How I Use It
I participated in a pilot program with 3 other geometry teachers where each of our classes received a set of iPads. From the beginning our plan was to have our students redesign our 100 year old school for the 21st century via challenge-based learning. What we didn't know was how we were going to do it (which is part of the fun!). Throughout the year, we learned about our school, its architecture, design, history, and dimensions. Students were provided demographic data for the student body and master schedule and tasked with researching and redesigning the school according to 21st century qualities. Finally, they drafted blueprints of their designs (drawn to scale, of course). Although I would like to take credit for selecting Minecraft - Pocket Edition for creating the 3D models of these designs, the real credit goes to one of my students who simply asked if he could use a game to build his school. My response: Why not? Let's give it a shot! It turned out to be the most successful project of the entire year. Students worked in teams of 5 to create portions of the school campus based on their blueprints. Their final evaluation was a class presentation accompanied by a guided tour of their Minecraft world.
In retrospect, one of the most important factors to our success was careful preparation. I could have set them loose in the game without any prior activity, but this would have resulted in less focused work and a lower quality product. On the other hand, another factor to our success was the open-ended nature of the project. The challenge-based model allowed each group to pursue their own angle when creating their school.
Minecraft - Pocket Edition for iOS is one of the best classroom apps for gamifying your classroom and fostering 21st century skills. Its power lies in its potential; your students can do anything they want with this app. It fosters communication and collaboration as students assume roles and responsibilities within their team, relay information about their Minecraft world to each other, and together create something that would not have been possible individually. It fosters creativity as students select building materials, make decisions about construction and design, and synthesize nonexistent objects (such as computers or lockers) from simpler materials in the game. And it fosters critical thinking as students must operate with constraints such as scarce resources, obstacles to construction, and limited space.
I like that students collaborate virtually within the same world from their own iPads in real time. Besides the "coolness" factor (I have never had so many classroom observations before!), this allows the students to communicate with one another face to face while they collaborate on meaningful and rewarding challenges in the Minecraft game. On the critical side,it only allows 5 students per active world. This is not such a problem if you intend to divide your class into small groups anyways, but is an inconvenience if you plan on whole-class collaboration. It is limited in features compared to Minecraft for the Mac or PC (for example, the world map is much smaller and there are fewer materials), but it certainly has enough features to keep students engaged even throughout extended projects.