Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community
Minecraft and its deceptively simplistic, pixelated aesthetic seem to be everywhere. The video game isn’t just being played on every iPad and chromebook of every kid in the country, its blocky characters appear on lunch boxes and t-shirts, and in the form of plastic minifigures and youtube videos.
While screen time decisions are unique to every household, Minecraft enjoys a reputation among parents as being different from the average mindless and/or violent videogame that grownups love to hate.
“Oh, I let my kids play Minecraft... It’s educational.”
Music to any parent’s ears. But how is Minecraft educational, really? Let’s start with the basics.
Developed by the Swedish studio, Mojang, in 2009 and bought by Microsoft in 2014, Minecraft is known as a sandbox video game. That means there isn’t a specific objective that players work towards — like finding a treasure or defeating an evil boss.
Instead, its open-ended gameplay allows the user to choose their own adventure, making it an ideal tool for game-based learning: Players adventure through backdrops that mimic real world biomes, building structures on tundras, plains, desserts, oceans and taigas. As they encounter animals and creatures, they can craft tools out of the materials they find around them: dirt, grass, iron ore, redstone, diamonds and more.
The game has different settings. In “survival mode,” players work to keep themselves alive, by hunting, farming, and mining, under randomly generated weather conditions. To protect themselves against the violent mobs that roam at nightfall, they have to build a house and find a safe place to keep their supplies. In “creative mode,” instead, there’s no time pressure and no objective. Players can master their environment and build to their heart’s content.
Using Minecraft can help kids develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills: If you want to build an axe, you must gather the materials and learn the “recipe” to put it together, but from simple tools; the possibilities extend infinitely, to fully outfitted houses, elaborate villages and bustling cities. Often kids will try to build things they love in real life and create fantastical hybrids in the process — a music store that sells giant guitars, a house with an extra bedroom just for them, or the world’s tallest treehouse.
Because it’s so open-ended and diverse, kids with all sorts of interests can find something to get genuinely excited about inside Minecraft.
One of the reasons for Minecraft’s extended popularity and longevity is that it’s endlessly customizable, both by Mojang and by independent programmers (kids included!) who create “mods” (modifications), programs you can add to the game itself that change how things look, react or behave. Of interest to parents and teachers is education mode (aka minecraftedu), a built-in mod that you can turn on while creating a world.
Currently, Education Edition has four specific differences compared to the regular Minecraft game.
Educational tools that allow players to turn the game into a learning environment, so they can write stories and create a portfolio to show off what they’ve accomplished.
A feature to help kids learn to code in Java.
A lab at your fingertips, for conducting science experiments and even building elements and compounds.
Educational activities in subjects such as Language Arts, Computer Science, Math, Art & Design and History, with corresponding worlds to let students play out what they’ve learned.
Because so many kids love Minecraft, it’s the kind of flexible tool that makes learning fun. If they’re excited about spending time in the game, they’ll be more willing to step out of their comfort zone and try something unfamiliar.
At Prisma, we integrate Minecraft into our curriculum, taking advantage of its 3d modeling capabilities, built-in coding tools, and collaborative features.
Here are three tested ways Minecraft can be used as an educational tool:
Minecraft’s extensive library of physical materials makes it an ideal modeling tool. In our Cities of the Future theme, learners researched and designed eco-friendly buildings and could use Minecraft to display their architectural model; or map out plans for a futuristic city with intentional ratios of residential, commercial, and industrial areas and then build it in Minecraft. They had to do the same research, documentation and labeling as kids who chose to use physical materials, and demonstrate the same core learning — but the option to use Minecraft gave some learners that extra push to go deep into their work.
Another part of the learning process is the creation of tutorials that introduce others to their world: learners create videos and slide decks that walk through the details of their model and explain how it connects to the content. In our Hidden Histories theme, kids created virtual museum exhibits and designed their own monuments, with relevant labels and plaques. Some kids modeled replicas of historical objects using Minecraft. One learner created a realistic model of a Revolutionary War ship. To document his learning, he developed a slide deck with screenshots of the ship's features, explaining the sources he used to make it historically accurate and the purpose of those features in the war.
Learners can hone their computer science skills by learning to code. In the Java edition of Minecraft, when kids build games or code mods, they are learning computational thinking through concepts like variables, conditionals, and functions. In the Bedrock edition of Minecraft, you can integrate the MakeCode tool, which allows kids to learn block-based, Java, and Python coding using the non-Java version of Minecraft. Prisma learners submitted games coded in Minecraft to the Games for Change competition.
Kids love to build virtual worlds where they can hang out with each other. At Prisma, learners in our Minecraft club built a multiplayer world known as Prismaland. They even constructed lounges for their coaches based on their interests and spaces related to each of the Prisma workshops. To develop Prismaland, the learners had to plan, collaborate, negotiate — and renegotiate when things didn’t go as planned — honing their teamwork as they each contributed a piece of their shared world, expressing their individual personalities in the community space.
Minecraft is extremely complex, and players can continue to hone their abilities for years. At the same time, its intuitive interface means that first time users rarely have to spend much time pouring over tutorials before they feel capable of building their first Minecraft world; usually one kid observes another until they’re ready to take over the controls themselves. If your child has gotten into the game ahead of you, ask them for a walk through of how Minecraft works: They’ll enjoy watching you stumble through your first steps and showing off what they know.
Once you get a handle of the game, look into which aspects are best suited to your child’s personality and needs. If Minecraft isn’t being used at your school, there are countless camps and clubs out there — or start your own!
Want to learn more about how Prisma can empower your child to thrive?Talk with us
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