My recent approach to teaching in my Chemistry classroom is a role-playing video game. When you observe my Chemistry class, you will see my students on their computers playing a popular sandbox game called MinecraftEDU. Before this game became a part of my curriculum, this was just an ordinary sandbox game where players are allowed to create virtually anything inside, alone by themselves, or with any other player. The interaction is real-time, meaning everybody is doing their activities live.
MinecraftEDU applies the same mechanics; however, the game is designed more for the use of educational purposes. We create our own virtual chemistry lab classroom and do activities like mining elements, synthesizing elements, and creating nuclear power reactors with controls.
Why game mechanics? I grew up in the early 80’s when video games started and first became popular. I think we can learn something from video games, so I apply it to school and teaching. This is obviously unlike traditional schools and learning/teaching, but it does teach kids chemistry, programming, and art — all in the context of fun and competition. I almost trick them into learning!
- School should be fun. It is where we meet our friends and get new friends, then socialize. We should slowly move to an active and student centered learning.
- To fail is good. In a game mechanic, like online chess, we fail a lot but it’s fun and we learn and acquire mastery of the things we did well. According to Kasparov, he lost chess matches against a machine 1000x before he became a Grandmaster.
- School should be like a leveling-up game. In a traditional class everyone starts the same and get paced the same. But we have to admit the fact that every student learns faster or slower than others. Imagine how boring it would be if you were all in a group that stayed on the same level, no matter how much you improved; or your pals improved? Chances are these bored students will make your day a lot longer.
My class’ MinecraftEDU game utilizes mastery mechanics, so failing to create the required recipe to get the desired product is encouraged. If they fail the quiz and/or the lab, they simply need to repeat it until they have mastered it. This progression will get students promoted and move on to the next level.
I have a group of students who are on the high level (ready to create their nuclear reactor), and I have a few on the newbie level (still mastering balancing equation). They all level up through experience (xp) and they get xp if they keep on doing the task repetitively, or performing a more difficult task. The students are assumed with their username or aka in-game name. They are constantly monitored, and their progress is updated through an e-leaderboard. Everyone starts as an entered apprentice, and they progress through the semester to achieve the level/rank they want, and some become masters.
Experience points is required for them to level up – in order to do so they still need to do the three R’s: reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. They need to complete special tasks watch videos of lessons and comps, search for recipes online, and complete problems – they must be responsible. Students are highly encouraged to team up and collaborate, and to complete their tasks they need to pass the final test, which is to defeat me (yes I am the uber monster inside) using the correct tools and materials they made with the help of the Periodic Table of the Elements. Unless they team up, defeating the monster, ME, will be improbable…the Master rules!