Changing the Classroom Landscape Block by Block

Using Minecraft in my classroom has been a game changer both figuratively and literally. After using this dynamic tool in my classes for a few years now, it has evolved and provided a wider range of possibilities and opportunities. Reflecting on the use of Minecraft in the classroom, it has helped me redefine lessons based on the Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition (SAMR) model, met and exceeded 21st Century skills, offer STEM experiences, and embrace ISTE teacher and student standards. My journey down this path started many moons ago with a love of Lego. Building and creating with Lego was always a good time and I realize now how much it helped be recognize patterns, understand structures, and more. The ability to play is one of the fundamental ways people learn and I can attest to this personally. With my own children, we played with Lego but now there was a new 'kid on the block': Minecraft. When my own kids introduced me to the world of Minecraft, I was impressed they were not playing something that kept score or had a quest to follow, instead they were in a 'digital sandbox' where they crafted their own journey. After seeing this, I thought "I gotta get me some of this into my classroom!" Now I wasn't as adept as them as playing (and I'm still not even close) but even the way they explained the game and took pride in showing me a thing or ten was also inspiring.

My Minecraft journey into the classroom wasn't a full blown, "Okay! Everything we do in class will now be in Minecraft and you will be expected to build Rome in a day." (Note, with some student's skills this might be possible in Minecraft.) I started by giving students options to show their learning using Minecraft as a tool in a Grade 9 Social Studies class I was teaching by having students submit reconstructions of Mayan pyramids and a scale version of the Coliseum. Later in a Grade 9 Math classroom, I had students show understanding of surface area using Minecraft Pocket Edition. It was great to use a tool like Minecraft to help students understand a concept like this and actually create a 3D object that they could walk around and explore to understand the topic rather than memorizing a formula. I have found many more uses for Minecraft to ignite creativity, curiosity, and collaboration in my Math classes.

I currently teach a Work Place math class to 16-17-year-old students. Unfortunately, many who take this class are labeled 'not good' at math and frequently enough they believe it. When I have incorporated Minecraft to complete the projects, I quickly find out not only are they good at math, but what problems that they can solve is impressive. These students build amusement parks with rollercoasters to show understanding of slope, water parks to show understanding of surface area and volume, park features to show understanding of scale, and fencing to show understand of trigonometry concepts. The engagement and excitement levels are intense and students that used to be the first to leave are now begging to stay a little longer. I constantly have requests from students to 'come into their world' and check out what they are working on. Students who do not consider themselves 'gamers' or 'crafters' quickly find the tools easy to pick up and there are many mentors willing and eager to help along the way. I have also used Minecraft as an option in Genius Hour / Maker Projects. A student of mine did a prairie portrait for a Microsoft Canada/Minecraft Canada 150 contest and won the grand prize of a class set of laptops. Minecraft is now a staple in our Technology Club.

By constructing a variety of workshops, attending edCamps, offering an online session on #MADPD, and spreading the good news at Microsoft's amazing international E2 conference, I have shared my Minecraft journey locally, nationally, and internationally. Earlier this year I applied and was selected to be part of the amazing network of Global Minecraft Mentors led by a caring and supportive team at Minecraft: Education Edition. The sense of community and passion I have felt from the community is truly inspiring. No matter where you may be on your Minecraft journey, there are many resources (human, worlds, how tos, lessons) out there to get you started or take you to the next level. I am excited to continue my journey and look forward to where it takes me next with the Code Builder, mixed reality, global projects, and more. My advice to anyone is to take one good idea, turn it over to your students, and have the courage to go learn with them - you will be glad you did. ___ Dean Vendramin (@vendi55) has been teaching High School in Regina, Saskatchewan for 20 years. He has taught a variety of classes and is currently the Math/Science Education Leader at Archbishop M.C. O'Neill Catholic High School. Dean maintains a Minecraft resources page with lessons, articles, videos, and more for educators to explore.