Minecraft Education Edition was released by Microsoft in November 2016.

Minecraft Education Edition was released by Microsoft in November 2016.

Back in September 2014, Microsoft announced the purchase of Mojang, a Swedish gaming development company responsible for Minecraft. They shelled out a staggering £1.5bn to complete the deal, signalling quite comprehensively that they saw huge potential for Minecraft.

Since that purchase, Microsoft have released various iterations of betas and now have a solid education product on the market that can be used, not as a gimmick, but as a genuinely effective teaching tool. 

The Learning Technologies Team have recently been using Minecraft Education (v1.028) to engage learners in literacy and have to say, we’re delighted with the results. St Stephen’s Year 3 class enjoyed themselves too and produced some excellent work.

 We used Robert Kuczera's animated story, The Dragon Slayer, as the hook for the children's writing. The animation can be found at the Literacy Shed.

We used Robert Kuczera's animated story, The Dragon Slayer, as the hook for the children's writing. The animation can be found at the Literacy Shed.

We started the project by showing the children Literacy Shed’s ‘Dragon Slayer’ animation by Robert Kuczera. We then created a world in Minecraft based on the story and some of its locations and characters, plus added a few extra bits that could be used to encourage writing at various points. 

The aim of the project was to immerse children in an interactive environment where they could investigate, explore and experience the story through the eyes of the dragon hunter, Taragon.

Children worked with partners in Minecraft for one literacy session a week, and the class teacher taught the necessary reading and writing skills based on what the children experienced or were going to experience during their adventures.

Players entered the world on a single server, so all children could see each other and explore together. However, we restricted the children’s in-game capabilities by putting them in Adventure mode. This meant children could move around the map and interact with characters but they couldn’t build or destroy anything - a lesson we learnt the hard way in a previous project. 

 We modelled writing expectations through the use of non-playable characters (NPCs).

We modelled writing expectations through the use of non-playable characters (NPCs).

Once spawned at the location of the Blacksmith’s house, children set off on their journeys around the map by following a conveniently placed path. At various locations they met an NPC (Non-playable character) who would tell them something about the dragon: what it did to them or someone they loved; what they want Taragon (the dragon hunter) to do about it; where it may have gone; what it might have looked like. 

As children uncovered clues and information they had to record it as part of a note-taking task which they could later use to write direct speech influenced by what the NPCs told them.

We setup the NPCs in such a way that they acted as a WAGOLL for writing. Each NPC modelled the expectations of punctuation and grammar. Children were also tasked with identifying and recording adjectives, expanded noun phrases and adverbs that they could later use or adapt in their own writing.

 Teachers can add a 'Learn More' button to NPCs that links the children to further learning resources outside of the game.

Teachers can add a 'Learn More' button to NPCs that links the children to further learning resources outside of the game.

One NPC, Peter Poet, tasked the children with a poetry writing task based on the setting the children saw around him. We added a ‘Learn More’ button which, when clicked, took the children temporarily out of Minecraft to a website that afforded them a range of poetry examples that they could use to support their own ideas and writing.

Another NPC, Clive Clumsy, managed to get himself lost in a cave, perilously close to some ready-to-hatch dragon eggs. He begged the children to provide him with instructions to escape and make his way to a safe location using various markers on the map. The children enthusiastically obliged - even those odd few children in the class who weren’t particularly keen on writing ordinarily. 

 Children worked together to explore the world and investigate the exploits and whereabouts of the dragon.

Children worked together to explore the world and investigate the exploits and whereabouts of the dragon.

Other reading and writing tasks occurred along the way until the children finally found the Sky Temple and a portal leading to the dragon’s underground lair. At this point, the children collaborated as a whole class to take down the dragon in order to rescue the village and help all those NPCs they’d spoken to along the way. The children were completely invested in their journey and were engaged throughout.

We switched the mode to Creative so that the children could now use the resources they picked up along the way, often as a reward for achieving their success criteria in literacy, to kill the dragon as Taragon does in the original animation.

The children were committed to the story and worked together extremely well, strategizing across the tables about what they needed to do to take down the beast. Classroom leaders emerged quite quickly, instructing others on what they needed to do to help the team – this wasn’t about individuals. Some chose to attack from a height and at a distance using a bow and arrows, others got up close and personal using swords at great risk to themselves. Many children’s characters died and had to ‘respawn’ and make their way back to the portal to re-join the attack. 

 The children had to work together to destroy crystals that were placed around the map and regenerated the dragon's health. 

The children had to work together to destroy crystals that were placed around the map and regenerated the dragon's health. 

Eventually, after 15-20 minutes of collaboration, the children were victorious and the classroom erupted (our most sincere apologies to the class next door). The children had completed their mission -  they were buzzing with excitement and thrilled to share their experience with others. 

Having done what they'd set out to do in-game, the children have since gone on to write a narrative, by recounting their own experience and journey and we’re delighted with the results. See our gallery below to see why.

It was a genuine pleasure to see such excitement and engagement in a literacy project and it’s fair to say, Minecraft Education brought literacy to life for that Year 3 class. We can’t wait to do it again!

Thank you to St Stephen’s Primary School and the Year 3 class teacher, David Woollatt, for their part in making the project a huge success.

Antony Hyett, Learning Technologies Consultant (LTT)