Open-ended world building environment has many classroom uses.
How I Use It
In our program, we have used Minecraft primarily as an after school activity.
Students play in a multiplayer environment on a private server usually in peaceful mode.
They have developed many of their own projects from a virtual barn-raising, where each student took a turn leading a large building project, to an online version of capture the flag.
We've found the Minecraft world increases student cooperation and collaboration.
Other activities we hope to use in the future include: building scenes from favorite books (one of our students created skins for all the characters in a popular novel), using Redstone (a type of block) to create simple circuits, and creating 3D models of things like the human heart for characters to explore.
Minecraft is unusual as a game because it does not have a specific goal that must be reached.
It is often described as a "sandbox environment".
The game involves creating and using various types of blocks that represent various materials such as dirt, sand, and water in either single user or multi-user mode.
A Minecraft world is created from a "seed"-- a string of keyboard characters that results in a unique world.
In the world are all the basic blocks which can be combined on the character's crafting table to create everything from ladders to cakes.
These in turn can be combined to create villages, gardens, even simple computers.
In addition, players can play in various user modes from "peaceful" in which players never get hungry and there are no monsters to "hard" in which there are many monsters and survival is a constant concern.
There are many resources for learning to play the game:
over 10 million videos on YouTube, a Minecraft Wiki, various forums, and even a Minecraft site especially for educators (http://minecraftedu.com/).
Minecraft also offers plenty of opportunities for learning other than by playing the game.
Students learning computer programming can create "mods" that change the way the game plays or adds new things to the gaming environment.
Students can also use graphic design programs to create their own "skins" (what their character looks like) and their own "texture packs" (changing the look of the entire game).
Many students have also created videos showing how to accomplish various tasks in Minecraft.
Many first time users will be surprised to discover that the game is in fairly low resolution, blocky graphics.
This simplicity hides the much greater complexity of a three dimensional world where students can create everything from models of famous buildings to treasure hunts for other players.