PIIA MARTIKAINEN | Biology and Geography Teacher in Kokkola, Finland

Why Minecraft? For young students and teens, it’s easy to answer this question. They say it’s interesting. It’s cool to build things. It’s playing. It’s fun! But what about us educators? What is our answer?

Minecraft can be a strange, even scary, tool for us educators, often because we aren’t as familiar with it as we are with other tools. Many of us wonder how we can use it in the classroom when we don’t know everything about it. But that’s the beauty of Minecraft—we don’t have to know everything! Today’s world is full of knowledge, with new technology, programs, and applications coming out every day, and it’s impossible to be an expert at everything. The good news is, you don’t have to be an expert, especially when you have a classroom full of students who are more than happy to help you. And if they can’t solve the problem you’re experiencing, then you can figure it out together.

Piia guides her students through a Minecraft lesson on world biomes.

As teachers and educators, we know our pedagogy and curriculum inside and out. We know what our students need to learn—from general knowledge to specific skills—and that is enough to get started with Minecraft. As teachers, we can guide our students to use the knowledge we have taught them to navigate the Minecraft world, learning new skills and teaching us along the way. When students are tasked with building something together in Minecraft, they learn to communicate, compromise, solve problems, and be creative—to name a few!

I use Minecraft with my students when we can create something that wouldn’t be possible otherwise, or when I think it will provide extra value for studying. I use it when I want my students to collaborate, creating challenges so broad that students need to communicate, plan, and share workload.

My eighth grade students recently studied world biomes. I could have taught it the traditional way, but instead chose to use Minecraft, which allowed the students to become the teachers. I split up students into small groups and each group chose one of the world’s biomes. They were then tasked with building a nature trail through the biome with information specific to that area. On that nature trail, students included information about the climate, flora and fauna, man-made and natural problems as well as potential solutions to the problems. At the end of the nature trail, they created a ‘gift shop’ with questions about the information they had included along the path. Some groups made it an escape room. In the end, other students visited each biome, studied the facts, and answered the questions.

All of my students were engaged throughout the entire process. There was no disorder and every group performed well on their own level.

So why Minecraft? Because you learn something new every time. I have had ‘light bulb’ moments in every lesson when we have used Minecraft. I can see students’ engagement and enthusiasm in their eyes. That’s why!