We have gone through an interesting evolution with Minecraft in our house. At first, I hated it. My kids were addicted to it and it made our lives miserable. Transitioning out of Minecraft time and into any other activity involved tears and frustration for all. They would talk about Minecraft at the dinner table, while driving to other activities, while DOING other activities and pretty much any time they opened their mouths. Plus, I had no idea what they were talking about, so I could not participate in the conversation in any way.
I knew it was important to them, so I tried to use it as a teaching tool. We demonstrated math concepts from inside the game, made videos and learned a little. It made me feel a little bit better about Minecraft time, but now we had different struggles. The boys really just wanted to play Minecraft and I was asking them to use it for a specific purpose. I was clearly taking all of the fun out of it.
And now, we have MInecraft Mondays. This started as an attempt to breathe new life into our computer programming time. We have been taking an online programming class offered through Stanford and iTunes U. In this class, we have learned how to take Karol the robot through different scenarios using basic Java programming. Karol the robot is ok, but sometimes he is just uninspiring to kids who are used to so much more interaction with their devices. So, I had read a few blogs about programming for Minecraft (which is written also in Java) and I figured we’d give it a try.
There are two other boys who come to our house for Minecraft Mondays. They are both younger than mine and not quite at the point where programming Minecraft is interesting or even feasible. After a couple of weeks of me trying to set everything up so that we could all program our first mod together, my son came to me and asked if he could be in charge for a day. He had just found, downloaded and installed a new mod pack and there were so many things that he wanted to show his friends. He also wanted to teach them how to download it on to their computer. He was so excited to share his knowledge!
So I finally started to re-evaluate what I was trying to do and how Minecraft honestly fit into our school day. My kids are excited to program their first mod, but not completely motivated to start. What they ARE motivated to do is to learn about different Minecraft topics on Youtube and the internet so that they can try them on their own computers. Essentially, they are doing research and then using their research for a practical purpose. What more do I want? They are internally motivated, they are working hard and they are learning something. Yes, I know that what they are learning may not have much value in the real world, but I can point to hundreds of things that they would learn in a traditional setting that also don’t have much value in the real world. They are thinking, they are growing and they are learning more about how to make their computers do their bidding than they would in a traditional computer class. In order to install some of these things, they actually have to give up their graphical user interface and go to the command prompt. Whoo hoo, now we’re learning Linux commands (not that they would know that).
On Minecraft Mondays, my boys jump out of bed, throw a Minecraft shirt on and rush to get their other work done. They are happy, they are excited, they are motivated and they are learning. I have to remind myself that this is why we’re homeschooling. It is not traditional, but in the end, I think it will be way more productive than trying to make some very non traditional boys learn in a traditional way.