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.
- Alex Guenther, my teaching partner, is the real brains behind this. His blog post on how we implemented Minecraft is a must-read for anyone considering using Minecraft in the classroom. It explains our goals and reasons for using Minecraft in our Humanities classes. Or watch Alex’s video. It’s a pretty great explanation of what we’re trying to do.
- 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.
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.