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Minecraft: Education Edition
Pros: Highly engaging, adaptable to any subject area; great improvements to teacher controls.
Cons: Some students will be used to the freedom of the original Minecraft game and may balk at the more traditional, guided structure.
Bottom Line: An excellent tool to engage students in learning, collaboration, and critical thinking is now more accessible than ever to teachers.
The Minecraft: Education Edition website offers lesson plans and downloadable worlds to help teachers integrate the game into the classroom. There's also a Minecraft Professional Learning Community. Here you can connect with other educators, submit and share lesson plans, save your favorite resources, participate in discussions, and earn badges. When planning a lesson, be sure to take advantage of the teacher controls: You have the ability to select the type of biome and make changes within that biome, such as time and weather. Once in the game world, you can also teleport students who have roamed from the project or have gotten lost. Use the game's best feature -- the ability to communicate directly with students -- to send messages to the whole class or to individuals as needed.
Lessons are really only limited by your creativity. In Social Studies, students could work in small groups and create an Iroquois village. Math classes might use the game to learn about area and perimeter by creating a house, garden, and pool -- and supplying the correct dimensions. Whether you need technical tips or great ideas to enhance learning, ask your students; they'll be your most valuable resource.
Minecraft: Education Edition takes everything teachers love about Minecraft and adds new collaboration tools, classroom controls, and more (now also available on the iPad, Android, and Chromebook). The Classroom mode gives teachers a map view of the world and the ability to interact with the students in one central location; if a student wanders away from the group, the teacher can easily bring the avatar (student) back to the working area. Teachers can create "chalkboards" of different sizes to display their learning objectives within the game, as well as non-playable characters (NPCs) to act as guides with links to more information. A camera tool has opened up new opportunities, as well. Students can now take pictures (and selfies) of their creations and generate a portfolio of their work to show the learning process. Newer features include the Code Builder that lets students use programming to perform tasks in the game, an update that gets students experimenting with introductory chemistry, and the addition of underwater biomes and oceanography content.
The Minecraft: Education Edition website offers a tutorial world and a series of training videos on how to use the game in the classroom, along with lesson plans and downloadable worlds ("templates" for each lesson). It also offers a Community link where you can connect with trainers, experienced mentors, and other educators who are enthusiastic about using the game. Unlike MinecraftEDU, which is no longer available, this version of Minecraft doesn't allow for customization (mods), and students can log in only through a Microsoft Office 365 account.
Minecraft: Education Edition builds on the creative potential of the original game to help enhance the learning process in virtually any subject area. From math (area and perimeter) to science (human anatomy) to history (the Roman Colosseum) and ELA (storytelling), the game empowers students to discover, create, experiment, and make mistakes through trial and error. The mix of the open-world game with added teacher controls opens up the door to a greater level of engagement when demonstrating higher-order thinking; students are able to demonstrate what they know and can collaborate in a familiar, open setting, where they feel comfortable taking risks.
It would be nice if there were more worlds geared toward specific learning objectives and directly linked to lessons -- which vary in quality. And while there's no more need to set up a server, the lack of customization mods makes Minecraft: Education Edition seem even more "schoolified."