Powering Up STEM with Minecraft

| MOTW, Stem, Yasemin Article Banner

This week let’s have a look at how we can use Minecraft: Education Edition to help children to develop STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). By creating a common definition, it is important to first explain briefly what STEM learning is and why it is important.

“…STEM education aims to blend scientific inquiry and technological design processes through project based learning that focuses on developing students’ critical thinking, problem solving, logical reasoning, technical, communication, collaboration, self-directing and creativity skills. STEM learning gives children opportunities to investigate an idea in different contexts and connect the learning across disciplines. Learning in this way becomes more relevant to students as they can draw learning points from their activities in different disciplines to construct meaning. ” (Allsop, 2017).

This quote details what STEM learning is and how it relates to Computer Science. It also explains the main elements of STEM education. Developing STEM Skills: Ideas in Minecraft: Education Edition There are hundreds of fantastic Minecraft: Education Edition lesson plans available for educators to use in the classroom to support children developing their STEM skills. Providing children with opportunities to learn the same material in different contextual settings allows students to draw learning points from their activities in different disciplines and construct their own understanding and learning. Tackling Real-life Issues In Minecraft: Education Edition, students can create solutions for real-life problems. For example, students can design a dam (like in this image by Stephen Reid) to solve a water problem for a city or create a car to reduce the pollution in their local area. These lessons blend the concepts from science and engineering through design, tinkering and critical thinking. They might: • work with different materials • experiment with design ideas • use knowledge and skills from different disciplines such as using mathematics skill to decide the size of the dam for the population or science & math skills to think about wind power for their car design. Stephen Reid (@ImmersiveMind) has additional projects on his website exploring solutions to many real-life problems using Minecraft: Education Edition.

Computational Thinking It is often said that computer science is the silent “C” in STEM. It has strong links with mathematics and science as well as design and technology. Minecraft: Education Edition provides opportunities for children to develop their CT approaches such as tinkering with ideas, persevering, creative thinking, working collaboratively, problem solving through design and creating but also computational concepts through Code Builder for Minecraft: Education Edition. Simon Johnson (@clcsimon) has developed quality activities for developing computational thinking skills using Code Builder. If you want to learn how to use MakeCode to create your own skyscrapers (like in this image by Simon Johnson) you can find the code here, and use it as an inspiration for your other creations.

Engineering with Bricks In Minecraft: Education Edition, students can experiment with levers, switches and electrical circuits just like in real life – or they can use the more accessible Minecraft tool, redstone. Using redstone, they can create farming systems that harvest themselves. Students can harness this energy to explore water cycles and renewable energy. They can even design an eco-system and delve into creative ways of storing energy. Additional engineering projects are supplied in the Minecraft: Education Edition website lessons area. Mathematical Thinking Minecraft: Education Edition enables a space for learners to visualize and investigate different objects and patterns from real life, which helps them to develop spatial thinking. Manipulating objects in a virtual world also empowers learners to test solutions for problems that they wouldn’t be able to evaluate in real world. This process requires not only technical skills for using Minecraft but also critical thinking and logical reasoning for visualizing and predicting the outcomes of these solutions. It is important to give students the time and opportunities to discuss and explain their solutions, as this would allow them to make meaningful connections that would help them to further understanding. There are many more activities for developing mathematical thinking on the Minecraft: Education Edition website. Finally, one cannot expect children to develop their STEM skills without facilitating children’s learning using appropriate teaching methods and tools. Teachers should provide opportunities for learners to work collaboratively, time to talk about their work, and space to express their ideas.

Learn More Allsop, Y. (2017) Computer Science: Silent C in STEM. in: Humble, S. Creating the Coding Generation in Primary Schools. London: Routledge. ------- Yasemin Allsop (@yallsop) worked as an ICT Coordinator in primary schools in London for almost 10 years. She is currently employed as a Lecturer in Primary Education at Institute of Education, University College London. Her research focus is children’s thinking learning and metacognition when making digital games. She is the founder and co- editor of an online magazine called ICT in Practice where educators from around the world share their experiences of using technology in education. She is the co-editor of International Journal of Computer Science Education in Schools. She is also Code Week EU ambassador for the UK.