Ever since my first post on using Minecraft in the classroom, I have been inundated with emails asking me for my lesson plans. After significant consideration, I have decided not to post my lesson plan. It was a part of a larger maths unit and very targeted to my specific students. I doubt that it would have the same effect if anyone else tried to implement it with their class, especially without the considerable work that the students put in during the rest of the unit to make it possible. Instead, I have below a list of things that must be considered before implementing Minecraft in your lessons. My use of Minecraft would not have been successful without them.
Consider the learning objective
Number one, always and absolutely: consider the learning objective. While this should be done when planning any lesson, it especially needs to be considered when working with interactive technologies. You want students’ learning to be increased by using the tool, not sidelined by the tool. This can only be ensured by having a very specific learning objective that is explicit to both you and your students.
Don’t force it to fit
If you are having difficulty creating a specific, explicit learning objective that can justify the use of Minecraft, then don’t use it. Just don’t. Wait until a better learning opportunity comes along that is more conducive to the use of Minecraft. In order to be successful, Minecraft must be a natural extension of the students’ learning. If it is not, then that is when the distractions, misbehaviour and boredom begin. When it fits, using Minecraft is amazing; when it doesn’t, it can be disastrous. If you’re unsure, read about other teachers who have used it in a range of situations, and think if you have a better session in which it will fit.
Provide students with specific expectations
Just as when using any technology, students must be taught how to use Minecraft in an educational setting. You may choose to give all students ten minutes ‘play’ time before using Minecraft formally, but once the lesson begins students must know that they are using it to learn. That doesn’t mean that it is going to be boring or stagnant, just that they are using it as a learning tool, not to destroy each others’ buildings or fight Creepers. It is a good ideas to come up with a set of guidelines before using it to ensure that all students know what it okay and what is not okay while in the game, leaving no room for confusion.
Ensure students have the relevant prior knowledge
Just as with all good teaching, students must have the relevant prior knowledge in order to develop new learning. If they do not have it, they are more likely to misbehave or become distracted from their intended task simply because they do not understand it properly. I have found Minecraft to be particularly useful as a way for students to apply their knowledge, after they have already studied, shared and discussed the topic at hand. If you are new to using Minecraft, I would recommend using it in the last quarter of a unit, rather than the first quarter, in order to ensure that students have the knowledge they need to fully participate in the Minecraft task.
Know how to keep your students’ work safe
This is the tech knowledge you need before introducing Minecraft to your students. You do not need to know how to build castles or even mine materials, but you do need to know how to keep all the students’ work safe. There are two modes in Minecraft: Creative and Survival. Ensure that all students work is completed in Creative Mode so that students cannot lose their characters through being attacked by other players or night creatures. Secondly, if you are not playing on a school server (if you have iPads, you definitely will not be), ensure you have a plan if someone unwanted enters a students’ world.
If you are on iPads, only people connected to the school’s wifi can see and enter students’ worlds, but this does not stop griefing (trolling within Minecraft). My method was to have class ‘experts’ who knew how to make world’s private, and they went around and helped those students who were new to the game protect their world. If you want to be 100% sure that no student from outside of your class can interact with your students’ world, talk to your technician to see about setting up a school Minecraft server.