Minecraft is a videogame that has taken the world by storm with its mix of addictive non-linear gameplay and charming, back-to-basics graphics.
It has become a pop-culture phenomenon, spawning a popular range of toys and collectibles. More than 60 million copies have been sold and the company that created it, Mojang, was bought by Microsoft for $2.5bn in November. There has even been talk of a Minecraft movie.
The game has won many fans for its focus on the creativity and imagination of the player. But it is not just a recreational pastime. One teacher is using Minecraft in the classroom to help pupils develop their skills in technology.
Ray Chambers is head of IT and computing at Uppingham Community College. He introduced Minecraft to as a way of teaching some of the less stimulating parts of the computing curriculum after a suggestion by one of his pupils.
“I had been struggling to teach some of the difficult content on the computing curriculum,” said Ray. “I had a very dry approach to teaching logic gates which was not stimulating. It was during one lesson that a pupil said ‘you mean like Minecraft?’.
“It was this that made me start researching how I could use it in the classroom. Many of the students were already using it and it was very gender neutral.”
A logic gate is a key building block of a digital circuit. Ray used a particular colour of the “stone” that players collect in Minecraft to demonstrate how logic gates worked through things they were already building, like traps and doors. He soon realised the game could be used in a range of classroom settings.
He recently gave a talk at the British Educational Training and Technology Show, known as Bett, where he explained how Minecraft could be used in education.
“After talking to people about Minecraft’s educational use in the computing curriculum, I explained about how useful it can be for other parts of the curriculum,” said Ray. “I shared a number of different ways that Minecraft can be used for collaborative projects.
“In history you can use it to build trenches, or you can set up war scenes and get the students to reenact what the conditions might have been like.
“We recently used it in a careers lesson to get the students thinking about the requirements for entering their favourite university. Our Year 9 students are currently looking at options and we want to help them think about the GCSEs they will be taking.”
Ray allows his pupils to be as creative as they can be, although he still keeps control of his lessons with a “freeze” button that stops everyone’s games.
He posts regular updates on his blog, raychambers.wordpress.com, which give advice for other teachers on how to use Minecraft in the classroom. Ray is part of Microsoft’s Expert Educator program, which recognises teachers who use technology in innovative ways in the classroom.
Speaking to Microsoft.com earlier this year, Ray said it was important to understand what pupils got out of Minecraft.
“It’s a sandbox game, which makes it fun for students - it’s an empty space they can do what they want with and own,” he said. “You can build on empty land, flatten it, or dig it up and discover hidden treasures to use.
“There are no specific goals or restrictions - and that’s what makes it so good.”