What an amazing time it is to be a teacher! School is changing more now than it has in the last 50 years. Even more amazing, the most popular video game on the market, Minecraft, just so happens to be one of the most powerful learning tools of all time. Using Minecraft in the classroom can make learning more meaningful, student centered and fun.
Last year, my fifth-grade students decided they wanted to film a movie in Minecraft and post it on YouTube. What a wonderful way to explore digital literacy, collaboration, creative writing, and learn how to use editing and animation tools. The only problem was that I didn’t have much experience in editing and animation, or movie making in general. But that was OK; that’s what my students were for.
We were reading a story about the Titanic, so we decided to make a Titanic movie. I went to http://www.planetminecraft.com/ for a Titanic map to film on, and began teaching creative lessons. With our setting established, we need characters. I set a rule that the film’s characters needed to be real people who had been on the ship, which gave them the opportunity to do historical research online. One of my students was headstrong on doing a Rocky movie, and he was thrilled to find that two boxers had died on the Titanic. And so Boxing the Titanic was born!
With the characters selected, the next step was structuring the overall story with a story arch. Because the actual ship was only afloat for four days, we were going to make four, 15-minute episodes. The abrupt tragic ending gave students a “ticking clock” to finish their characters’ story. Once students were put in groups, they made and used graphic organizers to set up a sequence of events and used improv acting techniques to come up with scripts for each day. After a day was finished, we were ready to film.
Once all the characters are created on the server, one player in the game acts as the camera. Software such as Quicktime or the free Open Broadcast Software, will get the job done. The next step is assigning jobs: camera operator; voice actor; movers and shakers (who are in game moving for the voice actor); special effects operator, who can create effects with command blocks; and editor. Once we got the hang of it, it took about two weeks to create one, 15-minute episode. During downtime, I had students writing their next scripts. After the movie was finished, we posted it on YouTube and wrote a blog promoting it.
I’m not lying to you when I say filming in Minecraft is easy, however, it is not without its challenges.
- Server lag. The Internet a my school is not always perfect, so sometimes we could not get everyone on the server. I always need a plan B lesson ready if I had to pull the plug on filming one day.
- Skin organization. The way your Minecraft character looks in called a skin, and sometime we could not get them to work. However, if you are using Minecraft Education Edition or MinecraftEDU, you will not encounter this problem.
- Not knowing how to do cool stuff. This was the best challenge of them all!
Figuring out how to do the cool stuff is when the 21st-century learning happens! For example, one of the characters in Boxing the Titanic was always eating caviar, but there is no caviar in Minecraft. One of my students went into the game’s resource pack file and replaced the image of a melon with an image of real caviar. Another student found an animation tool called Minemoter and animated our Minecraft Titanic sinking. The entire film was edited in iMovie by a student who wanted to learn how to be an editor.
The best part of this project: I still have no idea how to edit or use the animation tools, but my students do. I put them in a situation where they can explore, and they do the rest. Next year, the Titanic filmmakers will be asked to teach their new skills to a new class. In this way, Minecraft in the classroom creates a culture of co-learners — teachers and students all learning new things together.
Please watch and like our movies on YouTube. Day four is a good one to start with, but they’re all pretty funny, and you can see our progress.