Education Engagement & Motivation Mindset Tech & Social Media Wellbeing

Developing a Minecraft Mindset

What’s in this post:

  • How I used Minecraft to discuss Mindset with kids for whom mainstream education doesn’t work
  • Access to the materials I created in order for you to do similar if you wish

Of late I’ve found myself working with kids from some fairly tough backgrounds.

Whether it’s kids who are wards of the state, living in temporary shelter, or kids in mainstream settings who don’t hold out much hope for their future, I’ve been keen to explore how Carol Dweck’s theory of Growth Mindset might apply to these young people.

Incidentally if you’ve read Mindset or not, I’d highly recommend getting a copy of Dweck’s earlier work Self Theories, a series of essays that go into more detail regarding the research and – in my opinion at least – is a better read than her more well-known publication.

Anyhoo… just last week I had the opportunity to try something with a group of kids who attend a school that caters for those for whom the mainstream education system simply doesn’t work. Some of these students (currently all boys in Years 6-8) have severe behavioural issues, some have wellbeing issues and most have a combination of the two. I’m fortunate that I get to spend time with these boys on a semi-regular basis and so have been able to establish a bit of rapport with them.

I determined that it might be interesting to play Minecraft with them… and just see what happens. I hypothesised that many behaviours that Dweck describes as being Growth Mindset behaviours would be evident whilst the boys played Minecraft:

  • seeking out and embracing challenge
  • persisting in the face of setbacks
  • revelling in the struggle
  • taking on feedback
  • and being inspired by the success of others

I then wanted the boys to reflect on this after playing… but first the set up!

The very first thing I did was tweet out what I was thinking of doing. If you check out the comments down the side of the doc you’ll see heaps of good ideas, that either validated or pushed my thinking. Thanks in particular to:

 @eduGrunt@nickpatsianas@jeffkuhn72@dbatty1@jokay and @SteveT_AU for their input.

In the end this is what I went with…

Equipment – Given I didn’t want to impose on the school with regards to organising Minecraft Edu accounts or the like, I sourced the following…

  • Samsung 10.1 Note running Minecraft PE (My 3 year old tablet)
  • 5 x Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 Tablets ($97 each) Probably one of the best tablets in the sub $100 category
  • 1 x TP-LINK N300 Wireless Modem Router TD-W8961N ($47) I’d originally planned to network through my 4g hotspot, but then got nervous thinking about risk assessments and kids finding stuff they shouldn’t online… So the router serves to act as a network between the tablets without allowing access to the net.

I decided to set up a scenario as such using this website… (I’ve de-identified the school for privacy reasons)

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 5.50.56 pm

In order to set up the scenario in Minecraft I built a world using a seed… a simple internet search will give you plenty. For those of you interested, I used the Minecraft PE Seed: -94440.


From there I was able to switch between creative and survival mode (I found that installing a mod called Too Many Items on my Samsung made this a much simpler process) in order to hide gems around the area, and ‘bury’ villagers as well as create the sort of havoc an earthquake might cause by detonating TNT around the place and setting fire to buildings… 😈


The kids had three missions:

  1. To rebuild and enhance the village
  2. To find the buried villagers
  3. To find the stolen gems

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.10.28 pmIn the full Minecraft game (on PC, Mac or Console) you can use xyz coordinates that allow gamers to know where they are within their world, but in Minecraft PE this isn’t the case. So I created a map – again by going into Creative mode and taking a Bird’s Eye View screenshot and then overlaying a grid.

Students could work out the coordinates for the villagers and the gems by solving maths problems.Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.07.31 pm

Each group of students – small groups of 4 boys or so, which is the nature of this school – had around an hour. The last 10-15 minutes or so was spent on the reflection. Which again I put out on Twitter in it’s early form:

This was the final version. You’ll note I got rid of the sword (it’s school after all!), gave space for students to identify their own strengths (thanks to@corisel) and then scaffolded the transfer from Minecraft to ‘real’ life… (although Minecraft is real life of course! 😀)

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.14.38 pm

Was it a resounding success?

Let’s not go too far. It was after all a one-off session using the most basic version of Minecraft. I’m aware many of you will be using Minecraft Edu or the full PC-based Minecraft and as such will be doing much more advanced work.

But as the boys’ regular teachers noted:

  • Kids who would ordinarily not be able to be in the same room as each other were working as a team
  • Boys were running around the classroom to answer maths questions (I know, I know… it wasn’t in the risk assessment!)
  • They were talking about their strategies and what they would do to improve all day…

Some of the boys reflections were pretty powerful too – and I’m paraphrasing a little…

  • I realise that making mistakes doesn’t make me a bad person
  • I tell myself I’m no good at something before giving myself a chance to get good at something
  • I get frustrated when I can’t do something straight away

As well as working with the boys I ran the sessions to show the teachers the power of Minecraft – or games in general – in order to get students to address their behaviours and – more importantly – their thinking around their behaviours.

The staff are now investigating how they might incorporate similar approaches down the track.

Obviously if this were part of an ongoing approach we would be able to explore our mindsets in various scenarios. I’m not saying it’s as simple as being resilient in Minecraft means you can be resilient in ‘real life.’

But I am saying for some of these kids acknowledging they do exhibit these behaviours somewhere is an incredibly important first step.

Demonstrating through Minecraft that they do exhibit the kind of Growth Mindset behaviours that Dweck talks about is – for some of the students – the first time they or anyone else have recognised they are capable of doing so.

If you think this could be of value in you classroom, you can get all my resources for this activity here, meaning you can use the seed (-94440) along with the map I’ve produced, also please feel free to change up the reflection tool to suit your context.

Would love to hear your thoughts, or other cool ideas you have for Minecraft or games in general!

Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership Mindset

Learning about Mindset from Stan

Up until around 12 months ago – unless you were a tennis fanatic – you’d probably not heard of Stanislas Wawrinka. The reason being, Stan is the second best tennis player in Switzerland. The best being… oh you know.

Anyway, it was at the 2014 Australian Open when Wawrinka was drawn against Novak Djokovic – a bloke who had – till then – beaten Stan 14 times in their past 14 matches, including a 5 set thriller in the 2013 Aussie Open. Despite pundits saying that Stan could give Novak a game, most pointed to the win/loss ratio and concluded it would most likely be Novak heading to the Semi Final.

And then Stan won.

I use this story when I’m workshopping concepts around resilience and mindset.

I mean, what kind of mindset do you need to take the court against a guy who has beaten you 14 times on the trot and who – if they’re being honest – most experts reckon you can’t beat. What kind of mindset do you need to play your shots, go for the winners and keep on pushing when the odds are stacked against you? How resilient must you be to get beat 14 times on the trot and keep coming back for another crack?

These were questions that many wanted answering after Wawrinka’s victory, and attention quickly turned to his approach to psychology and in particular a tattoo that he has on his left forearm. It reads:

Stans Tattoo“Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again, fail again, fail better.”

It’s a quote from Irish poet Samuel Beckett. It’s a subtle shift from “If at first you don’t succeed yada yada yada…” The Beckett quote infers that we have something to learn from failing, and rather than seeing it as a devastating end point, perhaps failure is merely a stop-off on the way to success.

For mine, as important as the message, is where Stan chose to have the tattoo. As it is on his left forearm it is in his peripheral vision every time he waits to receive serve, as well as every time he serves. Stan serve

And this got me thinking. On every point in every match of his career he has a reminder that failure comes with opportunities to improve, to get better, to strive to be the best he can be.

Now I’m not advocating that we all go and get inspirationally inked, but it makes me wonder, where are our touchstones? Where do we come back to when we’ve had a set back? Where is the daily reminder of what we’re striving for? (And I’m meaning something more effective than a SMART goal stuck on your fridge.)

Fast forward 12 months to this year, and once again Stan meets Novak at the Aussie Open. This time in the semi-finals. Once again it’s a 5 set classic, but on this occasion Novak wins through.

I was keen to hear what Stan would say at his press conference. Was he disappointed, upset? Of course, that’s only natural. But then he said,

“It’s tough but I have to take the positives. I’ll be on the practice court everyday trying to improve my game, but I think I’m playing better than I was last year.”

To some this might seem cliche, but it’s this mindset that great athletes have. This is what separates them from all those who have the talent or ability but never quite seem to make it.

My question is how can we instil this mindset in our learning communities?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while… for about a year actually if you check out the tweet below!

Anyway, whether you want to call it a Growth Mindset, Resilience or just having a go I think it’s something we should encourage in our schools. Both in the classroom and the staffroom.

My next post will be the first in a series of posts based around an interview with John Hattie in response to that blog post.

I’m really excited to share with you what we chatted about so please do keep an eye out for it! 

Education Mindset Social Commentary Wellbeing

What do we lose when everyone wins?

We won’t grow resilient kids if we only talk about resilience.

Kids need to experience struggle, setbacks and failure if they are going to develop the skillset and mindset to be resilient.

If a child only ever experiences success,

then we as adults have failed.

This is the topic of my latest #OffCampus segment for the Teachers Educational Review podcast.

Check it out here:

Social Commentary

The Crazy Things That Some Schools Do!

Is it April Fool’s day? Of course it isn’t. So why am I reading ridiculous headlines like this? helicopter parent

Melbourne schools ban playground games because of lack of resilience

The report stated that schools were banning Tiggy because kids would just give up when they were tagged, and quoted the Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh as saying some schools had imposed bans on other games, such as skipping and swapping collector cards, over problems sharing.


Banning games because kids lack social skills or resilience?

That’s akin to banning Mathematics because kids can’t add up.

Or perhaps your child can’t spell properly? Just ring up the school to complain, and they’ll put a stop to those pesky English lessons too.

Is this really what we’ve come to?

The article claimed that, “Smaller families and over-protective parents are being blamed for a lack of resilience,” although blamed by whom it doesn’t say.

Whilst there may be something to the “over-protective” parents line, I find it incredible that schools would resort banning such things. I once heard of a school that banned the giving out of birthday invitations unless every child in the class received one – an argument if ever I’ve heard one for smaller class sizes!

Schools have to take the lead here, and draw a line in the sand, rather than perpetuating the issue by banning opportunities for kids to develop resilience.

You don’t build resilience by talking about it – I don’t care what any overpriced course tells you – you build it by working though issues. A struggle here, a bit of drama there and coming through it the other side.

I don’t know who said it to me, but they once described some parents as “Helicopter Gunship” parents. That is, they hover around blowing up anything and everything that might cause their child to struggle.

We’ve come to expect “Helicopter” parents, but we’re in danger when the “helicopter” mindset takes over schools as well.

If you were the person that gave me that analogy, let us know in the comments section so I can appropriately quote you in future!

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.

Change Leadership Tech & Social Media

What if every teacher blogged?

Let’s just say for a moment that in teaching, we value concepts such as:

  • Fostering relationships
  • Enhancing resilience & staff wellbeing
  • Encouraging deep reflection
  • Sharing of best practice and vision
  • Engagement in our profession
  • Enhancing teacher quality
  • Cross-curricular links
  • Links to the “real” world*
  • Peer-to-peer coaching
  • The development of a body of work
  • The ability to stay “current” with social & technological trends

Which one of these would blogging NOT address?

I believe that blogging is the simplest, cheapest but also the most effective way to enhance teacher quality in your school… without the need to fire or hire anyone.

I suggest that as a start, school leaders could create a school-based blog and allocate 1hr every one or two weeks for staff to blog. You can keep it completely “in-house” or use it as a window into your learning community – whatever suits your school.

In fact there are probably already a number of bloggers on your staff who could help facilitate the setting up of your blog.

If your school is devoid of bloggers, this link gives you the 101 on what’s needed to get a blog up and running.

Make sure you encourage openness, honesty and consistency. Encourage staff to read and comment on each others posts. Make sure you allocate time for this.

Struggling to think about what to write about? Why not start with:

What went well for me at school this week and why?

Do this for a couple of weeks and see how it develops.

As with most things, it will take time, but persevere and perhaps in 6-12 months, you could write a post about the benefits, challenges and opportunities blogging  in your school has presented.

And please send me the link to your post when you do!

Of course if your school is already doing this please feel free to leave us a comment to share your experiences.

*I’m not sure why school is so often seen as NOT being a part of the “real” world. But that’s another blog post for another time. 🙂