12 tips for Getting Started with Minecraft: Education Edition

A question I often get asked by teachers is, “What’s the easiest way to get started with Minecraft?” Obviously, the answer to that question depends a lot on the desired outcomes, the teacher’s previous experience and how much time they are willing to invest. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of simple tips and tricks that have helped me along my Minecraft journey and that may hopefully help others too!

Getting started

Minecraft Education Edition resource bank
One of the easiest ways to get started is to download a lesson from the Minecraft: Education Edition resource page. Here you will find hundreds of lessons, created by teachers for teachers, spanning every phase from primary to secondary and all searchable by subject and age. As well as a plethora of lessons, you will also find a useful starter kit. The starter kit includes training videos, sample lessons, starter worlds, and links to other Minecraft educators, to make your Minecraft journey as smooth as possible. If you can’t find a lesson suited to your needs, you could try finding a similar lesson and adapt it yourself.

Survival mode
The way I see it, there are three ways to use Minecraft in the classroom – Creative, exploration, and survival mode. One often overlooked feature but an ‘easy win’ when using Minecraft in Education is survival mode. In survival mode, as the name suggests, players have to survive by foraging for food, building rudimentary shelters and avoiding the plethora of monsters and creatures out to get them. Survival mode, I find, is great for supporting literacy such as creative or descriptive writing tasks – it’s also great for encouraging reluctant writers. One of the biggest challenges I find with students is that they find it difficult to write about things they haven’t experienced. Because Minecraft is truly immersive, students are provided with auditory and visual cues to help them with their writing. Best of all, it’s quick and easy to setup and requires very little experience of Minecraft from the teacher or the student. Simply ask students to launch Minecraft: Education Edition, create a new world in survival mode and challenge them to survive their first night. Once a new day has dawned, in Minecraft a day equates to roughly 20 minutes, stop the students and ask them to write about what they did, how they felt and describe what they saw.

Minecraft Club
Whenever I try something new, I try, where possible, to pilot it with a small group first. I find a perfect place to start is an after-school or lunch-time club. Here, both teacher and students can explore Minecraft in a relaxed environment without the pressures and challenges normally found in a classroom setting. However, a word of caution, if you decide to go down the club route, make sure you have a focus (build a scale replica of your school or recreate a local landmark) otherwise you may find your club slowly spiral into disarray!

Minecraft Digital Leaders
The purists would insist that for students to have an authentic Minecraft experience, they must build their own worlds. There is much to be said for students creating their own worlds, not only can it help foster 21st century learning skills such as problem solving and collaborative skills, but it can also reveal our students’ creative side. I also find that, when asked to create their own worlds, students want their creations to be as accurate as possible and, therefore as a result, will put considerably more effort into their research. However, as a teacher, I can understand that it can be difficult to justify spending several weeks using Minecraft to meet a set of learning objectives when the same objectives can be achieved through other means in half the time. Nor do I advocate that teachers spend precious hours creating worlds for their students. This is where Digital Leaders can help!

For those new to the concept, Digital Leaders (also known as Student TechSperts) are students who are adept at using technology and are willing to share their knowledge and skills with others. Through working with staff, peers and school leaders, Digital Leaders are able to help shape how technology is used in and outside of the classroom.

I’ve been running digital leader programs for several years now, however, I was recently asked by a group of my Digital Leaders to help launch a Minecraft after-school club. Not long after launching the club, the Digital Leaders were approached by a member of staff from the History department interested in using Minecraft in his lessons. After a brief consultation, the Digital Leaders offered to create a world for him based on Medieval Britain. They also offered to provide support during his lesson.

To begin with, the teacher supplied resources such as web links, books and images depicting Medieval life to help the student Digital Leaders with their build. Every few weeks the teacher would return to check on the progress of the build and suggest improvements – in essence, the teacher became the client.

As you can imagine, the lesson was a huge success, so much so that the students have started to receive more requests for other worlds from teachers from other departments including in Maths and English.

Ask a Mentor
Minecraft Global Mentors are a team of passionate educators who evangelize the use of Minecraft in education and who are dedicated to supporting teachers on their journey with Minecraft in the classroom. Minecraft mentors are approachable via a number of platforms such as the Education Edition website, Twitter, Facebook, as well as other popular channels. Mentors are able to support and/or advise teachers on all things Minecraft including limited technical support, world builds, and guidance on how to get started. Visit this link to find out more.

Top tips

Don’t be afraid to let your students teach you! – One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my teaching career was assuming that I must be the fount of all knowledge, especially when it came to teaching my subject. The truth of the matter is that it’s impossible to know everything. In fact, there will be times when your students know more than you, especially when it comes to Minecraft! Coming to terms with this fact is an important step in your professional development as a teacher. Be open to letting your students teach you how to use Minecraft and don’t be afraid to ask them for help!

Allow time for reflection – As with any lesson, it’s important to give the students time to reflect on what went well and what they could do better next time.

Don’t go mad! – You don’t need to incorporate Minecraft into every lesson, nor do you want to devalue or trivialize the impact by using it all the time. Start small and build up your use of Minecraft as you and your students grow more confident.

Set clear expectations – The concept of games based learning may be as new to your students as it is to you! Make sure that you share your expectations with the students and ensure that senior leaders, parents and students understand the reasons behind your use of Minecraft in the classroom.

Start with Tutorial world – It’s easy to assume that, because your students may already play Minecraft at home, they will pick up Minecraft: Education Edition like a duck to water. However, in my experience, the majority of students will have only ever had experience of using the console or pocket edition of Minecraft and therefore will not necessarily know how to use the Education Edition’s PC controls. This is why I always recommend walking students through the tutorial world first, so they can become comfortable with the controls and game mechanics. If you’re new to Minecraft, I would also recommend exploring the tutorial world yourself. Not only will this give you an understanding of how the game works, but it will also inevitably help when designing learning experiences around Minecraft as you will have a better understanding of what is possible within the game.

Set some ground rules – The idea of playing games in lesson can make your students a little excitable, therefore I find that it’s a good idea to set some ground rules. I suggest asking the students to come up with a set of rules for using Minecraft as well as possible consequences for breaking these rules (a kind of Minecraft constitution). Not only does this give students a voice and ownership of their own learning but it also teaches them about decision making and the consequences of their own actions. Alternatively, if you feel uncomfortable about letting the students create their own rules, start with a list of what you consider fundamental rules, and through discussion, agree on a set of rules with your class expressed in their own language. By following these rules, your students will have a fun and rewarding Minecraft experience.

Let go – If you want to create an authentic Minecraft learning experience, you must let the students work things out themselves – allow them to make mistakes and let them know it’s OK to fail as long as they learn from these mistakes (FAIL: First Attempt In Learning). Some strategies I’ve had success with are C3B4ME i.e. students ask 3 other people for help before asking the teacher and SNOT (Self Neighbor Other Teacher).

Hopefully, by following some or all of these recommendations, you’ll soon be well on the way to becoming a Minecraft expert!

Simon Johnson (@clcsimon) is a Minecraft Global Mentor / Certified Educator from West Midlands, England. He is also a Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator, MIE Trainer and Computing At School Master Teacher.