A day before the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s tragic death, and on the very day that King delivered the speech that is the topic of the piece, Scott Newstok '91 invites his fellow alumni to read "The Crafts of Freedom," his commentary and analysis of MLK's Mountaintop speech. The rhetoric of King reminds Newstok of his days at Marshall.
"I distinctly recall Chico Anderson's powerful invocation of King's rhetoric in his courses as well as in his Chapel services - my first introduction to the civil rights movement," explains Newstok.
For the rest of the school year, Marshall's 9th grade English students have been brought to an isolated world with no authority, no food, and no rules ... all for an English assignment.
Following in the footsteps of Lori Durant's Givercraft, Nathan Mattson's English students will use Minecraft to further explore Lord of the Flies. In the book, children are isolated from civilization and have to fight to survive, or cooperate to ensure their next meal. Using Minecraft, students will encounter many of the same situations.
"They have to find sources of food, share resources, create structures just like in the novel. They have to cooperate or not cooperate just like in the novel," said Mattson. "We've had some students who want to lead and some who want to follow. There's been pretty genuine attempts to help everyone survive and thrive; there's also been genuine attempts to be selfish and greedy. All of this reflects the novel's plot magically well."
Initially, Mattson was nervous about using a popular game to supplement learning literature, but he has found students readily make the connections between the game and the book. Using Minecraft has also changed the dynamic of the classroom.
"The students are experiencing some of the same emotions that the boys in Lord of the Flies feel: fear, need, panic, hope, bonding, solitude, and uncertainty," said Mattson. "I am excited about how this has helped some kids open up. I've seen so many students say and do things I wouldn't have ever seen them say or do. I've seen a very quiet kid helping everyone, a confident academic student struggling and asking someone who is not so confident for help. These scenarios rarely happen."
There have been personal benefits from the assignment to Mattson as well. He is learning to use the game alongside the students, and is learning new, clever ways to teach literature.
"I'm excited for using this tool and others in the future. Now that I've tried it, I want to do similar things for other novels or other tasks or units. It doesn't have to be Minecraft, either,'' said Mattson. "I think people have a hard time seeing the benefit of doing it. How is this English class? What's the point? It was scary at first. I knew next to nothing about it, but I've let the kids teach me things. It's lovely."
Students experience the scenarios in the novel by playing through them on Minecraft and writing about them on their personal blogs. Mattson said he has seen more creativity emerge from the students since they started using Minecraft than he has all year. It also gives students time to shine.
"Earlier, we had a student offer everyone food and when asked what he wants in return, he said, 'Nothing. Why would I?'" said Mattson.