Should kids be taught in schools using Minecraft?

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“The 14-year-old me was weeping inside” says Tom Bennett, the UK government’s school behaviour tsar. He’s recalling the time that Ian Livingstone – the co-creator of both Games Workshop and Fighting Fantasy, the series of role-playing books – called him a “luddite”. “It really upset me, I used to love the books and the games that came from them.”

The reason Bennett became the target of Livingstone’s ire is because of his views on Minecraft in classrooms. Last November, Microsoft released Minecraft: Education Edition, an enhanced version of the game that has extra tools for teachers to plan and set up lessons, whether that’s recreating a Shakespeare play or building the Great Pyramids. They can build worlds faster than usual, monitor their students’ activity and help them build online portfolios of their work. In an interview with The Times shortly after, Bennett said that the game was a “gimmick” that would “get in the way of children actually learning”.

The topic of Minecraft in schools sparks a lot of passion on both sides of the debate: some teachers, academics, and Microsoft itself believe that Minecraft can change the way children learn. By giving kids lessons inside a tool that they’re excited about, they will learn more, the argument goes. But Bennett and others say that in-game lessons hinder children’s learning by distracting from the subject matter at hand. The question is: how do we know who’s right? And, as Microsoft prepares for the first full school year since the Education Edition launched, what does the future of Minecraft in schools look like?

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The appeal of Minecraft: Education Edition is obvious. Adam Chase teaches Year 5 students at Old Hall Primary School in Bury, and first used Minecraft in the classroom after he heard his students talking about the game. “We spend so much time trying to get children interested in stuff, and they were already interested, so I thought I might as well use it,” he tells me.

He’s built the Pyramids of Giza when teaching about Ancient Egypt, and an Anglo-Saxon village in History. But he’s used it in more imaginative ways as well: when teaching his class about Philip Pullman’s The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, his students collaboratively built the volcano from the book in which a fire god lives. They then walked through it one by one and described the experience. “Living in Bury, it’s quite hard to describe what it’s like to walk inside a volcano and meet a fire god,” he says. “It’s a little bit easier once you’ve built the volcano, which collaboratively took them half an hour.”

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He’s also used it in Biology. Students told him that crops in Minecraft grew in seawater, so he decided to debunk the myth during a class on plants and soil by asking them to grow plants in salty water. The plants withered and died, and the experiment formed the basis of a lesson. In other words, he had successfully used Minecraft as a hook for a complex topic.

He admits that part of using Minecraft is to “trick” students to enjoy material they’d normally find boring, but says the results elevate it above mere gimmick. The key for Chase is how passionate kids are about their work in Minecraft. For one of his class’s regular reports for the headmaster they produced an ‘Idiot’s guide to Minecraft’. “They loved it, and it was the best piece of writing they’ve ever produced for me,” he says.

Plus, it’s got individual children to try new things: one girl who excelled in every subject except art is now passionate about design. “She says her hands don’t do what her brain wants them to, but in Minecraft she can do it, so she’s enjoying the engineering side. Another student used Minecraft to complete some homework on natural disasters: “He created a tsunami frozen in time ready to hit a Japanese town. He spent four hours on it, this lad never spends four hours on his homework. He’d looked at pictures of Japanese villages and applied it, and he’d also made a tsunami proof shelter.”

Chase sees immediate results from using Minecraft in his classroom – but it’s not nearly enough to convince Bennett and others that it should be used more widely.

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I must admit, I half expected Ian Livingstone to be right about Bennett before I met him. It’s not hard to think of someone you know that would immediately pooh-pooh the idea of using Minecraft in a classroom just because it’s a video game. But he’s not anti-games at all.

“I lost months of my life to Tomb Raider and Doom,” he says. “When it got to the fourth generation of Doom I lost interest – once you stopped seeing the pixels I thought, ‘This is getting too much for me’. I remember making a conscious decision when I was about 30 that I had to stop because it was taking up too much of my time.”

Bennett’s objection to Minecraft in schools is twofold: first, that it distracts children from the subject they’re trying to learn; and second, that it is unevidenced as a teaching approach. “I absolutely get the impulse that drives people to want to play games, and I get the impulse for teachers to make their teaching more engaging, exciting and relevant. I’ve done it for 15 years myself, you’re constantly looking for hooks.

“The danger is that the hook becomes the lesson, and what they’re thinking about is the way you’ve framed the lesson rather than the content itself. The danger is that you make it all about the Minecraft, and subtly and unintentionally you undercut the importance of the learning because you’re almost saying: ‘This is like nasty medicine, but I’ll give you some sugar as well.’”

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He admits he’s used similar methods in the past when he was still a teacher. As a movie buff, he used to sit Philosophy classes down in front of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly or Inception. “But then I realised I was wasting two hours of my life and I was letting my love of movies wash over my perspective on how to teach.”

Bennett is right about the lack of evidence for the use of Minecraft. There has been no large-scale studies on the use of Minecraft in classrooms that I’ve come across either from trawling the net or browsing the list of studies that Microsoft itself provided me (which is nonetheless worth glancing over).

However, there is a much larger body of research on the use of games more generally in learning. Numerous books and research papers have been published on the topic – which I’ll get onto in a bit more detail later – but Bennett remains unimpressed. “I’ve found most of the research was almost exclusively generated in very small groups and on a very short-term basis, and often the impact was shown by qualitative evidence, asking the kids how they feel,” he says.

“A lot of the research is very enthusiastic and breathless. I’m not saying it’s not true, there’s just very weak evidence. You wouldn’t market a drug on that basis, or a medical technique.” Bennett is worth listening to on the use of evidence in education. As well as advising ministers he runs ResearchED, a non-profit organisation that tries to make teachers more research literate. But other academics disagree with him.

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Joel Mills teaches at the University of Hull, where he is the interim deputy director for learning enhancement. He’s also a Minecraft Mentor, part of a 60-strong network of teachers worldwide that support other educators to use the game in their classroom.

His love of the game as a teaching tool, like Adam Chase in Bury, was inspired by a student. Now, he teaches higher education students in Minecraft worlds. For example, he recently created an accurate digital representation of a medieval dig site using satellite data. Archaeology students had to explore it in-game and, using their own knowledge, recreate a building from the site.

“It spawns conversations with the students, it gives them leads into the knowledge without spoon feeding it to them,” he says. “If you tap into that passion learning comes second nature, because you’re engaged with what the subject matter is.”

Some teachers use it incorrectly, he admits, simply transferring work sheet tasks onto text blocks in the game. Minecraft works best when students can communicate ideas where normally they might find it difficult, he says. “Because it’s a sandbox game, it creates an opportunity for students to show what’s in their head. They can quickly show their ideas where they might not be able to draw them or test them out. It’s a rapid prototyping tool in that sense.”

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He takes exception to Bennett calling the game a “gimmick” – lots of the technology that is used in classrooms now, like interactive whiteboards and even projectors, initially received similar labels, he argues. “If people say it’s a gimmick they usually don’t understand the full potential. The way we engage with information is constantly evolving, and the people that can’t keep up are often the biggest critics. I’d certainly be happy to stand in a room with Tom [Bennett] and say that to him.”

He believes the evidence for videogames in the classroom is “overwhelming”, pointing me to a number of examples, including popular books by academics James Paul Gee and Marc Prensky. However, the largest studies on the topic have produced mixed results. A meta-analysis of the evidence in 2014 by research group GlassLab, part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, found that “digital games significantly enhanced student learning relative to the non-game control conditions”. However, a review of the literature a year earlier found that “despite some promising results, the current literature does not evidence adequately the presumed link between motivation, attitude to learning and learning outcomes”.

And besides, even if the evidence for game-based learning was undisputed, the lack of evidence around Minecraft specifically could hinder its progress. And on top of that you have the more principled objection: that it’s detracting from valuable material that could be taught better and cheaper (the Education Edition costs $5 per head per year) using other methods.

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Mike Taylor teaches humanities at the Michaela free school in Wembley, north-west London. It’s one of the most deprived areas of the capital, and more than a third of students are eligible for free school meals. Nearly 40% have English as a second language. The school takes a no-nonsense approach: it’s been dubbed “Britain’s Strictest School” by the national papers because of its tough behaviour rules. And, although it has not yet had a set of GCSE results (it was founded in 2014), it received the highest possible Ofsted rating in an inspection in June: Outstanding in all categories.

Other teachers speak about “engaging” their students through Minecraft – but Taylor dismisses the idea. Students must interact directly with the content of a lesson for it to sink in, he says, making Minecraft in classrooms “one of the worst ideas you could have”.

“The content of a Shakespeare play is intrinsically interesting because it’s about human nature, and love, and conflict. By dressing it up in a computer game you’re detracting from it. Teaching Shakespeare to a bunch of poor kids from North West London is very hard, absolutely, so teacher’s naturally want to find shortcuts to get the kids engaged. But as soon as you use the word engagement, you’ve lost the battle.”

Using Minecraft in schools with poorer kids is a particularly bad idea, he argues, because wasted time is more difficult to get back than with children from richer backgrounds. “Really rich kids, your David Camerons of the world, they can sit around chucking playdough at each other and still be very successful. The very poor kids don’t know how to read and write, they have 40% less vocabulary than the rich kids, and we’re too busy sitting them at a computer and thinking of ways to engage them, a la Minecraft.”

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On top of these objections there are problems with the Education Edition itself. Its birth, following Microsoft’s purchase of Mojang, spelled the death of MinecraftEdu, an open-source tool that teachers had been using for years. It’s no longer available to download and its final update was more than a year ago.

The University of Hull’s Mills says that Minecraft: Education Edition lacks some of the features that made MinecraftEdu so easy to use. He’s confident that Microsoft are listening to mentors like him however, and having spoken to the company directly it’s clear to me that they are keen to iron out the creases. Neal Manegold, senior manager of Minecraft Education, says the team behind the game are trying to improve the product to make it ready for the mainstream. He’s very wary of “growing too fast”, and is clear that he doesn’t think Minecraft is education’s “panacea”.

“This upcoming year is really our first year where people have it at scale. I’m going to feel like we’ve entered the race a year from now,” he tells me. He is focussing efforts on subjects that Microsoft believes teachers could most use help in, like physics, chemistry and biology. “I also think of the subjects that are left behind when push comes to shove – music, visual arts, dramatic arts and theatre. We’ve seen work where students rebuilt the Globe Theatre and acted out an actual Shakespeare play [in Minecraft]. They even go backstage and change their skins for different scenes. I see all the project management and architecture that goes into building a theatre, and all of the video production that went into producing the video piece.”

He’s not shy about addressing criticisms about its use in schools, too. On the lack of research of Minecraft’s effectiveness, he says: “It’s a fair critique. In education, especially in the technology wing of education, we run into this all the time, where something is new and different, educators feel it works, but the research always seems to lag.

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“We have some early case studies out of the gate, we’re also going to be engaging in more large-scale research over this year.” That will include Minecraft’s impact on “21st century skills”, such as teaching students to negotiate and collaborate – “things that will serve them well regardless of their career choice”.

That research, supplemented by the work of others (Mills says he’s conducting his own research in Hull) could prove crucial for the future of Minecraft, and determine just how big the Education Edition grows beyond its current 150,000-user base of teachers and students in more than 100 countries.

It could go some way to silencing the detractors, too. Bennett and Taylor say they’re both willing to change their mind if the right evidence comes along. “I’d like to see teachers work with gaming companies to test this in the field,” Bennett says. “What would be great would be a really large-scale trial of these types of interventions run by independent experts that are willing to publish if the results aren’t very good, or are inconclusive.”

And if the research suggests that Minecraft really does help children learn more effectively, then who knows – Bennett and Ian Livingstone may well find they have more in common than just their love of role-playing games.

27 Comments

  1. PJ says:

    This is honestly a great write up! There simply isn’t enough evidence to conclude that Minecraft is a useful tool in classrooms. People like Tom Bennett are not out to attack Minecraft, they just want to be sure that it is actually a useful tool for teaching young people. I cannot believe how many people attacked him online for saying that.

    • waltC says:

      I think children should be taught in school period–Minecraft is more play than teach. The idea that this kind of thing works sort of reminds me of the old saw about sticking a tape recorder with a foreign language under your pillow at night so that without much in the way of mental effort you can learn a foreign language. Doesn’t work–the problem is that when the brain “plays” or recreates, it’s a resting period, basically, and leaning centers are more or less shut down. Learning requires concentration–effort–the mind must be schooled. Also, the square block people and buildings immediately inform the mind that what it is seeing is *not real*…and I would guess that most of the real information imparted this way is trashed by the mind along with the squaresville unreality after play is finished–very much as dreams are forgotten upon consciousness in the mornings.

      • phelix says:

        Doesn’t work–the problem is that when the brain “plays” or recreates, it’s a resting period, basically, and leaning centers are more or less shut down.

        Whu? I’m sorry, but this is the biggest bull I’ve read all day. The idea that learning is impossible during a “resting period” is ridiculous.
        I think you’re confusing learning skills with acquiring knowledge. In the latter sense you are right though; knowledge is the one thing games (in the real world – let’s not make up a magical realm where the knowledge taught by games is always 100% accurate) cannot teach you, because everything in a game is subject to the collective authors’ creative choices and must therefore be treated as fiction.
        The only games I can think of that can actually teach you knowledge is simulators, but even those don’t always get the real world mechanics right. History-focused games often oversimplify events and narratives or place them out of context, so no-go for education. If that’s the point you wanted to make, fair enough. But no, games don’t benefit learning at all? I’d love to get some of what you’re smoking.

        There’s a mountain of scientific research that suggests games (in general but also specifically videogames) can very damn well play a role in the learning process. Developing spatial memory, improving reflexes’ speed and accuracy, hand-eye coordination… the list goes on. Point is – adding entertainment to learning doesn’t nullify the learning itself. If the brain can’t concentrate enough during games, learning those games would be literally impossible.
        Don’t take my comment as an ad hominem – I don’t mean to attack you, just your arguments. I realise that childrens’ education can be a nerve-touching subject for some…

      • Kitsunin says:

        Honestly, even the idea that kids should only be learning in school is ridiculous. I stopped going halfway into middle school, and my parents did not do any real home-schooling to make up for it. I didn’t take the initiative particularly often (though I have very much enjoyed Crash Course and similar educational Youtube stuff, which basically made up for all the K-12 science and history all by its damn self) and the only area in which I was lacking was social. Perhaps history too, which has literally only ever been slightly awkward during casual conversation.

        People average out once they stop being kids. As long as their living environment is similar, they just do. That gifted genius 13-year-old? Almost always above average at best. The kid who was far behind the class and never seemed to understand anything? Probably actually turned out perfectly average. The only thing that is really all that important for kids, is for them to figure out what they will do with their lives as adults, to become well-rounded people, and to know how to learn (which ultimately has more to do with the bits outside of school itself). Kids learn at such a bloody slow pace (in school at least) they can make up for any lack in education in months once they need to do it on their own, as long as they know how. And standard education doesn’t teach crap. I was capable of passing the GED in 7th grade, it was just freaking reading comprehension, knowing how to write an essay, and some easy math.

        Not to say schools don’t serve a really important purpose (parents can’t really take care of their own kids all the time). But frankly the idea that they do or even can educate all that much is ridiculous.

  2. DingDongDaddio says:

    I wouldn’t doubt the benefits of learning quicker just by being more interested in the way it’s taught, but what good is that in the long term? We need these kids to want and enjoy learning without putting it in a flashy wrapper for them. We can’t just skip over that because it’s easier in the short term by using video games.

  3. therighttoarmbears says:

    Outcome attribution is hard, being (reductively) the motivating force behind all scientific endeavor, but it is especially hard in things relating to humans and their behaviors and outcomes and health. And where there is a dearth of good evidence linking outcomes in question to interventions in question, there will always be mixed opinions all of which are just that: opinions.

    So: how would you do science on it? I would deem it not impossible to good science on it, but very difficult to execute and get funded from an independent funding source (getting funding from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will cause everyone to look askance at the results, regardless of their inherent validity).

    First, I think you’d have to find your outcome(s) of interest, and even those would be highly debated. Is it graduation rate? Test scores? Future “success” in life? Or specific tangible skills – ability to, say, solve problems, ability to represent things in 3d spaces, understanding basic circuitry, etc. Those latter specific skills would be much, much easier to test, but when people talk about an educational tool’s ability to help “motivate” students I don’t think that’s what they’re after.

    Second, you’d have to choose a method to test it. Hard, man. Randomized controlled trial is considered the gold standard in medicine for attributing a causal link between an intervention and an outcome; I don’t know about other fields of endeavor (like education or psychology), but I’d guess it’s the same? Would be hard to pull off in these circumstances just due to lack of a good placebo but there could be a “standard intervention” arm that was normal classroom vs a Minecraft classroom; this would be much easier to do with those specific outcomes like 3d spatial representational ability rather than the more nebulous ones. Obviously it wouldn’t be blinded. If you wanted to go after the more nebulous stuff like overall ability to learn or be motivated, or even graduation rates or “future success” (whatever the heck that might mean) you’d probably have to go with a long-term observational study like a cohort study. That’d also be very hard because of the numbers you’d have to have to pull out all the other variables like the zillions of social and economic and demographic stuff, and it would have a probably have a huge attrition rate I’d expect and would be very expensive and you might still run into some attribution problems.

    I don’t have any other good ways off the top of my head that you’d study the effect of Minecraft on students that would stand up to rigorous inspection, and until then you’ll just have people from either camp yelling at each other. Somebody smarter than me should take a serious crack at answering the question though, as I kinda like the idea!

    • Samuel Horti says:

      Thanks for this response, enjoyed it. Yep, it’s going to be difficult, but probably necessary for any sort of wide adoption in schools.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      You’d need all that for a scientifically rigorous study but if minecraft is as great for education as the boasters are claiming there should be a fairly obvious statistical improvement in test results and graduations (and then later employment outcomes and income) for minecraft classes relative to their peers and prior cohorts. And if its only margin or error 1 or 2% improvements that need extensive study to identify its probably not worthwhile given the opportunity costs in technical support and teacher training.

      That’s before even getting to the can of worms surrounding exposing children to the products of a commercial company that sees educational products as a marketing tool.

  4. Ghostwise says:

    There’s also the more general issue of MS teaching kids to use its OS, UI and main software tools so that switching to others becomes markedly less attractive.

    • Thankmar says:

      Exactly my first thoughts, too. Minecraft could be as great as it gets as a learning tool, this is for me the more important issue (the Simpsons did a great episode about PPP in schools).

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Isn’t that already happening? Throughout high school we never touched a Mac and mostly learned the Office family of programs.

  5. Imperialist says:

    I think the benefits lie not in teaching everyday children, but the ones with learning disabilities, autism, etc. Of course, it depends on the range of said disability, but some people simply learn with a hands-on approach, and for many kids who arent up to par with their peers might find it easier and friendlier to take a jaunt into a virtual world, and be given tools to forge their own learning experience or have it be gently molded around them in a way that is both fun, and educational.

  6. wackazoa says:

    Great read. I think the problem with the issue lies in the global approach to teaching. Not everyone learns the same way, so different approaches need to be considered, sometimes on a individual level. I don’t think there should be a problem including this as part of a greater curriculum, as long as it is merely included and not relied upon as a primary. I think to limit ourselves in learning is one of the worse mistakes we can make. It narrows the scope and ultimately harms us as individuals moving forward.

    But the issue might not seem limited to learning/teaching. 5 per head per year seems like it can get awfully expensive. And this seems more about trying to justify cost v. benefit. Good luck on that.

  7. pandiculator says:

    This conversation echoes a lot of the ideas about technology in general in the classroom – at the school I work at, there has been a significant push to put technology in students hands (Chromebooks) which are replacing textbooks, worksheets, etc. in the day-to-day operations of our classrooms. In my experience, this technology has been much of the dual-edged sword that the article discusses – I get outstanding projects from students who are tech savvy and clever, kids who spend their time in class attempting to watch LoL gameplay vids on youtube, and kids who don’t have regular access to a computer who find the technology to be a barrier to their learning, rather than an assistant.

    Even so, teachers already use games, like kahoot, to help engage students – inherently labeling Minecraft as a ‘distraction’ feels half-hearted when teachers have been using games since forever to help teach content or to use as a modality-based intervention for students.

    Where I could see something like this being useful in the classroom is in the hands of the students themselves – instead of making a powerpoint to show the class, put a minecraft world together a la a diorama that explains, say, the major plot events of Act 2 of Romeo and Juliet, and have students play through it, or whatever.

    But, as was outlined above, getting an understanding of if Minecraft actually works as an educational tool is tough. Therighttoarmbears outlined the issues very well, so I direct you to their post!

    Even so, like technology in the classroom in general, I remain cautiously optimistic. Thanks for the great writeup, and for something to keep my eyes on!

  8. Scurra says:

    For me, it boils down to the the same problem everytime because – much as it is a cliché, it’s a cliché because it’s true – we are all individuals; what works for teaching one person will be a disaster for another. (And no, I don’t think it’s a social class thing or a gender thing either, but that’s a different argument.)

    And, of course, there’s also the problem that (as alluded to in the article) the teachers may sometimes use it as an escape without actually considering what they are trying to use it for. Which, again, we all do – hence any meeting that has a powerpoint presentation…

    But, like others, I remain optimistic that tools like this can become a strong part of the range of teaching assets available. It’s still just such early days really.

  9. Kitsunin says:

    Ultimately, the only things I have the experience to, are either tangentially related or anecdotal.

    On a personal level, public education failed me utterly. Things I could get excited about were few and far between — all of it either ways to show my ability to excel, or to express creativity. Those don’t come often. Despite nearly perfect grades at everything I actually did, I even started skipping as early as middle school, before my parents took me out in favor of traveling the world. Games would’ve kept me engaged, I know because of how much they taught me even in their raw non-educational form after I ceased going to public school.

    Now, as an English teacher, I still can’t really say for sure whether games are ideal for teaching in general (though I certainly hold a personal belief they are). But I can say with the utmost certainty that games are an amazing tool for teaching English in particular, and I can’t see why that couldn’t be extrapolated to other subjects. It provides a practical purpose for the students to want to engage with the material. Not “If I do good at X, I’ll get Y” but “I want to understand X because X is a skill required to play this game I want to play” which is absolutely game-changing. In the case of my classes, these are board games rather than video games, however, so they’re fundamentally impossible to play without speaking, reading, listening, and sometimes writing.

    In this way, I suspect not just using games as a teaching aide, but presenting them in such a way that they require the skill being taught (again, this must be a fundamental requirement, it cannot come in the form of “you’re only allowed to play if you do it in order to learn/after you’ve learned”) in order to play, is necessary for them to live up to their full learning potential.

    • FeepingCreature says:

      This is huge. This is at the heart of good teaching.

      If you can’t even find a good reason for the child to use the skill, how can you demand they spend so many hours of their life on learning it? Our brains are very good at discarding knowledge that doesn’t see any use.

      Teaching to the Test is high treason against childhood.

      Compare XKCD on Texting: link to xkcd.com

    • Josh W says:

      This is one thing I was thinking is an impediment in just using minecraft; games are already about learning and teaching, about learning and teaching themselves, so either you use them as a platform to generate a new game based around the subject (with students already showing full minecraft literacy) in some specialised mod or level you’ve made, or you use them as an expressive tool to encourage students to show what they have already learned about a subject.

      So you don’t really learn in minecraft, you either use it to perform some small part of the loop of learning; pupils expressing their level of understanding back to the teacher, in a way that is fun (which is also very good for avoiding the tension that sometimes comes with pupils feeling they are being assessed, by wrapping it in a sufficiently absorbing form of creative task that the audience is mostly forgotten, although it only takes a few unengaged students for that discomfort to come back) or you create a full learning loop centred on the content that interests you in some other game you are making out of it, as if it were rpg maker or something. Minecraft itself teaches minecraft, so it doesn’t make sense to use it for teaching unless you are stripping out parts of it’s functionality as above, or the things it teaches about itself happen to coincide with the focus of your lesson.

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    Earl-Grey says:

    This was a very interesting and good article.
    I hope you get enough revenue from supporters to keep writing big pieces like this.

    Stellar form, RPS, you’ve still got it.

  11. meerdog says:

    Echoing the comments above, this was a compelling well written piece.
    I work in an education reform organization that uses a mixture of curriculum including STEM topics like programming and robotics. Funders love outcomes but can be very difficult to prove that experiential learning has a discrete long term benefit.
    In the article, Neal, from Minecraft Education, mentions “21st Century Skills” which is an interesting and popular framework with funders: link to en.m.wikipedia.org
    Another is Social Emotional Learning (SEL): link to casel.org
    These are complimentary frameworks and can be an strong foundation to use to show student growth in places where traditional academic measurement is tough. We have been funded for showing growth in both these frameworks (using student surveys and a strong R&E team).
    This is all to say, I think Minecraft will be proven to be an effective educational tool within schools that focus on SEL & 21st Century Skills.
    There are fair criticisms of the frameworks but as we read above, many successful implementations!

  12. brucethemoose says:

    Anyone else think they’re overestimating the staying power of Minecraft?

    I mean, I know it’s still absurdly popular. But these things always come and go with time… and the world of education moves at a glacial pace in comparison. One day Minecraft is going to fade away (relatively speaking), and these teachers will be stuck with a method that kids are no longer interested in.

    Also, would this be some kind of precedent? Are we going to see Star Wars in textbooks just to engage kids?

    • Throwback says:

      > Are we going to see Star Wars in textbooks just to engage kids?

      Uhh….Star Wars and similar popular topics have been in textbooks since I was a kid 20+ years ago, in an effort to engage kids.

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      MajorLag says:

      Actually I think this is a thing Minecraft is well suited for. There might be similar titles that will eventually replace it (something by Lego, perhaps), but the core concept of allowing novices to build models intuitively has a lot of potential.

      That said, Bennett has a point. I used to work for a school district and there is definitely a segment of educators who seem to believe that throwing the latest gadgetry at children is a good way to educate them.

  13. ephesus64 says:

    You have government officials in England who have a basic understanding of statistics and research design? I wonder if you could export some to the USA. We couldn’t give you all your colonies back in exchange, but how about just New Jersey?

    As for Minecraft in education, I am uncertain. The teachers who are doing well with it sound like the kind of teachers who could do well without it too. And games are dopamine dispensers, so I agree that the “engagement” they see may have more to do with the expectation of reward than learning.

    When the schools near me gave kids iPads for some reason, the kids who were going to do the reading anyway did their reading on them. The kids who weren’t going to do the reading furtively swiped back and forth on the home screen for the whole time I watched them, apparently hoping for some kind of reward, or a game to pop out of nowhere.

  14. Wilson says:

    Great article, love seeing this kind of stuff on RPS!

  15. jeremyalexander says:

    On a sort of related note, I was always somewhat interested in history in school, but the way it was taught was so disjointed that it made it a chore to learn instead of a joy. Then in my senior year of high school, Civilization 1 came out and by putting everything in context and letting me see it all play out even in a non historical manner, it sort of put everything into order and focus, and after that I was voracious in my quest to understand all of human history and culture. Videogames can be a remarkable teaching tool, far superior to reading and memorizing text books where much of the detail just falls away a couple years after being ingested anyway. I also learned chemistry my senior year in high school mostly on an interactive piece of software the school was experimenting with. I never got a single question wrong in either the homework or the text because the visual and interactive elements of the program stayed with me flawlessly because I had mutliple sources to draw the knowledge from instead of just trying to remember a line in a text book. Someone with some money and someone clever is going to come along someday and replace textbooks with interactive games.

  16. Malcolm says:

    I recently read another, surprisingly interesting article on the use of GTA V as a teaching tool for a group of highly privileged pupils in Canada to expose them to different viewpoints than they might otherwise have considered.

    I’m not sure how I feel about Minecraft as a general teaching tool. On the one hand the £5 per year licensing seems quite cheap, but given the extremely tight budgets I suspect once a school has paid up there will be the tendency to use it to excess rather than always consider the most appropriate tool for the job. But I’m not a teacher so what do I know? I would however, really like to see more evidence-based-policy in education – my impression is that there is still an extreme reluctance to pursue randomised trials in many aspects of education. Here’s a paper Ben Goldacre wrote in 2013 on the subject – has there been any progress since?