5 tips for leveraging student interest through Minecraft

Renowned middle school teacher Steve Isaacs offers up some of the best ways to keep students engaged and connected during COVID-19 ... by giving them something they enjoy.
By: and | April 13, 2020
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

During this difficult time, it is important that we provide choice and opportunity for our students to stay involved. Esports has gained great momentum and it is challenging to keep that going with schools closed.

However, it is also so important to provide students with opportunities to engage in community activities and stay involved in activities they love. The North America Esports Federation (NASEF) has been working directly with the Florida affiliate (Florida Scholastic Esports League) and the New Jersey affiliate (Garden State Scholastic Esports Association) to provide a number of Minecraft challenges that can be done at home and even allow students to connect during the current situation with Covid-19.

Erik Leitner from Broward County Schools in Florida has been working with Steve and Cathy Isaacs to develop and share these challenges to a global audience. The challenges also are being translated into Spanish, and educators in Mexico will be trained to roll out the activities to their students. This is only the beginning in terms of making these activities accessible to a global audience.

There are currently six challenges that can be found on http://www.flipgrid.com/minecraftcovid19. The challenge was kicked off with a livestream on Mr. Isaacs’ channel (http://www.twitch.tv/mr_isaacs) and the NASEF Twitch channel (http://www.twitch.tv/esportsfed). A recording of the kickoff can be found on the Isaacs class YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2OWduZ0J6g.  Each challenge was introduced during one of the livestreams and then made available to the public.

The challenges include:

  • Minecraft Stuck at Home Challenge: Build your dream home for the duration of the social distancing.
  • What is Covid-19? – Build a model of the virus.
  • Future Medical Facility: Design and build a medical facility that can handle the challenges we are facing.
  • Inform the Public: Design a library or museum to share information about the virus and dispel misinformation.
  • Escape / ENTRY Room: Design an escape room full of challenges that allows the player to enter the restroom to wash their hands.
  • Covid-19 Rube Goldberg Machine: Create a Rube Goldberg Machine that provides a complex device to solve a simple problem related to Covid-19

This is just the beginning. Students across the world are participating, and we are in the planning stages for additional challenges.

Here are five tips to facilitating student engagement during this times:

  1. Provide choice: Allow students to choose the activities they want to engage in.
  2. Keep it simple: People are finding it difficult to navigate all the new technology thrown at them. Use platforms that students are familiar with. Many are playing Minecraft, and Filpgrid provides an easy way for students to submit their work. For those not familiar with Flipgrid, allow for alternate means of submission so they can still participate without being frustrated by the demands of the technology.
  3. Build community around the projects: These projects are being shared via social media, the NASEF community, and other vehicles to spread the word. Interested teachers have begun to share these challenges with their students. The Flipgrid portal allows people to see other approved submissions, and it is easy to share the projects out to a wider audience.
  4. Make activities meaningful and relevant: Everyone is impacted by Covid-19, and these activities allow students to use tools they love like Minecraft while touching on SEL and other skills to provide meaning and an outlet for students.
  5. Celebrate the accomplishments: All students who enter one of the challenges and meet the criteria get their class entered in a drawing for a prize package of 10 Hyper-X gaming headsets. One prize package will be awarded for each challenge. Also, as submissions are accepted, the videos can be shared through a variety of social media platforms to celebrate the student’s work.

These challenges are creating an opportunity for students to be creative and engage in light competition. Keep an eye out for future partnerships and additional challenges.

Steve Isaacs is a middle school teacher at William Ridge Middle School in Basking Ridge, N.J. and producer of Minefaire, a Minecraft fan experience. He  has been a leader in Game Based Learning and teaching Game Design and Development for the past 25 years. 

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