Minecraft again today. Just a quick post as I wait for a machine to finish a dull task.
I thought I’d introduce parents to a theory of learning called “contructionism”. As thats probably not interesting, I’ll skip to a few points that are – why Minecraft is the best FREE design teacher you’ll ever meet.
Minecraft encourages two of forms of learning that teachers would see as absolutely brilliant in their classroom (if they could magically have anything they wanted). These things are also REALLY important to “design thinking” which is another really ‘hot’ topic in how to get kids to think critically about problems and coming up with solutions.
So what are they? Perspective-Talking and Object Construction. These two topics have been mulled over by academics for decades, as they are all about our relationships with knowledge – or put another way – how do we get smarter.
Minecraft forces kids to ‘de-centre’ their view point and take someone else’s point of view. That might be in the game with another player as they make something, or it might be when they try to explain what they are making to you (the awesomely important parent and praise giver). It might be in a forum debating which is the best solution to a redstone problem or disagreeing with a YouTube “Let’s Play” video which is WRONG.
Despite outward appearances, Minecraft is not all about the player – it’s actually more about their relationship to knowledge (how to get more of it, ditch the rubbish and improve the wobbly bits).
Object construction gives them a kind of “gods eye view” of the world they are making. But they can’t succeed if this is their only view. It’s one BIG reason parents need to play with their kids in the game, not just moan about it and why allowing one person to have all the power tends to suck for the rest of us. Relate that to life – anyone know someone with a god-complex that likes to rule over everything? Did you read the Hunger Games?
In order to build knowledge Minecraft uses imagination to teach kids that they are not actually gods, ruling over the game or others, no matter how many tantrums they pull. The game-world works in certain ways only. If they really want to change the way the world works, then they need to learn how to ‘mod’ it. Is this not the same message ‘self improvement’ pundits like to talk about? Don’t take the world as it is, but take action to improve and change it?
By playing Minecraft, kids learn when they start to learn from opposites, forge new relations and separating ideas about the game-world, they have relevance to the real world. I’m yet to meet a kid playing Minecraft that’s a sheep. They are all goats who like to do whatever they want. That’s powerful stuff, but it’s also massive thing to learn, and Minecraft (can) do it really well. (With great power comes great responsibility). You tend to only hear about the ‘bad Minecraft’ in the media of course. But trust me “good Minecraft” can be used to tackle just about anything positively too. Notch has put down the ground work, but parents clearly need to be on deck to help their children make use of this new found knowledge and agency.
This form of learning (yes, learning) is not at all unlike the way science is taught under constructionist methods. If fact, it’s endorsed by your local school. I’ll just use Science to illustrate here. There is a borad consensus that children’s learning depends critically on their ideas about science, scientists and experiments. Minecraft is just a science lab by another name. The fact it can replicate this experience without a teacher or curriculum at all is just one of the many unique qualities games have, and most schools don’t’. It’s powerful stuff, and of course disrupts how we see ‘learning’. As with science, the way we ‘learn’ it can result in active identification with it (Science is awesome) or alienation (Science is rubbish). It’s the same with computer and video games, how we (you, me and others) learn about them matters a great deal. Remember I said – perspective talking. That’s what is happening all the time when playing Minecraft.
Take social media in schools and collages. No one’s learning about them as a subject, in fact most schools BAN them completely. Yet in order to make sense of the world, students need to learn about them (just as they do science) if they are to function in parts of the world where online is just part and parcel of life. Teaching them only about ‘fear’ is like only teaching them about “when science goes bad” and in fact education spends vasts about of time trying to build “wicker men” from any technology it doesn’t understanding (like games).
My point is, that simply allowing kids to play Minecraft in school would be far better than giving they stupid cyber safety chats, quizzes and lectures by the local police. Kids don’t turn learning off and on, like teachers sometimes turn the job on and off (bells). You can’t tell a kid that games are not learning and you can’t stop them learning when a game like Minecraft is so optimally tuned into the most powerful educational theories out there. The irony of course is that ‘culture’ get’s in the way and most educational administrators have not themselves learned the value of perspective talking and can’t separate the game from the objective.
Designers sort out what object mean to them or others; then they selectively connect features of an object and features of a CONTEXT into a coherent unity. This belongs here because, this works here because, I am happy here because and so on. Over time, designers build up a lot of knowledge and understanding about how to place and connect objects in the world, so as to give them situated meaning to others. BIG examples: Egyptian pyramids, great sailing ships, statues, buildings, vehicles.
Now ask yourself, what is MY kid doing in Minecraft … playing AND learning to be a designer? – How are they relating DESIGN in the real world to themselves and others in the game-world?. How does copying from the board do this? How does filling out a worksheet do this? How does listening to a lecture do this?
It doesn’t. Kids put up with it, because kids have no power at all in school – despite dubious claims from educational advoates about how technology ‘empowers students’. Rubbish, one persons in charge, the dude at the front. And that dude has no clue about games like Minecraft, so will avoid it like the plague.
Most of all, according to the theory, the construction of meaning is most potent when learners are engages in building external and sharable facts. Minecraft is all about those things.
To the generations past, Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker” was the prototypical image of thinking. Notch gave us a new image, one which is a now prototypical of todays “thinkers”. They happen to look like boxy-stick-people, but really, Notch’s design for the new thinker is right up there with Rodin in terms of art and craft.