by Rob Keith
It took a while to wrap our heads around how to use Minecraft with elementary aged children. We were focused on integrating Minecraft into our school’s existing curricula. Although it was easy to imagine the students having fun using the program, the final product for most integrated projects felt like an add-on versus an essential part of the learning outcome. Instead of forcing the square-pegged Minecraft into an existing round-holed project, we gave our 2nd-4th grade students the opportunity to work cooperatively in open-ended creative tasks. Groups of 15 to 21 students built together in the same environment.
To our surprise, we discovered that student behavior in a Minecraft environment was similar to behavior that exists in the social media world. When collaborating harmoniously, groups were able to construct works of wonder. When students chose to go off task, they harassed, annoyed, trolled, flamed and griefed one another. These behavioral explorations, both ideal and contrary, are similar to experiments that students often make when they first have access email, texting devices and social media applications. While it is difficult to explain to an 8 year-old how Snapchat and Instagram will be used and what problems might arise when they turn 13 in five years, these experiences can be explored immediately in Minecraft. Alas, teachers have an opportunity to make concepts that are abstract to elementary school kids, like ethical communication in social media, concrete and authentic.