Virtual exploration

As I have become more comfortable with applying new type of technology in my classroom I have become quite reliant on knowledge diffusion through networked communities. Just as we looked at webcams and virtual discovery websites in these readings I have focused much of my time over the past 4 years teaching my students to build digital field trips in sandbox environments like Minecraft.  I really knew nothing about Minecraft up until 4 years ago when I offered to run it as a pilot project for my grade 4/5 class.  Firstly after installing the program I needed to find a place that had a”diversity of expertise among its members who are valued for their contributions and given support to develop, a shared objective of continually advancing the collective knowledge and skills, an emphasis on learning how to learn, and mechanisms for sharing what is learned.”  “(Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999).  These requirements were through the Minecraft Edu Google group forum that had already had a large group of technical experts and teachers who had been using the platform for years.  The amazing thing about these online environments where so many people are passionate about what they are teaching is the welcoming atmosphere that is created for beginners.  We had never run a M.U.V.E. before and there were a huge number of issues and problems that arose from such a large task.

My goal was to have students set up virtual field trips in a variety of biomes which they would take their classmates through, explaining the biodiversity in each environment based on scientific facts.  Through the Google group I gained a vast amount of knowledge in a short time through experts in the forums that had run similar environments.  Not only that but I managed to contribute back to the forum by sharing my successes and pitfalls with the forum group.  The open sandbox nature of Minecraft is something that I would have never experienced if I did not have the online community backing my experience.  This experience of knowledge sharing is something I have seen time and time again through my foray into digital forums.  I want what my students learn to be taken out of my classroom and applied in their lived experiences. Basically I asked myself just as Lampert states “What do my students take away from this activity into the other classrooms they will inhabit? Or out of school into the world of work and family?(Lampert, 1990).  The internet and tech tools that we have at our disposal has created huge opportunities for us learning how to create authentic learning for our classrooms.


Bielaczyc, Katerine, and Allan Collins. “Learning communities in classrooms: A reconceptualization of educational practice.” Instructional-design theories and models: A new paradigm of instructional theory 2 (1999): 269-292.

Lampert, M. (1990). When the problem is not the question and the solution is not the answer: Mathematical knowing and teaching. American educational research journal, 27(1), 29-63.

Niemitz, M., Slough, S., Peart, L., Klaus, A., Leckie, R. M., & St John, K. (2008). Interactive virtual expeditions as a learning tool: the School of Rock Expedition case study. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 17(4), 561-580


  1. Hi Nathan,

    The virtual walkthrough of biomes sounds like a wonderful idea. I’d like to find software that provides enough realism and flexibility that peers experience authentic environments. Let me know if you come across anything.


  2. What a great idea! Having students create their own virtual field trips, and then assuming the role of guide as they walk their peers through their design. Lots of design thinking happening in your classroom! I would love the opportunity to try this with my students. Thanks for sharing.
    I do agree that the network communities in place provide so many resources and support. We as teachers just need to tap into them and step outside of our comfort zone like you did, to try something new.

  3. Nathan

    I like the fact that you shared your personal experiences with using Minecraft. Sometimes the students know more than the teachers — especially if the teacher has never used the technology before. When a student asks me a question that I cannot answer — my general response is “…that is a good question, can you google that…” or “…ask three before me…”

    I wonder if could share the communities that helped you with Minecraft.

    A good next step might be to list the top 10 things a teacher should know before incorporating Minecraft into their own classroom.

    To keep the conversation going — make sure to respond to at least two other learners as well respond to all learners that respond to your own post. When responding to other learners, please use references to support your ideas/thesis/concepts etc.


  4. Nathan, you continue to impress me with how you utilize Minecraft in the classroom! Not only is the idea of a virtual field trip put on by the students in tune with all we have been discussing regarding the various TELE’s, but considering the professional development aspects of using Minecraft Edu Google Group to support your own learning as an educator is fantastic! Too often we examine how to improve our lessons so the kids can learn better, by working with each other and delving into inquiries of their own. But we also need to work together as collaborating professionals so we can learn and grow in new ways. Before September, I will definitely be putting in some time to see how other educators have used Minecraft. I’m very excited to have a team “supporting” me as I give it another go with my class this coming year.

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