Wonders of Minecraft


Posted by Mrs Gielen | Posted in MinecraftEdu/Minecraft | Posted on March 22, 2012

“Hey, Mrs. Gielen!  You should check out Minecraft for the computer lab.”

My Introduction

This is what I kept hearing over and over again from different students . . . everyday since the beginning of school!   At first, I gave it a quick overview to see if we could afford to purchase it and to see what the game play was about.  It was a little pricey for us to use just for our after school program and it looked like it had the potential of inappropriate multiplayer chat from the outside, so I decided at the time it wasn’t for us and left it at that.  As a Prek-8 private all boys school, we are always a little cautious of the educational games we allow students to use just for fun.

A couple of weeks into November, my headmaster sent me an article from US News and World Report entitled “High School Teachers Make Gaming Academic”  which mentioned Joel Levin’s use of Minecraft at his private school.  As it so happened, I had planned to focus on researching game-based learning this year and I thought I would give Minecraft a second look.  After “mining” the internet (no pun intended) for information, I soon found Joel’s MinecraftEdu site and was excited to see that they offered an educational server mod and licenses at a discount.  Now the possibility of offering it to students was becoming doable.  I still needed to see what the game was all about, so I purchased a few licenses for our tech department members to review.

There are times when you sense that your life is going to change.   As soon as I started playing and researching Minecraft, I was caught; hook, line and sinker!   I immediately began to negotiate with our IT department to find a way to set up a server, get the MinecraftEdu mod and get licenses for our computer lab.

A day hasn’t gone by, since then, that I haven’t played and researched Minecraft.  (Some say a little obsessively; I beg to differ!)   I have also been continuously thinking up ways to incorporate it into our school curriculum.

Computer Lab Hit

When we introduced Minecraft for our before and after school computer lab time, we decided to follow the advice of Lucas Gillespie’s site Minecraft in School and get a signed parental permission form to allow their child to play the game at school.  I was blown away at the number of students I began to see both before and after school that heard we had the game and wanted to come and play.   Somedays, there aren’t enough computers to accommodate all the students wanting to play and I have had students just come in to watch the others play.  I have slowly become the resident “Guru of Minecraft.”   We normally would have a mixture of games being played, but now it almost exclusively Minecraft.  Minecraft even made it to an article in our school newspaper!

First Project

I still wasn’t sure how to incorporate the game into our school curriculum yet, so I started a project for our club days to get a group of 7th & 8th grade “expert” players to help me build our school in Minecraft.  Using Google Earth as a way to measure building sizes and distances between buildings, I plotted our the basic foundations for all our buildings and let the students loose on “raising the roofs.”  After a few “TNT and fire” incidents, the students began to manage themselves and began to work cooperatively to make my idea happen.  I plan to have the project completed by the end of the school year and to record a tour of the campus to show to our morning student assembly.

In Jeopardy

I started to get some feedback that students were getting in trouble at home for staying up too late and failing to do homework because they were playing video games (including Minecraft) and it looked like I might be asked to take it off the computers. I was a bit upset since I had convinced a 7th grade English teacher to take on a creative writing project using Minecraft.  When she presented the idea to an administrator, there was some concern about it and I was asked to talk to the headmaster before proceeding.  I decided at that moment I was going to make sure to convince him that this game was worth keeping.  I knew its potential and I had seen so many positive effects of the game on students;  older and younger students helping one another, collaboration with builds, sharing knowledge with both their peers and myself,  and students wanting to come to school earlier just to come in and play before classes began.  I knew I had to arm myself  for the meeting with research and studies that would corroborate why we should keep it.

Disaster Averted and Second Project. Gets Started

After a good discussion with my headmaster (and after I reminded him that it was he who sent the original article to me!), disaster was adverted and our 7th grade project got the green light.

Here was the idea I pitched to the teacher (which came from watching a lot of “Let’s Play Minecraft” videos on YouTube), students would use singleplayer Minecraft as a springboard to journal about a survival.  They would have to create a scenario that placed them in the game (e.g. boat wreck, plane crash, etc.) and write a daily journal/diary of their experience.  For four days, students would come to the lab, play the game then journal for homework on the events of that day’s game play.  We prepped students before Spring Break of the upcoming project by showing a great video that explained the basics of Minecraft (again, thank you to Joel Levin tweeting about this video).  Students came in on Monday and were given a  simple “Minecraft survival guide” to help those who had not played the game before.  We instructed them not to talk to one another during class and to only ask me technical questions concerning how to navigate the environment.  This would place them in the mindset that they were alone in their environment with no help but their survival instincts.  Here is the list of guidelines we gave them for this project:

  • even though the game does not require it, they are to stay close to a body of fresh water like a stream, river or lake
  • create some kind of SOS signal so rescuers could find them
  • make their shelters comparable to what they could build in real life
  • if they were killed either by falling or mobs, to write in their journals that they were knocked out so they could continue to play and write
  • write about the monster mobs, not as skeletons, zombies or enderman, but as strange natives or creatures
  • remember to follow the Six Traits of Writing when writing in their journals

I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, but the following day, when the English teacher let me read some of the journals, I was amazed.  I knew there were good writers in this group, but I was truly impressed.  When this project is complete, I will post a few journal excerpts, some shelter pictures and pictures of their rescue signals.

Second Day Reflection

I have so many ideas, sometimes I get overwhelmed.  I hope that the enthusiasm continues and that I can convince other teachers to take a look at incorporating Minecraft into their classrooms.  In the meantime, I am re-evaluating my afterschool mulitplayer world and plan to make it a bit more directed.  Our first attempt at letting students play together in survival mode was somewhat chaotic and challenging.  Even though we set rules about what they could and could not do, we still had a lot of griefing and arguing going on.  I really want to make the environment a place where the students can play and build collaboratively and have future plans for hiring “city builders” for our multiplayer world.



Comments (7)

Thank you so much for writing your thoughts down. I completely agree with the ‘hook, line and sinker’ part, I was playing Minecraft for a year until I came across the EDU mod, now I hardly play at all. I am too busy making maps that include curriculum that I can use with students.

Please continue to keep us updated, I have an English teacher very interesting in bringing this game into her classes, so I will be forwarding her this blog address.

Thanks again.

Thanks for reading and the encouragement! I will have student excerpts and pictures of shelters and signals up next week. I do have a basic lesson plan and materials posted at http://saaminecraft.pbworks.com/w/page/52120448/Language%20Arts%20Projects.

Fantastic write-up! This is such a textbook example of everything awesome (and occasionally ugly) about using Minecraft in school. Please keep the posts coming!

This is an excellent read. Looking forward to seeing some of the student journal excerpts, and to hearing more about your work! I also agree with Elfie… Minecraft was hook, line, and sinker for me as well. So much potential here.



Great to read your minecraft story! It such a wonderful plat form for learning. I have a group of students who have developed our school server, you can read most of our story here http://www.dbatty.wordpress.com

Would love to start chatting and sharing ideas 🙂



I appreciate you taking the time to read. I have seen so many positive outcomes since we started allowing Minecraft at school and so many opportunities to teach digital citizenship in our multiworld environments. I would love to stay in touch and share ideas and experiences.

I am a primary school teacher in Spain, we also experience Minecraft Edu http://ticjm.blogspot.com.es/2013/02/minecraft-edu.html .
I would love you to join my Edmodo group “minecraft create and discover” The idea of the group is the following:

I am José Manuel Sáez, primary school teacher in Spain. In this photo you can see me and some of my pupils. I hope we can share experiences and ideas with minecraft. All the students can upload the screenshot or photo of their houses or maybe breakthroughs in minecraft. The idea is sharing and writing. My students will present themselves here; I hope you do the same so we know something about you. Greetings from Spain.

This is my e-mail joshhe1977@yahoo.es write me and I will give you the Edmodo code and make you co-teacher. I hope we could try this. Kind regards

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