As many of you know, we use Minecraft as a way to teach kids how to code. Kids love Minecraft mods, and get super excited about making their own, which makes it just a bit easier for us to convince them to try writing some code, even if it takes some extra effort on their part. They also enjoy playing with ComputerCraft, which allows them to program in-game “turtles,” using simple commands. We haven’t taught any Java modding, yet, because most of our kids are just not ready for it, but when they are, I suspect they will love the control they have over the game.
Did you know we also use Minecraft to teach other things? We started a weekly Minecraft Club a few months ago, and while the kids think it’s all about playing Minecraft, we actually sneak a bit of learning in there.
For the first four weeks of Minecraft Club, we explored famous landmarks. I made a series of Google Slides for each week, and kept the slideshow up on the projector, so we could reference some facts about each landmark as we explored. For most of our exploration, we use a private Minecraft server, available only to kids registered for our club. We have the server hosted with MinecraftServer.net. I added custom maps to the server each week. We also live streamed the club, as we had some kids that joined us remotely. Some of the video didn’t work properly, but you’ll get the audio for all sessions, and the screencast after the first two.
We played in a map that contained the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We talked a little bit about each landmark, and the kids had a chance to actually walk through them. The map we used contained all seven wonders, with a bit of artistic license, but we showed “real” pictures of the wonders based on the actual and/or historic renderings, in the slideshow.
At the end of the session, the kids built their own Eighth Wonder(s) of the Ancient World. We had some amazing builds, including a very large staircase, a statue of John Cena, one that looked a lot like the number “8.” Some of these kids are a bit literal.
The second week we played a map of Washington, DC, which is close to home and very familiar for many of the kids. They were able to explore the Washington Monument, White House, US Capitol, and Lincoln Memorial, using a map that also included several other buildings in DC.
We talked a bit about the history of each of those famous buildings, and the kids were very excited to see that the Lincoln Memorial looks an awful lot like the Temple of Artemis! That led to a discussion about other buildings in our area that might look like other Wonders of the Ancient World, such as:
- The Scottish Rite of Freemasonry House of the Temple, in Washington, DC, which looks like the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
- The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, in Alexandria, VA, which looks like the Lighthouse of Alexandria
After much exploration, which included climbing on Abraham Lincoln’s statue, jumping from the top of the Washington Monument, and setting cows loose in the US Capitol, the kids were prompted to build memorials. They could choose to memorialize anyone, including fictional characters. We had several Five Nights and Freddy’s memorials, a giant Lego memorial, a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr memorial (you could actually go inside of his head), and a rather spectacular memorial to George Washington.
Our third map was a sort of hodgepodge of modern landmarks from around the world. We included the Statue of Liberty, Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, in a map that I created in MCEdit, using several imported schematics for the structures, because I don’t have time to build all of that! A few of the kids had actually seen the Statue of Liberty in person, and they shared with the rest of the class how the Minecraft version was different. Many of the kids were very interested in the Eiffel Tower, and were surprised to learn that it was built by the man who also built the Statue of Liberty.
We gave the kids plenty of time to explore the landmarks, and then they were tasked with building their own, spectacular landmark. The only requirements this week were that the build was large enough to see from a distance, and that it was “spectacular.” Again, we got to see some very creative builds, and again, Five Nights at Freddy’s was included in many of the builds.
For our last week, we spent some time exploring Natural Landmarks. We started off in a map that contained Niagra Falls, Mount Rushmore (part natural, part human-made), Devil’s Tower, and a very large tree that I claimed was the Wye Oak. As with Week Three, this was a custom map, made in MCEdit. I actually started off with a Niagra Falls map, and then imported a Mount Rushmore schematic that replaced the heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln with the heads of some famous Minecrafters, including the game’s creator, Notch. Then I just built the Devil’s Tower and Wye Oak myself.
Unfortunately, all of the running water in the Niagra Falls map managed to cause the server to lag, so we didn’t spend a ton of time exploring the map. We did get a look at everything, and compared the rather realistic Minecraft version of the falls to pictures of the real thing. Some of the kids had been to Niagra Falls, and were impressed, but they pointed out that Mount Rushmore and the other natural landmarks I included weren’t part of the real thing.
After we gave up on the laggy Niagra Falls map, we switched over to a new, creative world, and built another famous landmark: the Grand Canyon. This was a group build, and it required a lot of TNT. While the kids built that, I turned a nearby mountain into Mount Creepermore. The kids were impressed.
We did a second 4-week session of the Minecraft Club, and our theme was habitats. In that session the kids explored the African savannah, a giant cave, a dessert, and a jungle. We talked about the types of plants and animals that we found in each of those habitats. Some of the maps we used were adventure maps, so the kids had quests to guide them. For example, we used the We are the Rangers on Minecraft Realms, to explore the African savannah.
Our next 4-week session of Minecraft Club will explore space. We did this as a theme in one of our camps over the summer, and the kids had a blast! This session will include using a solar system map, to see how all of our planets, dward planets, moons, and asteroid belt are arranged around the sun. We will also use GalactiCraft, which is an amazing mod that allows kids to build their own rockets, which they can then fly to Earth’s moon, an asteroid, or Mars.
We will continue to explore Minecraft, using maps that teach. The kids don’t feel like they’re in a “boring class,” but yet they leave with a lot of new knowledge, gained somewhat passively as part of the time they spend exploring Minecraft. I’ll keep scouring the web for fun, educational maps and mods. If you know of one we should consider, please comment, to let us know!