As a parent, Renu Sikka was always mindful of how much time her son spent on Minecraft. As an educator, it wasn’t until a student was referred to her, that she started to realise and understand the educational potential in the popular building game.
Like many parents, I was always worried about how much time my son played Minecraft. Surely it wasn’t healthy for him. He couldn’t possibly be learning anything, could he?
Actually, he was! And I’d still be in the dark about it had it not been for my work as a Resource Teacher Learning and Behaviour (RTLB). I had a boy referred to me who showed some behavioural problems in the classroom. He was into gaming, particularly Minecraft. All he wanted to do was simply read the Minecraft books during Literacy time. His teacher disagreed and that led him to constantly play up in and become disengaged from his learning. He was put on an RTLB intervention.
When I took over this case, this boy reminded me of my own son. And while working on it, I learned what a great deal Minecraft has to offer educationally:
In Survival mode, players can be dropped randomly into various environments and must quickly figure out how to find and build shelter, make weapons, and collect food in order to survive. Strategy comes into play in a big way here, meaning players have to constantly think on their feet if they want to stay alive.
There is no way to ‘win’. Players have to decide for themselves what they want to get out of their time in the game. Do they want to collect resources and build cool stuff? It’s totally up to them! This kind of self-regulation and independence helps to build self-confidence and kids feel like they’re in control of their own fate – a feeling that can sometimes be lacking in the real world.
Kids can play on servers either with their friends around the world, and work together to achieve common goals. They pool resources, build structures, defeat enemies, trade tips—the amount of communication, collaboration and cooperation involved is endless. Kids can then take these social skills and apply them to their lives off the computer.
I’ve watched my son excel at reading and playing Minecraft. How? He’s found a reason to learn to read or to extend his reading skills. It made sense to him. From my observation, I see that the motivation to read emanates from their desire to advance in the game.
My son never liked journaling or any kind of prompted writing. I tried it with him. But Minecraft has inspired him to write and his spelling has improved immensely because he wants to express himself. Multiplayer servers in Minecraft games rely heavily on the chat section. And believe me, the kids want to communicate. Their writing skills improve on these chat sessions because they have the desire to be heard and to express themselves.
In order to play, players can’t help but be exposed to maths concepts. I’ve witnessed kids figuring out how many blocks it would take to build a giant building, doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling that number in their heads to build a visually pleasing, symmetrical building. Or figure out how many minutes they have until ‘night time’ or average the amount of food needed to go on a mining adventure.
Minecraft teaches children how to build and how to make things. It enhances problem-solving, self-direction, collaboration, and many other life skills. As a parent of a son who was totally into it, all I can say is that this is an opportunity to connect with kids. Talk to them about what they’re doing and look at it as more than a game.
Whether, in doing so, they realise they’re learning or not is beside the point. They are definitely learning a thing or two. And most certainly, they’re having fun while they do.
RENU SIKKA IS AN EDUCATOR AND STUDYING TOWARD HER DOCTORATE ON THE ROLE OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY AND DISTANCE LEARNING IN EXPLORING THE CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE TEACHING PRACTICES IN SCHOOLS AT A GLOBAL LEVEL.
© INTERFACE Magazine, November 2020