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Using Minecraft as a tool for learning

"Make A Machine" in Minecraft Student Competition 2019 
Minecraft competition.

INTERFACE and MOTAT have teamed up for the Minecraft Student Competition 2019. Entries are open now.

Students design and create a 'machine' of their choice, then record a video showing how it works.

Choose from three age categories:

  • Primary (Years 1-6)
  • Intermediate (Years 7-8)
  • Secondary (Years 9+)

Entries close Tuesday 15 October (the first week in Term 4).

Entry Form – "Make a Machine" in Minecraft »

What is Minecraft? 

Minecraft is an online game that allows users to create a variety of structures in a virtual environment. You could think of it as a digitised version of Lego; players construct buildings and mechanisms using pixelated cubes.

students play Minecraft

St Thomas of Canterbury College students start their maths projects in Minecraft.

"It's amazing what they come up with." 

– Tim Muir, STEM teacher at St Thomas of Canterbury college.

Why use Minecraft in the classroom?

Expanding on the game's potential for play-based learning, Microsoft released an education edition of Minecraft in 2016. Included in the education edition are tools designed for learning management, such as:  

  • a "classroom mode" providing an overview of the world map and student activity
  • tools for collaboration
  • "allow and deny" permissions to manage student activity
  • a camera and portfolio tool to track progress and evidence learning
  • a vast collection of lesson plans, online courses, and tutorials designed to help teachers facilitate learning in Minecraft. 

Benefits for students 

  • Student creativity – Minecraft encourages building, tinkering, and invention 
  • Problem-solving – challenges and projects require higher-level and critical thinking
  • Digital fluency – students learn coding and 3D design in Minecraft
  • Collaboration – Minecraft supports teamwork, problem-solving and knowledge-sharing during joint construction of projects.
Ministry of Education logo

Microsoft software for schools

Minecraft: Education Edition is included in the Ministry of Education's software agreement with Microsoft. Through to December 2021, all students and school staff in New Zealand gain free access to Microsoft 365 A3 suite, which includes Minecraft Edu. 

Minecraft education edition website

Minecraft logo

Minecraft's hub for teachers contains:

  • lesson plans
  • training modules
  • example projects
  • community support. 

What makes Minecraft a powerful learning tool?

Minecraft is a "sandbox" game, which means players can explore, build, and play inside the game with minimal limitations. There is no set way to do things, so the game facilitates open learning. "Choice" and "autonomy" are key words here: players can define their own game goals.

By encouraging choice, Minecraft can be a tool for developing "learner agency" – a pedagogical approach which emphasises the role of choice and autonomy in student engagement.   

More information »
  • Learning by tinkering
    This edutopia article explores how Minecraft and other open-world games are being harnessed to teach course content. 

Minecraft is a building simulator. Players mine materials which they use to craft 3D blocks for building structures. This makes Minecraft a fun and efficient tool for model-making. Students can explore their curriculum subjects to greater depths by building dynamic representations of them in the world of Minecraft.

A model marae

Snapshots of learning »
  • Methven Primary School
    Learners explore sustainable farming by building a community on an island with limited resources.

Coding in Minecraft

Computational thinking is about addressing problems of scale by designing systems and automating solutions. In Minecraft, this could mean programming a building action: instead of building something yourself brick-by-brick, you could direct the game to build it for you according to coded inputs. You can do this with Minecraft Edu's "Code-builder " tool, which encourages players to tinker with the Minecraft game-world through a simple block-coding interface. 

Minecraft Code Builder

Minecraft's code builder tool lets you tinker with the game while developing computational thinking skills.

Engineering with redstone

Computational thinking in Minecraft could also mean using "redstone", a game material that acts as virtual wiring. By transferring power between blocks, redstone works like a real-world electrical connection. Players can fashion "circuitry" by connecting redstone blocks to on/off switches. This enables players to create systems of controllable and automated moving parts, anything from sliding doors to illuminated disco dancefloors .      

Minecraft:Edu contains a range of features that enable learners to apply content from STEM/STEAM learning areas. Focus on individual subjects, or do project-based challenges that apply concepts from across STEM/STEAM disciplines. 

Maths

The Minecraft world is composed of 1x1 metre blocks, which makes it an ideal tool for applying learning around measurement and spacial geometry. Challenge your students to build something according to specific measurements, or find a challenge from the Maths subject kit  . 

Science and engineering

To enable learners to explore concepts from science and engineering, Minecraft has developed "biomes". Biomes are virtual environments containing conditions that mimic real-world climate zones. 

You could challenge your students, for example, to build a sustainable home in the Mesa biome , which mimics a real-world desert environment. Challenge them to build in a way that has limited impact on surroundings, making use of local materials and renewable energies.

Snapshot of learning: St Thomas of Canterbury students apply science and maths in Minecraft

Minecraft lesson – STEAM module 1: Biomes

In this Minecraft-endorsed training module, teachers learn how to facilitate the building of student-designed "biomes" in Minecraft. This biome is designed to both mitigate and adapt to climate change effects. The lesson encompasses all STEAM learning areas: 

  • Science: Research and solidify comprehension of biomes
  • Technology: Understand how satellites capture climate-change data from space
  • Engineering: Plan and construct sustainable housing
  • Art: Transfer biome imagery into Minecraft
  • Maths: Calculate and predict climate change   

The chemistry lab update for Minecraft EDU

The chemistry lab is composed of a series of tools in Minecraft that allows you and your students to explore real-world science. Experiment and craft a range of items like fertilisers and helium balloons by combining elements and chemical compounds.

Chemistry lab update minecraft

The chemistry lab encourage students to understand the chemical composition of materials.

Students collaborate in minecraft

Minecraft is a social game. By enabling multiple players to interact and build in the same game-world on secure servers, Minecraft is optimised for collaboration and teamwork. In educational contexts, this means students work together to plan, build, problem-solve, and realise projects in the same virtual environments. Explore how Minecraft can foster key competencies by encouraging your students to:

  • negotiate
  • problem-solve
  • give and accept constructive feedback
  • delegate roles and tasks between team members.   

Getting started 

Setting up and signing in

  • Minecraft:Edu works on Windows, macOS, and iPad devices and can be downloaded here .
  • Because of the national agreement with Microsoft, all schools in New Zealand can get Minecraft Edu for free. If you haven't already registered in the agreement, go here to find out more .
  • If your school is already registered, teachers and students can sign in with their Office 365 education account username and password. 

Learning how to use Minecraft as a teaching tool

My Minecraft journey  
A step-by-step online training module covering everything teachers need to know about using Minecraft as a learning tool.

Learn:

  • installation and set up on your devices
  • the basics of playing and building
  • setting up multiplayer game worlds for your students to work in
  • managing student activity 
  • how to use code builder
  • how to set up learning challenges based on curriculum goals.

Starter kits
These lesson plans, projects, and challenges have been organised into learning areas. Find challenges and lesson plans that directly connect to your learning goals.

e-Learning community discussions

Join these groups to participate in discussions with other teachers/educators about the content here, or that is relevant for you.

Enabling e-Learning
e-Learning: Leadership
e-Learning: Teaching
e-Learning: Technologies
e-Learning: Professional Learning
e-Learning: Beyond the classroom
Using the e-Learning Planning Frameworks

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