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RVES Minecraft Club teaches members more than how to play a video game

Riverview Elementary School art specialist Paul Stanley works with one of the students in the new Minecraft Club, held Mondays and Tuesdays after school.

There may well be some hidden lessons in a video game students at Riverview Elementary School are playing.

Students participating in the new Minecraft Club at RVES might just think they're playing a cool game, but without realizing it, they're also learning elements of reading, math and physics, as well as a few good social skills.

Minecraft club just started in January. It's run by community education, but overseen by RVES art specialist Paul Stanley. Minecraft is a video game set in a sort of Lego-land, where players are put in a make believe scenario and are asked to meet challenges. They do that, for instance, by collecting virtual blocks of things, mixing and matching, baking clay in an oven to make bricks, and so on.

"It allows for a lot of mechanical thinking and creative work," Stanley explained.

The game is fairly complex, but the school has purchased licenses for an educational version of the game, which is designed to help students utilize skills they learn in class. When they knock down a tree in the game, they get a log. They can use that log can to craft four planks, then cut those planks down into sticks.

"There's a bit of math involved in one of the challenges," Stanley said. "They won't realize it, but it will be a math worksheet."

Right now, Stanley has students working through a challenge where the group was on a ship, and that ship crashed on an island. The players have to figure out where they are, and then how they can survive. It requires some teamwork, Stanley said, and it requires students to think about how the things they do on their screen affect their fellow players.

"It's a pretty big world," he told students during a break Monday. "There's room for everybody."

The students might have thought he was referring to the game, but Stanley is teaching kids some basic lessons about how to treat others. He has a set of rules and etiquette he's handed out to the students. For the most part, he lets the students interact with each other while playing the game, but once in a while it's important to go back over those rules. What the kids might not realize is that those rules teach some pretty basic social skills, like sharing, offering to help others and respecting others and their space or their property.

"Treat other people the way you want to be treated."

"Say please and thank you."

Community education youth and community service coordinator Marianne Feely is impressed by how well Stanley runs the club, and by the interest it received from students when it first offered. Minecraft club has 44 students participating, with 25 members in the Monday group and 19 in another group that meets on Tuesdays.

"I have never seen an after school community education class fill up so fast," Feely said. "It was pretty amazing."

The club is open to students in grades 3-5. Stanley set it up that way because some of the problems presented in the challenges take the mental skillset of older students, and the younger ones could become discouraged if they were not able to keep up. However, both he and Feely think there could be an expanded Minecraft club offering in the future, thanks to its popularity.

"If it would have been any other video game, I would have said no way, but this has a slant toward genuine education. I think it's great. I love to see them excited about it," Stanley said.

Community education charges a fee for participation in the club, Feely said. That fee was used to purchase the licenses for 25 games.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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