minecraft introduction

3 Tips for Teachers Getting Started With Minecraft

If you’ve been to conferences over the past few years, there’s a chance you have seen someone presenting on Minecraft and its application within the classroom. You may have loved the idea, and want to get started, but you have no idea what to do! You had a lot of new terms thrown your way, and wait, the game doesn’t come with a lot of directions?

Before you can even dive in to getting the game into your classroom and locating funding, you need to step back and take a deep breath. This is not something that can be implemented at the drop of a hat. It’s also something you can’t rely solely on students to teach you about, though they will be super helpful if you get stuck!

Tip 1: Learn to Play!

One of the first things you need to do is learn to play the game yourself. There are many ways to accomplish this. If you have children at home and they have the game, have them help you to learn. If not, then you’ll need to purchase the game. It’s available on many platforms, but the cheapest will be the tablet version, for around $7. Download the game and jump in. If you don’t like playing on a tablet and would prefer the PC edition, you’ll pay a heftier fee upfront. This is fine unless you later decide that the game isn’t for you.

That’s right. Minecraft will only give you a simple hint as to the basics- how to move, how to jump, and even how to access your inventory. Beyond that, it’s up to you to learn. As a player, you are expected to teach yourself to play. This is why so many young players turn to their friends, to books, to wikis, and to YouTube for guidance. Put yourself in the shoes of a player and explore these resources. There are a lot out there. Playing the way your students play will give you ideas of how they search, how they can improve searches, and suggestions you can provide to them.

It is during play that you’ll learn about some of those terms that got thrown your way at a conference- mobs, creative mode, survival mode, mining, and more. Through play I learned which mode would work better for my classroom needs, and how I could use the sandbox nature of the game to accomplish goals. Once I had a basic grasp of the game, I began doing some educational research.

Tip 2: Research and Explore Lesson Plan Ideas

The educational research will give you another step in the right direction. There are lesson plan ideas out there, and most are free to use. These lesson plans can spark ideas for new plans. Try some of the activities or goals out in your own Minecraft world. Microsoft has the Education Edition version of the game, and there are a lot of lesson plans on their website.

Here is one thing to keep in mind when searching for lesson ideas: some of the lesson plans have game files that only work for certain versions of the game. If you don’t have that edition, then you may have to recreate the world file, which may not be feasible. Keep this in mind while you complete your research, as it will help you to decide which version of the game to use in your classroom.

Tip 3: Learn about the different versions available.

After you’ve played and done some research, you’ll want to begin considering the different options available. Here are some you will come across:

PC Edition – This is the regular game with no extra bells and whistles. Some districts prefer to pay the upfront $27 per account and then share the accounts between students. They often create their own servers in the district or rent server space.

Education Edition – This is Microsoft’s version for schools. It is $5 per year per student. It has extra features, such as a coding component, built in server, classroom controls, camera, and more.

MinecraftEDU – This version no longer exists for purchase, but you will find lessons and world downloads still available online. This version featured classroom controls and the ability to rent cloud server space.

Look into options available, and talk to other teachers who already use Minecraft within their districts. This will help you to make an informed decision about what will work best in your classroom and district, especially when it comes time to look into funding resources.

Take your time and work through these tips. You’ll feel more prepared to use the program with students. Contact fellow educators who use the game if you have questions. You may even find that it’s not the right fit for you or your classroom, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, you’ve still learned something new!

Reflection: Introducing Minecraft to 4th Graders

Today I found myself back in 4th grade. I used to teach in this age group, so I was rather excited. Even though there had been setbacks to our original plans (thanks snow days!), we were ready to get started.

My job was to introduce Minecraft to Beverly Kerr (@tblkerr) and Julie Hogue’s (@HogueJulie) math classes. We did not plan to jump right in with lessons. Instead, I would introduce the game and class expectations before doing an explore and build session. Originally, the build was to relate to the 100th day of school, but because of snow days, our time was limited so we simply let them build whatever they wanted instead.

Prior to the class, I had set up the server the school had purchased with a 4 quadrant template of my own design. I logged the accounts into the program, and they all spawned in the center at what we eventually dubbed “home base”. The template is pictured below, and is also available for download here.

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4 Quadrant Template

First, the kids were given assigned seats and asked for their attention. I started by introducing myself, and then the game of Minecraft. As I had suspected, most had played, but only in survival mode. I started with the sandbox explanation and how the game had no given instructions. I did share the basic keys and what they did with students.

From there, I gave our class expectations and rules. I explained the rules of home base (always return there at the end of class), and what each quadrant was for. The kids were then told to spend a few minutes exploring, and the rest of the time building whatever they liked within the quadrants.

We then let them set off to work, and some kids tried to do other things, but we always went back to the main 2 instructions: Explore and Build. If we noticed someone spending a little too much time exploring, then we gently reminded them to build something. I think the next time, I would use a timer to designate how long to explore. This might be a bit more concrete for these students.

The kids built different things. Some built random shapes or objects, and others built homes or bases of some kind. We did have some kids “accidentally” use TNT, which I figured would happen, but I wanted to wait and see.  I am probably going to switch the server to run the Spigot version of Minecraft so I can install the antitnt plugin. This will take care of that issue easily.

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TNT oh my!

At the end of class, students did well with returning to home base. They weren’t allowed to line up to leave the lab until their character was safely inside, and I was pleased with how quickly they followed the instruction. Having students return all characters to home base makes it easier for the next group to get started right away. At this point, I am not sure if I’ll install the EssentialsX plugin. I’m still testing how it runs on my club server. If I do install it, it will make returning to base easier, as I can teach them the /warp command. This would be especially handy if the student was located far away in the assigned quadrant. They would simply have to type /warp base in the chat box and then they’d be instantly teleported back.

The teachers wanted to give the students more time to build in the game, so they returned with their classes after recess. I was not at the school at this time, so it gave the teachers a chance to handle running the game without me around. They had a couple of issues, but nothing major. Because of this, I am planning to meet with them after we complete the first lesson with all classes, so we can go over any issues they may have had, and help them learn how to run the server on their own. My goal is to eventually be able to have them running the server and program completely on their own, with minimal support from myself. This will definitely take time, as it took me awhile before I was completely comfortable running my own server.

Overall, I believe the lesson went over very well, and I am inspired to do a writeup of a lesson plan that will work for teachers introducing Minecraft to students in a classroom setting. I strongly believe that teachers need this first lesson before doing any actual curriculum work, as it allows them to set the ground rules and expectations for using Minecraft in the classroom.