Minecraft in Pender

Most of this blog post was written several days ago

Lucas is explaining how fifth graders are using Minecraft to develop writing skills

This morning, the first info-bit to really start my motors was this Twitter post from

@dwarlick Please elaborate about Pender County and Minecraft. I’d love to hear your opinion on this.

..which resulted from a tweet that I posted from the MEGA meeting at the Friday Institute yesterday.

Pender County’s using Minecraft with 5th graders. Why am I not surprised? #ncsu_mega

Pender County is one of the quieter, flatter, more humid and scarcely populated counties in North Carolina. It consists of seven towns, none of which have you heard of, including two beach communities on the Onslow Bay. But they’ve got some interesting things going on in their schools. I’ve written about Lucas Gillispie before. He’s a young educator and a gamer — and one of a handful of teachers who have been, for the past couple of years, asking, “Might I use this video game experience to reach some of the harder-to-reach students in my school?” Teaming up with New Yorker, Peggy Sheehy, and now others, Gillispie is exploring the potentials of using multiplayer role-playing video games to help learners develop problem solving, collaboration and reflection skills, and to become story tellers.

Markus Persson (cc) by Navaboo

So, at yesterday’s MEGA meeting, he had a booth set up demonstrating Minecraft, and talking about fifth graders who are using this tamer (my supposition) video game to develop some of the same skills. For those who are not in the know, and I learned this from my son, Minecraft is currently being developed by Markus (Notch) Persson, a Swedish game developer who left gainful employment to work independently. With proceeds from the hundreds of thousands of paying Minecraft players, he has formed the company, Mojang.

The game is a 3D sandbox-style game where you mine for materials or resources and use them to build stuff. More recent versions of the game involve health points and other game dynamics, but it remains, essentially, a sandbox.

I asked Lucas where this gaming activity belongs in an elementary school, and after giving some really good answers from a rethinking how we do schools perspective, he finally said, language arts. They have only started this with 5th graders, but their plan is to have students play, build, experience the adventures and then write to audiences about those experiences.


Pano of one room of exhibits at MEGA Mtg – May 4, 2011

Also, this is my first test of Blogsy, a blog editing app for the iPad. I like it!

12 thoughts on “Minecraft in Pender”

  1. Dear Mr. Warlick,

    I found this article to be extremely fascinating and strange as well. The concept that a video game that requires no obvious language arts application has me confused. If the brain can increase it’s knowledge of language arts through simple video games wouldn’t more schools and even districts have these games as a part of the curriculum? and what science defends this theory because I have always heard, “video games kill brain cells!”. So which is it, just curious?

    1. Last month, they posted a very informative article on this issue at Edutopia: “A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool (http://tinyurl.com/5ta75qx).

      Also, in 2009, the Virginia Department of Education did a statewide pilot of a client’s math-based video game package, DimensionM. And an organization called The Center for the Advancement of STEM Education has purchased licenses for those games as part of their initiative. So, more and more educators are thinking video games can actually be good for the brain.

  2. As an educator this concept is not new. I have often heard of meeting students learning levels by using video games to attract and obtain interest in education. It is refreshing that the school system is allowing this teacher to hone in on resourceful skills and letting him use video games as an alternative. We have long lost parental support; it’s time to become more aggressive with education and cater to what the kids know.

  3. Hi!

    About a month ago my 10 year old son was out ill with the flu and missed almost 2 weeks of school. One of the concepts missed was about circuits. When I started explaining it to my son and was going to look for a video — my son logged onto his Minecraft and showed me how he used that knowledge to create a trap for … I got lost in his gaming talk, but realized that he not only understood the concept, he was applying it virtually in Minecraft.

    Kind regards,
    Tracy Watanabe

  4. David, thanks for sharing out this shared work with Minecraft.

    We have a robust student community engaged in using the game inside and outside school for learning and fun – let me know if I can be of any use in sharing what we do.

    All the best,

  5. Love to see creative and innovative education happening in Eastern NC! Having graduated from Johnston County schools, I always feel a special kinship to the East and enjoy hearing positive news.

  6. Thanks for the writeup! For those that may be interested, I’ve done what I always do with my projects… I created a wiki and am inviting everyone to come along for the ride. Definitely uncharted waters, here, but we’ll learn together. The wiki is at: http://minecraftinschool.pbworks.com. If you have ideas, especially about curricular connections, please share them.

    It’s awesome to watch the thinking and problem solving that goes on when kids are interacting in an environment like Minecraft. I see lots of light bulbs turning on, and that’s always exciting as an educator.

    @Eli – The connection to language arts comes through the writing that students do regarding their work in the virtual space. Creative writing is a key component of our game-based projects in Pender County.


  7. Dear Mr. Warlick,
    In your post “Minecraft in Pender” it made me think about how we could work video games into the education of kids. I feel that the way America is becoming increasingly focused on video games, especially with youth, it might be time we started incorporating things like this into learning at a young age. The whole idea of “video games for learning” could completely change the way people start thinking of them because they would be less incorporated with wasting time and closer related to progress. This affects me as a young learner because I am constantly distracted by video games and with that I have less passion for school. If in the future there was a way that we combined learning and video games I feel that there would be more motivation and less dread for school.

    1. Miles,

      I agree with you to a point — and I’ve had this conversation with Lucas more than once. I believe that it would be a mistake to try to integrate video games into curriculum with notable exceptions. It seems to me that the more effective and more interesting thing to do is to figure out what it is about the video game experience that makes it so compelling, identify those qualities, and then restructure classroom activities to include those qualities where appropriate.

      I do a keynote address now, where I identify four qualities that I think are a core part of the video game (and social networking) experience and that might potently be integrated into curriculum. They are that the experience…

      • is responsive
      • provokes conversation
      • inspires personal investment
      • is guided by safely made mistakes

      If we can craft learning activities with these qualities (and that might, on occasion include a video game), then we are starting to introduce 21st century pedagogies 😉

  8. Great discussion! As a educator for 11 years and a gamer for 33, I’ve come to the following conclusions.

    1. I constantly learn a wide variety of skills every moment that I play a game.

    2. Many of those skills have real-world applications, many do not.

    3. Electronic games often work poorly in a classroom setting, especially in traditional high schools.

    4. Does this tell us about the unsuitability of gaming for learning, or about the unsuitability of traditional school organization?

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