Thursday, 8 December 2011

New Take, Old Experiment.

Today I used MinecraftEdu to perform an experiment that I have used several times in previous years, but in a different way. Usually I use rulers in a classroom and get the students to measure their reaction time under different circumstances. Today we did it in Minecraft.

The experiment itself was fine, some disruptive students caused me some trouble during the experiment but tactical ignoring and a 'grumpy face' kept most in line.

Again the edu mod performed perfectly, allowed me to teleport students to where I wanted them to be, freeze them so that I could get their attention in real life, flipping creative mode on and off on the fly and the new long build feature was also super useful. To create this map I even had a couple of students help, which coupled with the even newer placeamount command meant that this map was created in record time, just under 2 hours.

Here is the edited footage from the lesson itself.

Now for the reflection.

  • Students that would not normally concentrate in a classroom were asking other students to be quiet and listen.
  • The experiment got done.
  • I felt that I had more 'control' over the students than I have had in the past when using rulers in the classroom. (Odd but true, maybe because the students couldn't move around the room)
  • All students were involved.
  • No rulers were harmed today. (Some have been in the past)
  • I now have a visual representation of their results that I can use to generate discussion.


  • Many students just wanted 'free time' in Minecraft and kept badgering me about it.
  • I feel it might be harder to 'write up' the prac.
  • Disruptive students were distracting others (would have happened in a class anyway so probably not relevant)

So overall how do I feel? To be honest I am not sure, I plan on discussing the results with the class in our next lesson, so in that sense it has changed my teaching procedure as normally I would have made the students write up the experiment and no discussion would have happened.

Would I do it this way again? Probably, but as I did this time, I will most likely do an introductory 'ruler drop' in the classroom the lesson before.

Honestly I am not sure that this was a roaring success, so I would like to hear your thoughts and ideas on the footage I have uploaded, as it might clarify my own thoughts.


  1. Heya Elfie - I'm loving these videos and your honest reflection on your use of MC in the classroom. While I'm sure many of your students got a lot out of the experiment in minecraft, I see you had the usual classroom management issues and kids asking for 'free time' in the game. For me as an educator using games in the classroom, that is the spot of the greatest insight.

    The key thing about minecraft (and video games in general) is the agency players have when playing. They're in control, they're exploring, they're experimenting, they're breaking stuff to see what happens or building stuff to see what happens. They are in control of their actions. When that agency is taken away from a student, in game or out of game, there will be resistance from students. The game ceases to be a game (the thing that engaged them) and becomes yet another element of "school", the other game we teach kids to play. No game, even one as fantastic as minecraft, can keep people engaged if their agency is taken away.

    The thing about video games and learning is that we can't just cram the curriculum into a game and expect it to A. work, B. engage learners C. remain authentic. Telling people in game “go here”, “stand there”, “press that” might work for some students but for others it'll kill the game fast (or at least kill any excitement about playing it in school.)

    Kids (and adults) are attracted video games because it provides them spaces for authentic, situational learning from teachers they choose to learn from. School by its very nature often takes that away. Minecraft is an amazing place for students to learn from each other and from their own mistakes.

    My advice, if you'll take it, is to step back and let the kids have the free time they're asking for. I'm sure you do that already, but what I mean is let them run around, explore, destroy, build, kill pigs and all the other fun stuff as the lesson, not a reward or warm up. Play is the lesson. That is where learning happens.

    After all, it's what you and I did when we first jumped into Minecraft (I'm assuming you did, I know I did.) It's how we played it and fell in love with it. Why should we expect our kids to learn the game differently? If you have already done that, fantastic! Keep doing it and see what learning emerges. I've had kids suddenly become interested in volcanoes and dive into researching them because of some time playing (and dying) with lava in game.

    If you're tied to a tight curriculum, perhaps instead of having the experiment ready to go in world, teach them the concepts out of game and challenge them to either rebuild or display the concept in game. The planning, critical thinking, inquiry, research and inevitable failure will be where the real learning happens. Much of that happens out of the game with my students. They research online, they write notes in their journals, draw diagrams, write plans. That's the stuff I use when report card time comes around. When they're in game, they're focused and have a plan and engaged because it's their plan that they developed. It's their theory they're testing out. Not something that's come from me, the teacher.

    Will they achieve success and understand the scientific concept? Maybe not. Will they learn about the scientific process, what it feels like to be a “real” scientist testing theories and failing? Maybe. Will they be engaged? Probably. Will the learning be authentic? Most likely. Will you have classroom management issues? Of course. There's always classroom management. That's half the fun of teaching. :)

    I hope you take this feedback in the spirit it's being offered. Your use of Minecraft with kids is amazing to watch and I learn something every time I visit.

    Keep them coming.

    Liam O'Donnell

  2. @Liam Thanks for taking the time to write such a lengthy response, it has really helped clarify my own thoughts.

    I was conflicted about how the lesson went and I thought it was because the experiment was a success, but I felt that I missed something, I thought it was just that I had missed the opportunity to generate a real discussion using the visual representation, but after reading your response I realise that perhaps the opportunity I missed was 'real' learning.

    Did they get the concept? Not yet. Will they get it? Yes they will after a discussion next lesson (I hope), but a much more powerful learning could have occurred if I had asked them to generate an experiment rather than forcing my idea for an experiment upon them.

    I will reflect more on this and try to bring about this shift in my own thinking when planning more lessons and creating lessons in Minecraft. This is my first foray into the GBL scene so I still have a lot to learn and really appreciate all points of view.


  3. I think the lesson is really cool. I like your idea of doing the ruler demo first, maybe even have the kids do the experiment both ways. A couple of more general questions:
    1. What subject are you teaching?
    2. Do you use Minecraft for everything? I can imagine students becoming so excited to use Mc that any other type of lesson becomes boring for them?

  4. Thanks Bob, I think that doing the demo in real life first is going to make it easier to discuss afterwards.

    This particular class is a year 7 science group of around 16 12-14 year olds, I have also used it with a year 9 group of around the same number of 14-16 year olds. The year 7s are learning about the human body, the year 9s were also learning about the human body, but I was also trying to get them to work as a group. I have used the 3d build map with both classes and it works really well too.

    I don't use mc for every lesson, although because I am trialling so much it feels like I am sometimes, I don't think that would be good teaching if I did. Yes the students as at the start of every lesson, and usually before if they see me "are we using mc today?" so they definitely enjoy it, but I do hope that my other lessons wont become boring, but that mc is another tool I can call upon when the 'time is right'.