I have long advocated playful learning for students that incorporate hands-on design and learning. I began using Minecraft in the classroom about 7 years ago because I saw it’s potential for both of those. Then a couple of years ago Microsoft purchased Minecraft and created an education edition that I was eager to explore. I’ve written previously about how it helps to make complex design thinking more accessible for neurologically and physically diverse students. It allows students the opportunity to play, create, and explore and then break their creation and redesign it in a safe collaborative environment. It allows students to build the skills of 21st-Century Learning in a way that is fun and familiar
So that’s why it has been useful for me, but the good folks at Minecraft have added a number of great new features over the year to improve it. For those unfamiliar, Minecraft: Education Edition (MEE) has several features that set it apart from the popular home game. Amongst some features for classroom management and documentation of student learning, there are tools to take in-game project-based learning beyond the game. Over the past two years, Minecraft Education has continued to add a number of abilities to make it an even more worthwhile learning tool. Here’s some further information.
When Minecraft first began there was only survival mode and since then the team at Mojang and now Microsoft has continued to make it better all the time. On top of the updates to the basic platform though, there are some features that are wholly specific to the education platform., Check out some of the latest from Minecraft: Education Edition along with features specific to the platform.
Original Education Edition Features
- World Library: They have expanded their collection of example worlds for students to explore including the world of Fantastic Mr. Fox and Treasure Island.
- Example Lessons: There are many lessons available to help teachers start their Minecraft journey. This covers everything from learning about world biomes, animal husbandry, geometry, storytelling, historic recreations, geocaching, and alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
- School Login: To participate requires Office 365 logins for all participants. It’s a relatively easy setup for O365. You can even use the same users & domain you may have for Google Education. Purchasing licenses can be challenging if you have a long purchase order process. The benefit though is student security. You can connect with your students anywhere, but right now it’s restricted to only the school’s domain for data privacy.
- Education Skins: Self-identity is crucial with students. For that reason, a selection of personalized (but appropriate) avatars is available for students.
- Education Blocks: For added control, there are allow and deny blocks for that allow teachers to control where student creations can be set. There are also border blocks which confine students to the defined areas.
- Fixed Inventory Slots: Are there particular tools you want students to start with, Then you can lock those into any of the 3 fixed inventory slots.
- Chalkboards: Slates are hard to write on in Minecraft and impossible to edit once created. The 3 sizes of chalkboards in Minecraft EDU make it much easier to communicate with students.
- Advanced NPC’s: For the uninitiated, this means the people in the game that aren’t players. Now teachers can set up and create advanced non-player characters that can give instructions, provide insightful hyperlinks, teleport, and give in-game resources.
- Camera: Students can document their activities or just take some selfies with the in-game camera.
- Journaling: Minecraft EDU now offers 2 options for student documentation. The portfolio saves photos and allows for brief text while the Book & Quill allows for more freedom in creation. both can be exported and submitted or submitted in game.
- Classroom Mode: Teachers looking for more control can adjust the settings, monitor players, pause the game and more from the Classroom Mode app.
- Coding: Students can get playful with computer science by using Code Builder to create massive constructions quickly just by writing some code. The code builder integrates with a number of platforms like Tynker, MakeCode, and Code.org. In fact, your student’s can get a beginning training with any of the 3 Minecraft EDU tutorials on Code.org.
- Chemistry: The Chemistry Update introduces a Chemistry Resource Pack which allows students to literally recreate the building blocks of life. They can build elements in the Element Constructor based on their make up of protons, neutrons, and electrons or combine compounds. They can take Minecraft blocks and break them down into their corresponding elements. Mix ammonia and phosphorus for a powerful fertilizer or use magnesium to create underwater torches. It’s all about experimenting. Check out the Lab Journal for a more complete overview.
- 3D Exporting: If you want your creations to continue outside the game you can export your creations even to have them live in augmented reality.
Along with many of the unique features above, the game has recently added an aquatic update that has a number of new elements and animals for students to interact with. Of course, I’m somewhat partial to dolphins but icebergs, shipwrecks, kelp, sea pickles, and more can be found along a number of pre-made worlds exploratory worlds.
The biggest update though has to be that Minecraft: Education Edition is now available for iPads. That means students who are accustomed to the ease of a touchscreen can now participate fully with their peers. It’s also a much cheaper and easier way to get the whole class involved. The only issue I have seen is that some organizations that require a personalized login screen currently won’t work on the iPad edition.
On the Horizon
At the recent Minecon, there were a number of new announcements about what is coming for regular Minecraft. This includes more options for villager interaction including some that are less friendly pillagers. We can also look forward to pandas and other new animals as well as biome updates. A new action-adventure game called Minecraft: Dungeons will also be released soon. Whether these additions will port to the Education Edition is unknown, but I also think there may be a version of Code Builder coming that doesn’t require an additional app. That will make in-game computer science so much easier.
There are many ways you can familiarize yourself and get learning with Minecraft. My suggestion is just to begin playing, perhaps with the built-in tutorial. To even get to that point though, you may want to check out the getting started page which will walk you through the initial setup. You can also play through the Minecraft EDU tutorials on Code.org. Check out the MEE Blog or join the #MinecraftEdu discussion on Twitter. For something more interactive you can play in an adult Minecraft world. If you’re looking for something more intense you can look for whether the Minefaire is coming to your town or see if you can participate in the next Minecon. Whatever the way, it’s clear that learning through play breaks down many of the barriers to learning kind of like a pickaxe to stone blocks.