The Teacher Becomes The Student: What I Learned From Playing Minecraft

Aaron January 13, 2016 1


Be a model adult.

Nearly every student I’ve met in the past year has been obsessed with this game, Minecraft. I remember one of my college roommates playing it and thought it was the most unaesthetic game on earth. Working in a democratic free school, I have tried to be a model adult in my image. This meant giving the kids enough freedom to make small mistakes, while providing a net for them to fall on. Also, displaying my love for learning. The latter involved me jamming on the guitar in our space or working on videography in the history lab. In my mind, I expected this hub of interest directed learning to look like students coming to the mentors for advice and knowledge. It wasn’t my job to impose information on these kids. Then I thought more about how I may be doing the same thing many of these kids are doing. A lot of our members were just caught up doing their own activities. They weren’t too concerned with what other people were doing around them.

Stepping into Minecraft for the first time.

A few weeks ago, almost half the school was plugged in to Minecraft. We were in the midst of switching campuses and most of our materials were in storage so most of the kids were on their devices. If I can’t bring kids into my “adult world,” might as well join theirs. With a slight degree of anxiety, I asked one of the 10 year old girls to help me set up an account on Minecraft. All of a sudden, everyone was bustling with excitement. Aaron, a mentor, was going to step into Minecraft for the first time. One of our interns was gracious enough to let me play on his account and away I went. At 25, I’m a bit old fashioned compared to some of these kids. I’ve played the same game for nearly 5 years (League of Legends). It has been a while since I've tried something new.

It was a rather simple concept. Left-click to break things and right-click to build things. I was karate chopping away at dirt and trees, I felt invincible!


Everything was nice and pretty until night came.

Everything seemed pretty self-explanatory until… night time came. It was honestly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the creatures of the night started creeping out from the darkness. I tried to fend them off the best I could with my block of wood but they were just too powerful. With some quick critical thinking, I thought, what would I do if this were real life? That’s it! I’ll climb a tree. Not two seconds later, I realized that was not possible in this game. However! I could build a tree. So I stacked on block after block of dirt and created a safe zone for myself and waited out the night.


It was a great bonding moment for the community. The kids could watch an adult frustrate over a game that many of them had already mastered. It reminded them that every person has his or her own learning curve. I learned that wielding a wooden block was not very useful. I learned that digging down was probably safer than building up, because skeletons can shoot me down and spiders can climb to me.

After a few days of playing, I built my own treehouse in which I reside in now. I’ve learned that monsters don’t spawn near candles. Building a farm provides easy access to food, leather, and wool. You can craft tools to more efficiently mine, dig, or chop wood (diamond is the strongest or so I thought, later found out about enchantments). My garden of sugar cane and grain was able to provide renewable sugar, paper, and grain for me to utilize in crafting other objects. Crafting is a whole nother story in itself.12471058_3900709086687_1221102740_o.jpg

Extreme problem solving and creativity required.

If your child doesn’t know how to do algebra and only knows how to play minecraft. He or she is fine. The crafting mechanism in Minecraft is just as strenuous if not more strenuous than 9th grade Algebra courses. The number of permutations you need to memorize to make just the basic equipment needed to survive is comparable to memorizing y=mx+b, ax+by=c, m(x-x2)=(y-y2) There is definitely a lot of forethought and planning needed to create both a safe place to live in and for it to be aesthetically pleasing. Then there was the issue of transportation. Walking took forever. Here’s a list of problems I had to solve.

  • How do I break things?
  • How do I build things?
  • How can I be safe at night?
  • Where can I find food?
  • How do I cook food?
  • How do I build a stove?
  • What tools are best used for certain actions?
  • What is the hierarchy of materials for building tools?
  • How do I store my excess items?
  • What layers of earth can I find coal, iron, diamonds, etc.?
  • What is the most efficient pattern to mine?
  • How do I get my stuff back after I die?
  • How do I survive lava?
  • What cadence do I need to use to kill monsters more effectively?
  • How do I travel faster?

and so many more questions I had to solve by asking questions or researching.

Beauty in both art and logic.

Each child that plays minecraft had to go through a similar learning process to mine. Often times we may dismiss the value of their generation's screen time. The first time I saw minecraft, I dismissed it as well. It looked so basic and uninteresting to me. 4 years later, I've had a grand time collaborating with our members and learning from them. There is a whole nother social aspect to the game that I have yet to explore with the students of Makarios Community School. You can only imagine what they’re gaining by playing this one game and how beautiful it can actually be. 





Aaron Yang


Staff Member

educational freedom, Pursuit of Interests, Posts by Aaron, Day to Day, Self Directed Learning, Democratic School

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