A week of Minecraft mania!
This was a first for me — a complete week of doing Minecraft all day, every day. How did I get so lucky? I taught a week of Minecraft in Computer Science at a CSTA PD event for the state of South Carolina, put on by the awesome folks at the STEM Center at the Citadel here in Charleston. My 15 students were elementary and middle school teachers in various subjects (not all strictly CS) and varying levels of familiarity with Minecraft, from none to lots. And frankly, I’ve never attended that much Minecraft PD, let alone run one!
As a result, I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach this. Mulitiple skill levels, multiple subject areas, multiple interest levels…. Sounds like time for project-based learning! So I decided to do some basic intro material to Minecraft itself, why I love it, how I came to use it in my classes, and how I use it. Then talk about my pedagogical approach. Then introduce Minecraft: Education Edition, specifically the Code Builder, which allows block-based coding in an add-on. And then some introductory command block material. And then some play time with our new tools. And then… pick your project and go!
Along the way, I introduced the attendees to my pedagogy of choice, which I call "Hard Fun": project-based, hands-on, just-in-time learning. Projects based on personal voice and choice, and the teacher acting as facilitator, managing by walking around (MBWA). I offer advice, encouragement, and answer some questions. Not all of them, because I always encourage students to develop self-reliance in their learning.
And I explained the pedagogy as we went, demonstrating the learning environment by creating it. As my hero Seymour Papert said, "The purpose of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention, rather than provide ready-made knowledge."
To some degree, we all teach the way we were taught. And that is how I was taught coding. In the program I attended, we were told that whatever coding languages, databases, or platforms we were taught would be obsolete in just a few years. So it was necessary for us to learn how to learn and how to teach ourselves, as we would be constantly re-learning and re-skilling. And that has turned out to be exactly true! That method has stood me in good stead over the years. So I pass that along to all of my students now.
We ended with student presentations on the last day, and I was so moved and proud of all that my attendees accomplished. Each chose something personally meaningful and/or useful in their learning settings. I would say we spent almost half the time working on individual projects, and the focus and energy was amazing. Students remarked how quickly the time flew by (always a good sign). They experienced first-hand the magic of Minecraft — its versatility, endless capacity for creation and engagement, all within the context of "Hard Fun". And they were all proud of the progress they made from where they started. I had multiple requests for an intermediate or advanced session next summer, so they could continue their Minecraft learning paths! And they all shared how excited they were to go back in the fall and do some cool stuff with Minecraft with their students. That’s a win!