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Building Communities, Pirate Ships, and Raining Chickens: Park University’s Minecraft Camp Experience

Back in February, Dr. Susan Keim and Zac Jarrard from Park University in Missouri shared their story of how the Hauptmann School of Public Affairs is using Minecraft: Education Edition to teach public administration. They saw such powerful results in the higher education setting that they decided to bring Minecraft into their student-run K–12 camps. Read this guest post to learn about their experience!

During summer and winter break, the Park University Hauptmann School of Public Affairs and Esports Program partnered to host two Minecraft camps for kids of Park U faculty and staff aged 6–15. Since 2018, Park U has successfully used Minecraft as a teaching tool. The Minecraft camp was a logical next step to build a bridge between gamification in K–12 and higher education and create a game culture on campus. The catalyst for using Minecraft: Education Edition was a mix of collaborating through eSports, bringing students together, and exposing K–12 students to eSports along with the college experience.

We piloted the Minecraft camps not knowing if children and their parents would be interested, but to our amazement, the camps filled up immediately! Before the camp, lessons were developed and computers were tested. Park University generously provided the equipment, a game room, and counselors. Since Minecraft is dynamic, pivots to different subjects easily, and brings learners together, campers had a blast going through several fun activities. Students set out in teams to explore the Oregon Trail, build cities, and set sail in pirate ships. Other activities gave campers a chance to build dream homes and learn computer programming by making it rain chickens!

Each group demonstrated leadership, and to the counselors’ delight, they noticed many girls in leadership roles. One group led by a team of girls took on the challenge of creating their collective neighborhood. They began with a whiteboard design to fully communicate their vision to each team member. In their Minecraft world, the girls built their neighborhood, complete with a road connecting everyone’s home to a park and community swimming pool. What stood out the most was this group’s sense of community, empathy, and concern for the common good. They were excited to come back each day for more learning, fun, and Minecraft!

Campers and their parents loved the outcomes of the camp. When parents walked in at the end of each day, their children were excited to show them the vast digital worlds they co-created in teams and share some laughs together. One group led by middle schoolers showed parents a Minecraft city with a McDonald’s at its core. The campers noted that the McDonalds had a clean bathroom. They even gave tours of houses, other businesses, a prison, and showed where a meteor had hit the town. Clearly, the campers built elements that reflected their interests!

Parents saw group project presentations and supported their children’s gaming interests. Without realizing they were in a cross-curricular learning environment, their children had explored a variety of different subjects, including history, public administration, construction, and computer science. Learners gained experience in a broad range of valuable skills like creativity, collaboration, communication, and leadership. The camp helped students make linkages between gaming, career interests, and learning new skills.

The experience wasn’t without challenges. Counselors discovered that it could be difficult to keep campers occupied and busy throughout the day, manage staffing, and split kids into appropriate age and skill-level groups. These hurdles represented a learning opportunity for counselors as well. Working through the challenges, we found endless possibilities associated with Minecraft camps for kids!

Our campers gave feedback and shared what they learned during their time at the camp. As a result of this experience, Park University is planning on offering Minecraft camps in the future. The final takeaway: Minecraft camps are a win-win. They meet learners where they are, give them exposure to the college experience, bring parents together to support learning and development, promote game-based learning at the university, and teach life and career skills that campers will carry with them forever!

If you’re new to Minecraft: Education Edition, learn how to get started at education.minecraft.net.