Using Minecraft in education

Having watched my son spend countless hours creating all sorts of worlds in Minecraft I've become intrigued by what this virtual world enables users to do.

Minecraft in the Classroom is a recent addition to the field of game-based learning. It is a sandbox game where players can create and build, fight off enemies and explore vast landscapes.

His latest effort has involved creating a substantial virtual world that is "self-sustaining"; in terms of the automated processing of the minerals mined into various forms of fuel and energy.

How has he learned to do this? He and his small group of friends have shared the things they've learned through trial and error, and by following the online tips and support that are built into Minecraft's user interface.

For the more complex things, they've watched instructional, videos that have been uploaded to YouTube by other users, and by reading the blogs and help sites created by the user community. This is the essence of a highly performaing, informal learning community!

During the recent holiday period my son and  his friends even formed themselves into a team to develop instructional videos which they intend to upload onto YouTube to share what they've learned, in particular, their attempts at 'modding' the environment to create the specific features and components they want in it – thus they've becoming contributors to the community of users as well. 

This morning I came across this post titled Ideas for using Minecraft in the classroom, from Edutopia. In it, Andrew Miller suggests four ways in which Minecraft can be used in the classroom:

  1. explore real life buildings
  2. practise ratio an proportion
  3. learn about survival
  4. visualisation and reading comprehension

As the interested parent of a young user, and as an educator, these ideas resonnate with me – and I'm sure there are a number of other things that people could come up with as well. For me, Minecraft is a welcome addition to the field of virtual worlds, and a welcome alternative to the first person shoot 'em up sorts of virtual world games that have been so popular in the past (and still!).

I'd be keen to hear stories from anyone who is actually dong the sorts of things suggested by Miller in the Edutopia article -seems we have a lot to learn from each other in terms of harnessing the potential of these sorts of environments, and of how to accommodate the contribution of informal learning that is going on among many of our learners. 

9 thoughts on “Using Minecraft in education

  1. Hi Derek, Like you, my  (primary school aged) kids spend hours building various worlds on Minecraft. It's been interesting to see how their skills and understanding have developed as they build increasing complicated structures and processes. YouTube and the Minecraft wiki are the prime sources, as well as their friends. 
    My son has asked for a Minecraft cake for his birthday this year. This has been the inspiration to build a 'real' 3D world as a sort of cake stand. They have designed their scene and Minecraft people on grid paper and using 20mm section timber, have learnt to accurately mark out and cut the required lengths (ok I did do a  few on a table saw). Now glued and painted the little figures look great. Sitting on a similarly marked and cut baseboard the cake stand should be a winner. My son has also designed his birthday cake on Minecraft.
    Minecraft has proved a great hook to help my kids learn about scale and proportion, a simple design process, key practical skills and finishing techniques. The simple building structure is very easy to transfer 
    It's clearly been a winner as they've willingly spent hours on the project this school holiday. A great mix on screen and practical activity.

  2. Hi Derek. I have used minecraft for the past two years in Social Studies. Great for co operation as we looked at the battle of gate pa and ruapekapeka. Students modeled these in groups then used the model in iMovie to narate a tour like the 3d models used on Discovery channel etc. always a real buzz around the kids who choose this option. 

  3. I have watched in awe as my son has merged his many interests into his Minecraft world. He is an avid Pokemon fan and has set himself the task of constructing each Pokemon character in Minecraft. He then shares his creations on Facebook with his friends. It is an interesting combination of interests and skills, using the world for reasons it wasn't designed for. The imagination of kids always astounds me.

  4. Hi Derek and other parents,
    I too have a son who has played, developed, created, co-constructed, discussed, designed, evaluated and reflected on his minecraft world over the holidays, skyping with friends, watching and creating movies and new worlds to explore.
    I have just shared this post with his teacher as well as the teachers at our school so that we can look at hooking onto the passion these kids have for their minecraft worlds. As a parent (and teacher on holiday!) I've loved hearing the interaction between the group and the informal learning taking place as they collaboratively create new worlds.

  5. This has to be one of the most popular virtual worlds the Takapuna Intermediate students, especially the boys,  have been exploring.  Totally engaged in creating their own space to build, tear down, remodel, redesign etc.    At the moment, the students are creating the Minecraft Takapuna Intermediate school grounds, with buildings, fields, and all playground features.  Suddenly the need to be accurate is very important in their world as they attempt to represent the school and eventually present a tour to the school.  One of those spaces where a sense of ownership is greater when adults aren't necessarily part of it!
    Now, about those zombies…

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  7. Hey Derek,

    As Jane mentioned in her comment, I’ve been using Minecraft for about two years now with small groups of students struggling with literacy and numeracy. My approach, as outlined in the link Jane shared (thanks Jane!) and many others on my blog, is to use the game as a springboard for writing and reading topics, including “What I did today” reflection pieces, how-to crafting guides to research projects on volcanoes and lava and much more. Our actual play time is short and we play in survival mode, so the actual builds are limited, but the engagement and learning definitely isn’t. This year, I’ve teamed up with two other schools to launch the Multi-School Minecraft Server Project where students from 3 schools across the city of Toronto play together on one single server. The teamwork, cooperation and PvP battles have been epic (PvP is the newest extracurricular cross-school team sport around here.)

    We’re also running the GamingEdus server, a multi-player server for educators interested learning more about Minecraft by playing it with other educators. We’ve got teachers from Texas, Florida, Toronto and Guelph building nightly, sharing ideas and having a blast. All edus and edu-allies are most welcome to join. You can find out more here:

    I’m so happy to see so many educators using the game in unique and insightful ways. I look forward to hearing more from everyone.

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