Today’s blog is a guest post from a couple of amazing PLN members based in Asia, Ben Parsons, and Ryan Dloski. I have been connected with Ben now for a long time and have been lucky enough to meet and lead learning together in South Africa recently. Ben is a lifelong learner and educator who has taught a generation of students in Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He currently works as the IB Diploma Programme Coordinator at Noblesse International School, Philippines. He has a particular interest in 3D design and Minecraft. Connect with Ben on Twitter and via his blog www.benparsons.org. Ryan has taught college anthropology to students in Detroit,
Michigan and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He has cross-cultural experience living and studying on three different continents, and currently teaches IB courses at Noblesse International School in the Philippines where he lives happily with his wife and young daughter. Connect with Ryan on Twitter.
Howdy, crafters! It seems everybody is playing Minecraft these days, and it also seems like it’s taking over the world! More than ever, we are seeing it used in schools and other organizations for a range of purposes, including to teach subject content and make student learning more connected, meaningful, and enjoyable. But…. what exactly is Minecraft, what can it do, and how can I do it?
What is Minecraft?
Technically, Minecraft is what’s known as a “sandbox video game”, meaning that players are free from the traditional structure and direction of a standard video game, and basically have the freedom to do whatever they want. Minecraft is centered around building things with 3D blocks in an infinite 3D world, so players can literally build anything they can imagine. Think digital lego, times a million. The ability to freely create anything in a 3D environment means that, in essence, Minecraft is more like Computer-Aided Design software, or CAD, than a game.
In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft for a whopping 2.5 billion dollars, and in 2016 they released the fantastic Minecraft Education Edition, built especially for schools and classrooms. I’ve found that 99.999999999% of my kids love Minecraft, and when they learn with Minecraft, they love learning even more!
The Education Edition is quite similar to the standard edition but packs a range of cool features and mods for teachers. Firstly, the Minecraft Education Edition website has a huge repository of downloadable, ready-to-go worlds and lessons for teachers to use straight away. For example, students can download and explore the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Social Studies, or conduct safe, virtual experiments in the World of Chemistry mod. In Biology class, kids and teachers can explore a 1:1 3D model of The Human Eye, or in English class, explore the world of the novel The Island, by Max Brooks. In addition to the worlds, there are also hundreds of free lesson plans, such as building 1:1 models of famous landmarks such as The Eiffel Tower, and Designing and 3D Printing cool stuff!
Minecraft Education Code Builder
Perhaps the coolest thing in the Education Edition, however, is the sparkly new Code Builder. Using the Microsoft Code Connection app, teachers and students can connect to popular coding platforms such as Makecode.com, Code.org, Tynker and Scratch, and build things in Minecraft worlds by writing lines of code! So, kids not only learn 3D design and harness their creativity, they can also learn a range of computer programming languages as well!
Minecraft @ Noblesse International School, Philippines
Noblesse International School deployed Minecraft Education Edition schoolwide a year ago, and it has been rocking our world ever since! We are using it in almost every class at every grade level, and we’ve even found ways to integrate it into IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) classes!!! We’d love to share some of our work with you.
The “Little Architects” Project
Our Design and Technology teacher and his students are currently working on a fantastic project to recreate a 1:1 model of our school in Minecraft, and then 3D print it using the school’s 3D printer. First, our “little architects” went about exploring the school and measuring out our main building, gymnasium, soccer field, and other physical elements in the school. Then, students split into groups and began planning the design of their model. Many challenges had to be considered and overcome, including measuring and spacing out all of the classrooms and other interior features of the buildings, deciding on what materials to use, and dividing work up between group members so that they worked collaboratively and efficiently.
Once students had perfected their model, it was time to export it into 3D modeling software. Awesomely, Minecraft Education Edition now supports 3D exporting of models natively, which is an amazing feature. To export a 3D model, students place a “Structure Block” next to their model, which opens a 3D exporting interface. Using some basic math skills and tinkering with the X, Y & Z axis representing a 32 x 32 x 32 block build area, students are able to capture things they’ve built in Minecraft for export as a 3D file, which is then able to be opened and edited with other CAD software (I designed and posted a cool 3D Printing tutorial lesson here!)
One of the problems students encountered while exporting was being limited to a 32 x 32 x 32 block capture area, so students had to think critically and creatively about which parts of the model to export in segments, and then join them later with 3rd party CAD tools. It took a long time and a bit of tinkering, but they finally cracked it, and each group was eventually able to get their model together and ready for printing. Check some of them out below!
Using Minecraft in IBDP Anthropology to Study Different Cultures
Minecraft is only good for Elementary and Middle School students, right? Sorry to burst your bubble, but think again! At Noblesse International School, we’ve found ways to integrate it into rigorous IB Diploma Programme subjects as well. Our DP anthropology teacher, Mr. Ryan Dloski, has found Minecraft to be a fascinating method of exploring and representing different cultures with his students. Here, students are exploring the social and cultural context of the Huli from Papua New Guinea and creating a relevant representation of their culture in a Minecraft world. Using Minecraft means that students can explore another culture, build a 3D representation of it, bring it to class and give other students a “virtual tour”.
The use of Minecraft Education Edition was an additional option for students to choose (rather than a posterboard or online 2-D programs) to create a visual and written presentation of their understanding. The students who chose this option are very much enjoying the collaborative creation of a world that brings the “other” culture to life, and we are excited to 3D print it for presentation and display purposes. Allowing students to choose their own process and presentation method gives them ownership of their learning and increases motivation, especially when one option is a game they love to play outside of school! As IB student Evan Palo wrote upon reflection, “Using Minecraft to build their world helps us to understand the culture better because to do so we must think and behave like them. With Minecraft, the students can be more immersed in what they are learning.”
Other Projects @ NIS
One of the best things about Minecraft is that it can basically do anything, and at NIS, we’ve been pushing it to the limit! We’ve had regular brainstorming sessions and tried to come up with ways Minecraft can improve learning in various subjects. We’ve tried out dozens of projects across all subjects and grade levels at our school, and the possibilities are only limited by the imagination and creativity of the teacher. In English class, kids have been recreating the worlds from classic tales such as The Hunger Games and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; in Social Studies the kids have been exploring and building the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu; in Chinese class, the kids have been practising their calligraphy by building characters out of blocks; and in math class kids have been exploring surface area and volume of shapes.
What’s Next for Minecraft?
Interestingly, Minecraft is not only exploding in popularity in education; it is also now being harnessed in a range of other contexts, most notably for Urban Planning. Using a Minecraft add-on known as Block by Block, urban planners in Haiti are using Minecraft to redevelop their waterfront, Kosovo’s government is using Minecraft to redesign its capital city’s parks and public spaces, and the government of India is using Minecraft to help develop the slums of Mumbai and improve the lives of its citizens.
Using Minecraft for Urban Planning in Mumbai, India (Photo Credit: UN-Habitat http://citiscope.org/story/2017/using-minecraft-engage-public-and-plan-better-public-spaces)
Would you like to know more?
Become a Minecraft Certified Educator and Start Collecting Badges
Design an interesting Minecraft lesson and make some forum posts, and you’ll earn your Minecraft Certified Educator badge! Become a respected voice in the community by helping others, and you’ll get the Minecraft Global Mentor badge. And then, top it all off by earning the Minecraft Certified Trainer badge and train other teachers on harnessing the power of Minecraft in the classroom.