Using Minecraft To Teach Craft, Design And Technology In Primary School
Being able to handle technology and digital media is subsumed as key competence of the 21st century. Therefore, school plays a vital role to teach pupils from a very early age on how to evaluate chances and risks of modern technology as well as using it to solve problems, communicate and collaborate. Austrian primary schools are quite often equipped with PCs or computer labs but teachers do not make frequent use of them. Especially the subject “craft, design and technology” primarily focuses on working with wood or metal and does not integrate modern technology.
Therefore, this research wanted to find out what pre-service teachers for primary school think of using Minecraft as part of the subject “craft, design and technology” to teach basics in building and architecture which is part of the curriculum. Instead of traditionally working with wood, stones and clay, students should learn how to create buildings in a virtual environment and printing their result using a 3-D-printer.
The project aimed at finding out about attitudes and mindsets of pre-service teachers (third year of studies) about digital game-based learning in the subject “craft, design and technology” by using Minecraft. The potential of digital games (commercial and serious games) has been discussed for more than a decade (Gee 2007, Ritterfeld et al. 2009). However, in order to use digital games, teachers need special training (Van Eck 2006). Minecraft was chosen for the project because it helps to teach collaborative learning, critical thinking and problem solving (Ellison, Evans & Pike 2016) – all of these skills crucial for pupils. Research has already shown that Minecraft can engage and motivate children to deal with architecture (Roberts-Woychesin 2015).
The following research questions were dealt with:
- Which potential (if any) do pre-service see in using Minecraft in primary school (referring to the subject “craft, design and technology”)?
- Which pre-conditions and success-factors can be identified that digital games (especially Minecraft) are used for teaching in the subject “craft, design and technology”?
Data was generated by using lectures for “craft, design and technology” at an Austrian university teacher college in 2017/18. Altogether, 84 students took part in the lectures (winter and summer term). In each lecture, the students were taught using Minecraft for 4-5 lessons (45 minutes each). The students worked in groups, using the Minecraft-mode “creativity”. After having gotten familiar with the software, the students worked in their groups to solve a virtual construction task (for example a knight’s castle, various buildings, a settlement or a ship). The finished constructions were printed using a 3-D-printer. Each participating student of the summer term 2018 interviewed two students who took part in the lecture in winter term 2017. 58 interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview guide, recorded and transcribed. The results were categorized in seven deductive categories:
- Attitude towards using Minecraft
- Attitude towards using digital games in lessons
- Advantages of Minecraft
- Technical equipment of primary schools
- Assessment of own digital literacy
- Problems when using Minecraft
- Needs regarding pre-service training at university
When analyzing the data two groups of students could be identified: those who are not willing to use Minecraft in lessons and those who think more positively about using Minecraft. Generally seen students appreciated about Minecraft that it helps to teach conception of space and architectural planning in a very motivating and creative way. However, students would not use Minecraft in grade 1 or 2. As students were taught themselves in Minecraft and experienced the positive effects of team-work in the seminar, most of them also quoted teamwork as another skill acquired. The majority, however, also stated that using games like Minecraft needs to be carefully thought about as children spend much time with digital media at home anyway and school needs to teach basic skills like reading, writing and calculating and especially in subjects like “craft, design and technology” to work with their hands.
Learning games are expected to generate measurable results in curricular topics. Therefore, they need to make sense and should not be used just to play games. Because of being able to connect Minecraft to the curriculum (building and housing) combined with the possibility of printing the virtual object and thus making it tangible and touchable the game fulfils this purpose. Problems, however, are seen when thinking of the technical equipment of primary schools – there are not enough computers available.
The second research questions about pre-conditions found out that one part of the students (those who think positively about using Minecraft in lessons) sees the following conditions: If hardware is available for the number of pupils to be taught and the teacher has necessary digital literacy, the chance of using Minecraft is very high. When coming across any problems, this group of studies would try to solve them creatively and on their own. On the other hand, the group who does not think they will ever use Minecraft or similar games, are generally quite skeptical towards digital media. They do not see any advantages in using Minecraft for teaching.
The results therefore show that the personal attitude towards digital media and especially digital media partly influences how students see pre-conditions and success factors for using Minecraft in class. What is interesting – it does not necessarily depend on their own digital literacy. Even some students who rate their own digital competences rather high, object the use of digital media in primary school.
- Ellison, Tisha Lewis, Evans, Jessica N., Pike, Jim (2016): Minecraft, Teachers, Parents, and Learning: What They Need to Know and Understand. In: School Community Journal 26/2. S. 25-43.
- Gee, James Paul (2007): What Video games?have to?teach us about learning and literacy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Ritterfeld, Ute et al.?(2009): Serious Games: Mechanisms and Effects. New York: Routledge.
- Roberts-Woychesin, Jami (2015): Understanding 3-D spaces through game-based learning. A case study of knowledge acquisition through problem-based learning in Minecraft.?University?of?North Texas:?ProQuest?Dissertations?Publishing.
- Van Eck, Richard (2006): Digital Game-Based?Learning:?It’s?Not Just?the?Digital Natives Who Are Restless …?In: EDUCAUSE Review 41/2. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Richard_Van_Eck/publication/242513283_Digital_Game_Based_LEARNING_It’s_Not_Just_the_Digital_Natives_Who_Are_Restless/links/0a85e53cd61cf43e29000000.pdf?(last accessed 29 Nov 2017)