Minecraft, one of the best-selling video games of all time, has encouraged players to explore and flex their creativity for more than a decade.
Now, the game is taking on a new life at Lake Worth Middle School.
“I’m all about engagement and motivation, and students love gaming, so we decided to put them together," said April Leach, the school’s media specialist.
Minecraft players are usually focused on surviving a vast world comprised of pixelated blocks. Those blocks — made from stone, dirt, iron and other resources — can be torn down and used to build new landscapes, structures or tools.
Jasmine Lightfoot Neuforth, 13, started playing the game at home five years ago. She traversed mountains, forests, caves and open plains. She built shelters and survived the dangerous enemies that appear when night falls.
She never imagined the beloved game would become a classroom assignment. And never, she said, has the game been so rewarding.
Neuforth recently joined fellow classmates in learning about renewable energy and then building solar panels within the game.
She also researched the issue of human trafficking before exploring solutions within Minecraft, ultimately placing cameras and extra lighting in her virtual community.
"I like to solve real-world problems, so I'm glad I had the opportunity to do that with Minecraft," she said.
What do Minecraft and education have in common?
Leach brought the game to her students this year, after securing an $8,000 grant from the Education First organization. It’s one of many projects funded by the award, she said.
Using a special version of the game that released in 2016, known as Minecraft: Education Edition, students can build a Mars rover, construct a molecule or assemble a power source.
They can take part in a bridge-building competition, plant a “pollinator garden” for bees and compete in challenges using basic computer coding.
One game mode even challenges students to “build your emotion.”
“Share with a classmate, friend, or family member and see if they can guess how you are feeling from what you built,” the challenge reads.
'You're failing most of the time'
Outside of the game’s prebuilt challenges, Leach instructs her students to choose a pressing issue before researching the problem and building a solution in Minecraft.
“They are learning to work collaboratively, to game together, to think through what issues are important in the world,” she said. “Is it poverty? Is it hunger? Is it homelessness?”
It might seem like fun and games, she said, but students are learning how to work together, set goals and use critical thinking. That includes reviewing information and discerning which sources are credible.
And it helps many of her students – who often speak Spanish or Haitian Creole – to sharpen their English skills through the process of researching a topic, working with classmates and presenting their findings.
"I insist they help each other," Leach said. "It's not all from a teacher talking down to them. Many of them are learning and know way more than I do."
Leach secured the project money with help from The Grants Made Simple Foundation. She also teamed up with Randall Fujimoto, an expert in game-based learning, to launch the project and track students’ progress.
Broadcasting from his office in California, Fujimoto addressed a room of more than 60 students and parents this month, during an after-school event to showcase the project.
Fun is central to learning in elementary school. And for some reason, education becomes less about play and creativity as students grow older, Fujimoto said.
That’s changing with the introduction of Minecraft in schools. Such games, he said, can impart valuable knowledge to students — lessons they’ll carry throughout their lives.
“Whenever you’re playing a game, you’re failing most of the time,” he said. “Gamers know that’s to be expected, and that you need to take that opportunity to learn.”
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Minecraft video game debuts at Palm Beach County middle school