Conquering new educational territories with Minecraft: Education Edition

While learning to play Minecraft with my two children four years ago, I discovered that beyond its pixelated aspect the player can bring its own universe and creativity in the game. My son liked to teach me how to fight hostile creatures (and protect me) while his sister preferred to tame horses and challenge me at horse races.

As a teacher, the main reason why I introduced Minecraft in my lessons is the potential for interaction. My students have always learned how to build in 3D objects or houses but never in such a powerful way. Now students can build huge collaborative projects thanks to the multiplayer aspect of the game.

The Unknown Planet: How the availability of materials influence architecture

Throughout history mankind has always struggled to find resources: it had a strong impact on architecture and the aspect of cities, even today. I found it quite difficult to make students understand that materials are not available everywhere. This led to a Minecraft-based project specifically to address this need.

The scenario was outlined as follows:

Scientists have discovered a strange planet. Five different biomes cover the surface but can be very close from each other: explorers can travel from a desert to an arctic climate in few steps! Players arrive in a teleportation hub, then depart from a train station to drive them to their biome. The mission: collect samples of materials, compare them with what we find on Earth and build an exhibition building to explain the discovery.

Objectives:

  • Discriminate raw materials and man-made materials
  • Identify materials origin and their availability
  • Draw a 2D blueprint for a building and use it to build in 3D
  • Identify functions for a building and find technical solutions to implement them
  • Work in teams and communicate with others during a project

Feedback
The original project (the availability of materials) took another dimension and became richer than expected.

The realization of the plans in teams before the construction helped the students to overcome their initial difficulties to represent an object in 2D. This work ahead of time demonstrated that they meet a genuine need before the final construction: each view was made by a different student. This teamwork was required to draw and then to build a final product. By allocating limited time for construction, this forced them to divide the tasks (collecting, crafting, building) in a reasonable way and find an optimal solution to bring all the elements together using mathematics!

Some teams also had the additional challenge to be assigned to a desert area (sand and sandstone). One team decided to build a glass pyramid (obtained by melting sand). Students asked themselves – and each other: “How many blocks of glass should we make for our pyramid? We mustn’t lose time!” By adding this element, students had to then compute necessary volume to fulfill their task.

Because some students never played Minecraft before (50-60% of them had already played), a brief introduction to the game was necessary. I also relied on expert students to help and advise their colleagues. The groups were then balanced with a good distribution of experienced students (they were given a special role in their team) and new players. Students discovered that playing Minecraft home is not the same experience than to use Minecraft in the classroom: there are guidelines and objectives set by the teacher.

Minecraft revealed itself to be a powerful tool for students to express their creativity. Even within the same biome students created their own solutions for lighting, circulation, exhibition, architecture style, and other problems.

By comparing the buildings made in the different landscapes the impact of the resources available on the choice of construction became obvious for everyone. Through this lesson, Minecraft encouraged students by making learning meaningful.

This lesson and the world are available here.

Building our city back to Middle Ages: Time Traveling with Minecraft

After using Minecraft to build our school, a church in our neighborhood, and the medieval castle of our city, a partnership was signed between our school and the town Heritage Service. It gave us access to historical documents, advice and expertise needed to achieve a remarkable new project: building our city, Fougères (France) back in 1450.

A Minecraft map showing the topography of the city landscape in 1450 (to the scale) has been prepared with the assistance of the IGN (National Geographic Institute). During this ongoing project, three teachers are involved: mathematics (measurement, proportionality), history (searches, texts writing for Minecraft books) and technology (searches, blueprints, building). Each building is under the responsibility of a team of four 7th grade students. Last year we built the castle (a stronghold of 5 acres!), the city walls, the 4 city gates, the belfry, a church, and 25 houses and mills.

 

A famous French Minecraft team, the Team Lyrah (they’ve exhibited their works at the Pompidou Center in Paris and ADAMuseum in Brussels) advised us throughout the project and came to meet our students during a Masterclass.

During 2018, our main goal is to populate the city with more than 60 houses and shops.

We have also started 3D print some of the buildings- the mathematics teacher has already used them for scale and proportionality lessons. We also have participated in various events to present this work including the city’s medieval festival and heritage days.

The server we established for this project includes two parallel worlds: Fougères today and Fougères in 1450. Students and other contributors play each evening to continue the project. Some 7th grade students are now co-administrating the server with me. They are aiming to build a real community that aims to reach greater independence over time.

Feedback
This activity allows students to have another look at their environment: a better understanding of how a cityscape evolves over time encourages them to find traces of the past that otherwise may be forgotten in the modern city. For example, we thought some elements like the four city gates completely disappeared but, newly aware of their locations, we could identify still existing parts and give them life with our 3D reproductions. Texts on daily life in the Middle Ages were written in history class and have been inserted into the game through books scattered in different places.

We also encourage students to learn how to identify the repetitive elements of a building and then find ways to copy and paste it using Minecraft tools.  Students with academic difficulties have found a greater motivation for school (according to messages received from the parents) and have been more willing to come back on a Saturday to present their achievements (for example, at the medieval festival).

These type of projects are close to the experience of a school trip: students become deeply immersed in another world in which they live experiences. The process in creating these structures leave memories on which the teacher can rely. Students also develop an intimate knowledge of a structure that leaves traces and positive self-esteem (“it is MY tower!”) upon completion.

I coached a Latin teacher to incorporate Minecraft with her students as well. Their first project was building the Roman forum. The impact on students was quite the same and it became obvious when we visited the real one. The perspective our teenage students had on the ruins was completely different: they were thrilled to discover the rest of the buildings they thought they knew so well already.

Using Minecraft revealed to be an extraordinary collaborative experience. As a teacher, I enjoyed listening to student-led conversations to solve problems, make choices, and coordinate efforts.

Minecraft from the teacher’s point of view

As a teacher, introducing Minecraft in the classroom involves a postural change. Instead of being the center of the course we tend to become a resource for the students. We don’t have to ask twice for students to start working, they are motivated and run for it. Students help each other and only request teacher assistance in case of disagreement or unsolved difficulty. As a side effect, we have learned this also means objectives and instructions must be clear before the game is even started. Objectives should also be clearly reinforced in the game as well: it’s quite difficult to ask students to pause when they’re immersed in a task.

At the end of a session, we often ask the students to take a step aside to understand their choices, compare and reflect on which skills and knowledge they developed.

Instead of giving students tools (in mathematics, for instance) too soon, we can create situations where they’ll need them and are incentivized to ask for them.

While the opportunities for learning are everywhere, we must be cautious not to kill the game with our “serious” objectives. Finding this balance is important each time we engage Minecraft for a lesson. In those moments my colleagues and I did not find this balance, we were gently reminded how important it is by our students. Once, while I stepped away from the keyboard, students created a bedrock jail around me. My Latin colleague was also not immune to this extra creativity. At the end of a highly productive building session of the Roman forum, her pupils proudly showed her that their triumphal arch was hollow- and full of rooms with beds and furniture!

Coding and robotics with Minecraft: Education Edition: Facing the future with new adventures!

In the fall of 2017, I introduced Code Builder from Minecraft: Education Edition as part of robotic workshops.

Thanks to its features my students are now able to learn individually how to code their “Agent” before facing challenges in team with “real” robots. Educators and students alike, let us pledge that this adventure will lead us to discover new educational territories!


Stéphane Cloâtre (@StephaneCloatre) teaches Science and Technology in a French middle school. He is a Global Minecraft Mentor and ICT trainer in the region of Brittany. Upon discovering Minecraft with his students and children, he was struck by the potential for education and hasn’t looked back since. You can find his blog here, the French Microsoft Education community, and a YouTube channel filled with resources (in French) here.