Minecraft Educational! Really, how does that work exactly? It's a game right! A time-sucking, brain-draining game, right! Well, let's not be so quick to judge and really think this through. First, let's quickly review what is Minecraft. It's a sandbox game that allows the players to create a virtual world and live in that world. There are generally two modes of game play: 1) survival and 2) creative. In survival, you need to be concerned with well surviving, eg: food, shelter, and not getting killed. In creative, the focus is more on building things, like villages, towns, cities, monuments, really anything that a creative mind can design.
Now, I am a Dad of a teenage son, and a few years ago he asked if he could start playing Minecraft. At first, I was reluctant. Like any wannabe "good" Dad, I want to make good decisions for my son. But I also want to be an open-minded kind of Dad, so I looked into it. What I found was that taking advantage of the Minecraft Educational value is a very real possibility. Let's explore this together, as I share my observations and thoughts.
The first opportunity for the Minecraft Educational value was that it can encourage the development of programming skills. Now I don't advocate that everyone become a software engineer, but everyone should be able to understand programming languages. In this modern age, it is an essential skill! The Minecraft world is a hacker's paradise. There are all kinds of opportunities here. There is the understanding and manipulating of JAR files. There is also the desire to make your own adaptations to the game with Mods and Plugins. This is a great way for kids to learn to program. It will be on their terms, and they will want it very much! You will never have to fight or argue with about it.
The next Minecraft Educational opportunity was the use of Redstone to teach basic electrical circuits. Now Minecraft Redstone does not completely follow all the rules of electricity, but it does follow enough of them to teach something and generate interest. I was able to teach the basics, such as:
- AND, OR and NOT gates
- One and two way switches
- Batteries and capacitors
From this humble beginning, my son gained an interest and desire to learn more. The next thing I knew he was submitting an electronics project to the Maker Faire.
Another important Minecraft Educational benefit is general problem solving skills. In survival mode, the player must plan ahead to make sure they have food and shelter. They need plant crops and build pens for animals, while maintaining and managing both to ensure they have future food supplies. They need to plan their day and/or any journey to make sure they are able find shelter before nightfall (or be under siege by hordes of deadly monsters). They really need to think ahead, or they will have a very unpleasant experience. It also teaches great situational awareness. They really need to pay attention to everything that is going on around them or suffer the consequences.
Further, when in creative mode, they need to do quite a bit of design and architecture work to build the mega-structures that they have in their heads. It forces the need to plan and coordinate multiple actions to bring about a desired result. If they make a mistake in their fundamental design, then they pay a price of needing to redo a lot of work. It's amazing how quickly you see the good planning start to happen.
Getting the Benefits
Now getting the Minecraft Educational benefit, this is the trick. This is not something you can just throw over the fence and then reap the benefit. To achieve Minecraft Educational value, you need to be involved. At the very least, you need to monitor what is going on to make sure Minecraft Educational value is being achieved. However, you really should be in there, helping and mentoring the process to really get the full benefits. You may even find it kind of fun. The important thing is to ensure that your child's interaction with the game and other players is always positive.
To Be Avoided
There are some aspects of Minecraft that do not support the Minecraft Educational value. The first is that you need to put limits. Do not let your child become obsessed with playing the game. It needs to be something special, and something they can only do so much. For example, limiting game play to one hour per day, if all other required responsibilities have been met. The other thing to avoid is PVP (player vs. player) servers. These are just the attack and be attacked kind of stuff. These are pretty much the mindless, brain-numbing game activities that you want to stay away from. There is no educational value here.
The Minecraft Educational value is more than just possible; it is a ripe fruit waiting to be picked. I have been very pleased with the results. I have seen growth and learning happen. I am glad that I agreed to this adventure. Now, your mileage may vary, but the important thing is to be involved and stay involved.