Teaching Financial Literacy Through Play with Minecraft: Education Edition
Were you taught about money matters in school? Financial literacy is often overlooked in K–12 education, but it sets students up for success and security as they make decisions in adult life. Canadian Learning Experience Designer Blaise Patterson recognized an opportunity for learning and decided to create the Financial Literacy World, a city where students can explore everyday economic decisions. This guest post shares the inspiration for the world, the process of creating it, and how this open-ended activity can help your students explore financial decisions.
I work with Fair Chance Learning, a Canadian organization devoted to elevating learning experiences and opportunities for all students. We believe professional learning should be transformative learning. Our intentional, bespoke programming empowers educators to create impactful learning experiences through engaging and accessible resources.
As the connecting factor between the learner and the learning tool, we see our share of challenges and opportunities. On one hand, every school district we have the pleasure of working with has its own unique set of technical and curricular demands. However, we ourselves can also experiment with new learning tools and, after critical consideration, introduce them to learners. It’s something that’s often accomplished by the innovative few found in each organization, but it’s not as easily achievable district-wide.
When I was studying human development during my post-secondary education, I became aware of the abundance of people in the education space who believe that video games are detrimental to development. Having grown up playing video games, I felt there were many benefits that they weren’t considering: the ways gaming encouraged critical thinking to solve puzzles, problem-solving through the ability to fail and retry, and communication skills when playing with friends. I believed that a reform was needed and wanted to work towards making a change.
I discovered Minecraft: Education Edition while studying for my M.Ed., where I focused my research on best practices for implementing technology in the classroom. Minecraft seemed like a natural addition because of its open-ended nature. I learned about all the amazing tools for learning that had been integrated into this version of the game and began advocating for its use in the classroom. It became the focus of several projects, one of which spoke to the importance of blending communities of practice. Minecraft: Education Edition is a perfect example of how educators can work with game developers to create an engaging and effective tool for learning.
Within my current role, I have the exciting opportunity to build content in Minecraft: Education Edition and support educators with integrating it into their classrooms. This role allows me to examine areas in the existing catalog of Minecraft lesson plans and consider where there are curricular gaps. In my experience, most educators are interested in the game, but they need support with curriculum connections due to their unfamiliarity with the software. Seeing as my home province of Ontario recently introduced a new math curriculum, it seemed like an opportune moment to utilize Minecraft: Education Edition.
I began by creating resources that link the new Ontario learning strands to the amazing content that exists on the Minecraft: Education Edition website. The intent was to leverage existing content and recommended best practices to create an easy lift for educators who are new to Minecraft. Through this process, I discovered the necessity of a world focused on financial literacy. Not only is financial literacy a newly added learning strand in the Ontario curriculum, but it’s also a crucially under-discussed topic.
The Financial Literacy World is a project I care deeply about because I’ve had to make many important financial decisions myself in recent years, and I felt my schooling inadequately prepared me to face them. We didn’t discuss things like buying a mortgage versus renting, financing versus leasing a car, and savings behaviors when I was in school. It took me a while to learn how to budget effectively so that I could feel confident with paying bills, paying off student debt, and buying the necessary items to survive each month—not to mention occasionally spending money on things for my mental wellbeing!
The world came together as an open-ended activity. Upon entering the world, students must approach the non-player character (NPC) in front of them, who will give them the option to start. From here, they’re free to explore the world and its various areas. There’s a shopping plaza, an auto mall, a model home display, a bank, a park, and a residential area, each with its own opportunities for spending, saving, and experimentation. They can choose to take a camera initially or return to the same NPC to get one later. The camera helps them take pictures to document their experiences and decisions. All of their purchases, income, and expenses are calculated in-game, so they’re free to explore the world and make decisions on their own.
Once the time you’ve allocated for the lesson is up, students visit city hall, where they must speak to an NPC to go inside. This action ends the passive income and expenses, and players can add up their remaining money. Learners who bought their house and car can sell them to receive additional money. Once everyone has added up and recorded their income, they can discuss crucial financial literacy questions.
What decisions did they make that led to their final balance? What were the pros and cons of using money out of pocket, from a savings account, or from a line of credit? What did they spend on essentials vs. non-essentials? Each of these questions introduces important financial variables and helps students work through critical ideas about spending, saving, and budgeting. Learners can replay this activity as many times as they like to compare their decisions and experiment with how those affected the results.
I tried my best to capture all the elements my education lacked in the Financial Literacy World, whether it was through an actual purchase the player could make or a piece of NPC dialog. I kept challenging myself to consider ways to elevate the experience for players. As aggravating as the debugging phase of the world’s creation was, I’m proud that I could integrate things like passive income, monthly expenses, and buying a home. The intent was to create an approachable world that educators didn’t have to worry about adjusting.
I made one interesting observation about creating a lesson for Minecraft: Education Edition. Many of the skills students develop when playing the game were also present when I was building the learning content: problem-solving technical issues, emotionally regulating when new problems arose, collaborating with others to help create the world, and communicating with the Minecraft: Education Edition team, who helped me with debugging. It speaks to the inherent learning that occurs when using the game, whether you’re creating or playing. I recommend making your own lessons to see what I mean!
What I loved most about building content in Minecraft—beyond being super fun—is that it has expanded my knowledge of the game. Creating the Financial Literacy World required me to learn more about in-game mechanics, which I wouldn’t have considered when just playing. I found that by the time the world was complete, I had a newfound understanding of the game, despite the many hours I had already spent playing. Developing a better understanding of the game through content creation has also supported me with my role’s training component. Having the ability to answer all Minecraft-related questions confidently has led to some trusted relationships between the educators that attend my sessions and me. This dynamic is also true for teaching students.
My team at Fair Chance Learning has seen incredible excitement from school districts considering how they can further integrate Minecraft in the classroom. For many Ontario districts, we have overcome the first obstacle: a willingness to try something new. With the dedication and bravery of those who have taken the first step combined with the outstanding educators who are already advocates, I believe we’ll begin to see Minecraft: Education Edition as a commonly used classroom tool. After all, creating an environment for innovators to collaborate is what Minecraft is all about!
Blaise Patterson is a Learning Experience Designer for Fair Chance Learning in Ontario, Canada. He creates programming in collaboration with educational partners and school districts, adapting teaching resources to create engaging learning experiences. Download the Financial Literacy World and access its supporting resources here.