Every Wednesday during Term 2, Year 6 have been busy building as part of their STEM learning. This time, though, there are no cardboard off-cuts or hot glue guns and masking tape. Year 6 are creating a virtual playground for the rest of the Junior School to play in, using Minecraft for Education. Teams have been created to build six lands within a virtual playground that will offer students the opportunity to learn, play and engage with activities that relate to each of the different lands (Adventure, Art, Story, Food, Future and Medieval Land). Within each land, students will build and interact with activities with the aim of collecting house points. Students will register their participation using tools within Minecraft and then submit to a dedicated house chest, where their participation will be tallied. As the content creators of this playground, Year 6 have taken complete ownership of the project and are eager to release their creation to the rest of the Junior School ready for Term 3.
As their class teacher, it has been an incredible experience to orchestrate and observe the learning that is taking place during our sessions together. At first glance, it would be easy to assume that the students are simply playing, with many students already very comfortable within the platform, as gamers by choice. However, if you take some time to genuinely observe, you quickly notice that there are some very special moments that occur when you let students take control of their learning. Over the course of this unit of work I have observed the following skills and dispositions utilised by Year 6:
Persistence – Every student takes time to build and iterate their designs. At times, to be expected, errors are made, blocks are destroyed, or placed in incorrect spots. Sometimes, entire areas of the land are accidently destroyed. Each and every time, students take control of the situation and fix it – no tears, no anger, no accusations and blaming – they just fix it because it needs to be worked out.
Collaboration – Each group comes together at the start of each session to discuss their goals. They then assign roles to each other to play in their land, building side-by-side or jumping from their assigned build to come and help get a more laborious job done more quickly or to share technical prowess. Decisions are made both strategically and on the fly as each group processes the development of their land. It is seamless collaboration, where each person knows their role and understands how they are contributing to the overall success of their assigned lands.
Creativity – is being demonstrated in boundless amounts. As their teacher, I would be making a huge mistake if I restricted them to my ideas and ‘must haves’ in their lands. When you leave students with an open-ended brief and let them fill in the parts, it is incredible to observe what they come up with. In Minecraft there are no budget constraints or work, health and safety considerations when building!
Resilience – As mentioned, some big mistakes have been made. I am astounded at the level of resilience displayed by those who have made them and, of equal importance, those whom the mistake has impacted. Everyone simply gets over it and does what is needed to fix it.
Communication – Groups constantly chat with each other. Feedback and check-ins with team mates and other teams’ builds is a regular part of a session. The feeling is relaxed yet productive. Sure, at times, they talk to each other about day-to-day issues, but all the while they are actively progressing their lands in readiness for Junior School to come in and play. We have also had one student who has remained at home during this term. No problem, he simply joins the class via Zoom for the start of the lesson and then moves over to FaceTime and uses the chat feature within Minecraft, where his team continue with building and collaboration as if he is right next to them.
Problem-Solving and Ingenuity – Some of the accomplished Minecrafters are bringing their flair to the playground, adding secret doors and buttons that players will interact with. This is not an easy task. It requires skill to lay down the red stone and test to see if the connections all work. Often it means re-mining areas to re-build over the top. For those who are new to Minecraft, they are solving problems related to better understanding the workings of the program at a simpler level. Students are not sitting around defeated and disengaged. They are challenging themselves regularly.
Digital citizenship – We have talked about digital citizenship and the concept of your actions online being representative of you as a person. As you watch the students interact with each other via their Minecraft avatars, you notice that they engage similarly to how they would in a real playground. They are excited to be there. They are respectful and complimentary of others. There is a clear sense of them being in this together. They are contributing to a common goal.
I am very proud to know that Year 6 are the custodians of this Minecraft world and are behaving in an exemplary fashion in order to deliver on their deliverables. If this was your team working for you in the corporate world, you would not be letting them go anytime soon.