Have you heard of the popular app called “Minecraft”?? It was nominated as the Kid’s Choice Award for favorite video game earlier this year. I first heard about the game when one of my students somehow decided that in between playing her scales was a perfect time to tell me all about it in detail. (Don’t ya love those moments??) I heard about it here and there after that, until out of curiosity, I asked every single student I saw in the week if they had heard of, played, or possessed the game Minecraft. I was somewhat shocked to find that out of my forty-nine piano students, only one had never heard of it, and only three others did not have it on one or more of their devices, but had played it at a friend’s house. I started to realize quickly that this little popular app was a key point of interest to all of my students. Filed that fact away in my mind and didn’t think any more about it.
Until this past January. When I myself was bored to death of piano lessons, and I know my kids had to be too. There’s something about January-February when the Christmas music is over and our Christmas recital is passed that frankly makes learning the piano not super fun. I remember having a conversation about this with Abe recently. He works a 7am-3pm job every day, every week, no breaks except for a few weeks vacation. Can you imagine?? I know that is typical for many. But for this school teacher, I just can’t imagine doing the same thing every day with no spring breaks, spirit days, summer vacation, field days, field trips, etc. I LOVE my job, and am living the “dream” in a way, in that I have always wanted to be a music and piano teacher. That being said…it has it’s moments. 😉 And during those cold winter months after Christmas, I told Abe that I don’t think I want to be a piano teacher anymore. I told him I didn’t think I was good at it anymore, that it had gotten old, I didn’t like it, and maybe I missed my calling. He un-sympathetically laughed at me. I remember trying to impress on him the seriousness of my dilemma! I wasn’t enjoying my dream anymore! His answer: “Join the Club.” Thanks a lot. We had a whole conversation about how work is not always fun. Even when it’s something you love. Abe told me I’m growing up so fast. 😛
So what do you do when you’re bored, tired of the monotony, and lacking excitement for something you love? If you’re like me, you don’t like dying of boredom. So it’s time to make our own excitement! That is when an idea started forming in my head based on the fact that all of my students love MineCraft. That is exciting, right? Why can’t piano lessons be as exciting as MineCraft??
I found out they can be as exciting! I worked on this idea for one month before introducing it to my students. I named it “PianoCraft.” 🙂 It took me a little while to sort out the details and organization in my head–like how to make it work physically in a classroom instead of on an iPad, what the rewards would be, and how to incorporate musical concepts. But once I decided on what I wanted, the game itself was SO easy. (For those of you who don’t know what MineCraft is–it is a virtual world with grass/trees/animals/sky etc. where you use bricks, trees, stones, straw, and basically every material you can think of to “build” your own world. It is actually very complex, and my students understand it better than me. I had one student asking me how they could get diamonds in PianoCraft. Umm…there’s no diamonds in PianoCraft this year. Just decided.)
Anyway, the general concept of Piano Craft was to complete musical tasks related to the piano in order to get bricks to build with. For instance, one of my tasks was to play through your scale routine perfectly, without any mistakes in any scale. The student would then get four bricks for completing that task. You can see a whole list of the tasks and number of bricks assigned to each one here: PianoCraft Bricks (PDF file).
Then I just laminted blank sheets of white paper. (Can you get any easier??) I did add clipart to the bottom of the white paper before printing it out–green grass. That’s about it. 🙂 Then I put each student’s name at the top of one piece of paper. I sticky-tacked these up on my studio wall, and wa-la, each student had a blank world to build on. Then came the one hard part…I bought big brick-designed scrapbook paper on sale at AC Moore. Then, believe it or not, I cut out every little tiny 1/2 inch brick that would fill my “Bricks” Jar. As students earned bricks, I would put sticky-tack on the back and let them place the bricks anywhere on their “world.” I have some interesting designs going on! 🙂
I decided on three prizes. 1st Place goes to the student with the most bricks. The reward is an ice cream sundae in the lesson while we watch an old comedy of pianist/comedian Victor Borge. (They ALL want the ice cream and movie prize!) Second place goes to the student with the 2nd most bricks. I will bring in cupcakes for that prize. And third, I will give a King-sized candy bar to the student with the most creative design on their world. Pretty simple, easy, and so fun!
My game/contest runs from March-April. I have some very competitive students, I’m finding out. Meanwhile, the lessons are much more exciting as the students can’t wait to show me the tasks they have completed and get their bricks. I’m excited to see who wins, and I have no idea how I am going to pick most creative. I have a student re-creating Stonehenge, another designing a mustache, and even a page with a very recognizable bunny shape.
This game has taught me more about this generation that I am teaching. My students are smart, and “Candy if you practice five days!” doesn’t always cut it with them. They understand complex games, concepts, and rules. They are thriving in this PianoCraft game that I can barely understand myself. In complimenting one of my second grade girls on her design, I related that I had tried to build something with the bricks and it didn’t look good. She responded, “Well, I’m just really good at pixelated art.”
I’m pretty sure I had no clue what a pixel even was when I was in 2nd grade!!
I have found that these kids love, enjoy, and even need a challenge that makes them think. Using paper bricks on plain paper to create a picture (which has nothing to do with piano) stimulates their creativity in a way that just sitting at a piano doesn’t always do. I’ve noticed that their lesson songs go smoother and faster, and each student has risen to the challenges of each task. I have thought of ways that I could improve the game too, adding in more elements from the actual app. (For instance, making a “survival” track and “creative” track, having more materials than just bricks, and designating some lessons as “Night-time.”) And my students are already asking me what game I’m going to do next year. One suggested doing a Mario theme. Oh my. I’m going to have a lot to live up to. At least I won’t die of boredom staring at the clock. 🙂
Are you a teacher who has created any kind of game for your students? How did it go? I would love to hear about it! Let me know if you try MineCraft and how you make it work for you!