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Do Pokémon Go and Minecraft belong in schools? – Education Futures Podcast

It’s “back to school” season in the United States and Europe, and the social media universe is ablaze with ideas on how to harness Minecraft and the Pokémon Go craze in the classroom. But, do these tools really belong in schools? We debate some of the pros and cons, and invited 7th grader Hillel Killorn and MineGage founder Garrett Zimmer to weigh in.

And, make sure to read John Moravec’s provocative post on Pokémon Go and Minecraft in the classroom!

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Why Pokémon Go and Minecraft in the classroom are very bad ideas

It’s “back to school” season in the United States and Europe, and the social media universe is ablaze with ideas on how to harness the Pokémon Go craze in the classroom. Some examples:

Global skills? Critical learning? This all sounds wonderful … except that it is not.

When forced upon students by schools, technologies that encourage play rapidly lose their appeal. We’ve seen this before, with examples of how Minecraft can be brought into classrooms to meet Common Core Reading standards, among others. And, these activities, it can be argued, simply ruin a student’s love of Minecraft.

Minecraft and Pokémon Go are built around ideas of free play (play without direction). These are digital expressions of a natural human activity where invisible learning flourishes. Through play, children discover their interests and aptitudes. Play inspires curiosity to test boundaries and learn social rules and norms, together with the development of many soft skills.

In Minecraft, kids build what is of interest to them, fight off creepers, play games with others through mods, and experiment with new ideas. These activities can be done individually or in groups. Learning happens all the time, and because the sandbox world encourages exploration, it is optimized for free play.

Similarly, Pokémon Go encourages kids to engage in free exploration within their communities. They may meet other players, create new social rules, build new friendships, etc. The game provides a framework for new social experiences, but what is learned from it are hard to quantify. What happens, for example, when children engage with people from cultures beyond their own? What do they discover? How does it change them? What new approaches or activities might they create? What skills, competencies, or insights might they develop? This is learning beyond any core curricula.

These games do not belong in classrooms. They are frameworks that place trust in kids to develop their own skills and knowledge. They trust kids to learn what is important to them in ways that are meaningful for them.

The purpose of controlling an educational experience is to make learning visible. It is built on distrust of the learner. Connecting pedagogies of distrust with games such as Pokémon Go or Minecraft creates a disharmony between a realm of free play and control that is not dissimilar to the experience of looking at a beautiful garden from a prison cell.

The Theory for Invisible Learning is that we learn more, and do so invisibly, when we separate structures of control that restrict freedom and self-determination from learning experiences.

If we want to enable invisible learning through technologies, we have to enable trust and reduce the amount of control over learning experiences. Stop using technology to control learning experiences. Stop using technology to create pre-determined learning outcomes. Stop expecting kids to love learning the same old stuff just because we’ve hijacked their favorite games.

The bottom line is learning through these platforms must be centered on trust, and trusting that children always learn — no matter what. It is time for educators to take charge, and look at how we can develop technologies to open ecologies of student-lead learning through invisible approaches. We need to control less, and attend to student learning more.

Lessons from the toilet: Shifting the focus of education back to the learner

learning = the activity of getting knowledge
value = importance, worth, or benefit

(Definitions from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)

Consider a recent time you wanted to learn something:

  • How did you know you needed more information?
  • What was your process for “getting knowledge?”
  • How did you know you were finished learning; that you had learned enough?
  • What was the value of this learning to you?

A few months ago, water began gushing from my toilet tank when it was flushed. In response, I inspected every inch of the toilet. I loosened and tightened bolts. I poked, pulled, pushed, plugged, and pounded on it. I searched the Internet for gushing toilets and possible “do it yourself” ways to fix them. I read articles. I looked at step-by-step directions with pictures. I watched videos on YouTube. I went to the home-improvement store and consulted with experts. When I attempted the actual repair, I used a guide I found on the Internet, I re-watched one of the videos of a plumber making a similar repair, and I went back to the home-improvement store for additional supplies and advice. After several hours of research and application of my new learning, my toilet was fixed! Proud of my success, I posted the experience on Facebook. As luck would have it, one of my friends was a general contractor who knew more about plumbing than I did. He offered some additional advice to prevent future leaks, which I immediately implemented. Several months later, the toilet is still leak-free and I feel the self-satisfaction of having learned how to repair it successfully.

I have the opportunity to interact with children in K-12 public school classrooms on a regular basis. When asked about learning, students typically only consider experiences they have within the context of the structured school setting. They know what to learn because their teacher tells them it’s important; their process for learning is to follow the instructions provided by the teacher; they know they’re finished learning when they’ve satisfied the teacher’s objectives and are told they’re done; the value of the learning is the final grade given by the teacher.

At a recent visit to a middle school in Wisconsin, I met a pair of 7th grade boys. I observed them silently reading and taking notes out of a shared textbook for approximately 10 minutes during science class before approaching them.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Learning how to use a microscope,” one responded. There were no microscopes anywhere in the classroom that I could see.

“I wonder if there is another way to learn how to use a microscope. What do you think?”

Puzzled, they looked at one another, glanced at the whiteboard where the “Daily Objective” was clearly printed, and after a long pause, one hesitantly guessed, “Maybe we could try using one?”

Their responses to further questions I posed about learning were very similar to those described in the previous paragraph. When I suggested they might broaden their thinking about where, when, how, and with whom learning might take place, they became quite animated and excited to share their authentic learning experiences with Minecraft.

According to these boys, they play Minecraft because they like it and it is fun. They seek out opportunities to learn more about what they can do within the game because they want to be able to play and build better things. They learn by playing, watching videos, and asking friends. They know they’re finished learning when they feel they successfully accomplished what they set out to do, or they determine they are no longer interested in continuing with that particular learning. Often, they are so excited about what they’ve created within the game, they share their successes through recording and sharing videos on YouTube so others can learn from their experiences. When I asked if they needed a teacher to tell them they had satisfactorily completed the learning and assign a grade to represent their knowledge of Minecraft skills and techniques, they laughed.

“The value of school learning is the grade, while the value of learning done outside of school is what the learner places on it.”

When we are interested in something or recognize a personal need for information, we seek out learning opportunities and continue gathering information until we’ve satisfied our curiosities and learned enough. We have developed skills, strategies, and resources for learning; and when we determine we need to seek out additional sources of information, we do.

When I first asked these boys about the kinds of learning they do at home, their responses were framed around homework assigned by their teachers. Like many other students with whom I interact, it didn’t occur to them that what they’re doing when they develop their Minecraft abilities is learning. The difference for these students in learning done at school and learning done at home, is value. The value of school learning is the grade, while the value of learning done outside of school is what the learner places on it (e.g., fun, personal satisfaction, or function).

The following questions are often used to frame teachers’ thinking as they develop lesson and unit plans:

  • What do you want the students to know and be able to do (i.e., what is the standard/objectives)?
  • What activities or learning tasks will you design for students to complete?
  • How will you monitor students’ progress on these learning tasks as they move toward mastering the standard/objectives?
  • How will students prove they’ve mastered the standard/objectives?

What’s the difference between these questions and the questions I posed above?

Learner focus.

Using my original questions, learners design their own experiences to satisfy self-developed curiosities, desires, and needs. Using the teacher-developed questions, mandatory learning is decided by someone else and forced upon learners regardless of their curiosities, desires, and needs.

The real question then becomes, can we shift the focus of learning at school back to the learner? As educators, we owe it to our students to trust their abilities to identify topics of interest, develop and engage in their own tasks and activities to support knowledge gathering, and recognize when they’ve learned enough to thoroughly satisfy their curiosities. This is how people create personally-meaningful value in their learning. In reality, the skills and strategies those 7th grade boys use in attaining and applying Minecraft knowledge transfer to other areas of Minecraft, to other games, and to other situations, including (should they be curious about these topics) fixing toilets and using microscopes.

A kid’s take on Manifesto 15

Our summer Education Futures intern, Hillel, has created a video on his work related to Manifesto 15 for kids! He translated the text into a kid-friendly version (http://manifesto15.org/kids), visited a maker faire, and created a rocket in Minecraft. In this video, presented in his own way with his own words, he shares his work and his thoughts on what he has learned this summer.