By Sam Harris

The transformational power of Minecraft in the classroom

Every person in the world understands the ah-ha moment, but teachers know it better than most. It is that feeling when, suddenly, things just click.

How using Minecraft in the classroom opened my eyes to the transformational power of education technology 

Every person in the world understands the ah-ha moment, but teachers know it better than most. It is that feeling when, suddenly, things just click. The unknown becomes known. The opaque becomes clear. It is a wonderful feeling and as teachers we are privileged to see it happen often. What is particularly powerful, is when this ah-ha moment comes as a result of trying something new. Be it a new pedagogical approach, a new piece of technology or a new behaviour management strategy, when something works for a student, and you can see their face light up as they begin to perceive things in a whole new way then we know we are doing our jobs and doing them well!

In the summer of 2018, one of my students had an ah-ha moment that changed they way I viewed the role of technology in education. The impact that this had on me was profound. Not only did this change my day-to-day teaching practice, but it led to a passion for digital technologies in the classroom that has ultimately changed the direction of my career.

Let me give you some background…

During a long and hot term four, I was teaching History and Social Studies at a large and diverse South Auckland School. Although we were on the tail end of the year and things really should have been winding down, I had a particularly energetic class of Year 9’s that I needed to keep occupied.

At the beginning of the term, a brand-new student (let’s call him Luka) was placed into my class. Despite the diversity of the school, I had never had any experience teaching a student such as Luka before. Luka was from Eastern Europe and spoke almost no English. Although he was an outgoing kid, Luka had experienced some tough things in his life and these experiences made connecting with him even more challenging. Managing Luka’s behaviour in class was difficult. The communication barrier between myself and the rest of the class left him frustrated and like anyone, this led to disengagement with tasks and distracting behaviours. Challenged constantly with reading, writing and speaking English all day, attempting to get Luka to do any sort of classwork was very difficult.

Since we had finished up most of our assessment for the year, I decided to try something new and fun to try and keep my students engaged for the remainder of the school year. The kids kept asking me to play games, and as I had completed a day of Minecraft Education Edition PLD earlier in the year, I figured I would give it a go with the class. I had barely played Minecraft and still wasn’t sure how it could be used to foster good learning, but I figured this was a low stakes opportunity to try it out.

I presented the students with a project surrounding landmarks. Students were to work individually or in groups to research a different landmark from around the world, produce a brief report about the significance of this landmark to different groups of people and finally recreate this landmark using Minecraft Education.

As I began to hand out instructions for this task to introduce the class to this project, I remember Luka didn’t even pick it up. The handout lay on his desk untouched, Luka gazing out the back windows of the class – until I said the word Minecraft. Although Luka probably didn’t understand most of my instructions, his demeanour changed completely.

Over the course of the project, Luka went from disengaged and frustrated to motivated and enthusiastic. Unwittingly on my part, Minecraft was a game that he had played as a kid in Europe and the familiarity with this tool meant he felt both confident and comfortable with what he was doing. Rather than being frustrated by the language barrier between us, Luka started trying to understand things with a greater sense of motivation. He began actively using apps to translate instructions and to communicate with me and his classmates.

It was not simply the fact that Luka was confident in using Minecraft, but it was also the nature of the task itself that changed his attitude towards his learning. Luka chose to do his project on the Church of Saint Sava, a landmark in Serbia that he connected with back in his homeland. Using Minecraft, Luka was able to communicate with myself and the rest of the class something about him, his family and his history in a way that transcended the use of written or oral language. Rather than tell us about this place that was significant to him, Luka was able to recreate it in a virtual world and provide others in the class the opportunity to explore it.

Luka’s Minecraft build was outstanding. Despite being challenged, he was able to communicate about the significance of his landmark to himself and to others. His project was a drastic improvement in both output and quality of the classwork that Luka had attempted for me previously.

This was my ah-ha moment. Digital technology such as Minecraft allows us to transform teaching and learning experiences for students. Not only did the use of this game make this project more engaging for this student, but it made it personal, collaborative and accessible. Like many teachers, when I used this piece of technology with my class I only really did so because I thought it would make my lessons more enjoyable – but in thinking this way, we limit our ability to understand how technology can be used to improve almost all aspects of a student’s learning experience. Technology transcends almost all physical barriers. Language, disability, distance, even personal interest – when used effectively, all these barriers can be levelled using digital tech.

If you are keen to learn more about how you can start using Minecraft: Education Edition or any other Microsoft tools that can make learning experiences more accessible for students, feel free to get in touch with me via Twitter, LinkedIn or at

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written by our very own

Sam Harris

Sam is a registered secondary teacher, who has worked in schools as a teacher in charge of History as well as an Across School Teacher within a Kāhui Ako (community of learning). In these roles, Sam has worked extensively with teachers on their use of digital technologies in the classroom and has worked collaboratively to establish localised teaching and learning opportunities that are connected and relevant to students lives.

Sam has a postgraduate qualification in digital and collaborative learning and has been a Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator (MIEE). Sam is passionate about curriculum design and is particularly excited about the role that digital technologies can play in transforming teaching and learning experiences through the New Zealand Curriculum refresh and coming NCEA changes. Below are some of the areas that he can help support within your school:

Office 365 for education
Aotearoa New Zealand Histories Curriculum
Senior Social Sciences curriculum development - History
Digital Technologies: Hangarau Matihiko
Digital fluency across the curriculum
New Zealand Curriculum Refresh & NCEA Changes
Middle Leadership mentoring and coaching
Working across Kāhui Ako (Communities of Learning)

connect with Sam on linkedin