When Minecraft was released 2011, nobody imagined that it would become the second best-selling video game of all time behind Tetris. Like Tetris, it has simple graphics and game play. However, Minecraft is much more than that. It offers an open-world experience that is unrivaled by any other game. It is the pinnacle of what people in the gaming community call a sandbox game. A sandbox game is where the player is free from structure and directions found in traditional games, and are then able to create experiences that cater to his or her interests and strengths. It has modifications (or mods) that players can create and download to add features to their Minecraft worlds, such as teleportation and additional costumes.
Due to the sandbox nature of Minecraft, it has major appeal to teachers. Educators can create Minecraft worlds that teach anything from world history to principles of quantum mechanics. These worlds are then uploaded and shared with the public so that other teachers can easily access and implement the educational content into their own schools and learning environments. There is even an education version, where additional creation tools and classroom management commands make it easier for a teacher to use Minecraft with a large group of students.
One of the most intriguing learning experiences in Minecraft is through the mods and worlds of ComputerCraft. ComputerCraft adds the ability to program a virtual robot assistant, called Turtle, within Minecraft. It provides a surreal experience of programing on top of programing, or in other words, a world-within-a-world experience. By allowing students to learn programing in such an environment, they are much more engaged and self-motivated to tackle an abstract and difficult topic than in a more traditional computer science curriculum.
ERC has partnered with Fresno State's NASA Aerospace Academy to implement Minecraft and its many different educational mods and worlds to students from grades 3 through 8. For additional information on the education edition of Minecraft used in the academies, in addition to the mods and worlds, please visit our MinecraftEdu resource page.