Sarah Rolle


As the Director of Technology at The Elisabeth Morrow School (EMS), I spend a lot of time supporting teachers so that our practices are current and meet our students in the world in which they live (among other facets of my job :-). As I listen to my tech teachers, who tend to introduce the new technology, and listen to students as they participate in class and use technology, I have the opportunity to consider all different facets of our program. Our use of Minecraft is part of an ever-evolving use of 3D virtual worlds and games. Though we use other platforms, Minecraft has taken off in a way that the others haven't.

I sometimes think that the fact that Minecraft is blocky and "old school" is part of why it has worked so well and is so appealing. This is just my opinion, but I think when you have less options about how you look and the choices are less life-like, you move on to other important things. Minecraft is all about building and our students projects can attest to this. One summer, during our summer program, the students were given the opportuntiy to do what they wanted. What we found is that they created, and still create, unbelievable structures. This includes amusement parks, schools and areas to pay tribute to others. The first time that I saw the tribute area that was built to say good bye to class of eighth grade graduates, I was amazed. Our students built tributes, but also had a space to share how they felt. And what parent wouldn't want their child to learn about electrical circuits using redstone or figure out how to create working bumper cars?

We offer a 24/7 server so that students have a safe place to play outside of school. Our students were so taken with Minecraft that even though we have that server, many wanted to figure out how to build their own servers. Children as young as third grade, were scouring the web to find directions for everything from how to set up a server to how to craft and construct different things, especially before creative mode existed. I am still intrigued by the initiative that so many students show with this game.

At EMS, as I mentioned earlier, our program is ever-evolving. The use of games has value because deep learning occurs when students create things. In third grade, they study colonies. Marianne Malmtrom, aka Knowclue, created a apace for the students to build their own colony because we knew that it would help them understand what life was like in a colony. Our teachers, including Marianne when she taught 3rd grade, had done that previously in their classrooms, but the current 3rd grade teachers will attest to the fact that the learning moved to a different level with the use of Minecraft. The students have different jobs in the colony and we restrict their capabilities so that they can only do their own job. As a result, there are great conversations both in the game and in the room while the kids are in the game. Their are also great conversation about it separate from the game. The students had to figure out how to work as a group for their colony to survive and they become very invested in the process. We started this year's 3rd graders in the game this week. I have no doubt that it will work just as well as in the past, but with different conversation based on the knowledge and needs of the current set of students.

We feel strongly about using games to help our curriculum, but not using them just to gamify the delivery of information.

As I reflect here, I wonder why "game" sometimes seems like a four letter word. It so easy for people who don't spend the day observing our use of Minecraft to misunderstand why we value it so much. At our pre-school, play is valued. In fact, our pre-school has a play based curriculum. But as children get older (and I know this is true other places as well), we push play to the side and forget how valuable it is for children, of any age, to solve problems and figure things out on their own. I think Minecraft has been invaluable in many ways, especially in helping our student to construct knowledge both with free-form play and in activities and units guided by their teachers.