7th Graders (And One Teacher) Learning with Minecraft

Grade 7 seems like the wrong grade to pilot using Minecraft as a learning tool. This is an age where real-world interactions are difficult enough and empathy is sometimes lacking due to the fact that their bodies are rushed with hormones. Sometimes they can’t control their actions. Setting them loose in a virtual world seems silly when you think about it too much. But at YIS, we are risk-takers and the school gave each 7th grade kid a Minecraft account to use in Humanities class. Kids go on after school in the evening to build, create, and hang out. It has been an crazy process and perhaps one of my most unexpected learning experiences as a teacher. While I’ll do a more expanded blog post later, I wanted to write down some of my initial observations about this process before we went off on holidays.

  • The kids love being experts. I’m a total newbie when it comes to Minecraft, not entirely sure what it was or how to use it. The first time I logged in, I had no idea how to move or how to talk, let alone how to build anything. The kids sat down and showed me what to do. When I showed up in Minecraft world for the first time, a kid literally had to find me and I followed her around the virtual world they built. They loved being smarter than me. They loved showing off. They gently hazed me (virtual snowball fights and hidden trapdoors) as you should welcome all rookies. And for the kids who were also newbies, we made a deal to learn together.
  • I am amazed at my administration and I work with incredible teachers. The admin at YIS are risk-takers and I can’t tell you how great that is. I love that my principal and vice principal not only vaguely support us, but ask how things are going and are just as invested in our kids learning as Alex and I are. And other teachers are always asking what is going on in our Humanities class. They are equally intrigued with the possibilities of Minecraft and they’re learning with us. A major thanks has to go to the other 7th grade tutors, Frank Curkovic and Alex Thomas, who have worked with the 7th graders as they have struggled to build a community in a virtual space.  Next step is for administrators and teachers to come visit us in Minecraft world.
  • Kids are the same in Minecraft world as they are in the real world. But sometimes they surprise you. Their personalities shine through in virtual world. Trouble makers are trouble makers. The sweet kids are the ones who helped me out the most. The kids who is kind of ditzy in class is also ditzy in virtual world. They make me laugh when I visit, the same way they make me laugh in class. And, sometimes I don’t want to go into Minecraft world, because I need a break from 7th graders and I know if I go in there it’s literally like stepping back into my physical classroom. But also, kids have a chance to shine in there. They challenge themselves and take pride in their work. They are so creative, that every time I see what they’ve built (be it a Nyan Cat or the Roman Coliseum) I am amazed.

They are working harder in Minecraft than they do on their real-world assignments. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s proof that 7th graders can and will work hard if they are invested in their learning.

  • The content they are learning is much less important than the real-life skills they are practicing. My kids have built an awesome Hagia Sophia and an incredible Globe Theater. The structures are amazing. There is definitly some humanities stuff going on in there and they are working with each other to accomplish this goal. But what is really amazing is how Minecraft has allowed us to practice living and working in community with others. We have been plagued by griefers (Minecraft-speak for vandals or irritants). They have destroyed some beautiful structures and at times it’s been difficult for the 60 kids of 7th grade to get along. It’s been disappointing and stressful. Nonetheless, Alex and I believed that the Minecraft world should be one for the students and to the best of our ability we tried to let them work it out on their own.

In response to the griefing, the students called a “family meeting.” Lead my one of my students who struggles at times, the entire 7th frade gathered voluntarily during recess to discuss what type of community they wanted. They brainstormed on their own what they wanted to talk about. They thought about how it could be a postive meeting, as opposed to a griefer witch-hunt.  During the meeting, a student spoke in front of his peers and directed a conversation, with skills that a veteran teacher would envy.  Amazingly, during a recess, sixty 7th graders gathered in a room and listened to each other.

Minecraft Brainstorm

Screen Shot 2012-12-12 at 12.43.57 PM

 It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher, watching them think, talk, and negotiate the rules of the community they wanted. They wanted people to be kind. They wanted people to be thoughtful. They wanted people to respect each other. They wanted it to be fun. If they can negotiate how to do that in a virtual space, I really hope that they can be kind, thoughtful, funny students in real space. Which, at the end of the day, is really the most important thing 7th graders can learn. And for that reason, grade 7 may be the perfect grade to launch Minecraft.

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
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5 Responses to 7th Graders (And One Teacher) Learning with Minecraft

  1. Pingback: Making the Connection | always learning

  2. Pingback: Week 3: Current Learning Strategies | COETAIL Online Cohort 3

  3. Kara Cole says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks so much for sharing your experience though your blog post and your Learning 2013 “I’m not a gamer” talk. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC1_StBIBHw) Kim Cofino just shared both of these things with me after she read my most recent post (http://www.coetail.com/queencole/2015/05/09/asteroids-of-yesteryear/) about how I want to dive in head first to minecraft- just like you did.
    I’m not a gamer anymore than you are but there is something inside me that tells me that this world that is waiting to be created is exactly the place I need to go with my students next year! I love the part of you talk when you said many teachers become teachers to share their passions with kids, but that it is SO important for us to share THEIR passions with them. This is a connection that needs to be made and although it is going to put me far outside my comfort zone, I know it needs to happen.
    Reading about and listening to your experience makes me feel so much better about the journey I am about to embark on. It makes me squirm a bit to think about feeling like a “moron” in the new world, but it also makes me think that this role reversal of student and teacher could be an incredibly powerful experience.
    I’m wondering how all of this is going, now that you are 2 1/2 years into this experience. If you are willing to share, i would be interested to hear where you are in this learning experience now.
    All the best,

  4. I’m so jealous that you’re starting this journey! I feel like it’s not quite as much fun now that I know (kind of what I’m doing). It was a blast when my kids were giggling at me while trying to help me out. It really was a special time.

    Now, it’s way more normal. It’s just part of what we do. It’s (hopefully) just one more fun thing we do in humanities. The kids still get geeked about it. My 6th graders first question is always “is this the class we play minecraft?”. But now it’s just another really great tool we use. Which is good, because I can focus on the learning. But that feeling of being a learner (with my kids) isn’t there in the same way.

    So I say go for it! It’s definitely a highlight of being a middle school teacher. My kids love it, the game is limitless in it’s potential, and it’s so great to be in their world for a little bit. I can’t wait to hear about your experiences! Just watch out for those trees. 🙂

  5. Pingback: End of Week 2 and in to Week 3! | COETAIL Online Cohort 4

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