Minecraft: Open World Gaming in the Classroom


Saying “Minecraft” in any class from kindergarten through eighth grade will generally result in a bit of a frenzy. During a recent classroom visit, I noticed a group of students sitting in a small circle intensely discussing the task at hand. It was apparent that due to their fierce engagement, I had gone completely unnoticed. As I moved closer, the mooing and clucking of cows and chickens were clearly audible.

I asked, “is that Minecraft?” At that moment, the intensity broke as they all turned. It was as if  just saying Minecraft broke the spell and opened the floodgates. They eagerly explained the basics of the game and why it remains at the top of their gaming list. From creativity to survival, their reasoning clearly reinforced Minecraft as an engaging learning tool.

Many teachers have asked me what is Minecraft? Simply put,  Minecraft is an open world type game where players can travel through a virtual environment. Also referred to as a sandbox game, Minecraft is void of any artificial barriers and allows players to create and manipulate their world. Using an inventive 3d platform, players can build structures out of textured cubes, forage for resources, craft, and combat.

Can a game with no apparent goals be an effective learning tool? A small group of educators and programmers from the United States and Finland say yes by creating MinecraftEDU. If you are considering deploying Minecraft at your school, MinecraftEDU is the ideal launching point, providing tutorials and lesson plans that can be adapted to  your existing curriculum.

Minecraft’s curriculum connections:

  • Survival- One of two principle modes, survival mode requires players to maintain their health and consider the resources and skills required to survive and develop their world.
  • Geology- Mining is a key element of Minecraft.  Students can identify the physical properties and uses of minerals along with building and studying biomes.
  • Science-  From melons to squash, students can study plants and seeds, along with the essentials to make them grow. Discuss natural habitats as students explore deciduous forests,  deserts, jungles, and tundras.
  • Engineering- Complex structures can be built using Minecraft including replicas of historic landmarks.
  • Math- The Minecraft crafting system can develop reasoning and problem solving skills.

There are two versions of Minecraft available:

Minecraft Pocket Edition- Available for ios and Android.

MinecraftEDU–  Designed for classroom use and available for Mac, Windows, and Linux

As the Minecraft craze continues to spread worldwide, educators are creating engaging learning experiences by making solid curriculum connections to open world gaming.

Real world uses of Minecraft in the classroom:

Wonders of Minecraft– Chronicles the introduction of Minecraft into the middle school curriculum.

Digging For Truth-Minecraft Blog–  Jeremy Briddle writes about creating a curriculum unit that connects Minecraft to the study of early human civilizations.

Minecraft, with all its pixels, is making quite an impact on children. Innovative educators are taking advantage of student’s natural excitement and are achieving effective teaching via gaming.

Is there a place for Minecraft in your classroom?


Free Online Games to Teach Typing



Keyboarding is important. Really important. Considered a crucial 21st century skill, typing is expected of children at a younger age and for a variety of purposes. From online test taking, to creating documents and communicating, solid typing skills hold a variety of benefits.

  • Increased productivity Students who are skilled keyboardists can complete projects and papers more efficiently.
  • Keyboarding involves reading. Aside from letter recognition, spelling and sentence structure will also expand.
  • Keyboarding improves memory and hand-eye coordination.
  • Good keyboarding skills promote independence.

Teaching students how to type at an early age  is a solid investment. Not only important for the classroom, proper keyboarding skills can ensure student success in the workplace. How can we hone our student’s keyboarding skills at an early age? A wide variety of free web-based tools are available to help younger students become master typists.

  • Big Brown Bear– Big Brown Bear teaches touch typing skills while promoting letter recognition. Difficulty increases as students achieve mastery.
  • Key Seeker– Ideal for kindergarten students, Key Seeker teaches typing, letter recognition and differentiating between right and left.
  • KeyBoard Climber– Help the monkey get to the top of the tree by quickly typing the letters on the screen.
  • Typing Ghost– The objective: destroy the ghosts by typing the words.
  • Key Man– Similar to Pac-Man, students can devour the food by typing words and letters.
  • Keyboarding Bubbles– Simple, yet effective, Keyboarding Bubbles challenges the user to type the letter on the bubble.
  • Barracuda– Help the Barracuda keep the river clean by typing the words in the box.

These simple keyboarding games are ideal for small sections of time or technology centers. Students will enjoy the practice in a familiar gaming format.



Gaming: Individualized Learning for the 21st Century Student.


IXL is a site that provides game based practice for the math and English classroom. While it is not a transformational game, it meets many of the criteria of beneficial gaming for the classroom. IXL provides math and English practice for the k-12 classroom. IXL’s game based format allows students to learn at their own pace, while working towards a clearly defined role.


ICivics was founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to assist young people to learn about government. Suitable for grades 3-12, ICivics offers a variety of games that immerse students in real world situations and foster skills that span across the curriculum.


Quandry was developed through the teacher education program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Suitable for ages 8-14, Quandry puts the player into an immersive environment where their choices effect the development of a new society. Quandry develops critical thinking and decision making skills while fostering an awareness of ethical issues.


Not yet available, but definitely worth mentioning is SimCity EDU. SimCity Edu is currently in their pilot phase and is centered on a pollution challenge. SimCity EDU is transformational play at its best, with sophisticated assessment capabilities. Students play the role of a mayor where they must make informed environmental decisions.  This game is geared towards the middle school grades and is slated for release this fall.

Angry Birds and Beyond.

The all too familiar slingshots are clear in my mind. Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to pilot our one to one computing program with the deployment of twenty five Android tablets in my fifth grade classroom.  The result was a very unique perspective on gaming in the classroom. The first week was met with student requests to start installing games. Interestingly, students were prepared with well thought out rationales as to why I should let them install Angry Birds. “It can help us learn our angles!”, or “we have to use strategy!” I quickly realized that my students were correct, and that this was genuinely an ideal moment to start the gaming conversation.  As I began to discuss the use of educational games, it was clear that my students saw gaming as motivating, engaging, and simply an enjoyable way to learn. They also added that many games were collaborative, where students can work together or play against each other in real time. Our informal classroom conversation mimicked the current research regarding 21st century students and educational gaming in the classroom.

Educational gaming is serious business. No longer simply an add -on, gaming can create much needed motivation in classrooms where students seem disconnected and apathetic about the learning process. A yearlong pan-European study that included over 500 teachers found that the great majority of the teachers surveyed confirmed that “motivation is significantly greater when computer games are integrated into the educational process” (Joyce, Gerhard, & Debry, 2009, pp.11).  Game based learning allows students to become connected to the learning process. “Players are more motivated when they feel a personal attachment to the goal” (Gee, 2009).  On the forefront of educational gaming are games that have clearly defined outcomes and are geared towards prosocial behavior. Games such as Quest Atlantis are “designed to support social commitment and real-world action” (  By allowing students an immersive environment, this type of “transformational play” is truly motivating to the 21st century student who thrives off of imaginative play and quick feedback.


Atlantis Remixed.  Retrieved from:

Gee, J.P. (2009). Deep learning properties of good digital games: How far can they go? In J.P. Gee (Ed.). Theories and mechanisms: Serious games for learning. New York, NY: Routledge

​Joyce, A., Gerhard, P., & Debry, M. (2009). How are digital games used in schools: Complete results of the study. European Schoolnet.