Lessons Learned from a Minecraft Course

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Most people have probably heard of the pixilated sandbox game Minecraft by now. This game really took off worldwide, especially with the younger generation. A large group of youth can identify with this game and consider it to be a pastime, or even a hobby. This past fall we ran a Minecraft course at DHF for our Members, and I’m excited to share a bit more with you about the course.

When I was first asked to create this course, I needed to decide what to focus on. The whole concept of Minecraft is open ended, and going in with the idea of a ‘Minecraft Curriculum’ can be just as open ended. You can talk about building, being creative, redstone/electronics, art, or even math. These were all topics with plenty of lessons available online. I ended up settling on teamwork and communication as my focus. The core concept of our course, “Building Community with Minecraft,” is for youth to expand their teamwork and effective communication skills.

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Throughout the course, youth worked through all sorts of challenges that were meant to push the limits of their abilities. One such challenge required all of the youth to regroup and find a hidden temple after being randomly scattered across a portion of the map. The catch was that they could only use in-game chat to communicate – it ended up being a pretty quiet day! Another challenge split youth into teams to effectively run mazes. Each team could only have one member in the maze at a time and if they didn’t make it through they went back to the beginning and the next person had to try, the only way they could share information about the maze was by mapping their path through to show the next person. The course culminated in the final project which required all 17 youth to come together and build a colony using the requirements set forth by myself and other facilitators. It was truly amazing to see what happened, as after I introduced the project I had no hand in what was going on beyond clarification and ensuring they didn’t get too far off topic. All in all I had a great experience both writing this curriculum and implementing it.

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This course was created to address the need of building teamwork and communication skills among the youth in our program. I’d say most people have had a run in with a group project that turned out to be a nightmare. Maybe one person wanted to do all of the work and wasn’t comfortable with sharing it with anyone else, or the person who refuses to do any work, or the person who does work but doesn’t communicate at all what they have done well enough to the rest of the group. These are just a few examples of group work behavior that can really ruin a project, and certainly experiences our youth have all had. This course was designed to let youth explore these things in an environment where they would feel comfortable and familiar and allow them to reflect on it and consider methods to improve their skills/methods.

The whole experience of putting together and running this curriculum was quite the learning experience. Our facilitators gained a deeper understanding of the thought processes of our youth which was evident in how they tried to tackle challenges in a virtual world that many of them felt more confident in. They knew all the rules and limitations of what they could do because they were so familiar with the tool they were using. Not all of them had played Minecraft before, but it was not long before our beginners knew more than enough to complete the tasks. As many before me have learned, nothing seems to go to plan. Activities sometimes ran short, or ran over, or it rains on the first day when you had planned what you think is a highly-engaging outdoor activity to lead off the whole course. I had all sorts of sessions either go worse or better than I expected.

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If you plan on doing something like this with your youth, whether it be using Minecraft or some other game, I do have some suggestions.

  • Make sure the game serves the lesson, not the other way around.
    • It’s just a bad idea to try and make a game something that it’s not.
  • Make sure your youth are at least familiar with the game.
    • This is not too much of a problem for Minecraft due to its popularity, but I feel that the student should have at least an understanding of the game even before you start the lesson, in the same way you would tell someone what a book was about before you ask them to study from it.
  • Keep it engaging.
    • The primary motivation for using a game to teach communication and teamwork skills is to make learning fun. Learning through play can be extremely valuable and effective, if done well. If youth feel like they are just doing work, using a game as a vehicle loses it’s effectiveness.

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Overall, I am pleased with the way the course turned out and I’m even more happy that the youth had a good time doing it. I feel the use of a game really helped them engage and the introduction of communication restrictions really helped push them to think more into how they try to interact with the rest of their group. I would like to try and include more of these onto some of the other challenges that didn’t have them. I also plan to look at adding in more formal discussions on communication and teamwork strategies to hopefully better guide the youth on the thought processes during and after the challenges.

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