The decision to consider using Minecraft as another teaching tool in the Music classroom took a leap of faith and a commitment to action through learning.
I needed to learn how to play.
I began attending as many Minecraft in education workshops and sessions as I could find. They were more scarce three years ago than they are now, and no matter how many I attended, Minecraft in Music education was never addressed. When I would ask the presenters at the end of their sessions about utilising Minecraft as a tool to teach music, they were always vaguely encouraging, but had not heard of teachers using it in music classrooms.
So I took it to my students.
As a Music teacher at an independent school, I teach every child in Preschool through 8th grade. I polled each of my classes in K-5, and asked them to rank themselves as Minecraft Rock Stars, Experts, or Beginners.
From there I invited individual students to my classroom to teach me about Minecraft in the mornings before school started. They were always excited to be asked, and my true learning began there. Seeing Minecraft through their eyes gave me greater insight into how much they loved the immersive creativity.
Working one-on-one with students in different grade levels, asking them to be the teacher, and putting no parameters on what they chose to teach me in Minecraft broke down barriers with students who had sometimes posed challenges in Music classes. The new relationships and trust forged with children who weren't always successful in music was the ultimate tipping point.
But how do I use it to teach Music?
Although my research regarding how to authentically incorporate Minecraft into the Music curriculum continued by searching the internet, Twitter, social media, conventions, sessions, workshops - anything I could think of to discover the answer - I came up with nothing.
So I took it to my students.
I invited a diverse range of students in grades K-7 to attend two before-school sessions to determine if:
- There was interest.
- There was purpose.
- There was something to teach and be learned using Minecraft in Music!
A resounding “DEFINITELY” to all three questions resulted.
One hundred percent of the children invited to participate (45) scrambled through the Music room doors at 7:15 on two separate mornings to explore ways to teach Music using Minecraft.
Two unexpected positive outcomes:
1. The parents were also excited and on board about the opportunity for their children.
2. The requirement that all children had to provide their own devices with Minecraft PE installed to participate went smoothly.
Experimental Build: Round 1
Day 1’s build was to create 16 counts of music using whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, or eighth notes; all skills that were being taught across grade levels.
Needless to say, amazing creations were developed. Teaching Music with Minecraft was going to be a success.
But the most exciting and convincing aspect of Round 1 was to witness the multi-age learning, enthusiasm, passion, and FUN in the room. To see first graders working and laughing and learning alongside 5th graders; 2nd graders teaching 4th graders; all of them teaching me!
The inspiration and beauty in the room on that morning of passionate, ageless, excited collaboration and learning was a testament to student-directed, constructivist learning.
And they were all learning and sharing so much more than Music and Minecraft…
Some students created and thought about music in ways I would have never imagined, which gave me insight into how their minds worked and how I might best reach them and others. Not to mention new ways of looking at and teaching music after 21 years in the classroom!
After the two experimental builds, I launched a four week before-school Minecraft Music Project. I wanted to extend the initial ideas the students had created and work with some new ones to develop another aspect of the curriculum that would be more developmentally appropriate for even the youngest students, such as identifying instruments within instrument families.
Sixty-five students in grades PS-5 participated, which was roughly 85% of those eligible. I used the same operating framework as the experimental builds: students arrive by 7:30 AM, bring their own devices or notebooks charged and with Minecraft PE or Minecraft loaded, collaborate, build, and have fun.
With so many students, I quickly identified five student leaders and utilised them as Minecraft Masters. My co-teacher and I sent Minecraft questions to those five students, and we handled the Music questions as they arose. It worked beautifully.
The builds over those four session included:
1. Rhythms (whole, half, quarter, eighth, and rests).
2. Pitches on the staff, crescendos and decrescendos, and dynamics (p, mf, f, ff).
3. Families of instruments: Build an instrument from the string and the woodwind family.
4. Families of instruments: Build an instrument from the percussion and the brass family.
Each of those builds covered curriculum the students were currently studying, had studied, or would study in Music class. Again, my objective from a purely curriculum development standpoint was to pursue the possibilities of incorporating Minecraft into the Music curriculum in authentic and developmentally appropriate ways.
1. Students have so much to offer. Take the risk to include them in the process. Let them teach you and teach others when possible.
Keep searching. We owe it to our students to involve them in ways they can grow and develop to their fullest. Don’t let your fears or lack of knowledge hold them back.
2. Do it yourself. We’re all working together to create the best possible learning environments for our students and with our students. What they need may not be out there yet. Don’t be afraid to be the pioneer and make it happen; your students deserve it.
3. Trust. You’ve got to trust that you know what your students need. Don’t be afraid to do whatever YOU have to do to give them the opportunities you know will benefit them. Whether that’s making yourself vulnerable enough to ask for help from peers, colleagues, or students, learning new skills or tools in the multitudinous ways that are now available for all of us to learn, or standing up against push-back when you know you have the children’s best interests at hand. Trust yourself.
4. Take Action. Don’t wait. Your kids can’t wait. They need you to be a guide to finding their passion, their path, their joy, and ultimately themselves.
The Minecraft in Music project has launched, and my students designed it alongside their teachers. Without them, it would not exist.
Have you utilised Minecraft in the Music classroom? Share your experiences below.