Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Just Another Tool.

So I have been in a pretty stressful situation these last couple of weeks. I was told the other week that there are some areas of my teaching practice that I am not up to scratch on, little things, but things that are expected of me in my role as a teacher in this school. Now this in itself is great for my own personal development. It is giving feedback on things I can do to improve my own teaching practice.

The stress has been caused by a request to provide “hard data” to prove that Minecraft is assisting my students in their learning. I have anecdotal evidence that supports the value of Minecraft as a teaching tool, but collecting “hard data” has never been a goal as I use Minecraft as a teaching tool. So after gnawing on the meetings and discussions I have had, I requested a follow up meeting to clarify the reason for seeking this data, and why my professional opinion was not enough to allow me to continue using it in my classes.

It seems there is a perception in my school that I use Minecraft in my classes ‘a lot’. Now over the weekend I actually did some calculations to show how much class time over the year I have spent with each of my classes in Minecraft. The results surprised me, the percentage of time spent in my classes using Minecraft is way lower than even I thought it would be. Excepting the Pre-CAL Numeracy Project, which sits around 50% of class time spent in the game, all my classes used less than 10% of available class time in Minecraft.

Now about 4 or 5 months ago I asked my admin at the time whether I could share the work I was doing in Minecraft with the staff at my school. My hope was that of removing some of the misconceptions about using games in classrooms, and also to see if any other staff at my school would be willing to have a go at using this tool in their classes. I was told back then a flat out no, and to work with a small group of interested staff.

Now, given the large misconception about the time I spend using this, my current admin is suggesting that perhaps it is time to share. I will be surveying my year 8 students, as they have used it more than most of the classes. The survey will focus on their thoughts about Minecraft in class, and how they feel this learning tool has assisted them in learning. I feel that the relevance of this data would be enhanced with a greater understanding of what we actually did in those classes.

So to increase understanding I look forward to a sit down with my admin to go through the lesson, “Path to Percentage Perfection.” During this process I hope to talk about the learning goals, the planning involved, the research based foundations, and what the students were required to do within the lesson. Then we will explore and discuss the data I collected from discussion and student surveys after that lesson. My hope is that my admin will see what is happening in my classes, the real learning that is happening, and hopefully provide evidence that this is indeed assisting my students with their understanding.

So back to the ‘hard data’ collection. After these meetings with my admin, I have had quite a few discussions with members of the MinecraftEdu community about how all of us can benefit from this. How can we get some solid, data based, evidence that using Minecraft assists students in their learning? We already have a few ways, the EduCrew MC Answer System, in-game journals, worksheets that fit alongside the learning in Minecraft and pre- and post-testing. I think, however, there is definitely scope to increase our options for data collection that proves to those not using this tool what those of us who are see clearly during our lessons.

I keep emphasising in all these discussions, that Minecraft is only one tool in my repertoire I use to engage and educate the students in my classes. It is no different than any other teaching practice I undertake in my classes except that it has been tagged a game. It has great engagement power, but it also has great teaching potential. Much like the clickers I used intensively last year, and will use again in the same manner next year to improve my students ability to interpret and answer multiple choice exam questions in a timely manner. In the end, Minecraft, like any other tool, is only as good as the teacher using it to teach lessons. So in reflection, if you see someone doing something new in their class, ask them to show you what it is, spend some time trying to understand it... who knows, you just might find a new tool for your teaching toolbox.


  1. Sounds very stressful indeed. As a form of measuring students' learning achievements, could you not give them a pre- and post-test looking for improvements their understanding of specific concepts?

    I know this type of assessment is not inline with a holistic view of education, but if that is what they school is requesting from you...

    Alternatively, you could record class sessions using fraps, give students a questionnaire about what they have learnt, etc.

    I hope you can figure it out. Keep up the good work!


    1. James, thanks for your support, the pre- and post-test has been suggested, however this is a measure of my teaching, not just of Minecraft, so not providing the data that Minecraft increases student learning. As I only use Minecraft for specific purposes, for example the algebra lesson, that was only an introduction and a reference point. Between that introductory lesson, and now there is a whole heap of teaching, not just in Minecraft.

      I think that perhaps I need to get more survey responses from students after they complete some of these lessons in Minecraft in future, I am pretty sure I am not going to get the opportunity to do any more lessons in Minecraft this year, as time is definitely running out, and while there are places it fits, I don't necessarily have the time to generate the lesson the way I would like. But it is certainly something I am going to be doing next year when I start again.

      I think one other issue in providing 'hard data' is that this is the first time I have taught Year 8 maths, so I have no reference point for what sort of understanding students would have had at the end of these topics without using Minecraft. I only know what their understanding is with Minecraft in my teaching kit.

  2. It's too bad that so many admins seem to need "hard data" validation instead of trusting the teachers to know if/how/what/why their kids are learning or not. Also, all of the data that's always requested is about specific academic standards and not anything about the valuable life skills (21st century/social-emotional/character skills) that games like Minecraft can help students develop. But, of course, there are no standardized tests for creativity, grit, empathy, etc., so admins have no incentive (other than being a good educator) to care about these things.

    Keep up the fight, Elfie - we're all behind you!


    1. Thanks for taking the time to respond Randall, it is good to know that there are those in the community that understand. I hope to continue my use of Minecraft in my classes for a long time into the future. Perhaps as a community, this is a good time to start discussing the ways we can prove to those not in our classes of the value that this tool provides to us as teachers, and our students.

  3. This sounds all to familar. Myself and a co-worker are implementating a game based learning curriculum pilot in our district and Minecraft is a small (but important) part of this. We have been tasked with finding some of this hard data as well for all parts of our pilot.
    We are installing Minecraft into a library lab at one of the middle schools (6-8 grade), we will be measuring student participation in lessons using an engagement measurement standard, along with overall knowledge on common assessments with other classes in the same buildilng that will not be using Minecraft and game based learning. While this measurement will not be focused on only Minecraft, it will give us some data as a whole regarding game based learning in theory. Hard data to boot!
    Our pilot is set for second semester so the numbers are going to be here quick, but sharing is caring and I would be more than happy to share anything we find over on this side of the globe.

    *Side note! Keep up the fight, we know it works. Anyone who doesn't know hasn't tried it! Kids voices are often louder than our own, in order to get our pilot off the ground we used the voices and anecdotes of our students.

    1. Thanks Ryan, would love to have a look at the data once you have it. What I don't understand is how you can pilot something, like your project, and be expected to provide the 'hard data' up front. That seems backwards to me, the whole idea of a pilot program is to explore the possibilities and then decide on the best strategy to move forward. The data comes from the pilot in my opinion.

      I look forward to hearing how the project goes, do you have a blog or a place where you are sharing this journey so that I can keep up to date with it?

    2. No blog or anything at this point. And yes, it completely backwards to call it a pilot and ask for data at the same time. But thats what we have to deal with in order to get this ball rolling.

  4. I have some troubles understand this need of 'hard data' in general, but one conclusion would be that our colleagues are so old fashion they don't understand anything else. It's not trusted if there's no 'hard data' collected.

    Last autumn when I tried to start my Minecraft projects and was in contact with Santeri Koivisto at Teachergaming.com he said: "but the big question with Minecraft and with any video game is that students that age need an explanation why we are using this at school and what we are learning".

    Nope, that's wrong.
    They, our students, see the purpose of using a videogame and they also accept the way quicker than you could think. Our colleagues on the other hand can't - refuse - to see the benefits of it.

    What comes to time spent in game it can't be much, because all you need to have is a red thread going on in the students mind and a positive thought from colleagues that is open enough to use (and get benefits) of you running the project.

    I'm so curious to see your survey because I think you have the answers I seek ;)

    1. Hi Karl, I can certainly give you access to my survey data, there is not a lot there, and it was specific for my purposes, but more than happy to share, email me or G-hangout me and I will get you access. As to your comment as to the quote from Santeri, I think you may be misunderstanding the meaning, or perhaps I am reading more into it. I take what he is saying as that students, if you want them to be able to verbalise their learning, need to be given the learning goal/learning intention so that they can accurately reflect on what they learnt while in the game and then be more able to explain their learning to those who do not 'see' it.

    2. Haha sorry I just tried to be funny about the 'hard data'.

      I see Santeris point becuase it's so different play with my daughter (5yo) and play with my students (16-20yo).

      My daughter doesnt need explanation of the game but what happening and there I could see a lot of educational potential with minimal playing because in that age Minecraft really enhances history, physics, math, language and more. What comes to my students I indeed have to explain why we use Minecraft as a tool and what the purpose of it. But once you have done it and they have accept it (which they do pretty easy) you're ready to go. Of course you have to remind them, put them back on focus everytime they forget and so on.

      My point, according to the 'hard data' and where I tried to make Santeris quote a bit funny (sorry Santeri) is: no matter the age of the students, they get the point. Easy. No matter of the age of your fellow colleagues they don't for all in the world understand what you try to tell them and the only way to get them understand is to give them the 'hard data'.

      A few month ago I was on a lecture about "special pedagogy/needs in the upper secondary vocational area" and one of the speakers was a PhD or professor in math difficulties (dyscalculia). The problem he was facing was he couldn't find a tool to explain math do these people (no matter what age) with math difficulties. When I told him about my experiences with those kind of students, math and minecraft he was confused. Minecraft? a 'game'?

      And that's the problem we - you and I - have, our colleagues can't see it as a tool, it's a game. Stop. Dot.
      And it will remain a game until we can prove the opposite. No matter what response we get from the students or what our experience is. I hope and what I understand, you came out of your storm. I'm about to enter my storm, get the 'hard data' so I can have a MinecraftEDU bought to my school. And your survey will help me a lot (I've been looking at them, thank you!)