by Elliott Plumb
As a newly qualified teacher, it is usually a case of survival to reach the end of the year. Jump four months into the year and I, the NQT, am at the tail end of an extremely exciting and successful computing project. The project was to be a blend of my Computing Co-ordinator’s knowledge of gaming and my knowledge of local history. ‘Forty Hall’, a local landmark, was ripe for the picking when deciding on a building to develop on the Minecraft program. Having just opened as an educational centre, the Hall welcomed us with open arms.
At the beginning I was unsure of the benefits but this project has come to reveal the extensive range of learning opportunities that Minecraft has to offer to children in schools today.
The Children’s Prior Knowledge
The children’s passion for the Minecraft project was nothing short of overwhelming. If the children did not play it at home already, they had heard their classmates talking or reading about it. Interestingly, there was a huge amount of prior knowledge amongst my class when it came to Minecraft. This is where any teacher afraid to take on such a task could develop a pupil-led project that would allow the teacher to learn-as-they-go.
Even so, what became clear was that although there was some strong prior knowledge, some children had no experience using the game. The initial lesson, where I allowed the children to explore the Minecraft program gave me the opportunity to assess those who were confident and those who needed scaffolding. I then grouped the children according to experience and knowledge of the program. Each group had a confident learning leader who could lead and keep their group focused. This helped to keep the learning as pupil-led as possible.
The Learning Journey
Part 1: The History curriculum in England demands that children study a local landmark. We visited Forty Hall to engage closely with the history and the structure of the house. I divided the children into four differentiated groups. These groups gathered resources that would enable them to build on Minecraft later on. The children were able to sketch, use measuring instruments and take photographs to build up a bank of evidence and tools that they could use when it came building on Minecraft. By collecting their own resources, children could take ownership of their learning. Higher ability children were required to calculate ratios and make links with their mathematics skills. This is one of many ways in which the project was cross-curricular.
Part 2: After visiting the hall, the children had a strong knowledge of Forty Hall and had access to a host of tools and resources that they had collected themselves. In the second phase of the project, children were able to collaborate in their groups to decide which resources they would keep to help assist them when it came to build all the particular details. The learning leaders then had to organise which task each child would take during the project. The groups then mind-mapped a plan and this saw each child take ownership of a section of the build. The children were then ready to begin!
Part 3: This section of the learning saw the most progress with the majority of the successes of the project becoming clear at this point. Closing all the gaps in the children’s learning and addressing misconceptions was aided significantly by using a three-part lesson structure.
The lesson Structure
The lessons were taught in three parts. A refocus at the beginning of each lesson encouraged the children to collaborate and verbalise their task for that lesson. Children would then spend up to an hour building and collaborating with their group, making sure they utilised the chat function to talk to and guide each other. Learning leaders would assess situations that would arise and problem solve accordingly. As the teacher, I could assess all children in the game from a computer and offer encouragement and advice if they desperately needed it. Fundamentally, as it was a pupil-led project, I would be looking for great collaboration and effective problem solving from the learning leaders and the class members. Having a ‘revisit, review and improve’ session after each computing lesson gave the children some time to discuss the successes in that lesson but it also gave them the opportunity to draw up where they were going next in their project. This was written up on a poster and kept to be put on display in the next lesson. Children were constantly reminded that they had to refer to this to move forward with the project.
Learning and Progress
After just two months engagement with the project, the children have had the opportunity to develop, practice and apply significant learning and skills that stretch beyond Computing. In the beginning, the learning leaders were the trouble-shooters, the strong self-reflectors and would guide the project to the next stages. After approximately six to eight lessons, I was beginning to see more children take on the responsibility of problem solving for other members of the class. In addition, encouraging children to use the chat function on Minecraft would be a target in the initial lessons. As the project matured, the children naturally collaborated through the chat and would offer each other advice, problem solve issues and revise their construction work together to make sure they were achieving an accurate replica of Forty Hall.
As a result of Minecraft, the children have had the chance to practice and develop their ability to become supportive and helpful collaborators, successful problem solvers. At the same time, they have been given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning. The Mincecraft project has given the children a chance to develop skills which, with continual practice, will allow them to become life-long learners. Fundamentally, the children can apply these skills in not only Computing but within all subjects across the curriculum.
Eliot Plumb is a Year 5 teacher at Wilbury School in Edmonton. He graduated in Education from the University of Cambridge in 2013 and enjoys inspiring children through teaching Computing, Dance and History.