Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Can't School be More Like Minecraft?

I was reading Dan Willingham's book Why Don't Students Like School the other day when my 6th grade daughter saw the title and said, "I'll tell you why, because it's BORING!!!" That led to a discussion on my daughter's problems with school and a comparison with an activity that she truly enjoys doing anytime anywhere - that's right Minecraft.

In Minecraft my daughter has learned how to gather resources in a sometimes hostile environment so that she can build shelter, create roller coasters, design buildings, etc.  She learns how to do this by failing miserably, then looking for videos from the Minecraft community that explain how to avoid the dreaded nighttime zombie raids.  My daughter is learning tons of skills and strategies for solving problems.  She is learning how to analyze resources for effectiveness by trying out advice from various sources and sticking with those that work.  She is learning to be resilient in times of difficulty.  It broke my heart to see her inconsolable tears one night because she had been killed in one of the Minecraft games.  Clearly her level of engagement was high, and she was determined to find out how to better prepare herself for the next assault.

Minecraft has its pitfalls and is not a panacea by any stretch of the imagination.  However, there are lessons to learn here for schools if want to keep our students' attention and see them invest time, energy, and emotion, we need to consider how we can make the school day a little more like Minecraft.  Here are some things to get started:

Remind students that all learning is like a great story.  There are problems, characters, conflict, solutions, resolution, and an ever changing environment.

Allow students to work together and share what they are learning to the larger community.

Put students in environments where they get immediate feedback on their attempts so that they know right away if they are succeeding ... or not.

Give students the opportunity to create and apply what they are learning in novel situations.
 Minecraft and many other games have our kids riveted to screens for hours on end.  School, on the other hand, has many students bored, disengaged, passive, and near comatose.  For those of us who believe education has tremendous potential to transform individuals and communities, we owe it to our students to apply our best thinking to the design of the school day.  We must do better than what normally passes as school today.  Your kids and my kids deserve better.

What do you think?

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