Teachers experience games-based learning at Minecraft launch

Teachers have been encouraged to open their minds to the potential of computer games-based learning as a method of enhancing the experience of virtually every single subject taught in the classroom.

Imagination is the only limiting factor for immersive technology platforms to communicate learning experiences to children in a rich and stimulating way, an audience of educators and schoolchildren were told today at a launch event for Minecraft Education Edition in Edinburgh.

Although games-based learning has had a “difficult history” with teachers who may have felt threatened by children becoming more expert in technology than they are, there is no denying that such platforms offer them a way to engage the pupils in a way they understand and can relate to, said tech educator Stephen Reid, Creative Director of Immersive Minds, a creative education consultancy.

“First and foremost, it’s an engagement tool,” he said at the event at The Hub in the city. “We cannot deny as adults that this stuff works when millions and millions and millions of children are playing Minecraft. It’s a totally fantastic tool for them.”

Reid is also a Creative Consultant with Microsoft on their Minecraft Education Edition roll-out, which has already held teacher training workshops in Philadelphia in the US, and in London; the corporation, which has developed a suite of learning tools aimed at Key Stages in England and Wales, appears ideally positioned to market its technology to the Scottish education sector, which places an emphasis on experiential learning as part of the Curriculum for Excellence. Last year, children in Dundee – where 4J Studios helped develop Minecraft for Xbox – were able to use the platform to put forward their designs for the future of the city’s waterfront.

Whilst Reid highlighted in a live demonstration how the technology could be used to equip children with the skills needed to construct the built environment, he also encouraged teachers to think more broadly about how it can be applied. He showed how children could use the building blocks to mimic human biological systems, how cancer cells are made for example, as well as learning how the solar system works or how to keep to a budget.

He also demonstrated how he was able to facilitate children tackling complex subjects such as technical drawing at a much earlier age, by getting a group of pupils to design a flag fluttering in the wind using Minecraft building blocks.

“Anything is possible with Minecraft Education Edition. The tool that Microsoft are putting in your hands will do everything that I showed you and more. All you need as educators is the imagination,” he added.

The day-long event was also due to feature a talk from James Protheroe, a primary school teacher from Wales who used Minecraft to teach literacy by building their own world based on the works of Roald Dahl.

Steven Grier, Country Manager, Microsoft Scotland, said:  Minecraft: Education Edition is a collaborative, rich and immersive platform for learning that educators can use across curriculum subjects to develop 21st century learning outcomes, including creativity, problem-solving and computational thinking.

“Following this week’s launch in Edinburgh, we are looking forward to working with schools and teachers in Scotland around the use of Minecraft: Education Edition to engage every student,  across diverse learning styles, in a safe, fun environment where students learn by doing, limited only by imagination.”

Some games for teachers to consider

Although the focus of the event, attended by P6 pupils from the independent Wellington School in Ayr, was predominantly on Minecraft, the event provided a showcase for a much broader range of games-based learning platforms.

Valiant Hearts, a game where users experience the First World War through the eyes of a small dog, enables pupils to immerse themselves in a manner devoid of cultural bias, to empathise with the protagonists. From Dust allows children to develop a physical world from nothing, and to understand the implications of creating and managing geographical systems. Riven, an exploratory game, allows children to decipher codes and symbols as a way of teaching pattern recognition. Age of Empires, which immerses users in different civilisations, allows children to understand the history of how empires rose and then fell. Universal Sandbox was described as a great way to help children develop knowledge of the solar system whilst Papa & Yo was a platform used to aid understanding of complex pastoral care and relationship issues arising from parental alcoholism.

Some stats

Research presented at the launch indicated that:

The average gamer is 35 years old…

  • 52% of gamers are male; 48% of gamers are female
  • 74% of K-8 teachers already use digital games in the classroom
  • 56% of parents say video games positively affect their children
  • 54% of gamers say video games help them connect with others

Sources: Fortune, The ESA Industry Facts, NPD/GMD US, Level Up Learning, Reality is Broken, Geekwire, Forbes

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