Dickerman meshes Minecraft and learning



Through the use of popular video games, 9th grade history teacher Sam Dickerman creates a unique and engaging classroom experience for his students while on Zoom.

While Minecraft may not be the first word that comes to students’ minds when they think of Social Studies class, it definitely is for Samuel Dickerman’s students.

Social studies teacher Samuel Dickerman has developed an innovative teaching method that engages students while giving them a sense of independence. After realizing that many students do not like doing normal classwork in breakout rooms over Zoom, he turned to Minecraft.

“My thought was that Minecraft would allow kids from different classes to play together. We’d love kids at home and at school to play together, right? They would be on Zoom talking, but they’d be in Minecraft, working together to build something fun,” Dickerman said.

For the project, the class is divided into groups to do research on a specific era in history. They then build a structure from their era on Minecraft. While Dickerman gave students who did not have any experience using Minecraft a chance to practice with him, he was hoping that students would be able to rely on their group mates for assistance.

In addition to allowing his students to work with the peers in their class, he also allows them to collaborate with students from all of his other classes. Freshman Lyrissa Anderson said she has been enjoying the group component.

“I think that group projects are really important for meeting people and making new friends, especially while we’re mostly online,” Anderson said.

Dickerman trusts his students and gave them a lot of independence for this project. Freshman Argi Protopapadakis said he enjoys this aspect of the project.

“He checks in with us a lot, but at the same time he said, ‘For quarter three, you guys will have no homework by me. I will tell you what I want by the end of quarter three, and you will split up your own work throughout quarter three by yourself.’ He gives us independence so we can learn how to be more responsible,” Protopapadakis said.

Many of Dickerman’s students applaud him for finding a way for his class to thrive during the difficulties of the pandemic. Ananda Scott, one of his students, said it is obvious that Dickerman works hard to help his students.

“It’s clear that he really cares a lot about his students and how they’re doing especially during this pandemic with not being able to connect with each other regularly. He tries to do things to meet our needs,” Scott said.

Dickerman has periodically checked in with his students to see how they are liking the project, and said that he has only heard positive feedback. Out of everyone he surveyed, all but two said they were enjoying themselves. For those who said they were not, the reason was that they wished they had even more time to play Minecraft in class.

To Dickerman’s knowledge, he is the only teacher who decided to risk a mid-year pivot in a totally different direction with hybrid learning. Protopapadakis said he is happy Dickerman’s risk paid off.

“This has definitely been a fun project,” Protopapadakis said. “It’s such a different way of learning. I think that it’s definitely more enjoyable than normal learning. I don’t think many middle or high schoolers have ever been lucky enough to have an experience like this before.”