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Tech Class

Valuable Video Games

A London, Ont.-based OCT uses Minecraft to educate grade school students and teacher candidates.

By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo

Photo of Lauren Sovereign, OCT, David Carruthers, OCT, and Mariah Gooding, OCT, and students.
Lauren Sovereign, OCT, David Carruthers, OCT, and Mariah Gooding, OCT, and students.

THE CHALLENGE: Get students excited about learning.

THE SOLUTION: Have students use Minecraft for lesson-connected activities.

LESSONS LEARNED: As a Grade 7/8 teacher at Bonaventure Meadows Public School in London, Ont., David Carruthers, OCT, knows one of the best ways to get students excited about learning is to connect with activities they like to do when not in class, like playing video games. He uses one video game — Minecraft — to make that link.

Minecraft is an open-ended game in which players use 3D blocks to create whatever they like — from buildings and vehicles to plants and animals. Minecraft: Education Edition came out in 2016 specifically for use in classrooms.

That’s the version Carruthers uses. He regularly invites students across a range of grade levels to play Minecraft in a way that supports what they’re learning in math, geography and other subjects.

Last year, when he was a learning technologies co-ordinator with the Thames Valley District School Board, he worked with two teacher candidates (now occasional teachers in London), Lauren Sovereign, OCT, and Mariah Gooding, OCT, to bring Minecraft into classrooms and also help the former Western University faculty of education students see how teachers can make education engaging in this digital age.

They developed activities designed to help youngsters in London schools internalize what they’re learning. They had a Grade 5 math class at Mountsfield Public School create gardens in Minecraft to represent fractions. They had Grade 1 to 5 students at F.D. Roosevelt Public School build tree houses in Minecraft, linked to their reading of The Better Tree Fort, a book about valuing what you have.

OBSERVATIONS: Carruthers says students usually perk up when they find out they get to use Minecraft in class. “It makes a connection with something they’re already doing in their lives outside of school.”

Gooding says many students are familiar with the game, but they may not know how to use it the way you want them to. At home they might use “Survival mode,” in which players have to mine resources and fight enemies. But for class, you’ll want them to use “Creative mode,” which is more about building than battling.

At the same time, students can take the lead in Minecraft activities.

“We aren’t the experts in Minecraft,” Sovereign says. “Once you put that task out there, the students really are the ones showing us new strategies, and teaching other students.”

HELPFUL HINT: Mariah Gooding, OCT, recommends turning off the animal-spawning feature, otherwise students’ screens may be filled with distracting pigs, sheep and cows.

The College’s professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media — Updated guides members’ professional judgment in the use of technology.