Watchworthy Wednesday: The Minecraft Effect

Minecraft, the Lego-like building video game, is such a massive hit that the New York Times Magazine recently made it the subject of a cover story. What makes the game such a global sensation is its power to encourage an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) — those pesky fields that Americans don’t seem to be able to conquer. U.S. students lag behind 34 other countries in math and behind 26 countries in science, according to a Pew Research Center study.

“The game encourages kids to regard logic and if-then statements as fun things to mess around with,” according to The Times article. “It teaches them what computer coders know and wrestle with every day, which is that programs rarely function at first: The work isn’t so much in writing a piece of software but in debugging it, figuring out what you did wrong and coming up with a fix. Minecraft is thus an almost perfect game for our current educational moment, in which policy makers are eager to increase kids’ interest in the STEM disciplines. Schools and governments have spent millions on ‘let’s get kids coding’ initiatives, yet it may well be that Minecraft’s impact will be greater.”

In a Boing Boing article she penned last year, Mimi Ito, research director of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, explains how Minecraft is helping kids find and realize a passion for learning. “Geeky teachers have brought Minecraft to subjects ranging from history to biology to probability.”

Ito recently joined other gaming experts at the Milken Institute’s 2016 Global Conference to further explain the Minecraft effect:

Another available resource is the just-released family guide to Minecraft by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The guide describes different ways to play Minecraft, interact with Minecraft-related media and communities online, and learn with the game. It also addresses some of the risks that young people may face when playing the game.

Educators interested in learning how to design learning activities using Minecraft are in luck. A workshop doing just that is being offered Oct. 5 at the 7th annual Digital Media and Learning Conference at UC Irvine.

Banner image credit: brownpau

Editor’s note: Watchworthy Wednesday posts highlight interesting DML resources that appear in this blog every Wednesday. Any tips for future posts are welcome. Please comment below or send email to mcruz@hri.uci.edu.