Digital Technologies Games-Based Learning – 5th March 2019

This week in Digital Technologies we focused on games-based learning within the classroom, in particular, Minecraft Education Edition. I have very little knowledge about Minecraft, my expertise doesn’t extend beyond knowing that it is a game where little pixel characters build things. I’m sure my daughters could teach me a thing or two about using the game and what the point of it is.

My first impressions of Minecraft Education Edition are that it is underwhelming, confusing and I have no idea how it can be used to enhance teaching and learning within a classroom setting. I expect that, by the end of this input, I will be more informed about the use of games such as Minecraft Education Edition within the classroom and will be able to utilise them within my own classroom.

With more than three-quarters of 0- to 5-year-olds using digital devices at home, regardless of background, it is no wonder that games-based learning has worked its way into the classroom (Ward, 2018). According to Prensky (2003) the brains of our “digitally native” children are changing to accommodate the new technologies that they are being exposed to and spending so much time on. This means that children are able to focus their attention on a wide range of events and are better at multi-tasking and “parallel processing” than in previous generations. Games today can teach a variety of transferable skills such as decision making, collaboration, strategic planning and complex understanding of systems through experimentation. If children are learning these skills from games-based learning and are used to understanding complex games from a pre-school age then they can find the curriculum of reading and writing within the classroom boring or depressing. It is therefore, imperative that we encourage these skills within the classroom and incorporate games-based learning into the curriculum. In order to embed the use of digital technologies in education Scottish Government (2016) have put in place an action plan. This plan aims to incorporate digital technologies, including games-based learning, seamlessly into all areas of the curriculum by; developing the skills of educators, improving access to technologies, empowering leaders and enhancing curriculum and assessment delivery with digital technologies. This plan, if successfully implemented will ensure that digital technologies will be incorporated, seamlessly, into classrooms and ensure that lessons are more engaging and dynamic for children. As mentioned in my previous blogs, however, successful implementation and successful teaching and learning with digital technologies can only happen when educators are comfortable using the technology and are well supported. According to Groff, Howells and Cranmer (2010) many teachers have reservations about trying games-based learning despite the approach being highly engaging for students and an excellent tool to enhance teaching and learning within the classroom. These reservations are because teachers do not have the confidence and skills to use games-based learning and I believe that I would feel the same way. I do not have the skills to effectively teach games-based learning within a classroom. Games-based learning cannot be executed effectively without excellent planning and confidence.

Within the primary school settings that I have worked and volunteered I have noticed that technology is often used as a reward or to simply use ICT time within the classroom. Bray (2012) states that in a classroom setting, games should not just be used as rewards or for entertainment but as a whole new approach to learning and that Games-based Learning has the most transformational impact when it is combined with good learning and teaching. In order to teach the many valuable skills that games-based learning offers, educators must use them effectively and not simply to fill time or as a reward, this is imperative for children to get the most from games-based learning.

The task we were set today was to work, in groups, to develop an interdisciplinary plan for using Minecraft Education Edition within the classroom. Having limited knowledge of Minecraft meant that my group felt slightly out of depth and we immediately began by “tinkering” with the app and looking at tutorial videos and websites for Minecraft Education Edition. Some of the videos and websites that we looked at can be found below:

The tutorial videos and various website that I looked at all made Minecraft Education Edition appear to be an asset to use within the classroom, however, I found the app difficult to use and couldn’t quite “get the hang of it”. I found it difficult to navigate the character and found it impossible to actually do anything constructive on the app. Unfortunately, the tutorial videos didn’t help with this and I found that this was also the case for the other members of my group.

Despite being unable to navigate the Minecraft Education Edition app well we continued to develop our lesson plan with the information that we had acquired and devised a plan together. The photographs below are a visual representation of the plan and the Curriculum for Excellence outcomes that we incorporated within our plan.

Our plan was for the class to split into small groups and work together to build homes that make use of different forms of renewable energy within different Minecraft regions. We hoped that, by the end of their project, the children would be able to talk about their chosen renewable energy to the rest of the class, identify knowledge about their chosen energy source through this presentation and answer questions about their chosen energy source.

We identified several areas of the curriculum which could be incorporated into this lesson and chose the four which we thought were the most suitable and would be incorporated seamlessly throughout the “gaming’ experience. These are listed below:

  • I value the opportunities I am given to make friends and be part of a group in a range of situations. HWB 0-14a / HWB 1-14a / HWB 2-14a / HWB 3-14a / HWB 4-14a (Education Scotland, n.d. P.81)
  • I can make suggestions as to how individuals and organisations may use technologies to support sustainability and reduce the impact on our environment. TCH 2-07a(Education Scotland, n.d. P.309)
  • I can discuss the environmental impact of human activity and suggest ways in which we can live in a more environmentally- responsible way. SOC 2-08a (Education Scotland, n.d. P.287)
  • Having investigated where, why and how scale is used and expressed, I can apply my understanding to interpret simple models, maps and plans. MTH 2-17d (Education Scotland, n.d. P.205)

There are many more experiences and outcomes that this lesson would incorporate and the whole lesson would have to be within an IDL topic on renewable energy as, I envisage, it would take a whole term for the children to research and explore the different types of renewable energy that can be used for powering homes. The topic could be completed with a class outing to a wind farm or other renewable energy location.

The below photos offer a visual representation of our work using the Minecraft Education Edition app and planning our lesson.

At the end of the input today we presented our ideas to the rest of our digital technologies cohort and were afforded the opportunity to hear what the other groups had planned. This was nerve wracking for me as I find speaking in front of my peers quite overwhelming, however I was able to overcome this and actually enjoyed presenting this lesson plan, alongside my group.

Listening to my cohort present their lesson plans was very interesting and I discovered that Minecraft Education Edition offers tools such as use of the periodic table of elements, this would be useful for chemistry and science lessons and the use of a mode within the game called “survival mode” where the player must hunt for food as well as build shelters and fires to stay warm in order to survive. This “survival mode” was eye opening for me as it has the ability to teach children the basic skills needed in order to survive in a fun and engaging way.

I would like to say that I really enjoyed using Minecraft Education Edition, however, I did not. I enjoyed finding out about the tools that are incorporated into the app and really enjoyed planning a lesson in which Minecraft Education Edition can be used and also finding out, from my cohort, about the different lessons which can be planned for using the app. I however, did not enjoy using the app itself. I found it difficult to navigate and confusing to work. Despite this setback, I would like to use games-based learning within my classroom as a practitioner because children are using digital devices to play games from a very young age and these games help to engage them in their learning. I plan to explore other games that may be used within the classroom and also have another look into using Minecraft Education Edition in order to give me confidence with them in the classroom.