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Using Minecraft to Learn Through Games - We Chat to MinecraftEdu

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by Startacus Admin

The very same day that I had arranged a chat with Santeri Koivisto the Co-owner and CEO of TeacherGaming LLC, the company behind MinecraftEdu, fellow Co-Founder Joel Levin had tweeted “For reference, $2.5 Billion is what it cost to send the Curiosity Rover to Mars.” TeacherGaming LLC

That tweet was in reference to the news that Minecraft had been reportedly acquired by Microsoft (heard of ‘em?) for a staggering $2.5 Billion.

At first glance it's a remarkable achievement and unbelievable amount for Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, and it was understandably the starting point for my chinwag with Santeri.

But first a step back - What is MinecraftEdu?
MinecraftEdu is a school-ready remix of the original smash hit game Minecraft, played by over 30 million people worldwide. Created by teachers for classroom use and officially supported by Mojang, the company behind Minecraft, MinecraftEdu contains a set of powerful yet simple tools to fine-tune the Minecraft experience for learning. Teachers in over 40 countries use MinecraftEdu in every subject area from STEM to Language, to History, to Art.

MinecraftEdu allows pupils to take on new roles, responsibilities and even new characters in a fresh and relatable gaming world. The game / lessons allow for both independent and collaborative working and learning and for the teacher an opportunity to teach children in a fun environment that they feel comfortable with and in.

Santeri was keen to see see Microsoft's acquisition of Minecraft as a positive event and they are looking forward to working with them and their education ecosystem.

And back to the cost? Santeri made the fair link between the impact that a space rover can have and the gaming planet that exists within Minecraft. Minecraft in Education

“Minecraft is really exploring the natural curiosity, creativity and invention that children have, so although $2.5 Billion is a staggering amount, those children will in turn become the next generation’s designers, inventors, mathematicians and so on, so in reality by buying Minecraft, Microsoft has made a brand investment that will stick, and in part, stick in a child's psyche”.

It’s a fair point really.

The Minecraft game is a simple affair - a lego-like world that gamers can explore and build in - not necessarily at first glance an environment that would encourage maths, science, history, English, geography teaching and so on.

But when Joel Levin, MinecraftEdu creator, and secondary school teacher started to use Minecraft to teach lessons, the early premise to use Minecraft to educate was born.

Fast forward to my chat with Santeri - CEO of TeacherGaming and facilitator of MinecraftEdu in schools, I was intrigued to find out out how this initial eureka moment of using Minecraft in a lessson, led to Joel, Santeri and the team travelling the globe to bring game-based learning into classrooms worldwide.
Um... this got...weird...MinecraftEdu is a school-ready remix of the original smash hit game Minecraft. We provide discounted Minecraft licenses to educational institutions - a customised version of the game with features designed especially for classroom use and lead hands-on learning programs.”

But it wasn’t an instant success.

“Initially we tried selling the education version of the game to perhaps 100 schools - and whilst everyone agreed it was a good idea, it was a nervous time waiting for the first few schools to take up their licences.”

But Santeri and the team found, that by not in fact selling and letting word of mouth, fellow teachers and the children themselves do the talking - word and business quickly grew.

Santeri likens this to the type of validation that many other EdTec startups spend a lot of time and money getting from their customer and perhaps a valid point for other EdTec startups to understand.

“Typically an EdTec company will grow like this - money, then development, then some validation, then perhaps they get a University on board, then they pivot, they get some more money to get the business business ready, then some investment - and then they start selling or not to their customer and their business at this point, may or may not work. We on other hand started our business with 1,400 Euro - the 2500 schools that jumped abroad during the first two years became the validation we needed and we have always remained 100% free of venture capital investment.

Now there’s 9 in the team. And they travel the world.

Much like the MinecraftEdu premise that allows pupils and teachers to create, connect and collaborate together, it’s notable that Santeri and Joel started their businessSanteri Koivisto without physically meeting and it wasn’t until after nine months that Santeri travelled to the States to meet Joel - his Co-Founder in person.

Perhaps that is a lesson for us all, in starting in business and a nod to the Minecraft game more generally, that great collaborations, ideas, inventions, lessons and learning, will no.longer just take place face to face - and perhaps a good and justifiable reason why Microsoft paid $2.5 Billion for the game.

Perhaps and just perhaps, the next great ventures, explorations and giants leaps for mankind will happen online - and for that reason it’s $2.5 Billion well spent.

Coffee finished, we shook hands and off Santeri went to his next school workshop, perhaps where he will meet the next big inventor or explorer...who knows?

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Published on: 29th September 2014

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