Gaming for Good Grades
The Educational Benefits of Minecraft
If your kids love Minecraft but are having trouble with their studies, the answer to helping them may be closer than you think. Minecraft, along with being a fun video game, has also been shown to help in educational matters, including math, science and literacy.
I know this best from the literacy side. I write what’s called “books for Minecrafters,” which are fantasy/sci-fi adventure chapter books for kids ages 7-12 that take place as if Minecraft is real. The first book, Escape from the Overworld [https://www.amazon.com/Escape-Overworld-Unofficial-Adventure-Book/dp/1634501039/ref=la_B00R0PW52E_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1522436598&sr=1-3], introduces 11-year-old Stevie, a boy from Minecraft who accidentally finds a portal to Earth. There, while experiencing immense culture shock, he befriends a creative but bullied sixth grade girl named Maison. In the course of the next twelve books (nine of which are out now), Stevie and Maison go on a series of adventures throughout Minecraft, while also dealing with real kid issues, like cyberbullying, going to a new school, and making friends.
I hear from parents all the time who say, “My kids didn’t like to read until they read your books. Now they want to read more.” This is a wonderful thing to hear. Kids gravitate toward what interests them; I was a bookworm from an early age, but I remember being bored by a bunch of the books selected by my elementary school, while at the same time being a voracious reader when I could pick my own books. When kids say they don’t like to read, I find the issue is often that they’re not seeing books that interest them. If Minecraft interests them (or dinosaurs or horses or whatever else), books on those topics might be the gateway to helping kids understand how fun reading can be.
Beyond this angle that’s so personal to me, I see how Minecraft is being used in schools. Deirdre Quarnstrom, General Manager of Minecraft Education, spoke to me about the exciting ways Minecraft can help elsewhere with studies.
“We see teachers across grade levels using Minecraft for math and science,” she said. “Some of the activities we see are introducing concepts like area, perimeter and volume in early elementary school. Teachers have found Minecraft can be a really effective way of having students explore those concepts.” For instance, instead of looking at images in a book, the students can play around with blocks to better understand how the math actually works. Quarnstrom continued, “[A student thinks], ‘What happens if I double the length of every side of my square, what happens in the area?’ In Minecraft, there’s more motivation to be creative like that.”
But how does one get started using Minecraft for math and science? “We have quite a few lessons on our website [https://education.minecraft.net/],” she said. (By that, she means more than 400 lesson plans.) “Those are available for free to the education community. We have a lesson called Fraction Stories [https://education.minecraft.net/lessons/fraction-stories/] that’s really popular. We have students using blocks to explore ratios and fractions and proportions.”
Minecraft: Education Edition is already being implemented in more than 115 countries and they’re constantly expanding on what they have to offer. “In January we also announced a new chemistry update [https://education.minecraft.net/introducing-chemistry-update-for-minecraft-education-edition/],” she said. “We’ve added an element constructor and students can actually build all elements in the periodic table, including isotopes. Just like with other areas of Minecraft, it becomes fun to play around with and experiment.”
Just as I see reluctant readers picking up Minecrafter books and delving into reading, Quarnstrom sees the difference Minecraft can make in teaching kids more hands-on math and science. Through a love of Minecraft, kids might start reading more books, or they might start experimenting with math and science and want to learn more. “It’s so exciting to see that curiosity,” Quarnstrom said.
Although Danica Davidson enjoys playing minecraft herself, her true love is writing and that’s how she got to be where she is today, with over 17 titles published. She wrote her first novel at age 7 and was interviewed by the LA Times at age 14. Danica spent years writing for MTV on social justice issues such as equality, women’s rights and anti-bullying as well as for over fifty different magazines, newspapers and websites. Danica says that she has “never found anything more gratifying, emotional, and consuming than putting stories down on paper and seeing where my imagination leads me.”