Thursday, January 9, 2014

Piloting Minecraft, or Why Did I Get Myself into This?

Minecraft is all the rage with kids these days (and some adults, too!). You can play it on PC, Xbox, Playstation and even iDevices. Even my own son is totally obsessed with it. But is it something we should bring into the school environment? Will it be an effective teaching tool? I think so, and I am ready to start a pilot to prove it.

Video games can be a tough sell to administrators, and games that connect to outside servers are a tough sell to IT admin who try every day to make sure our students and networks are safe. How did I manage to get approval for this pilot? After talking with my super-supportive principal, I wrote a proposal to help convince administrators and Information Services to get on board. They are all excited about the project and eager to help, which I am incredibly thankful for.

I am working with a couple of other Instructional Technology Specialists in my district who are also beginning a Minecraft pilot at their middle school campuses. This is very helpful, as we can troubleshoot and try things out collaboratively. There's a lot to learn about setting up and maintaining servers, installing mods, and gameplay (redstone continues to be a challenge for me!).

How do I intend to use Minecraft at my school? For now, it will just be a part of our Schoolwide Enrichment Model in the form of an enrichment cluster of 2nd and 3rd graders. This cluster is mainly student-driven, so another teacher and I will be facilitating whatever projects the students decide to create.

I have used my after-school Tech Club as beta testers already, just to make sure the computer lab's computers can communicate with the server and that everything runs okay. This beta testing taught me a few lessons that I'll post about later.

I am really excited to begin this new adventure, although it can be a little overwhelming at times. Gamification and the use of popular games within the curriculum is a really interesting topic that I don't have much experience with (research ongoing!), but I hope that this pilot shows that effective use of Minecraft results in

  • increased positive attitudes about school
  • increased student interest and performance in other subjects when used in conjunction with Minecraft
  • improved student communication and collaboration skills
  • fun!

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Thanks for keeping up this blog. It has been interesting and useful reading, as I'm about to plunge in right behind you (at a K-5 school in Juneau, Alaska). I mentioned to some students in the fall that it might be fun to have a Minecraft club after I realized that well over half of our students (including my own kids) love Minecraft. They've been asking weekly since then, so I finally bit the bullet, ordered the MinecraftEDU bundle and am waiting for that to arrive. I put out an interest survey, which 78 kids completed (which bumps me up to at least two sessions of 25 per week). On top of that, our school does SEM Enrichment Clusters, and I was wondering what I was going to facilitate this spring. Many things to choose from as the librarian and music teacher, but with the expense of purchasing the software and the demand, it would be cruel not to offer something using Minecraft as a medium. While the afterschool club will be rather open ended (other than adopting rules like the ones you've come up with), the product expectation of SEM EC calls for something more collaborative. (Our school just had a substantial renovation; I'm hoping they might want to do something cool like building a full-scale model of our new building, or something else as challenging).

    Keep up the posts! I'm appreciating the wisdom of your experience.