An interview with Sarah Elliott, teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), about using Minecraft for remote engagement with students.

Overview of how the ROM is using minecraft

Minecraft and Museums together at the ROM – ROM blog post

Why Minecraft?

Began when museums were beginning to look at virtual visits. Initially these were essentially video calls where students could ask questions. At first this was enough because of the novelty factor. Technology has moved on since and kids already had an interest in Minecraft, so the programme capitalizes on that interest.

Covering content

Began with rocks and minerals because various rock types and metals exist in the game. However the programme grew and became about responsible resource use and 21st century learning skills (edugains.ca competencies). Students are divided into villages with access to different resources and students are given tasks which require resources from other villages. The world and in-game characters respond to how students choose to acquire those resources. Their experiences inside the game gives students scaffolding for discussions in class.

More on Indigenous Knowledge Resource Teachers at the Royal Ontario Museum:

Teaching Indigenous Knowledge – Facebook Live broadcast recorded on August 8, 2019

How does the program work?

ROM has Minecraft accounts which schools are given access to. Students log into to a server which runs the world. ROM teachers have access to the server as well and facilitate the way the world responds to the students. 

Classroom teachers can also be in the world on their own account, or circulate in the classroom to respond to student conversations. Class teachers will then communicate with the ROM teacher so they can implement changes within the game. Students record their experiences, thoughts, and reflections in a journal. Class debriefs guided by the teachers also helps to highlight curriculum connections.

Classes are also sent and EduKit from the ROM which includes rock and mineral specimens and a teacher’s guide. (Royal Ontario Museum EduKits)

Do you need to know how to code?

A lot can be done with minimal coding. In addition, Microsoft offers professional development for teachers wanting to use Minecraft. YouTube is also an excellent source for tutorials. 

limitations in Minecraft

Java edition is very customizable, however it is difficult to update worlds which rely on many plug-ins. So you can get locked-in to the set of features you had when you began the programme. 

Minecraft education edition is what most schools have access to now. However it is more difficult for an external organization to get access to the world the students play on, and facilitate the type to programme the ROM currently runs.

Engagement with nature

There are many modules (mods) for the game which increase the realism of the biomes, animals, weather effects etc. People are able to programme their own mods, which would require learning about real biomes, animals, etc. in order to properly replicate them in-game.

Learning how the game mechanics work can give you a starting point for learning how the real world works. For example many of the bee mechanics are based on real-world behaviours. 

Tips for teachers/other education providers interested in using Minecraft 

  • Figure out what you want to teach first – Then consider if Minecraft will work for the topic. 
  • Check out the Minecraft education community – Microsoft has loads of free resources for teachers. (Minecraft education edition)
  • You do not need to be an expert – If is often more productive for teachers to be circulating in the classroom and facilitating discussions rather than actually playing the game with the students.

Get in touch with Sarah!

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Music in this episode – Gradual Sunrise by David Hilowitz

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