[This post originally appeared on GamingEdus.org, but you missed it, didn’t you?]
With October behind us and the school year in full swing here in Ontario, I finally got a chance to do something I enjoy each year: starting a new Minecraft club at school.
Minecraft clubs are popping up at schools all over the world and for good reason: they’re fun and an amazing way to introduce your students to all awesomeness of Minecraft. But with the runaway zombies and piles of TNT come many questions for teachers looking to set up a Minecraft club at their schools for the first time.
From getting started to making sure the lava runs smoothly, here are seven steps to setting up a Minecraft club at your school.
1. Keep it on the Down Low!
I know it’s really exciting to think about bringing Minecraft into your school, but before you place your first block, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. I’ve heard many tales from excited teachers who have announced to their students they’ll be starting a Minecraft club before even looking to see if it’s possible at the school. It never ends well.
Getting students excited for a Minecraft club is one thing, but once you announce your intentions to your students word will spread and the clock will be ticking. As Denise explained in her recent post, once kids catch a whiff of a potential Minecraft club, they will hunt you down in the staffroom, staff washroom and beyond in search of more information. You have been warned.
2. Check the tech!
It seems obvious, but another thing I’ve seen is teachers realize too late their old computers in the lab are just not up to the task of running Minecraft. Before you let the creepers out of the barn, make sure your machines can handle all that blocky action. You can check the system requirements on the Minecraft website. Even then, you should buy an account, install the game on a school computer and test it out. You might find that stuff needs to be updated, like your Java or video card drivers, before the game will run.
3. Enlist Support from Colleagues, Admin and IT Dept.
Just like it takes many builders to create those epic Minecraft constructions, running a club takes a team of teachers. Ask one or two fellow teachers to help you run the club each week. Having another adult in the room is always handy to keep the blocky fun under control.
Before you do anything, you will also want to get your principal on board as well. Their support is essential. You might also want to check with your IT Department to verify that you can install the game on school computers.
4. Pick a Club Focus
Sometimes running a Minecraft club because it’s fun isn’t enough to get support from admins or parents. It’s good to frame your club around a particular focus. In the past, I’ve run an after school club with a literacy focus. We ran it like a homework club where students who were struggling with reading and writing would meet to play Minecraft.and then we would write posts about our game play on our shared wiki. Diana runs her club with this focus. You can check out what her students are writing at their amazing Club Hub Wiki.
Your focus doesn’t have to be about improving report card scores or grades. In the past, I’ve run clubs where the focus has been helping students build social skills. We played the game and talked about strategies for sharing, treating each other with respect, dealing with frustration in game and other aspects of character education.
Look at the area of need in your school and see if a Minecraft club can support it.
5. Pick Dates and Meeting Times
Once a week is good. After school or during lunch. Either way, you’ll have only about 45 minutes to an hour of playing time. It’s not a lot of time, but a lot can be done if the kids are ready and the tech is working.
6. Create a Club Application
If you announce it they will come. And come. And come. And come. In case you haven’t noticed, Minecraft is kind of popular with students these days. If you announce you are starting a Minecraft club, you will have A LOT of students looking to join. Chances are you will only have so many Minecraft accounts to share and computers to play on. That means not everyone will be able to join the club. It can be a tricky situation deciding who’s in and who isn’t.
Creating an application form can be a good way to solve this dilemma. Giving students a form, having them take it home to fill out and then return by a certain date will help you find the kids who really want to be there, and will show up each week. They are the ones who actually return the application. Obviously, you support the students with plenty of reminders on the morning announcements and have extra applications on hand for those who lose them. But once that submission deadline passes, if you don’t have their application, they are not in the club.
The application shouldn’t be a “who has the most Minecraft experience” competition. I aim to have all Minecraft skill levels in my clubs, so the form makes it clear that all are welcome. Check out the application I used for my latest Minecraft club. [Word doc.] Feel free to change the details and use it for your club.
If you have too many applications for spaces, hold a lottery where names are picked out of a hat. Alternatively, you can run a few clubs during the school year. Each club will run for a few weeks and then ends. Then, the next batch of Minecrafters can come in and the blocky fun begins all over again.
7. Have Fun!
Running our Minecraft club is always the highlight of my week. No matter how hectic things get at school, it’s always a blast to jump in game with students and see where their explorations take them. Make sure you have fun during the club. Disasters will happen. Tech will fail. But at the end of the day, you will have had hour of videogame goodness. Soak it up.
This should help you get your Minecraft club started with a minimal amount of chaos and creeper damage. In the coming weeks, I’ll share ways to make your club run smoothly and what to do when it doesn’t. (And trust me, sometimes it won’t.)
What do you think? What is your advice for someone organizing a Minecraft club? Share your ideas in the comments below.