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Last month, I was contacted by the good folks at CBC Radio One to talk about how I use video games with students to help with their literacy and language learning. It was for a new show called Babel and the results of our interview were broadcast yesterday. Don’t panic if you missed it. Through the magic of the internet, you can listen to me talk Minecraft on the CBC Babel page right now.

The whole process was a lot of fun and I think the show sounds great (although I still have a hard time hearing my own voice.) I want to thank the whole Babel crew for inviting me to participate.

One of the best moments of the interview actually happened after the mics were turned off. It wasn’t recorded, but it captured perfectly the connection video games can have to all our lives and the true potential they have for education (and it doesn’t involve badges.)

Connecting through Minecraft flowers

I can go on and on when it comes to the value of video games as spaces for learning. Sometimes when I speak, I can tell from people’s expressions  that I’m not explaining things well or making my arguments clear. This was happening during my interview when I was explaining Minecraft to Mariel Borelli, the show’s host. I don’t think she’d ever seen the game before, and I wasn’t explaining it very well. I could tell she was asking herself  “What is so special about this game for learning?”

Thankfully, I brought my laptop and was able to actually show the game in action. I ran my avatar around the world, digging dirt and placing blocks and explaining about how the true power of Minecraft (and other video games) is the connection it makes to a player’s real life (students or adults) and how those connections can spark opportunities for investigation, inquiry, reading, writing and all that other stuff that goes on report cards.

As I was blathering on, Mariel was listening politely, but I could still tell she was wondering what the heck was so special about blocks of dirt. Then, she saw it.

“Flowers!” she said when she spotted the roses in my inventory open.  Her eyes lit up and I knew it had happened. A connection had been made.

Mariel explained that she likes to garden and wanted to see how planting a flower worked in the game.  And that’s the moment I’ve seen in dozens of students (and adults) when they first play Minecraft. It’s the look of a connection being made to their real lives outside the game. It’s from this connection that inquiry comes from. Where can I plant a flower? How do I make a garden? And on and on.

No Badges Required

With all this talk of badges and gamifying our classrooms, I think many educators are missing the real power of video games as learning spaces. It’s the connection to our inner motivations that make people come back to the games over and over again. At their core, video games connect with each of us on some personal level (I want to be the hero! I want to be explore this topic/identity/whatever.)  As more and more educators bring games into their classroom, I feel it’s important that their true power (connection, identity, exploration) not get lost under a sea of achievements, experience points or levels.

Beyond the shine of badges, video games are about connection to something inside each of us. As a teacher, I work to spot that moment of connection in a student and be ready to feed that inquiry with resources and guidance. Where it goes from there, is up to the learner. No badges necessary.

Curious about using Minecraft your students? Play with us on the GamingEdus server. Learn the game, share ideas with other educators and have fun. Visit GamingEdus.org to learn more.

In addition to planting flowers in Minecraft, I write award-winning kids books and teach elementary school. I often have Tech Teaching resources and ideas to share with fellow educators and librarians. I deliver these resources and ideas to your inbox in my monthly e-newsletter Reading Change.

If this sounds like something you’d like to receive, then I invite you to subscribe to Reading Change. You can unsubscribe anytime and I won’t share or sell your data. Honest.




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