For the past few years my kids have been under the Minecraft spell. In fact, they spend so much time immersed in its pixelated worlds that our name for homeschool is Minecraft High. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier about that.
What started out as just another request for a download has completely opened my mind to what learning can be. Far from being ‘just a game’, Minecraft is the richest and most stimulating learning environment they’ve ever experienced.
Being a construction-based game, it's obviously a great way to teach science, engineering and maths. But as I watch them play, I suspect it's also a gateway into areas that have previously sucked for them - social interaction, art, stories, history, community, creativity.
I became obsessed by the idea that this one game encourages such a wide range of learning. Was I deluding myself? Could my kids really benefit from unlimited game play? Was I in nerd homeschool heaven? I was excited to find people who were using Minecraft as a legitimate teaching tool, but I still needed proof that I wasn't crazy to be in awe of its possibilities. After all, video games are mindless entertainment... right?
So I ran it up the flagpole against one of the most commonly used frameworks for setting learning objectives in schools and universities. It's called Bloom’s taxonomy, and it was created by educational psychologists as a way of classifying learning behaviours.
Cognitive skills (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating) are grouped into levels which increase in complexity as you move from the bottom of the hierarchy to the top, like this..
So how does playing Minecraft stack up as a learning exercise? Does it encourage development and expansion of thinking skills? Let’s take a look, using real-life examples taken from my kids during a typical Minecraft session.
Bloom's Taxonomy applied to Minecraft
Level 1: REMEMBER
- List all the items in their inventory
- Know the available actions and which keys to press
- Recall how to save and quit the game
Level 2: UNDERSTAND
- Figure out the instructions
- Describe the story of the game to a new player
- Explain how to cut down a tree
Level 3: APPLY
- Show other people how to play the game
- Take screenshots to show what they mean
- Make a map to find their house
Level 4: ANALYZE
- Figure out how to survive through the night
- Compare survival and creative modes
- Think ahead to possible outcomes of their decisions
Level 5: EVALUATE
- Discuss whether the new update made the game better
- Debate the changes they would make to the game
- Argue for new server rules and defend their choices
Level 6: CREATE
- Design and construct new buildings
- Develop plans for extending their worlds
- Solve problems by using materials in new ways
And here's a summary:
I've gotta say, this made me happy. Playing Minecraft is as far from a mindless activity as you can get. There were dozens of examples of both simple and complex thinking, at every level of the hierarchy. Not only does it train kids to acquire and retain information, it encourages them to pull all that knowledge together and use it in new ways.
While the game can be enjoyed at any of the cognitive levels, the ultimate thrill comes not from just surviving to play another day but in creating a whole new world to play in. Kids are naturally pulled up through the thinking hierarchy by being rewarded for taking risks and stretching outside of their comfort zone.
So it's clear to me that not only is Minecraft an exciting and addicting game to play, it encourages, develops and rewards higher level thinking - which makes a compelling argument for using it as a learning tool.
And makes me feel a whole lot better about my kids spending all day playing it.