I’m a senior in high school at the present, which means I grew up as technology became more and more prominent in education. When I was in elementary school, we were taught, albeit without much success, how to type and how to use Microsoft Office to an extent. Nowadays, my teachers use Elmos, Promethean boards, and other forms of technology in order to better express their points in the classroom. We have classes dedicated to programming, computer-aided design, and Web development. As educators become more and more willing to introduce newer technologies, we begin to see them expanding to more creative and entertaining outlets for their curricula. On the topic of this post, one of these outlets is video games — namely Minecraft.
When I first stumbled upon Minecraft, it was in its alpha stages. I never really began playing until the early beta versions, however. Back then, I failed to realize the potential Minecraft has to be used in educational environments. One particular group of people saw this potential, however. MinecraftEdu is a group of educators and developers that have begun an effort to make it easier to introduce Minecraft to a classroom environment. Here is a list of a few of the things that it offers:
- A Mojang-approved educational discount on the game – Mojang offers prices of $12.60 per license for a set of 25 copies, or $14 per license if you are purchasing less than 25 copies. Given that Minecraft costs $26.95 for ordinary folk, this is a definite pro for schools and classrooms.
- Minecraft workshops and training – Training is a crucial part to any organization, including schools. They will not invest the time and resources if they have to wait on staff to learn the software themselves.
- MinecraftEdu Custom Minecraft Mod – The mod MinecraftEdu offers to schools and educators creates a learning-friendly environment that is easily controlled via GUI menus, as opposed to command line actions that most mods utilize. Teachers can create assignments and boundaries all from within the game itself.
So MinecraftEdu is attempting to turn Minecraft’s educational potential into educational processes. But just what about Minecraft might be educational, anyway? In my personal opinion, budding electrical and computer engineers must love the concept of redstone circuits. Redstone circuits in Minecraft are essentially the analog to digital circuits we see used in today’s electronics. Through redstone, a Minecraft player can design circuits capable of anything as simple as opening a door on the other side of a room to performing the tasks of a CPU.
Last year in pre-calculus, we were taught a bit of Boolean algebra. I remember quite a few of my fellow classmates struggling with some of the more difficult concepts. Now that I look back, I see how great an opportunity it would have been to sit everyone down with a copy of Minecraft and allow them to build circuits that better exemplified Boolean logic on a visual level. This also would allow the students to observe special qualities of certain logic gates. For example, many people jump to a conclusion that a NAND gate is simply an AND gate combined with a NOT (inverter) gate. However, if you were to build a NAND gate in Minecraft, you would see that it actually requires less materials to construct than an AND gate, as it is the AND gate that actually requires the additional output inversion.
Getting even more technical, Minecraft can be taken further than simple Boolean logic. As I previously mentioned, it is possible to build entire CPUs in Minecraft, albeit they are probably slower than even the earliest microprocessors. A quick search on YouTube yields tons of results displaying numerous efforts to build CPUs, along with the components that a CPU consists of: ALUs, registers, etc. Where can educators jump in? Electrical and computer engineering courses can integrate Minecraft into their curriculum, walking students through the individual parts that make a processor tick. In addition, students can be challenged to improve upon existing designs. Who knows? Perhaps the next breakthrough in microprocessing will be discovered in Minecraft and from there translate to the likes of Intel and AMD.
Apart from computer engineering, other fields of study into which Minecraft can be incorporated might include architecture and art. The Minecraft community has spawned countless in-game masterpieces, from floating island cities to giant character illustrations. Minecraft’s open sandbox style opens the door for numerous applications, both in practice and education.
I think we will begin to see more games like Minecraft that find their way into the classroom to give students a more creative and exciting approach to learning. What about you?