Food for thought for teachers who have students who are obsessed with Minecraft, the online structure-based game: In a blog post for Powerful Learning Practice, Wisconsin elementary school principal Matt Renwick says that the game, if used in the right context, can be seen not as a distraction but as resource to help students develop critical learning skills.
Minecraft, created by a Swedish programmer, allows users to break and place blocks in different arrangements. In the game, “people build structures to protect against nocturnal monsters ... brave players battle terrible things in the Nether,” according to Minecraft’s website. Many users have even created replicas of movie sets or detailed landscapes.
Renwick says the game fosters students’ intellectual engagement in a way that few school activities do. Students who attended a computer club at school, he says, could clearly explain their goals in the game, remain focused for long periods of time, and learn new skills on their own.
The students stuck with the game’s challenges because they believed their goals were attainable, according to Renwick. Setting goals and sticking with a task until you are successful are keys of high-level thinking, he says:
Metacognition, reflection, and self-assessment are constantly in play when learners believe that they can achieve their goals at a high level of competency. There is lots of deep thinking and essential skill development going on here. Because they are embedded within a video game, maybe that is why these tools for learning haven't achieved a broader acceptance within education.
When Renwick and a teacher colleague saw their students’ passion for Minecraft, they backed off ideas of what they would teach in the club (although they did help the students set up Google Drive accounts so they could share their strategies and interests).
You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from the kids when they realized that we weren't here to dictate what they would learn about, but to guide them toward possibilities.
On his personal blog Renwick asks if teachers and school systems are too quick to dismiss digital games as a waste of time. The students who came to computer club clearly had a passion—and the teachers listened, which is where passion-based learning should start, he writes.
It's what we care deeply about, what we value, and how it augments the skills and strategies we use in our pursuit of new learning.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.