I am aware that the title of this blog post might be slightly provocative. Good. That’s the point. I really want you who are working in school to read this post. Or maybe you are a parent and (like me) worried about your child playing games rather than doing homework and ”learning” something.

Different learning styles
We all have different ways to receive and process information and gain knowledge. Some of us learn through practical experience, others through theoretical studies. But, more commonly, we gain knowledge through a mixture of both.

We can discern four different learning styles:

  • Visual – using sight to gain knowledge
  • Auditory – listening and gaining knowledge that way
  • Kinesthetic/tactile – through acting and performing, using your body/hands to gain knowledge

Taking this into consideration, I have been viewing games as a possible and powerful educational tool for a long time. In addition, games often use mechanisms that trigger motivation and other basic needs in a very exciting way.

Game Mechanisms
Gamification has been a buzzword during 2012, especially when it comes to school issues. The concept of gamification includes increased motivation to complete a task through game mechanisms, a sense of belonging, finding confidence in their character, problem solving (both individually and as a team), guidance along the way, etc.

Living with Asperger Syndrome
My son has Asperger’s. He is, like all children, wonderful and amazing with his unique strengths and weaknesses that must be overcome. But for him, like for many children (and adults) with Asperger’s, obstacles can be especially difficult and what is easy might be additionally easy.

Mainly my son’s difficulties are noticeable in the school environment. At home, we provide an environment that gives him the means to succeed in his everyday life and to develop and live up to his full potential. We often use visual support such as picture schedules with checklists, timers and reminders, picture cards to choose activity etc. Furthermore, we have routines for meals (energy refill), physical activity and we adapt the environment to suit him (including not moving around things in our home, not having strong light sources, adjusting audio etc. making sure not to interfere). Socially, we work a lot with social stories (Ritprata) in order for him to understand himself in relation to others, giving him small social tasks, such as going to the bakery etc…

I fully understand that the school has difficulties providing the same platform and opportunities for my son and his learning, in spite of the fact that Swedish law says they should. What if things were different?

(Please note that Asperger Syndrome has nothing to do with intellect. Most people with Asperger Syndrome have normal intellectual abilities or above average.)

Minecraft as a teaching tool
Something happens to my son’s self-esteem when he is playing games. In the game world he is confident, he dares to try things and, above all, he feels good and competent. He makes new friends in the game, he gets to practice his social skills, he feels like part of a group and he gets positive feedback from other players. He also learns how to accept defeat as well as letting others win for the group or for the game to go on.

To understand how Minecraft could serve as an educational tool it is not enough to read about it online, or to sit next to the person while he or she is playing. Like in many other cases, we need to try for ourselves in order to understand and see what opportunities are available.

I wanted to see if I could help him overcome his difficulties with writing and reading, by adapting to my son’s learning style and source of motivation as well as by using a digital teaching tool.

Guess what! I found the answer to this and so much more!

I dare say that Minecraft is by far one of the most educating digital tools we can find on the market today. It is actually much better than many products by educational publishers in the same field. But it takes some ingenuity, time and dedication to understand the mindset.

How we use Minecraft for learning
Me and my son have one Minecraft account each. It costs about $ 20. We play ”creative mode” which means that there are no monsters or obstacles in the game. We open up a Minecraft world which we distribute to our own network at home, so that only we have access to ”our world”.

For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a construction game where you build your own environment by using a variety of elements and materials found in the nature. You can then use these to create different tools and objects. You can also put up signs and classify things in the surroundings, which we have been doing a lot as an excuse to writing. Moreover, he has shown great interest in translating from English to Swedish while playing, as well as understanding other players (who write in English) while playing on other platforms.

During the game, I can use the chat feature to write brief instructions to my son where I encourage him to do certain tasks. He reads my chat and gives response by writing his own commands to me. At first this was a little frustrating for him because he wanted to be able to both read and write back quickly. But the game was so motivating in itself that he struggled with the keys more and more. Finally things went much faster. I have also started writing down common English phrases and asking him in English to find objects or do things in the surroundings.

Since Minecraft is a fairly complex game and you cannot learn everything overnight, it also encourages you to search for information from other sources. My son has learned how to use YouTube, Google and Wikipedia as a natural way to look for information that can be applied in the game. He has also started to produce and publish his own videos on YouTube, teaching others about the game.

Besides encouraging and motivating young people to read and write, there are other things that Minecraft has to offer. Me and ICT teacher Annika have created a map showing how to learn within the curriculum and school subjects using Minecraft.

Thanks for reading! 

/Anna Stam

Map which connects Minecraft to school subjects and the Swedish school curriculum

(in Swedish) http://popplet.com/app/#/676799  

Lukas explains Minecraft and read (in Swedish)