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Teacher’s Guide: Five ways Minecraft (and other video games) can boost student writing skills

With the recent surge of interest in using video games in schools, I’ve been asked a lot about what gaming looks like in my class. I thought I’d share five ways I’ve used video games, like Minecraft, to help boost student success with their writing skills.

Before we get started, I want to make clear that there is much learning happening while people play video games. I posted about that back in 2007, when I started teaching and was thinking about the literacy value in real time strategy building video games. Tons of learning happens while students are playing games: strategic thinking, trial and error experimentation, scientific reasoning, and more. But that’s not going to help you come report card time. Where I teach there isn’t a box on the report card for “Critical Thinking” – yet. I usually tell teachers that the other learning, the stuff that goes on the report cards, happens outside the game, when the student has logged out but still very much existing in the game world.

So, how can educators use video games in an inquiry-based, student-led way that will help support their literacy skills? Here are five ways I’ve used Minecraft (and other video games) to improve a student’s writing:


New GamingEdus build big!

Our GamingEdus server is growing with new people and it’s been fantastic to see them dive in and get building right away. Both technascribe and darkana82 like their builds BIG and they can build them fast. Check it out:

In just a few hours, technascribe had her epic sandcastle looking great:

Darkana82 is just getting started with this massive dark skyscraper:

Can’t to see the finished builds!

Max Finder Mystery Collected Casebook 6 available now

For you mystery fans keeping count Max Finder Mystery Collected Casebook Volume 6 is out and available at fine book stores everywhere. I received my stack earlier in the week and proceeded to spread them on my floor and take a photo. Here’s the result:

Impressive, isn’t it? In fact, I have so many copies that I’m thinking a giveaway is in order. I’ve never done a book giveaway, but the good people at Goodreads and beyond tell me it’s all the rage, and I’m all about the rage. ;)

So, stay tuned and I’ll have details about Max Finder Mystery book giveaway as soon as I figure out how go about it. Any experienced book giveawayers or book giveaway-receivers, interested in telling me how it’s done, feel free to drop me a comment down below.

So, what you workin’ on?

I get this question a lot. It also comes in the variety known as: “How’s the writing going?” Usually, I mumble something about what Max Finder has been up to, or how the Graphic Guide Adventure series continues to do well. But that’s it. I don’t really talk about what I’m currently writing. That’s because I’m scared. I’m scared that when I *talk* about my ideas people will think they’re not so great and give me the ol’ “Good luck with that,” talk.

It’s also because sometimes projects don’t pan out with a publisher who promised they would pan out and then decides that panning out is not in their favour. But that’s the stuff of another post, because this one is about telling you what I’ve been workin’ on.

Two words? A murder mystery.

More? A YA murder mystery set in a gaming convention celebrating the world’s most popular Massively Multiplayer Online game. No, not that one, another one I made up. It is fiction after all.

The book is for young adults, it’s called Ganked, and I’m having a blast writing it. I’m almost finished second round of edits and ready to send it out into the wild.

I’d love to tell you more but, as a writer I have a strict rule against telling when I should be showing. Don’t worry, I’ll be showing more in the coming weeks.

For now, you’ll just have to wait . . .


Teacher’s Guide: Organizing student accounts on a school Minecraft server

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you organize your students’ accounts for your school’s Minecraft server. There are many ways to

do this, but this is the way I organized my students’ Minecraft accounts. I’m sure there are more efficient and secure ways to do it. If you have any suggestions or alternatives, please feel free to add them in the comments below. I’d love to hear them.

Educators still thinking about setting up a Minecraft server at their school, might benefit from my earlier Teacher’s Guide: Setting up a Minecraft at your school.

If you’re still not sold on using Minecraft in schools, check out some of my earlier Minecraft posts:

Minecraft Student Accounts Basics

As more teacher mods are released (like the one being developed by Minecraftedu.com), I think handling student accounts will become a lot easier. In the meantime, here’s how I do it:

Step 1: Buy one account for each student

Minecraft is unlike many games used in schools in that teachers must purchase one account for each Minecraft “avatar”, or character. I’ve run two servers each with a small group of students. I think, in total, I have 10 Minecraft accounts, which I just reuse when I start a new server with new students.

Currently, you can buy your accounts directly from minecraft.net or if you are an educator you can get a sweet discount from the good people at minecraftedu.com. I encourage you to check them out.

The easiest way to buy Minecraft accounts, is to buy one and then purchase a bunch of gift codes for the others. When you’ve got all the gift codes you need, it’s time to start the gifting!

Step 2: Create email accounts for each Minecraft account

You need to email the gift accounts to a unique email you have access to. For my ten student Minecraft accounts, I created 10 gmail accounts. *These accounts are for me only.* Their only job is to be a place to receive the Minecraft gift code. The students will never even need to know they exist.

*Update* Joel (aka @minecraftteachr) left a comment below with a great suggestion for the multiple email dilemma:

You can use, for example, joel+1@gmail.com, joel+2@gmail.com, joel+3@gmail.com, etc. They will all just go to joel@gmail.com. However, minecraft.net will consider them different email addresses and allow you to register accounts!

Step 3: Send gift codes to your email accounts

From your original Minecraft account, send each gift code to the email accounts you have created.

Step 4: Activate your student Minecraft accounts

From the emails you created, activate the gift code you just received. This will lead you to Minecraft.net, where you will create your Minecraft acount and avatar name.

Grims in the nether

*Think hard about the username you choose!*

This becomes your avatar’s in game name and it’s not possible to change it permanently. This is the name your students will come to be known as while in game. There are ways to alter an avatar’s screen name, but I don’t get into that with the students.

I chose gender-neutral, fantasy-sounding names, all ending in the same letters. (ie Ichirool, Rokurool, etc) Using the same letter ending is a great way to build community among the players. It’s also handy for spotting your students in multi-school server situations, when you have kids from other schools playing together. I do hope to have kids choose their own avatar names in the future, but so far the kids have all been happy with their avatar’s name (they just still can’t believe they get to play Minecraft at school!)

Check out the Multi-School Minecraft Server student wiki for examples of the avatar names we chose.

Also, this is where you create the password used to log into the Minecraft game. *DO NOT share this with your students* (more on passwords below.)

Step 5: Assign each student to each account

The final step is to assign a student to each account. By this stage, I’ve created a spreadsheet which lists the avatars’ names, what email their associated with, and the passwords for that account. I simply create another column for student name and put it in there alongside the account/ avatar name they’ll be playing under.

That is basically how I organize my student accounts on the Minecraft server at school. Once you’ve got it all set up, here’s how you make it work.

Logging students into Minecraft

My method is a pretty adhoc approach, but as long as you follow one simple rule, you should never have a problem with students playing their avatar outside of club times or on another server outside of school. That simple rule? Don’t share your passwords.

When my students come to our Minecraft Club, I usually have the game logged in, game version matching server version and basically ready to go. This allows me to ensure the server is up and running and let’s me do any updates to the game that need to happen. It also helps avoid the dreaded “Oops, I updated!” error, when you update your version of Minecraft before the server updates to a matching version (more on that in another post.)

Because the game is already logged in, avatar waiting, the students never know their passwords to play Minecraft. Only the teachers ever need to know the account password.

Why log into Minecraft for your students?

Minecraft is a unique game in that as long as you have a username and password, you can play it on any computer that has Minecraft and visit any server that is open to you. Every school and teacher is different, and while I’m all about giving my students the freedom to play as they choose in game, I also need to be sure they are not using their school Minecraft accounts on other servers or on the school server outside the approved time.

Currently, the only way I know of doing this is by keeping the account password from the student. It’s crude but effective. I am hopeful a mod or plugin will come along that will allow teachers an equally secure and less secretive way to have students log in.

What students with personal Minecraft accounts?

Sometimes, and I imagine this will happen more often, a student comes to a Minecraft Club with their own account. Obviously, the whole “hide the password” game won’t work here. In this case, myself and my gamingedu colleagues have allowed the students to join and use their own avatar. This is where trust, responsibility and strong Server Agreements play a big role in making this choice. I’ll talk about creating positive Server Agreements in another post.

Hopefully this will answer some of the basic questions around organizing students accounts for your school Minecraft server. If I missed anything, or if you have questions, suggestions or whatevers, please leave a comment!