Computer games and healthy eating might not seem like a natural combination, but the two go hand in hand for Year 5 students at Methven Primary School in Canterbury.
Using Minecraft's education edition, the pupils are building a virtual village, complete with a free range chicken farm, crop fields and shops to sell the produce.
Teacher Adele Warburton says Minecraft is more than just a fun computer game. She says using Minecraft as a learning tool encourages 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity and problem solving. It also teaches the children about being good digital citizens.
“We talk about how you wouldn't rip someone's book up, therefore you wouldn't tear down their house in Minecraft.”
Warburton admits that her students are all better than her at Minecraft.
“They're digital natives after all. Accepting differences is one of our school values and the kids have to accept that I'm useless.”
Director of Minecraft Education Neal Manegold said his goal is to make Minecraft: Education Edition accessible to all teachers, not just the techie types.
“We've baked a tutorial world into the game that is designed not only for teachers who have never played Minecraft, but teachers who have never played a computer game.”
Microsoft introduced Minecraft: Education Edition just over a year ago and the tech giant has been working hard ever since to keep up with teachers' growing demand for the game as they begin to recognise its value as a teaching tool.
At the Bett Asia 2017 education technology summit held last week in Kuala Lumpur, teachers from all over the world got hands-on with the game in Minecraft Teacher Academy sessions.
Manegold says Minecraft can be used in and across all subjects.
“It's not a case of teachers saying ‘ok, now it's Minecraft time'; it's about seamless curriculum integration.”
He points to a growing bank of Minecraft lesson plans shared by teachers, for teachers.
Most of the plans are multidisciplinary. One lesson plan tasks students with building a sustainable community on an island with limited resources, touching on literacy, geography and environmental sciences.
Manegold also says there needs to be clear evidence of students' learning.
“It's not enough for teachers to say, ‘I'm cool, I'm using Minecraft'. Students need to be able to show the benefits of what they're doing and what they've learned.”
There are tools within the game – such as virtual blackboards and non-moveable players – to allow teachers to plant resources and information. Students have access to a camera tool to take pictures of their work, and a digital book for recording and sharing their learning. They can also use Code Builder to replicate code they've created and use it in other applications, and pull their 3D models out of Minecraft and into other projects.
Minecraft helps kids understand the basics of coding and computer programming.
Partnering with the global Hour of Code initiative, Microsoft launched last week a new Minecraft tutorial for this year's event in December.
However, Don Carlson, director of education for Microsoft Asia Pacific, says there's more to Minecraft than learning to code.
“Coding empowers young people, giving them the tools they need to not only express themselves, but also transform the way they think critically and solve complex problems.”
Dr Richard Campbell of Coding Heroes in South Korea agrees.
“We shouldn't be teaching coding for coding's sake. It's the creativity, critical thinking and other 21st century skills that kids utilise that are important to take away from the coding experience.”
Minecraft: Education Edition
•Launched in 2016
•2 million licensed users
• Used in 115 countries
• 70 million Minecraft Hour of Code tutorial sessions
• 260 Minecraft lessons created by educators