Mining for Education: Utilizing the Power of Play in First Grade

10/22/2020 8:10 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


The 2020-2021 school year has been incredibly challenging for most teachers, especially those in elementary school. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve looked at my first graders’ tiny faces on my computer screen and thought “how can you play video games for hours, but I can’t even keep you focused for more than 20 minutes!?!”  Whether you’re teaching completely online or in a hybrid setting during this pandemic, I’m sure you’ve felt the same way. This environment is new, confusing, and frustrating for students and teachers. We are all desperately searching for innovative ways to engage our students and push them to higher level learning, but we don’t even know where to start. Well, I’m here with some good news - I’ve found a way!

Minecraft: Education Edition
Minecraft: Education Edition is a great tool with features that make it more adaptable to a classroom setting. When I first started reading about Minecraft: Education Edition, I thought there was no way I could implement this tool in my classroom. There are too many variables and I, a Minecraft novice, would undoubtedly lose control of my students. Minecraft: Education Edition would require me to give up authority over my young students and give them free reign of a game that they’re used to playing without an educational goal. However, there are many classrooms who have implemented Minecraft: Education Edition successfully. 

Jennifer Lewis, a teacher in the Cherokee County School District, created a Science lesson about light for her first-grade students using Minecraft: Education Edition (Minecraft: Education Edition, 2019). She modeled using tools and objects within the world in front of the whole class and afterwards, had her students follow a path within the game to learn new concepts about light. Once the students completed the game path, they applied their learning to build their own structures with light inside the game. Her students were incredibly engaged during this lesson and pushed themselves to learn even more about light while they were creating their structures. For instance, one boy discovered glass was transparent, so the light could still travel though it (Minecraft: Education Edition, 2019). 

Another example of a teacher who successfully used Minecraft: Education Edition is William Dergosits, a co-teacher in a third-grade, special education classroom (“Educators Across,” 2020). He found that his typically reluctant students became quickly engaged in academics and eager to share about themselves once he introduced MinecraftHis students were able to easily share their work with peers in their class and collaborate with other students in their school because of Minecraft: Education Edition’s multiplayer feature (“Educators Across,” 2020). 

These success stories aren’t at all shocking when you look more into the power of play and game-based learning in any classroom. Think about it; even as an adult, I’m more willing to take risks and make mistakes in a game-like setting than I am inside of a professional or classroom environment. The same is true for our students. While games and play are typically viewed as something that we mature out of, play is actually the easiest way to inspire learning. Play encourages experimentation, research, and continual learning in people of all ages (McLeod & Shareski, 2018). So why not try it? I’m kidding.

After learning about Minecraft: Education Edition, my thoughts filled with everything that could be wrong and I’m sure you’re doing the same thing. So, I’ve created a list of six features and supports to help you and your students implement Minecraft: Education Edition without a hitch:

  1. Use the Pre-Loaded Worlds or Starter Kits.  Minecraft: Education Edition has pre-loaded worlds and lesson starter kits available for educators to use. Simply select the subject you’re teaching and explore the lessons Minecraft has ready for you! You can even preview the objectives and goals of each lesson before downloading it. It helps to make sure you front load a lesson enough so that your objectives are attainable for your students. That will also help them stay on track within the world.  As a first-grade teacher, I did find that I needed to adjust these lesson to the needs of my learners, but they were a great place to start! 

  2. Use Borders and Join Codes to Restrict Access.  My biggest fear when it comes to multiplayer games with young children is teaching kindness and digital citizenship. While your students are in the process of learning how to treat others in this new platform, consider using borders or Join Codes to restrict their access. Borders are used to surround an area and prevent students from entering or leaving the area. These borders are invisible, so students could still see each other’s work without having the ability to add to or destroy parts of it. Meanwhile, the Join Code restricts access to the world completely, meaning students cannot join the world without the correct Join Code. This code can be refreshed at any time. For instance, after school hours, I can refresh the Join Code so that students cannot access the world without my supervision or change their work without their collaborative team members present. 

  3. Utilize Non-Player Characters with the Immersive Reader. Minecraft: Education Edition gives you the ability to create your own Non-Player Characters (NPCs). NPCs stand in one spot. They can be used to provide resources, such as videos or links, and give directions. The NPCs also include an Immersive Reader button that will read aloud the NPCs directions to any students who are unable to read the directions or prefer to hear them.  

  4. Encourage Adult Support. Now that students are learning from home, if a student gets frustrated or forgets a control within Minecraft during independent learning time, I’m not available to help immediately. Encourage adult support by creating help pages or a discussion board for parents. Minecraft has many tutorials available on the app for anyone to practice using the controls (Minecraft, personal communication, n.d.). It’s helpful to give adults and students access to these tutorials as well so they can provide additional support at home. With that being said, it’s important to note that many students are already Minecraft experts and that’s okay! I’ve found that they are even more excited about Minecraft because they can teach me and any adults at home. All adult support from a teacher or parent should still allow students to take control of their own learning.

  5. Guide Your Students with Rubrics. I try to create rubrics with my class to help them take ownership of their learning. For instance, during a personal narrative writing lesson in Minecraft: Education Edition, we might sit down and decide together that they need to include two or more events in order, use correct mechanics, add details, and include pictures that match the words (yes, all of this is possible within Minecraft: Education Edition!). Creating a rubric also helps guide their learning and keep them on track for the duration of the project. In fact, you might find that your students produce even better stories because they are able to experience their story firsthand and, therefore, add more details.

  6. Implement Self-Reflections. After any project, it’s important to meet with your students and help them reflect on their work. Were they a good collaborator? Were they as creative as they could be? Did they try their best? Asking younger students these questions to help them learn how to think about their work and create attainable goals for next time. 

Good luck! I hope these six features and supports helped you feel more confident in your Minecraft teaching abilities. Your students will be so excited to play that they won’t even realize how much they’re learning. If you’re not completely sold, check out the resources below to learn more! 


Educators across the globe are using Minecraft: Education Edition for remote learning. (2020, June 17). Minecraft: Education Edition Blog.

McLeod, S. & Shareski, D. (2018). Different schools for a different world. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Minecraft: Education Edition. (2019, May 22). Teaching the science of light with Minecraft Education Edition [Video]. YouTube.

Wagoner,  a first-grade teacher in Howard County Public Schools, is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Educational/Instructional Technology at Loyola University.

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