Could Minecraft Be a School?

I started musing about this in writing a few years ago as I became more deeply involved in using Minecraft as part of the work I do with students. Teachers typically welcome another tool in the repertoire for kids to express themselves in school. Minecraft was a no-brainer in that regard. Make a shoebox diorama, build in Minecraft — not a big stretch.

Since I had been playing Minecraft on my own since its inception with my son and my friends, I also knew that there was something much bigger going on by the time I brought it into the classroom — but I needed some time to work on that puzzle. Microsoft purchased Minecraft and then released an official education version. That helped legitimize it apart from “video games” and placed it more directly in the “teaching and learning” realm.

My work with students and Minecraft grew, and I am pleased to announce that I have a published chapter about it in an academic book series about game-based learning. I will make the chapter available here on my website and elsewhere, but for now, I hope you will join me in the celebration of this publication:

Minecraft. Because Why Not. Teachers, Let’s Goooooooo

I have been playing Minecraft for many years. I instantly fell in love with the game. It has the retro feel that I love since I grew up in the 70s and 80s immersed in computers and technology. As a teacher for over twenty years, I have been working with many technologies in the classroom and Minecraft is one of the best ever.

Teachers do not get a lot of time to play. I don’t mean video games or games — I mean just play, free space to roam, experiment, test, experience, try things for the sake of trying them and seeing what happens. Play. True play.

Many teachers have families, other jobs, complex situations of all kinds, and the free time that play requires just isn’t there. Doesn’t happen in graduate school, teacher preparation programs, during the work week, or really even on the weekends. Maybe some teachers have some free time to play, but I will safely assume that most do not.

There is the crux of my argument and purpose in this post: teachers need free time to play. Teachers need to play.

I built barriers but also a way to travel.

For the past year or so, I have befriended a wonderful educator and fellow Minecraft enthusiast, Stephen Reid of Immersive Minds. He lives in Scotland and I live in Los Angeles. We were working on a Minecraft project together with Becky Keene — I have never woken up so early for a conference call that was pure fun!

The experience provided me with a spark of inspiration and a new perspective into work and play and gaming and collaboration and global digital citizenry. It was a small window for me into what I think many people have already discovered is possible in this new Internet era. My only fault was that I had not yet done it! I was work work work working in the classroom and trying (and failing) not to work on the weekends and in the evenings. Teachers really do not get a break, even after so many years. You cannot sit back and put the class on auto-pilot because it has to change and evolve with time and with the students you serve.

So when do teachers get to truly develop as teachers outside of working? What new ideas could they encounter if left alone to play together? How could that experience and those ideas enter the classroom? What impact could it have on students and their experiences as learners?

I found diamonds tonight!

Stephen Reid and I recently were tweeting at each other because I wanted to hang out with him. Again, he lives in Scotland, so we have a Minecraft survival world accessible via Internet where we can work and chat and explore and create together. In just a few hours, not only did I find diamonds and put together a set of iron armor inside of what will soon be a tremendous cobblestone fortress, but have already begun to allow myself the freedom of play and wonder.

When we were in the game, Stephen and I were text-chatting about what to do with this Minecraft server and how it might be a place for educators to come and play and build and explore and create together. I’m not certain that such a place exists already, but if it does, we could use a few hundred more!

And if Minecraft isn’t your thing, and you’re sure because you have tried it, maybe there are other digital collaboration platforms that you can work on in real time with people on the other side of the planet. The idea is just to play and experiment and try things out and see what comes of it — simply because we can. Not to get famous. Not to get rich. Not to achieve some predetermined outcome.

Play. Because why not.

I really like cobblestone and tunnels.

Minefaire Is For You

Minefaire is a celebration and an opportunity. If you don’t know what it is, Minefaire is a roaming Minecraft convention that brings together creators and educators and players of all ages. It is a remarkable event that should be on your list of things to do. 

The beauty, the wonder of Minecraft is the flexibility baked into its philosophy and game mechanics. It is the single worldwide software building tool in millions of homes that has openness at its core – there is room for endless development and expansion. 

At Minefaire, you can see diversity of thought and creation – and even better you can meet the people who make maps, games, lessons, and artwork in Minecraft. The community is kind, creative, generous, and full of positive energy. For those who have wondered if all this gaming can turn into a business – absolutely, and there are multiple entry points at Minefaire for young people to get engaged and encouraged to convert their play into other ventures.  

Learning and the relationship to knowledge changes when computers and computing are the mediators between people and ideas. This a fundamental principle driving change in schools and Minefaire is a great example of what happens when we rethink our view of the classroom. 

Minefaire Los Angeles 2019 taught us a lot: Code original programs, customize default behaviors, animate your structures, create stunning two-dimensional art, explore art museums, immerse into mathematical concepts, repurpose Minecraft as a green screen soundstage, design your own games, and get inspired to find your own path and purpose. 

With a wide variety of material demonstrated in the Learning Lab and on the Inspiration Stage at Minefaire, you can discover new ideas all day long. And with professional game designers and production studios setting up extensive gameplay booths for all day play, you can also deeply explore highly specialized multiplayer Minecraft sessions – even in virtual reality. 

The heart of Minefaire resides in education. Yes, you will have fun; you will also learn. Your excitement for what you can do will grow. And why is this so? Because Steve Isaacs, champion of all-things-gaming, is a lifelong educator and organizer of Minefaire. He teaches game design in New Jersey public schools and has garnered great respect from educators and creators alike for his insight, initiative, and innumerable contributions to Educational Technology. 

Thanks to Steve Isaacs, an incredible array of gamers, educators, and creators flock to Minefaire every year in many cities to join this celebration and opportunity. All ages, all experience levels, all career interests, we all show up to see done what we never thought of doing, and we connect with each other to form new projects. 

There is room in this convention to showcase well-known personalities alongside people who passionately want to build an audience – this tells you that Minefaire is about creating an inclusive environment. Official Microsoft Global Minecraft Mentors are there in full force alongside novice volunteers. The same philosophy of Minecraft’s open sandbox environment applies to how Minefaire organizes and includes its vendors, educators, and creators. And this extends to all the attendees. If you play Minecraft every day or if you are just starting to think about it, Minefaire is for you. 

See you at the next one!