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Cross Curricular


Transport your classroom into a digital universe where worlds of possibility wait to be explored and reshaped.

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Tanner Higgin


This teaching tool page covers two related resources: Minecraft and MinecraftEdu. Minecraft is a stand-alone video game that can be used educationally, but since it was not designed for these purposes there will be some challenges. MinecraftEdu is a custom-built modification of Minecraft that gives teachers and students more robust controls and features for designing and orchestrating learning experiences. It also streamlines the server creation and hosting process. And while MinecraftEdu increases the learning curve slightly, we think it provides a set of tools that teachers will find indispensable. For more informal or home use, the "retail" Minecraft should be sufficient.


Image credit: Alan Montavon


Minecraft is a hugely popular and influential digital sandbox game that’s ascended to a cultural touchstone and spawned dozens of copycat experiences. Fundamentally, Minecraft is about exploring unique and dynamically generated worlds composed of blocks that come together to create beautiful and immersive outdoor and underground worlds, ranging from rainforests to deserts. Just about every block in the game can be mined and turned into usable resources. Players combine these resources in a grid-based crafting system to make a variety of items that impact the world in tangible ways and addictively lead to more exploration, mining, and crafting.

What’s special about Minecraft is that each world is unique, and there’s no built-in goal or mission. Play is motivated initially by survival from dangerous monsters at night (Note: “Survival Mode” can be turned off in favor of “Peaceful Mode” without monsters or “Creative Mode” where resources do not need to be gathered - each affords its own benefits for learning) but relatively quickly becomes more about discovery and creativity. Alone or together with other people, players set creative goals for themselves and work to achieve them (e.g. “Let’s build a castle with a moat in the side of that mountain!” or “Let’s create a storage room to house all of our ore.”).

Overall, Minecraft is an incredibly rich and deep experience that is just as much a creative platform as a game. It lends itself to all content areas and is perhaps the prime example of the possibilities of game-based learning to teach 21st century skills like problem solving, design thinking, collaboration, and systems thinking in ways that engage, empower, and motivate. It also presents a significant opportunity for educators to fuse curriculum development and learning design with game design, figuring out ways to create game-based experiences in Minecraft that teach students core content or 21st century skills.


MinecraftEdu is a custom modification (better known as a “mod”) that provides a set of unique tools that alters the original game and makes it easier to adapt Minecraft to a variety of learning objectives and classroom contexts. The most compelling features include the ability to easily and quickly create servers (worlds for a class to inhabit), a custom  tutorial to acclimate a class to the basics of the game, specialized abilities like teleportation and player muting, and special blocks for embedding informational panels in the world or restricting access to areas or prohibiting destruction of blocks.

Features (borrowed from MinecraftEdu site)

  • All special features are accessible through in-game menus... no config files or command lines!
  • Write assignments and instructions that are visible to students.
  • Students can use their names, pick a gender, and change their skin while playing.
  • Password-protected "Teacher Mode" with access to many powerful abilities.
  • Run a custom server for each of your classes with just a few clicks.
  • Ability to save and load worlds and activites.
  • Powerful world-building tools to quickly create your own lessons.
  • Custom teacher-only blocks that can give information, create boundaries, or control where students can build.
  • Teleport students, give items, and allow flying.
  • Ability to mute/unmute and freeze/unfreeze students.
  • Change the time, weather and game modes on the fly.
  • Includes an expansive Tutorial World to introduce new players to the game.


Image Credit: Kevin Jarrett

minecraft BREAKDOWN

There’s no question that the best way to learn about Minecraft is by diving into survival mode and trying to survive the first night (with some help from an experienced friend or a video on YouTube).The confusion, wonder, and thrill of that experience is something most players recall fondly, and — in just thirty minutes of play — it encapsulates the experience of the game: digging, gathering resources, creating a home, figuring out what to do next, and digging some more.

Ease of Use

While Minecraft is an elegantly designed game that is simple enough to jump into, it has a remarkable amount of depth, and MinecraftEdu offers a lot of extra features. Consequently, while the game itself might be "easy" to play, setting up a rich classroom experience that appropriately scaffolds a learning experiences that focuses student attention and results in student-learning outcomes will require significant preparation. This time investment, however, will pay off as students are likely to (if they do not already) love the game, and Minecraft can be used as a learning platform throughout an entire school year.

Minecraft Controls and Features: Minecraft uses standard WASD keys for movement and the mouse for looking around and interacting with the world (left click destroys blocks and right click hits switches, opens doors, and places blocks). For those already familiar with keyboard- and mouse-style gaming, the controls will be easy to pick up. For those new to gaming on computers, there will be a half hour to an hour learning curve just to get basic navigation down.

The very basic elements of play (breaking blocks down and placing new blocks) are easy to learn. However, the full extent of the crafting system will require a more significant time investment and either use of outside references or the help of others. This continually expanding knowledge and discovery of new recipes, however, is part of the fun of the game.

MinecraftEdu Controls and Features: MinecraftEdu streamlines the process of setting up a server and makes it far easier to wrangle a classroom. That being said, it has a robust set of additional features that builds upon the basics of Minecraft. Therefore, it will take extra time to explore and to get a handle on these features and even more time to properly set up a play space and any activities that will be run. It's probably useful to first play the regular version of Minecraft before making the jump to MinecraftEdu.

For students new to Minecraft, MinecraftEdu features a great introductory tutorial "world"  that will guide students through the basic features and philosophies of the game while they play. You may want to set aside a couple hours to run this tutorial world as your class' introduction to the game. Be advised that the tutorial ends just before covering crafting, so teaching these skills would make a good second lesson. It's also important to note that the material covered in this tutorial is very basic, so more experienced students are likely to breeze through it, but these students could be made co-facilitators.


Image Credit: Giulia Forsythe

Basic Mechanics

Minecraft is an open-world sandbox game. There's no extrinsic goal beyond survival. Instead, the game encourages intrinsic motivation; players establish creative goals for building and exploration on their own.

The world is composed of blocks with different properties that can be destroyed and harvested for raw materials. Using the game's crafting system, these raw materials can be combined to create new materials or items with unique properties and effects in the world. 

For instance, a player can punch a tree until one of the blocks turns into wood and gets placed in her inventory. Then she can take that wood and make wood planks. These wood planks can be made into sticks. These sticks can be fashioned into a wooden pick. This wooden pick can be used to collect coal which when combined with a stick will make a torch that lights her way as she explores caves. This progression continues as the player explores and sets more ambitious goals and stumbles on new materials.



How To Play

Minecraft has one of the strongest and most productive player communities, and one of the central aspects of Minecraft is creating and sharing. As a result, there is an endless amount of video and text-based tutorials and guides to help players learn how to play, build, and mod the game. The Minecraft wiki is one of the most beloved of these resources and is indispensable for learning how to craft new items.

We also recommend browsing the two following video series (as well as YouTube in general). The first is a series of tutorials on Minecraft, and the second is a series of tutorials on MinecraftEdu

Surviving the First Night in Minecraft

Using MinecraftEdu

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