My Students Built a Digestive System in Minecraft and Reshaped My Classroom

One of my regrets in my COETAIL course was that I didn't get to explore uses of Minecraft with my students. At the time, my students were involved in a demanding STEM project with multiple technology fronts and minecraft just wasn't a good "fit" at the time. I was really inspired to see how social studies teachers had built historical places in Minecraft in which groups or individuals could visit. Might this have some applications in the science classroom?

Image courtesy of CC

SAMR Explained
One of my big take-aways from COETAIL was the SAMR model which is a means to help understand what role that technology has in the classroom. Sometimes, tech acts as a substitute, with no functional improvement. On the other hand, some tools truly redefine what is possible and being able to utilize such moments is when a teacher has truly has used this in a way which has given it a transformational use.

The Problem Defined
At this point, I'll disclose that I'm a middle school teacher who is currently teaching a unit on comparative body systems-one of them the digestive system. Although it's easy to teach anatomy, I found the real challenge in teaching histology which is often a surface level understanding. Knowing that food goes in the mouth and out the anus and a made Minecraft a real possibility as there were many reactions and anotomical functions from ingestion to defecation that we could show.

A Minecraft Jam in A301

What I Learned
If we're learning about how to use a specific tool that is indispensable to our learning, I'll make it my point to learn about it backwards and forwards before doing it with my students. During differentiated work, I'll give students more freedom to choose tools that they're interested in. For our project in "Minecraft" I did a bit of both, creating a Minecraft account (25$) and installing it on my computer. Here are some of my key take aways:

The Kids are Experts. When we started, I disclosed that I might be a bit of a noobie to this and for kids to be patient. I got into worlds and played around to familiarize myself with the keyboard controls. After we started, I learned that I was not one of the worst students, I was clearly the worst student. However, it didn't matter. If students had a hangup, I directed them to one of the experts and the problem got solved.

Kids Love Focusing their Interests in Academic Areas Over the course of four lessons, I pulled interested individuals aside and made a plan for them to work on this in stages. As this was a resource and not graded, I though some interest might wane over time. Just the opposite. They loved collaborating and working together and during time at the beginning and end of the lesson, they made it happen.

Girls Love Minecraft Too. Generally, I see most of my male students playing the combat mode, but when I suggested this project, about 1/3 of the participants were girls. I love when girls get interested in science and engineering challenges.

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