Chocolate, Broccoli & Minecraft ECAs - Digital Literacy Dover

Monday, 9 September 2013

Chocolate, Broccoli & Minecraft ECAs

No doubt some parents are wondering, "Why is the School offering a Minecraft activity as an ECA?  Why is the Minecraft App on the iPads? There are many reasons why, but a short answer would be; for the same reasons we offer a Chess ECA. Of course the main motivation for this is the cold hard fact that I am a gamer, I love gaming - contrary to popular opinion I do not believe it is 'addictive' - although it is extremely adept at creating a 'flow' state that can easily be interpreted as addiction... So, as this article states so well, 'Stop Worrying, and Learn to Love the Cubes"!

I definitely believe that gaming has a great deal to offer. But this is not the post for this subject, this one is:

So where was I? Oh yes, that said, if I'm honest, Minecraft is not my kind of game, but it is a rare kind of game that both my son (Grade 5) and daughter (Grade 3) LOVE. It is a game they can play together, but very differently, and therein lie the benefits... I'm very wary of attempts to try and make any game 'educational' - this kind of gaming invariably has the attraction of what is known in the industry as 'chocolate covered broccoli'. 

Despite this, as a teacher, I could not resist the desire to attempt this anyway. For example I persuaded students to build a virtual maths museum, with exhibits that showcased ratio, basic 3d shapes, right angled triangles etc. but... But no matter how much metaphorical chocolate I covered it with, it was still broccoli - and I thought, do we do this with Lego? Channel their creations? "Hey kids why don't you build a Maths museum out of Lego?" No. We let them play, and let them take it where they want, just let them play, be creative, cooperate, collaborate, and that's good enough for me... 

All that said there are some great examples online of teachers who have been able to kids to create some delicious chocolate broccoli with it, even without realising it.  A colleague of mine in the UK let some of his students model homeostasis in Minecraft,  But the essential element here is that it was their idea, the teacher didn't even know what Minecraft was. He does now.

And that's what I love about it, it was student centred; their ideas, their motivation, he was the catalyst... That's what I'm looking for. That in a nutshell is my rationale for Minecraft, when people inevitably ask 'Why?' - almost all the reasons you could give me for the value of playing with Lego, can be said of Minecraft.

Or to quote a sentiment commonly being expressed about '21st Century Learnng', we are preparing students for a future in which the 'three Rs' are embedded within the 'three Cs', communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving *(Thornburg, 1998). Minecraft is one example of students doing precisely that.

Think Lego, but with unlimited bricks, space, and best of all, no need to demolish it all at the end of each session. 

Some examples from our students:

The Minecraft game is available on almost all game platforms, even iOS. In fact playing Minecraft on an iPad (or even iPod touch or iPhone) is the easiest (and cheapest) way to play it, and multiplayer could not be simpler, up to 4 players, in the same room, on the same wireless network, that's it.

Nitty Gritty for teachers/parents who want to know how MinecraftEDu works:

Minecraft EDU runs on a computer and is very similar to the full Minecraft game, but allows the teacher to have total control. The students in the classroom play within an arena contained on the teacher's computer - and the teacher governs the game, with total control over what the students can and cannot do. A big plus for us is that Minecraft EDU does not require you to use the wild wild web of the internet, it can use the private WiFi network in your classroom. 

This is the critical, especially with Primary School aged kids, it's the difference between sending your kids off to play in a public park (a public Minecraft server online), or to play within the bounds of your school playground (a private Minecraft server on the teacher's computer). 

Once the teachers quits the server running on their computer the kids have to stop playing, but all work is saved, until the teacher reopens the server, when the fun and learning can begin again. 

So, how does it work?

Launch MinecraftEdu, by clicking the icon once it is installed on your computer:

Then you will be presented with some options:

First you will need to create the 'playground' or arena (map) for the students to play in, by clicking 'Start MinecraftEdu Servertool' And Start the server... 

Now a window will open with an IP Address the students can enter to gain access to your playground. Something like this:

Now Students can launch MinecraftEdu, only they choose the top option 'Start MinecraftEdu' (not Minecraft!) Now they used to be prompted to login with their own Minecraft account - but this caused problems if they did not have one, The good news is that Minecraft EDU has been updated so a Minecraft account is no longer necessary to play on a 'LAN' that's a Local Area Network, ie not on the internet, just on the WiFi in your classroom. To do this they choose Multiplayer, and then Direct Connect, where they can enter the IP address for your server (mentioned above).

That's it! Your role is now primarily pastoral, medicating disputes, quarrels, 'griefing' (vandalism) etc. Let the technology fade to background and allow the focus to fall on the freedom to create, communicate and collaborate*.

Of course, once the kids are playing, it would be nice for you to visit as well - you can join the game as teacher - nice. Just click the MinecraftEdu launcher again, and choose the top option 'Start MinecraftEdu'. 

Most important? Despite your own proclivities - take an interest in what they are doing - just as you would if they were playing Lego.

Want to read more? Read this.

* David Thornburg, Director of the Thornburg Center and Senior Fellow of the Congressional Institute for the Future, suggests that the familiar "Three R's" of education be supplemented by a new set of "Three C's." Thornburg (1998) writes that the skills of communication, collaboration, and creative problem solving are all critical in this new information age. But even these Three C's are not enough, for, as Thornburg adds, other equally important skills include technological fluency and the ability to locate and process information.


  1. My son used to enjoy playing in 'Minecraft' but he is now only enjoys watching Youtube 'Minecraft'......I believe that this Youtube version 'Minecraft' is nothing to do with above benefit....
    So, I am just wondering if this youtube version 'Minecraft' has any benefit at all.

    1. It's hard to say without knowing the content, but it's probably vids made by other kids. I have to say I've not come across this before, usually watching YouTube videos about Minecraft inspires the students to want to emulate or exceed the kind of creations that they have viewed… There's also this website which I hear many good things about for the same reason.

      Minecraft Dad.

      So, I would imagine that very soon your child will be inspired to want to emulate some of the things that they are seeing, if not maybe you can inspire them to try?