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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Minecraft and other games-what they can teach us

I know of an 11-year-old~ who wants nothing more than to get on his computer and play Minecraft. He enters this virtual world~ where he can build shelters~ scavenge for resources~ and fight zombies. It is a survival game that allows players to construct 3-D cubeskind of like Legos on steroids.
Let me make this disclaimer: I think children spend too much time on computers and playing video games. However~ that said~ I think as educators~ we can dismiss these types of games too quickly without exploring them and figuring out how we can use them to our advantage.
Rather than quickly dismiss them~ we should ask some of the following questions:
Why do kids love to play this game?
What is it about this game that engages young people?

More importantly:
How can I use the principles of this game to enhance learning in my own classroom?
I began an investigation of Minecraft after I noticed many of my fifth-grade students kept asking to play it and discussed during breakfast or lunch. I was curious about why they love this game; I just need to know. Here are some of lessons I learned:

The game allows players room to be creative. For instance~ they get to build structures~ craft armor and weapons and other items.
The game allows lots of options and choices. In this open world game~ players can hunt~ build~ combat enemies~ explore. There is also a creative mode that allows players to fly around and not worry about hunger and other challenges so that can focus on creating larger projects.
The game mirrors real-world time and events~ such as daytime and nighttime.

In short~ students like activities that allow them to be creative~ make decisions~ and have real world connections.
Armed with these insights~ you better believe I am going to take this information and incorporate it into what I do with students. Currently~ I am developing a simulation for my students in the schools gifted program~ which will involve dealing with and learning about world events. As I craft this simulation~ I keep coming back to the concepts used in designing games such as Minecraft. When creating the simulation~ it needs to provide plenty of opportunities for students to be creative~ to make lots of decisions~ and to make real-world connections.
Teachers in general education classrooms can also use these concepts to differentiate instruction. If students are reading~ you can provide lots of choices of novels to read as well as creative outlets to demonstrate comprehension and close reading of the text. Perhaps students could write a letter to the author asking questions about the text~ citing it for evidence~ or design a presentation to that class breaking down a particular word or sentence. Remember~ the more choices the better.
Linking the reading assignment to the real-world will make the instruction even stronger. Could the students visit a play or performance based on the novel and draw comparisons? Could they compare two films based on the novel to determine which one remains authentic to the book?
We cannot change the fact that we live in age where young people are digital learners~ and some of our students spend hours absorbed in video games when they go home. But we can extract some of the concepts used to make those games so enticing~ and if we are clever enough~ weave them into our instruction.
To comment on this topic~ please visit the Gifted and Enrichment group at http://community.educationworld.comcontent/minecraft-and-other-games-what-they-can-teach-us-0?gid=NTEyMQ==