't know) Rocksmith(guitar awesomeness) So Much knowledge to come from games. if there are video games that doesn't make sense, then there are other things that don't make sense, Jersey shore and yeah the other things mentioned in the first paragraph of the article. I'm sure as hell giving my best to make MineCraft available in my school, starting with my most friendly teacher. and get this, some Video games for me are even arts. Take a look what I mentioned above, Mass Effect has a great storyline and Soundtrack, Music and fiction are both art. Assassin's Creed is also one of it. People who says Video games are a waste of time and money, then they are just Ignorant, stupid, and Narrow minded assholes!

It is one of my quest of some sort to change people opinions and viewpoints in video games, this article helps.

evansmichaelj
evansmichaelj

However realistic the physics are, the type of interaction with a 3D environment that building involves cannot be compared to. Minecraft SPecifically challenges the brain when it comes to the whole crafting stuff too.

ZakMcKracken
ZakMcKracken

 @sam441 Same here. None of my teachers could have taught me how to set up my first 2400 Baud modem back in the day :) Actually, I doubt any could even now...

vadagar1
vadagar1

 @cipo89 he explains WHYYYYYYYYYYY blocks don't simply float in the air, minecraft just presents the question in a fun way, READ MAOR.... >:(

picho86
picho86

 @halo-freak I learned English through video games, and having the TV run behind me in English.

To be fair I got a head-start by living in Boston for a year when I just started to speak.

Rovelius
Rovelius

 @sinistery Art is worth it's creation because it's art. If you don't let your kids express themselves you are making a huge mistake.

spoonybard-hahs
spoonybard-hahs

@sinistery

That sound you hear is the point flying over your head. The point isn't to teach a trade skill with a 3D modeling program. The point is to use one, cheap program to teach a wide-range of subjects, which is the holy grail when using technology in the class room. Also, construction is a chief part of play that creates an outlet children and promotes good childhood development.

 

Of course you would know that if you weren't the kind of dipshit that talks out of his ass about things he has no comprehension of.

 

cuhulin
cuhulin

 @sinistery No.  You're teaching kids that learning has benefits and that it isn't just something you tell them to do.  My own son went from resisting the desire to read - he preferred others to read to him - to being an avid reader in learning how to play games.

Driscoal
Driscoal

 @sinistery In effect, you're telling Picasso to stop making silly paintings that look like nothing, and become a graphic designer.

 

"pointless construction"?

No.

Kain0067
Kain0067

This video is a bit outdated, and the project has been up and running for about 8 months now. It has been successful beyond my wildest predictions.

Oosaka-chan
Oosaka-chan

 @kierwinyoung Ok, I agree with you that a video game is a cool way to relax your mind, but your post was the stupidest bullsh*t I've ever read in a long time. Learning history from Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed? Are you like nuts? They are far far away from real history! (Call of Duty: nameless/fictional supersoldiers, Assassin's Creed: a war betwween Assassins and Templars) And I'm always asking myself why this generation of high schoolers are SO stupid and have bad grades nowadays (now I know)! Read a history book instead. You will learn much-much more from it. ME and DA as a source of social interactions? You won't learn anything useful from them. Those're awesome RPG games yes, but I don't see playing a (mainly) single player game in what way improves your social interactions with others! Find real/breathing friends, go out with them, have fun, and don't just sit in front of your computer. I could continue, but I don't want to waste my time any longer on people like you (also a nice book is waiting for me to be read). And you should do the same: READ MORE BOOKS! Maybe it will help you.So all in all this post is only giving me the impression that you only want to play more games during school hours, as well.

evansmichaelj
evansmichaelj

Love it, Climate Science is all about making up your own tool set just like Minecraft. Minecraft has tought me so much though. This website has another article about Minecraft in the classroom.

halo-freak
halo-freak

 @picho86 I have never lived inan english speaking country.

12 years ago we still had english cartoons with dutch subtitles. After a while i did not need to read the subtitles anymore.

It's a shame everything gets narrated these days. But hey, gaming is mainstream now.

Rovelius
Rovelius

 @sinistery Also, teaching them how to use silly programs is hardly "teaching"...

Copyright134
Copyright134

@bbq_R0ADK1LL @Master_cheat001 Then stay of it.

halo-freak
halo-freak

 @picho86 Not to mention english is the most popular universal language...

picho86
picho86

 @halo-freak In Israel, only some cartoons are dubbed, but everything else has subtitles fortunately. I guess it's because most of the people here wish they were Americans.