Minecraft Pocket Edition is the mobile version of the popular PC building game Minecraft. Kids gather basic resources (in cube form, dirt, stone, water, and trees) to assemble more complex tools, materials, and structures. Up to five kids can work together over local Wi-Fi, making collaboration an option. Two gameplay modes accommodate distinct experiences: creative (think abundance and peace) and survival (think scarcity and monsters).
At startup, kids can begin a new game (which is visible to others as a Wi-Fi game) or join an existing Wi-Fi game. Then kids choose between creative and survival modes. Minecraft Pocket Edition builds a unique world for each game. Players can also input "seeds" –- special codes found online –- to generate specific worlds. Kids use a virtual thumbstick to control navigation, and swipe, tap, and hold to interact with the game world. In survival mode, kids collect basic resources to build more complex products and structures. They'll also need to withstand the monster-infested nights. Creative mode fills kids' inventories with an infinite supply of all the materials and tools available in the game and turns off the night.
Though smaller in scope than its PC predecessor, Minecraft PE preserves wonder and delight in exploration, discovery, and making. As kids explore the game's unique worlds, new possibilities for creativity and strategy meet them at every turn. Deciding what and and where to build lets kids set goals and shape gameplay, and it's crazy fun to boot. You can suggest more specific goals and guidelines to address a diverse range of classroom objectives. Unfortunately, the limitations of Minecraft PE are the very things that allow for mobile access; the game's limited resources, small world size, short viewing distance, and sticky, thumbed controls suffer in comparison to the PC game's scope and user interface.
The best part of Minecraft PE is in its sandbox gameplay, where kids have have hands-on ability to create living worlds from natural resources. Looking at the app as a series of worlds to manipulate, each with different needs and challenges, gives you and your students the chance to use the game for studying geology, geography, math, and storytelling. For example, you might ask kids to build different geometric solids and calculate the surface area and volume of each. Or kids could compare and contrast Minecraft's biomes and geological strata with those of Earth.