Implementing Survivor Mode into Student Learning in Minecraft EE
I have been using Minecraft EE in my classroom in a variety of capacities for about four years. Until recently, I almost exclusively used creative mode when incorporating Minecraft EE into my curriculum. For any educators who use Minecraft EE regularly, you are aware of the students desire to play and build in survival mode, which can be described as a more “traditional” playing experience in comparison to creative mode. For the longest time, I resisted my students’ pleas as I struggled to find strong curriculum connections to make playing in survival mode purposeful and meaningful for my students. My goal was to find deliberate ways to make survival mode an effective learning tool for my students.
After a lot of trial and error, I had a breakthrough in my grade 6 class this past year using survival mode to teach empathy, and reinforce writing styles and strategies that we were focusing on. I enjoy using ‘Hatchet’ by Gary Paulsen as a book to read with my students. Being located in Thunder Bay, this story is an easy sell to the class. I won’t dive too deep into the plot, but it is an excellent book for junior and intermediate students. I highly recommend taking a closer look at it if you have not read ‘Hatchet’ before. For our purposes, all we need to know is that Brian, the main character, is flying to meet his father who works in an oil field in a Northern Canadian town. Brian’s flying in a small bush plane and his pilot has a heart attack which leads to the plane crashing. He is fortunate enough to survive the crash, but now Brian is stranded alone in the wilderness and is forced to fend for himself with only a hatchet.
This is when I had a thought that this would be a fantastic way to use survival mode with my students. I found an excellent pre-made forest biome in Minecraft EE that mirrored the terrain and setting of Hatchet. The students were in their own world and I gave them objectives based on what we were reading. If Brian was building a shelter, they were building a shelter that modelled what Brian’s could have looked like. If Brian was scavenging for food, they were scavenging for food. We would write about the successes and challenges that we experienced with each challenge/objective. This sounds intriguing but not necessarily a huge breakthrough, right? However, when Brian experienced hardships that were beyond his control, like a tornado, this is when some amazing experiential learning and skill building took place. After Brian lost his shelter, food and supplies in our read aloud, I went and cleared their inventories and destroyed their shelters. I did get some satisfaction clearing their inventories and watching their reactions but the work we did around empathy and writing from Brian’s perspective was purposeful.
Additionally, the students benefited from other perspectives like some of the animals Brian interacts with throughout his adventures. For example the way Brian interacts with the skunk. Students were able to safely experience what Brian might have been thinking and feeling. The connections and extensions that it built from experiencing it while we were reading/learning about it was a positive lesson for the students. I hadn’t ever experienced or received such rich products from my students’ writing. The conversations I was able to document based on their learning was undoubtedly enhanced through Minecraft EE. This is just one example of success I was able to experience with survival mode, but it was an extremely fulfilling and inspiring activity for my students.
Ryan Magill lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario and has been teaching at Lakehead Public Schools for the last five years. He is passionate about engaging students through the use of technology and is a true believer in the impact that Minecraft EE can have on students, especially students who may be unmotivated or disengaged.