Through a generous grant from the Princeton Education Foundation, I was able to acquire MinecraftEDU for my classroom this year. I had heard about this educational version of the incredibly popular game at a workshop (incidentally, the same workshop that led to a bunch of other nifty things I'm doing in my classroom, including this blog!) and I was excited about giving it a try in my classroom. I'll never forget how I found out: I was in the middle of teaching a math lesson in December when several representatives from the PEF came in with balloons and a certificate. When the class found out that the grant was for MinecraftEDU, went wild! One even jumped up and hugged me!
My first year using MinecraftEDU was very much a learning experience. I had a class with widely varying experience levels...some had never played the game before, some were experienced players, and some had knowledge of the game that I didn't think possible for 10- and 11-year olds. This proved to be both an immense help but also sometimes a bit of a liability. My expert Minecrafters would very willingly help their less experienced classmates, but sometimes only after they had gone off on their own and done a bunch of other stuff that wasn't necessarily part of the project we were working on at the time. Likewise, I would have liked to see my less experienced students read posted instructions and try a few more things before giving up and asking for help at times.
Here are some general thoughts about my first year with MinecraftEDU:
What Went Well
Naturally, the students were extremely enthusiastic about using Minecraft in school. They always looked forward to going to the computer lab and getting stared on the day's activity. Also, when challenged with a difficult situation the students readily helped each other out, often leaving their laptop to go assist their classmates. The students shared with each other (and me!) the things they discovered. During a social studies project where they collaborated on a model of colonial Boston, many students went out of their way to do additional research to make sure their construction was accurate. Finally, for me, the amount of resources available on YouTube, Twitter, Google Groups, and MinecraftEDU's website were invaluable for me. I did a lot of learning by doing, and it definitely challenged me this year!
What Needs Work
One of the persistent challenges I had this year was getting to see the experienced Minecraft players that this was a different setting than the one they were used to at home. Often, I would have redirect a group of students who were digging where they shouldn't, or trying to find ways around the boundaries that I had set up in a particular world. I think having MinecraftEDU from the beginning this year will be helpful in having time to establish clear expectations and guidelines for all students. Another issue we had was that the computers in the lab didn't seem suited to handle some of the more expansive maps that we tried to do. We often ran into server lag, and students occasionally lost their connections in the middle of a session. They were able to get back on easily enough, but it was a nuisance. Switching from wifi to ethernet connections seemed to help, as well as having students double up on computers to reduce the strain on the server.
Overall, I know that I've only scratched the surface of how MinecraftEDU can impact my instruction. The game itself is immense, and with all the different mods that can be applied, the applications are limitless. I'm looking forward to learning more!
5th grade teacher in Princeton, NJ. Passionate about education, technology, and the New York Giants!