Monday, April 23, 2012

Teacher Teaching Teacher Gaming Educator Reflection

I had the opportunity to participate in a podcast/google+ hang out last week with Teachers Teaching Teachers about Minecraft (thanks to @liamodonnell for including me and  @MzMollyTL).  It was interesting to talk to other educator about Minecraft in the class, and share ideas and experiences.  I wish we had more time to talk, and really dig into what we believe the educational value of the gaming is, and debate our philosophies on game based learning in general.  That being said, there were still great things discussed.  One of the topics we touched on has been bouncing around in my head since then. We came close to discussing the idea of planning activities for students to do in game vs. allowing students to explore on their own and it stuck with me all week.

There were some interesting points for planning structured activities for students and one of the scenarios discussed appealed to me. However, generally speaking, I am in the ‘just let them play’ camp.  The discussions, problem solving, team building and discovery that come out of the exploration of the game is amazing (just letting them play).  The writing that the game inspires gives opportunities for students to write about something they are interested in, and have it be authentic too.  In the case of the wiki we are working on with students in our Minecraft club, it give students a place to vent, ask questions, share what they are doing, and the resources they have found that have aided them.  

One of the interesting things that was said about planning activities for students to do in Minecraft was that there is a segment of the student population who get into Minecraft and say: ‘I don’t know what to do.’  Hence the need to have a structured environment with tasks the teacher has set to complete.  I get that, and it reminds me of a discussion I had with another teacher who came by during one of my club day and was observing what students were doing.  He expressed that he didn’t think this game would engage students for a long period of time because there was nothing to do in the game other than kill sheep.  My counter argument was: there is everything to do!  The possibilities of Minecraft are as endless as your imagination.  Something I, and the educators hanging out on Wednesday at Teachers Teaching Teacher, saw as we toured @MinecraftTeachr’s server.  (I am still geeking out over the replica of the Enterprise).

Which brings me back to the students who log in and say ‘I don’t know what to do.’  This is not an unusual comment to hear in class when students are faced with a blank page in their journals.  Being given a blank slate can be very intimidating.   And I think the problem is roughly the same in writing as it is in Minecraft: the number of possibilities is too much and sometimes you just don’t know what to do or where to start.  This got me thinking about what we do in language to address that problem: we generate lists of things we can do/write about and refer to it when we are stumped.  It would be interesting to see the kinds of lists students produce if given the same task to do for Minecraft.  

I think I’m gonna try that today in my club. (I’ll post pics here for now).

Decided to put them here too.


  1. Great post Denise - you touch on the growing discussion around using games, specifically Minecraft, in schools. Do we let them just play and discover the learning from there, or do we set it up for them with specific expectations? As you know, I'm fully in the former camp - let them play and the learning always follows. Your colleagues comment about being boring because there's nothing to do is one I subscribed to, when I first started playing Minecraft, nearly two years ago. Since then, I've bailed on WoW, opted out of SWTOR and play MC almost nightly. There is something to be said for unstructured, unpurposive, open-ended play.

    Was great having you join us on the talk. And I expect to see a holodeck in the #gamingedus server in the coming months. ;)

  2. Denise,
    I was there at the TTT meeting as well but came in late and my mic wasn't working. I run a server as well at my school and blog about it out I am struggling a bit with motivating the kids to do something else besides just pvp during our 30 minute club-like meeting a week. We have about 6 more meetings and I would like to have something to show for the time. So, interestingly, an idea was floated by me at my home dining room table that I think is a good compromise between free play and structured activities. We will build a capture the flag game. The kids will be broken up into teams of two or three for a total of three teams. The teams will spend the next two meetings or so building there bases to protect their "flags" with traps and dead ends and such. PVP will begin after the bases are all complete.

    Minecraft is something like a blank canvas and I like your ideas of having them brainstorm a list of things to do. Another idea is to give them a theme and so go for it.

    Have fun.
    Bob Kahn

  3. That sounds great! Did you include the students in the process of designing the game? I.e. how far bases are allowed to be from each other, rules around game play and where/how the flag can be hidden...

    There is so much learning in that activity of playing! How were problems and conflicts about rules, procedures and general game play resolved? Were there times when students debated issues that came out from the game? Wrote persuasively to change rules? I want to know more!