Teaching STEM with Minecraft at DigiGirlz Austin

This fall, the Microsoft Store in Austin, Texas took part in the 2019 We Are Girls Austin Conference in partnership with the Girls Empowerment Network. The event for girls in grades 3–8 featured keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and exhibits to help inspire the students and provide an opportunity to explore STEM.

As part of the conference, the Microsoft team hosted a DigiGirlz event, featuring four breakout sessions and an interactive exhibit. The students used Minecraft: Education Edition to learn about the world around them. The younger students explored chemistry by completing an element scavenger hunt where they decomposed Minecraft bricks into their component elements. The older students learned the basics of how a computer circuit works by completing an exercise on logic gates using Redstone, a substance in Minecraft that transmits power. At the interactive exhibit, the girls could explore digital creativity and digital design, or even take selfies with a life-sized Minecraft mob. The day was full of engagement and inspiration, and the team provided a supportive environment where girls could pursue their love for STEM surrounded by mentors working and studying those fields.

One father-daughter duo teamed up to help host this event. Danny Burdiez is a Microsoft employee, and his daughter Karina studies Computer Information Systems and Business Management at Texas State University. Together, they volunteered to help at the event, and Karina brought along a cohort of students from Texas State University.

Danny shared why he was eager to bring Karina into this experience:
I’d heard of the event the previous year, and having a daughter that’s pursuing a degree in CIS, I wished that she had been exposed to these ideas earlier on and encouraged to explore the sciences. Karina had already joined the Data and Analytics club at Texas State, and I saw this as an opportunity to expose her to the industry as well as the educational side of technology.

Once she was onboard, Karina helped lead the breakout sessions with students. She told us about her experience during the event:
Our first activity involved a periodic table, and the girls had to search the world for items they could break down into elements to fill it in. Watching these young girls get excited to explore the land and use their problem-solving skills to figure out what items could give them the most elements was interesting. It was also especially meaningful to see the girls help each other with the activities. Teamwork isn’t a skill that’s easy to build, so watching these young girls practice teamwork while using the exercises to help build their interest in STEM programs was heartwarming.

I also loved watching these girls express their creativity through the game. Yes, there was an ultimate objective, but they were able to go about completing that objective however they chose. Some dug deep into the ground to find elements while others climbed mountains and deconstructed trees. In the logic gates workshop, you could also see their creative juices flowing. After successfully completing every logic gate challenge we provided, the students had the chance to create their own. Some took that freedom to another level and found that they could break down the walls surrounding the logic gates and explore the outside world using Minecraft: Education Edition’s creative mode to do as they wished. I’d like to think that was a symbolic moment of women breaking down barriers when it comes to STEM careers!

All in all, the DigiGirlz event showcased how vital mentorship and a supportive environment can be as educators cultivate a love for STEM, especially for young women. Providing students with the opportunities to explore their interests as they express their creativity is a powerful way to cultivate learning and inspire a passion that could turn into an exciting career.

Learn more about how Microsoft is empowering girls to explore STEM at DigiGirlz events around the world. If you want to know more about how Minecraft: Education Edition supports STEM learning, or you’re eager to get started with this powerful game-based learning tool, head to education.minecraft.net.