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Pros: Delivers open, creative, and purposeful play supported by frequent updates.
Cons: Open world can lead to power struggles and community problems without a shared code of conduct.
Bottom Line: An irresistible and seemingly limitless incubator for 21st-century skills that, with a little guidance, can chart new courses for learning.
Minecraft is super flexible, so just about any classroom can find a way to make it work for the content. It's engrossing, and students are likely to work long hours on projects both at home and at school, so be wary of time management as well as issues -- such as "griefing" -- that may arise from at-home and potentially unsupervised use. While playing in class, teachers can help students negotiate norms, roles, and responsibilities and foster trust and a sense of consequence for individuals' actions within a community.
Students can use Minecraft as a portfolio, creating structures and systems that model topics or concepts covered in class. In a math classroom, students can tackle problems using a set number of blocks (the basic unit of Minecraft) or calculate area and volume. For writing practice, students can keep explorers' journals or compare and contrast the biomes and geologies of their Minecraft worlds with those of their home states. Teachers who are looking for a more structured experience for students can try Microsoft: Education Edition.
Minecraft is a sandbox game that can be adapted to fit nearly any objective or subject, with lessons lasting as short as one period or the entire year. Players collect and combine resources into new, useful items that enrich gameplay and help further exploration and creativity. Although it has an "End" zone for players who want to fight the game's boss (a dragon), Minecraft has no plot -- the story is up to the player to define. Depending on what players choose to build, they'll task themselves with collecting specific resources necessary to craft items that can help them build cooler and/or more useful things, or explore. Each completed project inevitably leads to a new one with new resource and item needs, sending the player deeper into the world. Selecting Creative Mode, as opposed to the default Survival Mode, removes the need to collect resources, the monsters, and health and hunger meters, allowing players to build easily and in peace. Creative Mode is probably best for younger students who might get too distracted by monsters or lessons requiring complex builds in a short amount of time. Other modes include Adventure, Hardcore, and Spectator.
To get started, players create accounts on Minecraft.net, purchase a license, and then download and install the game. Players can create a brand-new unique world on their own or join other people's worlds (via local area network or hosted servers), fulfilling both solitary and social players. With an extra paid subscription, Minecraft Realms allows players to host their own world (on a server that Minecraft runs) and invite whomever they'd like to join.
Since each new world begs to be explored and reshaped, Minecraft cultivates 21st-century skills: goal-setting, collaboration, creativity, design and systems thinking, and engineering. The game empowers students to experiment and make mistakes through trial and error. Teachers should be aware, however, that the game's emphasis on open creation, collaboration, and communication also means that students playing together can get into conflicts or get distracted and off task. If framed less as problems and more as opportunities, these issues can be made into powerful learning experiences that guide students toward successful and respectful collaboration.