Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Minecraft 101

By John Miller

Minecraft is much more than a game. I’ve been using it as a teacher and player for the past five years and I’ve come to the realization that playing it is something to be experienced, especially with others.

When first logging into the game, players are “spawned” into a unique world, full of biomes like deserts, jungles, tundra, and grasslands where they will find useful objects around like cactus and trees, and animals such as chickens, rabbits, and horses.

There are two common modes to play in. In survival, players begin with nothing and must fend for themselves. They mine items like stone and cut down trees. Following strict recipes, they use these resources to craft items they need to survive, like tools and weapons. At night monsters (aka mobs) come out and attack unsheltered players.

In creative mode, players have unlimited access to all the blocks in the game and are free to fly around and cannot be hurt. This is the mode teams of players use to create astonishing projects found all over the internet. If you can dream it, you can probably build it in Minecraft.

Teachers are using the game to teach such topics as citizenship, math, science, history, and literacy. It’s also being used to teach computer science, art, and architecture and has been implemented in classes from kindergarten to university. It’s a brilliant tool for visualization of concepts and storytelling.

At home, informal lessons occur all the time. Kids are debating each other, developing original designs, learning geography and mapping skills, and are solving problems dealing with things like food shortages, climate, and electrical circuitry – known as redstone in the game.

Minecraft can be utterly confounding to parents, a world complete with its own vocabulary, a focused level of intensity, and legions of unbridled, enthusiastic supporters. It also is compulsive by nature. One of the game’s mottos after all is “just one more block.” As with any activity, we need to safeguard against excessive use and as parents, provide limits. 

In order to see what this is all about, I suggest that you see this as an opportunity to join your child in an activity they clearly love and ask a Minecraft player in your life to teach you the game.
Here are a couple of activities to get you started with Minecraft at home with your kids: 
  1. Survival mode challenge – have your child set up a survival world for you to play in. You’ll need to work together quickly to build a shelter and craft tools to survive that first night. Play together for an hour, save the game and return the following week. Play once a week over summer and experience the adventure of exploring and conquering a new world together. 
  2. Collaborative build – team up with other parents and their kids to complete a creative challenge together on a hot summer afternoon. Cooperate in the same world to build something original. How about a pirate base, a fleet of giant airships, or a zoo complete with Minecraft animals?
A Minecraft license is required for the version of the game you are playing. Your kids can likely help you get your username, or visit for help.

If you would like to explore more ideas and projects you can complete with your kids both in and outside of Minecraft, order a copy of my book, Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids.

John has been a middle school teacher in King City, California for over 20 years. He has experience teaching grades 6-8 in every content area. He was awarded an MA in Educational Technology and loves to dive deep into instructional design.
In April of 2016,  John (@johnmillerEDU) was recognized as Teacher of the Year for Monterey County. He is a Google Innovator and an internationally recognized leader in the Minecraft in Education community. John spends his free time with Audrey, his wife of nearly 30 years, rock climbing and traveling the world.
John is coauthor of the book, Unofficial Minecraft Lab for Kids (2016) from Quarry Books and is a contributor to An Educator’s Guide to Using Minecraft in the Classroom (2014) from Peachpit Press. He blogs about his classroom lessons at

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