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Minecraft for the classroom transforms teaching of the great fire of London and the Romans.

Educational publisher launches first ever Minecraft for school resources.

The teaching of primary school topics such as the Romans, the Great Fire of London and how plants work is about to be revolutionised using the hugely popular computer game Minecraft.

Generations of children have spent time in the classroom drawing Pyramids, dressing up as Roman soldiers, reading about Pudding Lane and studying flowers.

Now, through a new educational version of the building sim Minecraft, teachers can help pupils create their own virtual worlds, transporting them back to 17th century London, bringing to life the functions of a plant or teaching them in 3D the basics of gravity and water flow.

Technology giant Microsoft is launching Minecraft: Education Edition, a special version of the gaming phenomenon specifically customised for the classroom, providing a safe and secure environment for a whole school.

To ensure that all teachers can tap into pupils’ engagement with the digital world, a Minecraft-made-easy guide has been produced by educational publishers Rising Stars called Switched on Minecraft. This provides step-by-step guidance and video tutorials to ensure staff will feel fully equipped to use Minecraft as a platform for lessons that motive and inspire.  It will launch next week (22 November) at Minecraft: Education Edition – UK launch event attended by teachers and education leaders in Edinburgh.

Schools are increasingly recognising that children live in a dynamic, digital world and are shaped by it. Many pupils have access to online streaming content, interactive games, and virtual worlds.  Millions already play and love Minecraft. The value of Minecraft: Education Edition is in providing an environment in which pupils want to learn and are engaged. Switched on Minecraft aims to make teachers as familiar and comfortable with that environment as their pupils are.

Minecraft in the classroom retains all the appeal of the original, but with additional capabilities, including a new map tool, an in-game camera for screenshots and a whole teacher-focused system that allows them to put pupils in certain environments.

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Andrea Carr, founder of Rising Stars said: “Switched on Minecraft has been developed to help give teachers the confidence to use the platform to support teaching and learning of curriculum subjects and to engage children through primary school. The resources will help schools use Minecraft as part of topic work such as Seasons, Conservation, and Buildings and more broadly in the development of literacy and numeracy.  Minecraft is an excellent and highly engaging starting point for many subjects and for storytelling and story writing”.

Lesson plans for the Great Fire of London, for instance, involve pupils researching 17th century London, and specifically housing size and design and the use of materials, before planning and building their own digital versions of the dwellings on Pudding Lane.

Children will need to work together to ensure their houses are built close together, replicating the dark, tightly packed streets of the Capital. Pupils are encouraged to think about and record inventory items that reflect everyday mid-17th-century life and the features they need to make their designs as authentic as possible.

Exploring each other’s houses and giving feedback on other builds will spark ideas of how to improve their own designs. They can screenshot different rooms in their houses or capture a walk through using a screen capture device. They can even replicate the sequence of events in the great fire by starting a blaze in the bakery and charting its progress – bringing to life the speed of the destruction and its devastating consequences.

Through the Switched on Minecraft guide, teachers can use the resource to explore plant life, with pupils identifying and describing the functions of different parts of flowering plants and what they need to survive, before moving on use Minecraft’s blocks to build their own plants in a pre-prepared Minecraft habitat.

Hundreds of schools have already been using Minecraft to inspire pupils. The game in its current form includes elements of building, farming, mining and engineering, so teachers have used it to explore everything from architecture and physics to ecology, sustainable agriculture and history. Not every teacher is as clued up on Minecraft as its legions of fans are, however, which is one of the reasons that Switched on Minecraft has been developed.

A typical starting point on the Minecraft journey is pupils building a representation of their school in Minecraft. To undertake the task, pupils have to use maths skills to measure and estimate size, collaborate to work out who is building what and make decisions about what materials to use and the best design.

Children at one school in Scotland went on to redesigned Dundee’s waterfront area in Minecraft, while sixth grade pupils at a school in Seattle used the game to model a river and learn about its ecosystem by damming the flow in different locations.  Another school in south west London has used Minecraft to design and build a mosaic, based on real Roman designs.  As part of this activity, the children had to think about symmetry, pattern and colour and calculate the area of their design.  The finished designs will form part of a class gallery to share with their school community.

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Through Switched on Minecraft, teachers have the step-by-step instructions they need to teach children topics as varied as the structure of molecules, the history of architecture, and scientific concepts like mass, volume and area.

Whether they are constructing an 18th century castle, exploring life during the Blitz, engineering a sports stadium, or recreating a scene from Shakespeare in Minecraft, pupils can challenge themselves to solve problems and improve upon their creations.  The learning outcomes – which teachers are able to directly tie to the curriculum – become a by-product of this immersive, play-based experience. Children must try, fail, and try again to achieve the result they want.

To ensure that Switched on Minecraft is as effective, clear and as simple to follow as possible, the publishers have worked with a primary school teacher to write it. The author Tracy Broadbent has been teaching in primary schools for 14 years.  Broadbent has been using Minecraft in her classroom for two years and was an early adopter of using Minecraft in the classroom.

The curriculum is always the starting point and Minecraft can be used to bring it to life. The most important thing is the way Minecraft engages children of all ages, enabling them to be creative in a way which some struggle to be in a traditional classroom setting.

It is open-ended – there are no right or wrong answers in Minecraft – and provides an opportunity for children to draw on existing skills to solve problems. It encourages children to collaborate with each other and promotes good behaviour because pupils are so keen to keep on using it”, said Tracy Broadbent, ICT adviser and author of Switched on Minecraft.

Havering Education services, which is publishing partner with Rising Stars, is running a trial of Switched on Minecraft among schools in Havering.

Dave Smith, Computing and Online Safety Adviser at Havering Education Services in London, said: “Switched on Minecraft offers teachers an exciting way to demystify the world of Minecraft for classroom use, enabling pupils to explore the curriculum through Minecraft-based activities.  The activities are motivating, open-ended and easy to integrate into English, maths, science, history, geography and more.  The resources offer teachers clear guidance on how to set-up a safe and secure Minecraft environment for classroom use.  All of this comes with teacher guidance and video tutorials, helping to build teacher confidence, making learning engaging and fun for teachers and pupils alike.”

Simon Pile, Assistant Head Teacher at  Anson Primary School, London, was one of the first schools to trial Switched on Minecraft.  He said: “Children are passionate about the world of Minecraft. We’ve harnessed that passion and used it to make the learning experience more engaging and to deliver mathematics in an innovative way.

For more information, please go to www.risingstars-uk.com/minecraftSwitched on Minecraft launches next term in schools across the UK and costs £200.  Rising Stars has already received 300 orders from primary schools for Switched on Minecraft ahead of its official launch in the UK.

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