Trying to increase the educational value of Minecraft through open-ended questions.

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Is there an educational value to minecraft?I’m not totally convinced about the educational value of minecraft, but my children are pretty obsessed with it. Even limiting their computer time doesn’t prevent them from spending all their extra time talking about the game, comparing notes on how to build the best mob spawners or toilets for the computer game characters that have no use of them. I find that if I’m going to have conversations with them these days, I need to come up with some ways to tie it in with minecraft. Here are a few of my ideas and a bit about how some of them turned out.

How is minecraft similar to lego? How is it different? We talked briefly about what it would be like to build a foundation out of basic blocks, and then have to mine and use those blocks in the building of a house or setting. Obviously strip-mines and open-pit mines would be easier than tunnels, since a person’s hands would have to reach through. Gravity would always apply, unless the pieces are of different size and overlap, which they of course could be because lego has more size options than minecraft.

How is Minecraft similar to Settlers of Catan? How is it different? In Minecraft there’s more variety of products and resources, and you have more choice about which ones you gather when, whereas Settlers of Catan the luck of the dice plays a larger role. In Minecraft there’s less rules about how you interact with your neighbours, though in both games you can help supply someone with resources they need or choose to withhold them – or steal, for that matter.

Do minecraft characters get lonely? I’m thinking particularily about players playing single-player, and the idea that they can meet villagers but the villagers count as “passive mobs” that interact only through trading objects. Would a character get lonely? “One of the reasons minecraft characters don’t get lonely is there’s always a zombie knocking at the door – except in peaceful,” someone told me, but I wonder what type of interaction does it take to not be lonely.

Does it matter if your minecraft cat and dog get killed? Are they pets or are they just tools in a computer game? How much attachment do you form to your characters? Sometimes the minecraft animals can become a nuisance, sitting on chests and generally getting in the way, and yet they’re tolerated anyway, and that makes me think about how pets can be. Is the value of a cat determined partly by its rarity, or its usefulness, or by a sense of protectiveness that comes from viewing it as a pet?

Of course questions don’t always have to be open ended. There’s lots of math questions that can be asked too about the minecraft economy. Do you calculate the costs of different minecraft products? One block of wood turns into 4 planks. 2 plants turns into 8 sticks. Stone and wood can both be crafted into pressure plates, but which one is more expensive and why?

I listened for weeks to my children obsess over the different characteristics of minecraft mobs. They talked about how slimes don’t swim upwards and so people use water to seperate slimes from zombies in mob spawners, and all I could think about was the pages in the science textbooks that talk about using the different characteristics of physical objects to seperate them. Can learning about the minecraft equivalents help them think about real life, or does it remain a seperate catagory of random facts in their brains?

Imagine approaching a minecraft chest. Now imagine what is inside it. Do you picture the grid on which the items are stored? Is that how they’d look inside the chest? Is there an inside to the chest? Can you picture items floating in it as though they were dropped objects? Or as though all the square items were tiny packed neatly in it? Or just the grey grid?

I can definately see the appeal to minecraft. It has all the fun of making little electric circuits but none of the real life frusturation of two bits of wire refusing to stick together. They can build models in minecraft without worrying about the glue not holding or the balsa wood breaking. They can build complicated creations without having to clean up or worrying about whether they can hold the pen gently enough. They can flip through their inventory instead of dig through the pile of lego. I just wish they’d spend more time doing those things things too.

 

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18 thoughts on “Trying to increase the educational value of Minecraft through open-ended questions.

    • They can build buildings based off of pictures and such, and building big monster spawners where they have to calculate out the size to get the water to flow propertly, and the other day one son was using graph paper to plot out what he was going to build. Yet its not architecture. There’s no sense of tension and compression, all a question of substituting based on appearances. If there’s going to be building, I’d love if it followed more real-life rules.

  1. My 8 year old talks about it, thinks about it, watches tutorials and tapes his own tutorials. He wakes up with things to teach us and he closes his eyes with questions about what to build and how to beat other players with multi-player games.

  2. I recently wrote a short post about Minecraft on my blog…I would love for you and your readers to answer my questions. We really are struggling with it, I copied the gist of it below.

    …Please sound off about Minecraft. My kids love love love it. And we have struggled with it since February. While it seems to be a great creative exercise (lego online?), it also seems to gobble up time like Cookie Monster gobbles up cookies. It can be all they want to do / think about. We limit the time they are allowed to spend on it and they always want more. They always want to know when they can play it (“if I finish this lesson can I play Minecraft?” “If I do extra chores can I earn more Minecraft time?”).

    I am at the point of wanting it out of my house. My kids are super creative, they love to build and imagine and create, and I feel like Minecraft gets all the best of them. Their real legos hardly get touched.

    I would love to hear from other families. Is this an issue in your house? Have you embraced Minecraft or banned it?

    • It is an issue at our house. We tried one week of no-minecraft playing and my oldest spent the whole week reading the minecraft wiki instead. And before anyone lecture me on taking something important away from my children, let it be clear that they agreed to the idea of going one week because even they recognize its taking over their lives…. and my oldest would constantly say “today I’m not going to read about minecraft at all….” and then find himself sitting at the computer reading about it. So I worry about the addictive nature of it.

      I worry about the ease of minecraft. Yes, the children can make anything in it, and they can learn constantly about how to build different things, and yet its simple and time consuming, and that worries me. Right now we’re trying to keep it control by encouraging the kids to do other things too, and allowing them a set amount of computer time each day. But that doesn’t stop them from obsessing about it.

      • My son loves minecraft as well. However, he seems to be losing some interest. He hasn’t played in quite a while. When he first discovered it he wanted to play all of the time.

        We have a tech time reward system. For every minute he reads he earns a minute of “computer / game” time. He enjoys reading so this has been an easy reward for him. It has given him an incentive to read rather than just asking for game time.

  3. My son is seven, and he loves Minecraft as well. He goes through phases where he plays it more than other games. I have to monitor his time as well, and it’s the first thing to get banned if he misbehaves. I don’t see it as a problem right now. I will say he was able to build his own real life maze recently. I attribute this to all his world building 🙂

  4. My daughter is mildly obsessed with Minecraft. Not necessarily playing it but watching tutorials on YouTube, talking about strategies with other kids, cluing me in on the pros/cons of various building materials…I’m sure this sounds familiar. She doesn’t get to spend too much time on the Xbox during the summer (too many other fun things going on) but this is her activity of choice on rainy days.

    • My kids love the tutorials on YouTube too, and the chance to talk strategy with other kids. How do you manage the access to YouTube? Does she pick her own videos to watch, and do you worry about which ones she watches?

      I don’t know what age your daughter is. My oldest is eight, and at first I worried lots. He’s found one particular youtube channel that generally stays clear of bad language, so I’m a bit more relaxed knowing he keeps to that one most of the time. And I try to listen in, but really, I don’t have time to listen to the tutorials with him the whole time.

  5. My daughter is five and has been playing since she was three and a half. Minecraft has given her an outlet she wouldn’t normally have for her logic skills, and she also tells us stories about what she has done, why, and how it was difficult/different than she thought it would be etc. She has watched us watch tutorials, build things, and then went and tried to copy it for herself asking for help with some things and being forced to struggle hard with others when we are busy or we know she can do it. My husband tried to let her in on the LAN to his world and she outsmarted all of the locks, secret rooms and other attempts he made to keep her out of his best materials. She would watch how he got into something when he didn’t think she was looking, and next thing – she was there in the map and doing all of the same actions to get the object. Her goals at playing the game are different than an adults – her joy and method of learning is, as well. We have discussed the ‘easy/hard’ comparison of creative mode and survival mode, the life and death of mobs, whether they are robots, if they are good/evil/neutral, how it feels to be lost, to start over, to lose an object and have to get it back etc etc… Minecraft can be a jumping off point for many conversations but it can also be a shared experience in problem solving, diligence and creativity.

    • Yes, it is a chance for a child to experience more than they could otherwise… I’ve noted that before, that my children crave more stimulation at times, more chances to explore and create and computer games give them that.

  6. For my 13-year old, this game has been the stepping stone to programming, as he has made several “mods” with his own code. These are sometimes reviewed by others on YouTube, and he often seems to be working to a deadline, trying to adapt his mods to the latest Minecraft update because people are asking for them. If I had just suggested (and I have) that he take a programming course, he would have had limited interest. With this, he’s learned quite a bit about Java and now sees the benefits of going deeper with that knowledge. I wasn’t sure about the game at first, but I’d far prefer this to the first-person shooter games that the neighbourhood kids seem to prefer (or should I say, “used to prefer” until my son taught them how to ‘mod’ too)!

  7. My son has been asking about minecraft (he played it on someone’s phone) and I”m hesitant to let him because of all I’ve heard about the addictive nature of it. I think he will love it, but…he is only six!

    • My six year old plays minecraft, because his older brother does. I do set limits on how long they are allowed to be on the computer each day. I’m not sure minecraft is all that much more addictive than any other computer game. Have you heard it is?

  8. Pingback: All-Nice | SIXTY-FIVE FREE MINECRAFT ACTIVITIES! Wow!!

  9. I have 2 ways to deal with the mine craft obsession:
    1 – My son earns “minecraft minutes” for doing various worthy activities: 5 minutes if he plays his trumpet. 5 minutes for each chapter he reads in his chapter book. 5 minutes for doing a french lesson. And so forth. So when he plays, he has earned those minutes and I respect that.
    2 – We are building mods using Java. We do it together because he couldn’t do it on his own – no way. But he is learning how computers work and learning to deal with minecraft as a vast computer program and understand how to make changes to it. There are good video tutorials on-line. But to do this as a parent you should already know how to program. We use these videos, though sometimes his language is a little adult:
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWLTUG684tcT1Li42iuLoMg

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