Minecraft in the Classroom: What Game-Based Learning Can Teach Students

Minecraft in the Classroom: What Game-Based Learning Can Teach Students
Monica Fuglei January 22, 2014

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My seven-year-old son’s downtime has been taken over by an 8-bit universe: Minecraft. In addition to playing the game, he watches Minecraft video tutorials, holds Minecraft planning sessions with his sister and produces Minecraft artwork.

He even instigates Minecraft-centric “Who has the Kindle and why isn’t it me?” arguments. We trade Minecraft time for chores and find ourselves wishing it had some educational value. As it turns out, we’re not alone; educators have tapped into this trend.

The wildly popular world of Minecraft extends into the classroom

Like computer-based Legos, Minecraft is a “game about placing and breaking blocks.” When they released it in 2009, designers Marcus Persson and Jens Bergensten created a gamespace where players could both interact and create their gaming environment. It became wildly popular and has sold nearly 14 million copies.

The free pocket edition of the application is available on a variety of Android or iOS-based smartphones or tablets and it has also been released as a video game through the X-Box 360. As entertainment or a pedagogical tool, Minecraft is readily available for teachers and students and quite likely that many students already have the game.


Educators who noticed Minecraft’s wild popularity — or who were already using game-based learning — saw this as an excellent tool to engage students in curriculum through the game, and thus MinecraftEdu was born. Their website provides strategies for using Minecraft in the classroom.

Resources include a custom modification created for educators as well as video lectures and tutorials to help teachers apply different curriculum to the 8-bit universe. Other resources include forums where educators can brainstorm or create assignments together and discuss how to align standards and curriculum with the Minecraft universe.

Educators Luke Johnson and  Stephen Elford put together a presentation to document their experiments working Minecraft into their lessons.

Teaching with Minecraft: Geography, architecture and more

One of the creators of MinecraftEdu, Joel Levin, chronicles his experiences using Minecraft to teach geography in a blog called The Minecraft Teacher. His first entry explains how he utilized the game to cover a specific unit, his concerns before starting the unit, and the enormous success he had at engaging students with the lesson. Subsequent entries discuss changes he made to make future units even more effective.

Geography and map-building combine easily with the Minecraft universe, but students have an opportunity to learn a variety of different skills as well, including geometry and spatial relations, navigation and architectural design (imagine my surprise when my children built a swimming pool in a cave and installed a bedroom underneath it).

Students hone many skills during game play, including teamwork

Classes also have an opportunity to learn teamwork as they navigate the Minecraft universe together, finding resources and building establishments. When allowed free-play, some enterprising students even develop their own economic system, trading mined resources for someone else’s labor.

While math teachers might have students counting blocks or resources, splitting or dividing them, and geography teachers have students working on navigation, some history teachers have even assigned projects where students build historical sites so that the class can explore them together.

Each of these assignments leads to students engaged in a hands-on project in a universe they see as a game. Play is valued and their play becomes a way to learn, a win-win situation for educators and students alike.

Here are some additional ways Minecraft can help your students:

  • Inspire creativity: Minecraft inspires students to create. They can build anything they desire with the materials they are given. Students can work in groups to build houses or entire cities. They can work individually to create pieces that will eventually be added to a larger project that is being assembled by the entire class.
  • Problem solving: Using Minecraft, students learn how to solve problems such as finding or creating the resources needed to complete something they are building. If they need to move an obstacle, they can devise a machine that can pick it up and take it wherever it needs to be, or they can find a way to work around it and include the object in the final project.
  • Foster teamwork: In a classroom setting, Minecraft fosters teamwork. Each student may be responsible for a specific part of the project. They must work with the other students to obtain what they need and create their portion of the project. By working together as a team they can motivate one another to stay on task and find creative ways to solve problems that arise during the design and construction process of the project.
  • Encourage responsibility: As part of a team, a student must take responsibility for their part of the final project. It is up to them to make sure they have all of the resources they need and they meet the deadlines the teacher sets for them during class. An individual student can learn to properly take care of the computer they use to play the game. They must also follow the rules of the game whether they are working by themselves or as part of a group. They are responsible for their own project and grade as well as the grade of their team.

Minecraft has been proven to be an effective tool in the education process. Children who learn better by seeing, hearing and acting work well with this type of game. The technology employs all three learning styles in a manner that children can comprehend and retain for longer periods of time.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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