I like Minecraft for a lot of reasons. A little too much. But one of those reasons is that it gives children practice on skills that are needed in this new, weird, 21st Century world we find ourselves in.
Minecraft makes it easy to play with friends. And when they do, they brainstorm collaboratively, offer feedback, divide up tasks, practice leading, manage disagreements, and share the credit.
Sometimes in our lives we are just stuck. We are unhappy and just want someone to fix our problem. But I want my children to use their brains to get out of that situation. I want them to be an active agent in their own stories.
Minecraft helps you practice this! When you’re playing in survival, you sometimes find yourself in a bad situation, or at least one that is not ideal. So you take some time, think about what you want, and make a plan. Each of the steps are easier than in real life, so children see the whole problem solving arc in one sitting.
Mojang has put in some really interesting blocks in Minecraft. When you put together pistons, observers, dispensers, buttons, and redstone circuits, you can make really cool machines. But only after going through the engineering process, though, which is good practice. Make a prototype, troubleshoot it, iterate on the design, style the creation.
I have seen some amazing creations. Someone made a calculator out of Minecraft’s blocks. It somehow actually calculated. It was awesome.
I like that kids can practice engineering without making a mess, and without making me buy the ingredients. They don’t learn the fine motor skills from working with small pieces, but I think it still has value.
Minecraft has a console, just like your computer has a console or your web browser has a console. When a user types in commands, Minecraft will do what they said. The good thing about computers is they do exactly what you say. This is sometimes a bad thing also, because you have to get the syntax exactly perfect or it is all wrong. I like that the kids are learning that lesson in this low-stakes environment.
I spent some weeks figuring out how to use our Minecraft server. I became very familiar with typing commands and looking online for commands. The next time I needed to type something into my computer’s terminal, it felt like it made more sense. I hope my children will feel more comfortable in a computer science class because of this preparation.
I feel like I have grown a lot in my design sense while decorating Minecraft builds. The secret is you just spend a lot of time on it and keep fussing with it until it looks good. :) I think that design skills and creativity are a muscle, not a bone that you have or you don’t. Some people are willing to spend longer, which makes them look like they have the skill that is missing in other people.
When Bryan played Minecraft for the first time, he determined in his heart that he wouldn’t look up anything on the internet. He wanted the fun of learning everything by experience.
He spent weeks punching wood and just walking around before Peter told him he needed a crafting table to make anything.
These days, we know to just Google any question. There are so many Minecraft players and several Minecraft wikis that any and all of the Minecraft players can update. They end up being very detailed and complete.
I think research projects in elementary schools are to just practice research. They’re not as interested in the child knowing about the topic as they are in the child knowing how to learn about the topic. If that’s true, Minecraft research is just as valid as research on dogs or pumpkins.
We have had to learn a lot of things. IP addresses, local area networks, downloads, files, servers, lag, hosting, saving. Technology kind of feels like a boys club… but I think Minecraft is a gateway.