By Tanner Higgin, Common Sense Education
The success and popularity of Minecraft in and out of classrooms is no surprise. It's one of the best examples of the potential of learning with games because it embraces exploration, discovery, creation, collaboration, and problem-solving while allowing teachers to shepherd play toward any subject area.
But Minecraft is not the only game of this kind. Take a look at some of these.
1. Garry's Mod
Garry's Mod (GMod) is a sandbox game like Minecraft but instead of building and exploring, students use a fun physics engine that simulates things like gravity and mass. They also use a virtual toy box of assets from Valve Software's popular games. The tool is a step up in complexity from the elegant simplicity of Minecraft, but with Garry's Mod, students are exposed to physics concepts while having madcap fun.
Kerbal Space Program has a robust physics engine too, but it's more focused than Garry's Mod. Players purchase rocket parts, put them together, and then see if they can get a ship into orbit, to one of two moons, or even to another planet. These aren't easy tasks, so play is focused on trial and error testing, and, like Minecraft, seeking help from the community is part of a successful strategy.
3. Sound Shapes
Sound Shapes is a visually stunning platform puzzle game set to a rich musical soundscape. Even better: students can create and share their own levels – like interactive sheet music -- using sounds and objects unlocked by playing the platform game. It's an accessible entry point into musical composition as well as game design, and provides an experience that builds on the creativity of Minecraft while offering something wholly unique for music lovers.
For creative kids who want to get their hands dirty, check out DIY, a site where students can find things to build, instructions for how to build them, and ways to share their creations with others. All projects are aligned to 50 skills that run the gamut from outdoors to indoors, and feature various challenges to complete and cool badges to earn and display.
Computer programming is a great next step for students who love to mod Minecraft or toy around with the redstone resource (which simulates basic logic and circuitry). One solid entry-level tool is Stencyl, a game creation program focused on codeless, cross-platform game making. By snapping blocks of code together, students can create games that can be published and played on a variety of platforms including mobile phones.
Minecraft has introduced a lot of youth to games as well as the critical thinking, problem solving, and creation skills necessary for self-motivated learning. The games and sites on this list have the potential to extend that learning, providing fresh outlets for self-expression in the digital world and beyond.
Tanner Higgin is director, education editorial strategy at Common Sense Education, which helps educators find the best edtech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology thoughtfully, critically, and creatively. Go to Common Sense Education for free resources, including full reviews of digital tools.