Creative Learning and Leadership | Minecraft: Education Edition at India’s Sat Paul Mittal School

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Sat Paul Mittal School is a Microsoft Showcase School in Ludhiana in Punjab, India. When a chance mention of Minecraft on a Skype call piqued their students’ interest, they took a chance on game-based learning. Head of IT Monica Joshi tells the story of how, in just two short years, Minecraft: Education Edition became a mainstay for creative, cross-curricular learning.

At Sat Paul Mittal School, we wanted an environment that was conducive to engaging our students constructively while also paying considerable attention to students with special needs, so we tried game-based learning using Minecraft to attract and sustain their attention. Connecting students with their environment is the foremost responsibility of an educator, and integrating game-based learning into our curriculum served the need of the hour. Children love to play games, so why not introduce play into their lessons? Games present unique opportunities to make the learning process effective and meaningful in students’ present milieu.

Minecraft was introduced at Sat Paul Mittal School by accident. In April of 2018, the school had organized a Skype session, and during the discussion, the word “Minecraft” captured the attention of the students. As the head of IT, I wanted to leverage the students’ interests to empower them. Our very first lesson was on the Egyptian civilization. It was presented as a challenge where students were given the freedom to explore independently with only the help of in-game non-player characters.

The Egypt lesson was a great introduction because it touched upon many aspects of the civilization, including the social ladder, culture, and more. Students even created some bridges to cross the river Nile using Minecraft’s electrically conductive material, Redstone. In one instance, there was a missing Redstone circuit that required the students to build cross-disciplinary linkages. You can see the amazing outcomes from the lesson in this student creation!

The lesson was a great success! Both the teacher and students were happy with the outcomes, and the lesson was completed within two days. Most importantly, the teacher observed that students were more engaged with self-paced learning since they could re-visit concepts they didn’t understand and perform their evaluations in a non-threatening environment. The approach was to combine elements of fun and work to create a holistic experience of teaching and learning for both the facilitator and the student.

It was very important to involve both sets of stakeholders at Sat Paul Mittal: students and teachers. We announced a creative story-writing competition that would involve both educators and learners. The story would be written by the teacher and created in Minecraft by the students. Our learners trained our teachers to use Minecraft collaboratively in the classroom after an introductory session provided by a Microsoft Training Provider. The students seamlessly adopted Minecraft into their respective lessons without feeling the pressure and stress of integrating it under any compulsion.

There was a form assembly organized in our school based on the theme of mythology. We used Minecraft to showcase the story of Ramayana with a build prepared by two students. It provided a powerful demonstration to the school that Minecraft could be used to collaborate and create meaningful learning beyond just playing games.

In 2019, the school organized the Satyan Innovation Fest, bringing the two wings of the bird of imagination together: The Start-up Edge and The Satyan Gamification Challenge. The festival took place over three exhaustive days of learning experiences focused on innovation and empowerment. It encouraged innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets among the young people and delved deep into gamification—the cutting edge of learning technology in an ever-changing education system. The Gamification Challenge was based on the motto created by our students: “Be an innovator, not an imitator.”

The festival was broken into three segments taking place over three days. The first day featured a workshop on AI and involved setting up kiosks in the Learning Marketplace. Day two involved a pitching round where students made presentations about their Minecraft projects based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. On the third and final day, students displayed their projects in the Learning Marketplace and showcased their Minecraft worlds live.

The Satyan Innovation Fest helped students work through their thought process to address problems they saw around their neighborhood and create solutions. It’s worth appreciating that out of the 22 schools that participated from across India, 16 were new to Minecraft: Education Edition. The festival provided the impetus for students to use Minecraft to collaborate and learn meaningful lessons.

The impact of Minecraft can be measured across many subjects. As part of the research for her Master’s thesis, our principal, Ms. Bhupinder Gogia, conducted a case study with one of the classes, including a sample of 30 students from the third standard and 30 students from the fourth standard. She observed a significant difference in achievement in mathematics between the groups taught through Minecraft vs. traditional teaching. First, the students were tested after the teacher taught the lesson in the traditional manner using a worksheet. Then, students who didn’t perform well were asked to play the game in the form of a tutorial. After playing, the children were evaluated on a specific topic: Area and Volume in Minecraft.

The teacher had created different blocks in the shapes of a square, a rectangle, a triangle, and a cuboid. She wrote questions for students in Minecraft’s Book and Quill tool. Students read the questions and answered on boards placed by the teacher. Not only did the gaming platform clear up the concept for the students, but they enjoyed the experience at the same time. The difference in performance helped motivate the students toward learning mathematics. Our team reflected that we needed to recreate the mathematics curriculum along the same lines in the future to increase student’s interest and scores through using technology in our teaching.

Three years ago, the school had only 40 Minecraft: Education Edition licenses. Now, all of our students have access to the game. For teachers who might not know how to create their own Minecraft lessons, there are numerous activities available in the library, which can be easily mapped onto your own lessons. Our school has used Minecraft throughout all phases of a lesson—to introduce ideas, summarize content, evaluate students, and reflect on learning across the curriculum, including topics like area and volume, symmetry, and the respiratory system. We even conducted a cyber-security lesson as a game and studied simple machines in the form of a Rube Goldberg machine!

The Satyan Entrepreneurship Program (SEP) at Sat Paul Mittal School aims to empower every Satyan to unleash his or her potential. The program is intended to inculcate 21st-century skills by motivating the next generation of thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and innovators. This student-led club provides Satyans a platform to showcase their skillsets, act as mentors, and lead as they carve out a niche for themselves and their team.

The SEP provides Satyans vast opportunities to explore and adopt creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving in an immersive environment to fast-track their learning experiences as students. With leadership and communication as the key goals, the SEP aims at nurturing responsible citizens and empowered leaders of tomorrow. We’re thrilled to see students in leadership positions, empowering teachers and their fellow learners to explore game-based instruction.

Students have created numerous impactful projects, including a fashion line made from reclaimed denim, a bakery featuring homemade goods sold online, and a digital shop for handmade cards and notebooks. The same imagination, problem-solving, and self-directed learning that students experience while using Minecraft come into play as they dream up their small businesses and make them a reality.

Two dignitaries shake hands with a group of girls standing behind a sales kiosk in a an open-air market.

Minecraft enhances life skills like problem-solving, creativity, higher-order thinking skills (HOTS), communication, and collaboration. It helps develop self-confidence for students and also complements academic skills. The platform acts as a stress-buster while providing children with an innovative and ingenious approach to access the curriculum rather than limiting them to rote learning.

Instructors can provide voice, choice, and agency by allowing students to demonstrate their understanding in a variety of ways, using a variety of tools. The subject integration and thematic approach can be tried and tested through Minecraft. As school leaders, we shall encourage our teachers to foster 21st-century skills using a creative learning environment.

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Monica Joshi is the head of IT at Sat Paul Mittal School, Ludhiana, Punjab, and her role focuses on technical and management skills. She is a Teach SDGs Ambassador and writes for the organization’s official blog. Her role involves training teachers in IT skills and orienting students with incoming technology. She’s passionate about integrating technology into education and hopes to make projects engaging and fun for students as well as teachers. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert and Global Minecraft Mentor, she has successfully integrated Minecraft across subjects. Follow Monica on Twitter to keep up with her journey!

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