UKEdMag: Yes! Video games are educational by @ideas_factory

This article was first published in the January 2017 Edition of UKEdMagazine

In December last year (2016) a well know teacher, author and adviser to the Department for Education spoke out against what he sees as the ‘gimmicky’ use of Minecraft in classrooms.

He said in The Times, “I am not a fan of Minecraft in lessons. This smacks to me of another gimmick which will get in the way of children actually learning.”

He continued, “..removing these gimmicky aspects of education is one of the biggest tasks facing us as teachers. We need to drain the swamp of gimmicks.”

“I would say to teachers: ‘Do you need to use this game or is there something that is cheaper and better – like books?’” He concluded, “By offering a game and a gimmicky way of learning a subject, you run a real risk of children focusing on the wrong thing.”

At a national educational conference the same teacher, reduced education technology to “all kids do on the internet is go on Facebook”.

An article from the Atlantic website called ‘The Myth of the Minecraft Curriculum’ bit.ly/uked17jan23 has a similar view.


This article originally appeared in the January 2017 Edition of UKEdMagazine

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A number of commentators are now vocally calling this very popular sandbox PC, Console and iOS game Minecraft ‘not intrinsically educational.’

Obviously, if you or your kids don’t play Minecraft (which the writer of the article doesn’t) and if your only experience of teenagers is them talking incessantly about Facebook (it is a social network after all!) then your knowledge is going to be based on very little experience.

Many people voiced support for Minecraft in education, including Ian Livingstone, co-founder of Games Workshop and the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.

At the time, I wrote these tweets:

“How’s about co-operatively building in Minecraft online with 8 friends, chatting with 3, while face timing on iPad with another.”

“At the same time as watching ‘how to’ instructional Minecraft YouTube videos & screencasting themselves.”

Followed swiftly with-

“…..That’s my nephew playing Minecraft-don’t think he does it for his Maths homework, but is definitely learning something.”

Let’s go into this in detail. After school, my nephew and his friends build gigantic structures co-operatively together. Whilst verbally instructing and helping each other on XBox Live and FaceTiming on their iPads. They search the internet for tips and watch ‘how-to’ videos (created and shared by other Minecraftians) in their own time, they then teach each other how to ‘craft’ certain materials, with combinations of these materials create new items and where the locations in the game are to find them.

For me this type of engagement is the zenith of learning, an informal fellowship striving to achieve a common goal, through co-operation, social learning and research.

At the time of writing Minecraft has sold a total of 106,859,714 copies across PC, console, and mobile platforms to date, averaging about 53,000 sales per day since the start of 2016. Hardly a gimmick! So it doesn’t take the greatest leap of imagination to think that many more kids would be playing Minecraft in the same way my nephew and his friends do.

This is just one game. All the cool kids have moved on to newer challenges like Garry’s Mod, Roblox Scrap Mechanic and Terraria.
This is nothing new. In 2011 I wrote an article about how my brother wrote a Nintendo Wii game
(bit.ly/uked17jan24) with help from global collaborators and social learning.

So can any video game be educational. My answer is YES! It just depends how you use it in the classroom!

Take a look at Lee Parkinson @ict_mrp and how he used Angry Birds in his school (bit.ly/uked17jan25) or David Andrews @dmandrews15 with his excellent work teaching writing genres with the Bike Baron game (bit.ly/uked17jan26).

Best of all is the Consolarium (bit.ly/uked17jan27) and the inspiring work of Derek Robertson @derekrobertson and others, who have researched the very positive effects of using video games in the classroom.

Not forgetting there’s now even an Edu version of Minecraft (education.minecraft.net) where you can customise the settings, post challenges and reward goals.

Finally, I’m reminded of my own childhood, in the summer holidays in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, spending hours in the video arcades on Whitby Seafront.

My brother and I had very little money to spend but we spent hours watching others playing ‘Dragons Lair’.

Learning from their mistakes, watching the expert players and memorising their successes. Replicating their moves and maximising the little money we had to play ‘Dragons Lair’ for longer.

You don’t need me to point out the obvious intrinsic educational value in that.

Extra Reading:

I thought I’d signpost a few educators who have used Minecraft in creative, educational ways-just in case you’re still not convinced.

  • Bryn Goodman @bryngoodman wrote about teaching his pupils about the Pyramids and more with Minecraft bit.ly/uked17jan28
  • An excellent PDF Teaching Scientific concepts using Minecraft (bit.ly/uked17jan29)
  • Joel Levin’s @theminecraftteacher amazing website (minecraftteacher.tumblr.com) is full of ways he has used Minecraft in class.
  • Lee Parkinson @ict_mrp has written about how he used MineCraft to teach about area and perimeter (bit.ly/uked17jan30)
  • André Chercka @vexmand, Special Education teacher has begun documenting his use of Minecraft at gamebased.tumblr.com to teach English and maths to students with learning disabilities.
  • An Educator’s Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom: Ideas, Inspiration, and Student Projects for Teachers (bit.ly/uked17jan31) with contribution by the Minecraft genius Adam Clarke @wizardkeen who created MineCraft at the TATE art gallery. See bit.ly/uked17jan32.
  • Finally they built the Great fire of London in Minecraft too! bit.ly/uked17jan33

I think we should finish with this quote-

“I have been teaching for 9 years, and I have never before seen kids so engaged with learning as when they are playing Minecraft. It has been a transformative experience for me as a teacher and has cemented my belief in the power of Games Based Learning. I have made it my mission to give as many other teachers and students the chance to have a similar experience.”

-Joel Levin, MinecraftEdu


Julian S Wood @ideas_factory is a Primary Deputy Head Teacher and a Master Computer Teacher in Sheffield. Read his blog at ideasfactory.me.

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