Collaboration using Minecraft

After reading the information on Thing 15 and learning about collaborative learning, the immediate thought to spring to my mind was a recent project my Y9 Latin class completed using Minecraft. I’ve never seen such effective and productive group work from students, and I was able to take a step back and just enjoy watching it happen!

I would like to preface this post by saying that I know very little about Minecraft. I’ve downloaded the app and tried to have a play, but I don’t quite “get” it. When I showed my software engineer brother what the boys had done he got very excited, so I need to line up a lesson with him! I saw it in action briefly last year when my French class built towns to describe and navigate in, but I think they focussed far more on the Minecraft than the French.

We had been learning about the baths at Pompeii and I wanted a way for the boys to gain a deeper understanding of how the baths worked, technically and socially. When I suggested they build the Forum Baths using Minecraft and asked if any of them used it, I had one boy (largely silent up until this lesson!) practically jump out of his seat to show me how it might be done. The rest of the class was very enthusiastic and so we dedicated a couple of lessons to recreating Pompeii’s Forum Baths.

This was the most autonomous I’ve seen my Y9 class and it really was fun to wander round, watching and listening and asking them what they were doing. I don’t think I provided enough guidance (some were drifting a bit far from the brief and inventing rather than recreating), but a bit of gentle prodding helped to keep them on track. All by themselves, the boys got themselves into groups, helped those who didn’t understand Minecraft to get started, and somehow managed to create this very complex building together. They were able to problem-solve by themselves and I didn’t need to intervene much at all.

At the end of these lessons they presented their group’s creation to the rest of the class, and graded each other on categories like attention to detail, historical accuracy and creativity. It was a really fun process and they were able to justify all of the decisions they made. It was also nice to see the quieter members of the class taking a starring role and lead the less experienced members of their group!

Here are a few examples of what they did. This is Team Technical Difficulties:

And here is Team JOSO’s creation:

It will be interesting to see how this transfers to their exam in a few weeks’ time, where they will need to explain about how the baths went and what a typical visit there might involve. The boys commented that this project really made them think about what the baths might have looked like and worked like, and that it made the concepts more memorable to them.

From the feedback they gave me, there was one overwhelming negative – which, unfortunately, is the opposite of collaboration! As I found out, each “world” can have up to five players working on it at a time, all connected to the same wifi. The downside to this is that others can get in if the group has less than five players and do what they want. In our case, that involved blowing things up. I like to think that these intruders were off-task students in nearby classrooms rather than destructive influences in my own one, but it was certainly terrible to see students lose hours worth of hard work in a few minutes to some nasty individual!

Despite this, I think the positives outweigh this one negative aspect and I’m keen to learn more about Minecraft so that I can do more of these sorts of projects. Are there any experts out there with any suggestions for me?

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