Sandbox for All: Creative Play

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Incorporate that creative play, let go of control, be amazed by what happens.

This past Christmas Break I finally concluded that Minecraft might possibly be the biggest change to education since Lego was introduced. Think about all the ways you can construct, deconstruct, manipulate, and enhance your learning. With the newest update to Minecraft Pocket Edition came the introduction of redstone capability and that is a game changer. Now you can create circuits and build anything, ANYTHING. Here’s a post written back in 2014, about 2 years ago now. If you haven’t heard about Minecraft, take a read. It’s our duty to involve student passions in learning, why not use Minecraft to do that?

My son became interested in Minecraft after I came home from school and talked to him about how we were using it at school. He kind of dismissed it and I didn’t push using the program. What caught his interest and why did he begin to use it? I showed him one item that was built on youtube and the exploration began. This sandbox game allows for so many possibilities, possibilities that extend far outside of the school walls. My wife and I believe in free play, creative thinking, without a lot of parental supervision. We also need for this culture to carry over into our classrooms, even within the system that is today’s classroom. It can happen and it should, it just takes a few to show the many the benefits. Seriously, how will kids learn to build and play if we are always there telling them what to do?

My last post was on creating a culture where students have opportunities to create, innovate, and explore freely. Minecraft allows for that to happen. Where else can you build an entire world that a child has total power over? Opportunities to plant crops, spawn animals, create models of real life buildings, solar systems, the list goes on and on. We must harness this opportunity where we can expand the way students explain their thinking using visual based media. Students have the desire to create, but when you tell them they have the opportunity to use Minecraft, they are blown away. “Are you kiddding, you can’t use Minecraft to learn” they say. I challenged them and begin to show them some of the ways others have established the use of Minecraft throughout their learning spaces. These students were shocked. What came next is what cemented the use of this enormous sandbox game for me.

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Students from around the world create enormous worlds, structures, art work, and stories using this game. We connected with a class in Canada (Scott Mckenzie) and were introduced to students telling stories through Minecraft. We saw students who built models of the Titanic after weeks of research. How can we not bring this into our classrooms, our makerspaces, our pedagogy?  Teach Thought has a great article on changing our pedagogy. Edutopia has a great article on ways to use it in the classroom. What I want to touch on is the impact it has for students across all spectrums of status. We can have students that come from upper middle class all the way to homeless students, and the one thing they have in common is a drive to be creative. We must encourage that and Minecraft brings those conversations to our rooms.

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What came next after students saw what they could create were the conversations, the collaboration, the critical thinking that we are so bent on incorporating into our students’ lives. An interesting item keeps popping up every time Minecraft is opened, it doesn’t matter about gender or status, kids will learn from each other if we open our classrooms to less teacher control. Minecraft can’t just be a recess game, a free time game, or a genius hour moment. It has to be incorporated throughout the day. We need students to start explaining their thinking visually and this “game” encourages that explanation.

You want to build a wonder wall? Build one in Minecraft and get students talking. With the way signs can be used you could create a wall and classroom culture that will invigorate not only your students, but you! Students are interested in learning about biomes, architecture, art? Well then open up Minecraft as an avenue to express their interests. You might be surprised by what happens. I was blown away by the continued conversations students were having all over school, not just during one hour of learning, but all day long.

Take a look at these examples that show the power of Minecraft and communication, getting students to explain their creations! A powerful tool that students aren’t playing, but using (as Scott put it on his blog). We need to see playing and using as the same, not completely different. If you are interested pursue some searches about minecraft and education, you will find many. Students need this type of involvement in their learning and you can provide that culture of creation if you are willing to bring student passion to class.

Don’t be afraid of using a student’s interests to help them explain a topic they are learning about. Embrace it, have students show you what they know, create a community night where students can showcase their creations. This is what we need to change our world, the voice of our students.

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