Q&A With MinecraftEdu Co-Creator, Joel Levin

Giving students the right tools to expand their knowledge and skills in the classroom is critical, and with MinecraftEdu, the immensely popular online game Minecraft has been added to teachers’ lesson plans at more than 1,300 schools across six continents.

MinecraftEdu Co-Creator Joel Levin (pictured right) will speak next month at the 10th Anniversary Games for Change Festival in a talk titled, “MinecraftEdu: Digging in a Virtual Sandbox for the Future of Education.” He’ll discuss how Minecraft, created by Swedish game studio Mojang, was remixed for the classroom and how it’s being used to teach science, art, language, digital citizenship, and more. Thanks to our partners at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, in addition to Joel’s talk, we have a very well-rounded selection of learning and games talks at this year’s Festival.

We emailed briefly with Joel to learn more about MinecraftEdu and get a sneak peek of his upcoming talk.

What are you most proud of so far with MinecraftEdu, and what are your future plans for it?
I’m very proud that we’ve managed to include so many useful hooks for educators without spoiling the “magic” of the original game. When kids are playing MinecraftEdu, it still feels like the game they love and can’t get enough of. But at the same time there are many integrated ways for educators to get their curricular content into the game world. We’ve really tried to respect the needs of teachers and students, from both academic and gameplay standpoints. As for the future, we’ve got many new tools and features planned that will explore these dynamics. You’ll have to wait for my G4C talk to get a peek at some of them. 😉

What’s been the most innovative lesson plan you’ve seen in MinecraftEdu?
I don’t know where to start! Almost every day I come across an original lesson or activity that I never would have dreamed of when starting this project. A history teacher had his students go through ancient Spartan military training. A science teacher had his students design experiments to rigorously prove that Minecraft gravity was unlike Earth’s. A drama teacher had her students record Shakespeare videos after designing the sets. There are also university researchers using the game to design environments for test subjects. Just do a search for the word “MinecraftEdu” on either Twitter or YouTube and you’ll find so many wildly different examples of how to use this game.

A class of students sets out for a lesson in Minecraft.

What are the biggest challenges with implementing MinecraftEdu in the classroom?
When I started in 2011 the challenges were purely technical, but I had full control of how I introduced the game since none of the kids had seen it before. These days it’s exactly the opposite. MinecraftEdu makes the game easy to get up and running in a school setting. However, so many of the kids have had their own experiences playing at home. It is often challenging to get the students to abandon preconceptions about the “right” way to play the game. You have to clearly set the expectations that playing Minecraft in school will be different from playing at home. It’s really similar to how playing basketball in phys-ed class will be different than playing a pickup game in the park.

What role should games play in the classroom, and to what degree should teachers use them in their lesson plans?
There’s no one right answer to this question. It depends greatly on an individual teacher’s style, the culture of the school, and the type of technology that’s available. But I am unequivocally convinced in the power of bringing games into the classroom. Games are highly relevant to youth culture and to ignore their power to engage is negligent. In the best examples I’ve seen, there is a seamless flow between games, face-to-face discussion, and traditional teaching tools. Kids are able to hop between these approaches easily.

I see many pundits and companies trying to nail down the formula for the right way to use games in the classroom. I think this is impractical at best, and hucksterism at worst. It’s like trying to find the right way to use books. There are many valid methods and types of experiences you can have. And frankly it’s all too new. What’s important is that schools get behind the idea that there is value in trying novel approaches in the classroom. They need to recognize that the characteristics of good gamers — resiliency, agency, lateral thinking — are the same characteristics of good learners.

Excited for the 10th Anniversary Games for Change Festival? Register here.

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