Minecraft adds a new twist to religious education – Daniel Pajuelo Vazquez, Spain
For priest and educator Daniel Pajuelo Vazquez, technology and religious education go hand in hand. And by using Minecraft, he found a way to engage his students in both.
Since he was a teenager, Pajuelo Vasquez has mixed a commitment to helping the underserved with an innate curiosity about technology.
“I have always been passionate about introducing technology in the classroom,” he says. “Last year, I created a workshop on Arduino and Raspberry Pi for students that were failing in their studies, in order to help them raise their self-esteem and train them in new skills like programming, electronics, and circuit repair.”
But when he noticed how many hours his students spent watching YouTube videos, and specifically videos of other kids playing Minecraft, Pajuelo Vasquez suspected he’d found a compelling way to capture their attention.
“I thought it was cool and significant to connect tech and religion,” he tells us. “My goal was to introduce Minecraft as a tool in Spain’s secondary school religious education. I created a website so other teachers can apply it in their classes, and created a social media plan to spread the word.”
The project not only came to fruition; it was a big success – even leading to a recent appearance on national television in Spain. And the Minecraft community Pajuelo Vasquez created is now being administered by students, giving them a new level of confidence.
What does this visionary educator see the future holding for today’s students? “I think the future will bring us the possibility that children can become protagonists of their learning processes,” he says. “At the same time, education will become more and more a matter of connection, community and relationships, and not a ‘brain child filled with content’ factory. Technology will not be a substitute for teachers, but will help all children reach their full potential.”
Here’s today’s Daily Edventure with Daniel Pajuelo Vazquez.
What inspired you to become an educator?
Being a teacher is not a job for me but a vocation, and this vocation is connected with the inner calling I received from God to share my life generously and help others to experience the love of God in their lives.
When I was 17 years old, I had a strong experience of the presence of God in my life; I felt really loved as I was, with my weaknesses and inconsistences. That experience made me stronger, filled me with energy, and made me put my life to the service of others, especially the most disadvantaged.
I became a Marianist. The Marianist (Society of Mary) is a Catholic congregation with a long tradition in education. Some years later I was ordained as a priest. All throughout this time, I also worked in formal and informal education, helping drug addicted young people to rebuild their lives, taking care of terminal AIDS patients, visiting prisons, and also teaching in secondary education.
For me, education is more than teaching, it is about establishing a kind of relationship with your students that helps them grow. Through this growth they learn the responsibility of freedom, the awesome possibilities of their potential skills, and the profound aspiration of the human being for beauty, truth and goodness.
Every educator has amazing stories to share. What was a defining moment in your career when you felt proudest to be an educator?
Some years ago while I was teaching technology to my students (they were 12 years old), one asked me about how the famous Rubik’s Cube was built. At that time, I didn’t know the answer but I prepared a class to introduce them to this wonderful puzzle.
Some of them asked me how to solve it. I honestly said to them that I didn’t know, but offered them some YouTube channels where people explained the way to do it.
What I never could have imagined is that a boy that had a serious physical disability and couldn’t move his hands easily, would come to class the very next day and say to me: “Dani, I’ve learned to solve the cube and want show it to the rest of the students.”
If I’m honest I must say that in the beginning I didn’t believe him, but I saw a special light in his eyes telling me that he had something awesome to show us, so I let him do it. I scrambled the cube for a long time, gave it to him and then he started. All students remained in silence watching him struggling with the cube and the limitations of his hands. It took to him five minutes, but at the end he solved it.
Can you imagine the faces of all of us? Some tears came out from my eyes, and all students burst into applause. I was so impressed that he learned to solve the cube in one day, just by watching YouTube videos. That same day after classes, I ran into the closest mall and bought my first Rubik’s Cube and worked hard all that night to solve it. It took me two days to understand the algorithm and reproduce it in every situation, but my 12-year-old student did it in a night with hard obstacles due to his disability.
The next year I introduced the Rubik’s Cube as a part of my teaching, and started to organize competitions. The company that sells Rubik’s Cube in Spain (Goliath Games) was so interested in this project that they helped us to promote the cube by organizing the competition with official judges, and bringing some famous speed cubers to the school. That was an amazing revolution started by a humble boy.
From that experience I’ve learned a lot of things:
- All students have amazing skills that need to be discovered and enhanced.
- Many of these skills can’t arise because educational systems tend to be very focused on enhancing and evaluating classical skills.
- We need to introduce different methods that help students to meet their potential.
- Students can learn in many different ways, not only the classical ones. I could never imagine that something so complex as the algorithm to solve the Rubik’s Cube could be learned by watching videos on YouTube.
- We, teachers, must be always humble — our students have a lot to teach us.
- It is very important to understand what moves the interest of our students, to learn their languages, and to use them in order to become more significant to them.
- Teaching is about relationships, if we try to take care of the quality of our relationships with our students they will accept what we have to teach them happily. Otherwise we will become rare people, not significant in their lives, and they won’t listen us, and in the worst case, we can become their enemies.
Why do you feel passionate about innovation and technology in the classroom?
When I was a child I saw my father building radio stations. I was so impressed seeing that job and the results: he could communicate with people that were so far away by connecting some circuits. That was so powerful. My family was so humble but they understood my potential with technology and bought a personal computer for me, the mythical Spectrum 128Kb.
I became an autodidact on programming and hacking gadgets and code. Computers made me discover great skills that I had, and I was pretty sure that one day they would become an important part of my life.
My very latest project is about Minecraft in Education. I realized that students passed a lot of hours a week watching their favorite YouTubers, and most of them shared gameplays of Minecraft. So I decided to make an effort to understand what was so cool in this game. I played a lot, watched videos, read tutorials and finally I created a project: Zona Educativa Minecraft (Minecraft Education Zone) or ZEM).
Thank God, the project became a reality. I was able to introduce Minecraft as a tool for building a Catholic temple in my Religion classes. The results are visible on the website, more than 30 gameplays where the students introduce their constructions as if they were skilled YouTubers.
In parallel, I rented a Minecraft server for secondary students who wanted to play and explore the possibilities of Minecraft in school. The students started to build a city and some of them made an amazing replica of the school. That was pretty impressive for me and the rest of the teachers. None of us had realized previously the potential of these students in architecture. Now three of them have become server admins and help take care of community.
About Daniel Pajuelo Vazquez
Secondary Teacher of Computing, Mathematics, Technology and Religion
Colegio Marianista Hermanos Amorós
- Blog URL: http://smdani.com
- Birthplace: Valencia, Spain
- Educational background: I’m a Catholic priest belonging to the Marianist congregation, formed as computer engineer and theologian.
- Website I check every day: com
- Favorite childhood memory: Being with my family on the beach playing with the sand.
- Favorite book: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Office Suite and of course Minecraft 😉
- What is the best advice you have ever received? “In time of desolation never make a change.” -St. Ignacio de Loyola