ASHLAND, OH – An Ashland High School English teacher is using Minecraft to engage students in the literary worlds they are reading about in class.
Minecraft, a sandbox video game that was released in 2011, gives players the freedom to build anything they want in the game's world. Microsoft bought the intellectual property in 2014. Since then, Microsoft has produced an “Education Edition” in order to implement the game in the classroom.
When Ben Spieldenner, English Teacher at Ashland High School, told his students that they would be playing Minecraft to further their learning, he didn't have to worry about them being rusty.
“It's like riding a bike, you know?” Spieldenner said. “They are very familiar about how it works, they are very familiar with how to construct, all those kinds of things.”
Ben got the idea to implement the game into his classroom after playing it with his kids. He recognized that the game did not have a win/lose system, instead it rewards players with the freedom of creation and exploration.
“I've been teaching english for a number of years, and so selfishly, I really wanted to plan the worlds that we have been reading about.” Ben Spieldenner said. “I wanted to use Minecraft to create an experience they would not have gotten in the real world.”
When students were able to get hands-on with the game in class, they were structured into teams. One team was tasked with creating, while another was tasked with destruction. Due to limited resources, this brought forward discussions on how to best utilize the resources they have, as well as plan how they wanted to create the worlds that they have been reading about.
Different worlds were built from many english texts from authors such as William Shakespeare, Ayn Rand, Charles Dickens, and more. Students found out quickly that the more they read in the book, the more likely they are to find secrets hidden in the world.
Ben states that having the game help visualize the worlds of the books they have been reading helps them better understand the subject. It's a tool that not many kids have at their disposal.
“We assume that kids have the tools necessary to be able to understand what they are reading,” Ben explained. “Not all kids have those tools.”
Ben Spieldenner grew up with video games, his parents would often tell him that he would have to read for one hour in order to be able to play video games for an hour. Ben says that this is probably what led him to become an english teacher. This is something that he wants students to experience, the joy of combining two worlds together.
Public perception of using video games in the classroom is mixed, but Ben says that the benefits are endless.
“Sometimes its just a matter of showing that it's not necessarily about the game itself… it's about what games can do for your class.” Ben stated. “It's a different way to look at education, it's a different way to look at the classroom… I think when they see how excited kids are to be there and to be playing again in class… I think that's exciting.”