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10 Easy Steps to Using Minecraft in Your Class

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You know how involving (and fun!) Minecraft can be for building user communities. How can you put Minecraft to work in your classroom? Colin Gallagher, author of An Educator's Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom: Ideas, Inspiration, and Student Projects for Teachers, provides a quick 10-step program for adding Minecraft to your teaching toolbox.
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Step 1: Learn from Other Teachers

The number one question I get from teachers: "How do I get started using Minecraft, and are there any lesson plans anywhere?" You don't know what you don't know, so first you have to find out how Minecraft is being used by other educators. Thankfully, we live in an age of connectedness and sharing, so teacher stories and resources are abundant. I've set up two information sources to make such valuable teacher stories more accessible: the Google+ Community "Minecraft in Education" and the "Minechat" YouTube series. Both areas offer first-hand accounts of what teachers are already doing with Minecraft in their school systems. Another way to get started is by reading my book An Educator's Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom: Ideas, Inspiration, and Student Projects for Teachers.

Step 2: Purchase the MinecraftEdu Module

As an educator, you don't want to have to rely on technology specialists or outside help to set up a Minecraft server. You really don't need anything very complicated; you just want your students to be able to play together. At $41, MinecraftEdu provides the easiest and most effective way to set up a Minecraft server for a school. The technical specifications for a computer to run a Minecraft server are fairly low-end; I've run a server for about 20 students from an old iMac with only 1GB RAM. If you want to be able to use checkboxes to change your Minecraft world, without having to go through folders and edit system files, MinecraftEdu is perfect, because it lets you alter your Minecraft world easily and immediately. That's why MinecraftEdu is the number one tool for teachers to use when introducing Minecraft to their classrooms.

Step 3: Start a Minecraft Club

Before contemplating embedding Minecraft into your school's curriculum, scope out your school environment to see whether Minecraft would be a good fit. Starting a club at lunch or after school is the perfect opportunity. Can your school's technology infrastructure handle everything? What are your students' attitudes toward playing Minecraft? Gauge the interest levels for boys and girls in your school. Seek out students who haven't yet played Minecraft, and ask them to give it a go. During the club gatherings, focus on the creative aspects of Minecraft and try to link some of the students' projects with your school and your curriculum. Are students studying calculating areas and perimeters in math? Get them out to measure your school, and then re-create it in Minecraft. Doing projects like this will help gain traction with teachers and administration.

Step 4: Share Student Work in Minecraft with Other Teachers

Doing projects in your club that are related to your school curriculum provides an opportunity for you and your students to present those projects to all of your school's teachers. The students gain a platform for showing their involvement, enthusiasm, focus, and excitement about their ongoing projects in Minecraft. Teachers who have only heard about zombie slaying and exploding creepers will see the educational benefits of Minecraft, and they might wonder how they can utilize Minecraft within their own classrooms. As teachers, they're probably already aware of the appeal of Minecraft for their students; now they'll see how to leverage that appeal into a greater connection with certain areas of their curriculum that perhaps need a boost of energy and exhilaration. If some teachers show an immediate interest, meet with them to discuss possible areas where they can embed Minecraft. Pinpoint exact learning outcomes that could be attained more effectively or with more engagement, and come up with a broad plan for their Minecraft projects.

Step 5: Present the Advantages of Minecraft to School Administration

You won't get very far with introducing Minecraft into your curriculum if the school administration isn't on board. With your Minecraft club students, present what you've done in Minecraft. Show school administrators the initial plans you've made with other teachers to use Minecraft in a specific curriculum area. You may have to start small and take baby steps to gain traction in your school. Introducing video games may seem common sense to you, but other people might find it bizarre and even downright scary. Having on paper some sound educational reasoning behind using Minecraft can sway even the most doubting of people.

Step 6: Document Every Step of Your Minecraft Project

If you get the go-ahead for your initial Minecraft project, be ready to document each step and record the feedback from students and teachers alike as they go through the project. This tracking will be vital so that you can show the school administration how the project turned out and how the use of Minecraft can be evolved and expanded from that point. Taking screencasts of students working, getting students to comment on their work, documenting the way in which students were assessed, recording sample assessments, and interviewing students are all ways to make sure nothing is left undocumented.

Step 7: Invite Parents to Learn About Minecraft

A very powerful way to gain momentum in seeing Minecraft as an educational tool in your school is involving parents. After completing a project, invite the students' parents to your classroom, where they can be educated by their children on Minecraft. Many parents think of videogames as useful only for keeping kids occupied on long car journeys, or they worry that their children might actually be addicted to such games. These parents need to see the positive aspects of videogames. Most parents appreciate seeing how Minecraft can assist in their children's learning, and they leave with a more positive outlook on videogames in education; that change ultimately permeates through the whole school community.

Step 8: Build on Your Initial Success

After your initial project, what comes next? Naturally, other teachers will want to jump on board; teachers who didn't want to participate in the first project will certainly want to join after seeing the students so engaged. Start expanding your meetings with teachers, and broaden the curriculum focus to look at other areas. If your first Minecraft project was related to math, what part of the social studies curriculum would work well? If you started with grade 5, what about talking with older or younger grades?
The choices you make for your next steps are plentiful and may be a bit daunting. Don't go in too many directions at once, or you'll run into technical issues (how many Minecraft servers can you run in the school at once?), or you simply won't have the time to coordinate the additional projects. You might choose just to build on your first project with the same grade, making it better or more organized for the next school year. You'll learn more each time you do it.

Step 9: Share Your Success with the World

When you started this journey, you had to find out what other teachers are doing. Now is your turn to share what you've done. Other teachers need to learn your unique story about using Minecraft in education. Share videos, pictures, student stories, comments from other teachers, and your own reflections to give the most precise recording of your Minecraft story. Take your turn to guide and assist other teachers into the realm of Minecraft in education.

Step 10: Rinse and Repeat

You've come full circle from learning to sharing; now it's time to start again! As new developments occur within Minecraft and more teachers do new exciting things with Minecraft in the classroom, you can never stop learning. Keep up with new developments, learn new stories from teachers around the world, and use what you've learned to further develop your use of Minecraft in education. Good luck!

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