Minecraft now used as an education platform where students can build and explore virtual cities on the road to becoming the new generation of construction professionals

First of all, what’s Minecraft?

Minecraft is the “open world” videogame that allows you to create virtual worlds and is starting to become a very useful tool for teachers to create interactive lessons and involve students in the study of mathematics, history and religion, but also for the development of digital skills. Following the 2009 launch of the ‘sandbox’ version of the videogame, it has rapidly become one of the most downloaded games for the 12-14 year age range and has also started out as an education aid in schools.

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is among the first organizations to address the challenges of modern education by adopting the Minecraft platform to stimulate creativity, make learning more fun and also form the new generation of construction professionals, following the BIM philosophy.

Let’s get one thing straight, for the sake of those worried parents that normally deal with their kids playing hours and hours of painstaking “shoot ’em up” video games instead of studying. The aim of the game is to extract (mine) and build (craft) a variety of 3D blocks in a “virtual world” made up of different environments and terrains. Minecraft is an “open world” ready to be discovered. An environment in which the user can move freely without having to follow precise rules and change the surrounding around his character using the various tools and gadgets found during the course of the game.

What are Minecraft educational applications?

Although Minecraft’s origins are “playful”, many educators have taken the opportunity to use the platform to teach subjects such as computer programming, chemistry and physics. This kind of approach can often assist the teacher as a learning aid to keep their pupil’s attention and partecipation as high as possible. Going back to 20-30 years ago, children would talk about their Commodore-64 or Sinclair spectrum audio-cassette based video games or exchange their football album stickers, but there was no connection with their school activities. Today things have radically changed. Kids are becoming digitally stimulated through online collaborative game platforms and this widespread use of software technology is starting to become a valid learning tool because, let’s face it, “Children who play, are more involved and when they are involved, they learn.

There’s also evidence of how versatile and flexible the Minecraft platform is, when compared it to another game, Tate Worlds, which presents virtual environments inspired by the works of art from the Tate Gallery in London.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland has equipped about 200 schools (meaning 50,000 school children) with free Minecraft licenses to involve young people in the activities of urban planning.

Minecraft applications for the architecture and constructions

The Craft Your Future project courses, launched by the CIOB, offers 16 hours of lessons that teachers and construction professionals can use in their classes. Lessons are for children aged from 12 to 14 and take place in the virtual city of Newtown. Participants can plan, collaborate and build solutions to ensure a sustainable future for all its inhabitants and even get to grips with real-world problem solving scenarios, such as the renovation of the Battersea Power Station.

Each CIOB lesson lasts three to six hours, where students, usually in groups of three or four, collaborate with each other covering four main construction areas:

  • maintenance
  • building restoration
  • new build
  • renovation/refurbishment.

BeIMCraft

Researchers at Ulster University have developed the BeIMCraft platform (or the Built Environment Information Modeling Craft) – which is a Minecraft mod (a “mod” is a modification of a section of a game or a simple tweaked content installed separetly as a plugin) that serves to highlight the emerging role of the BIM digital technology in the construction sector.

Square rebuilding with Minecraft

Square rebuilding with Minecraft

Intended for adolescents, although it may be interesting for both children and adults, BeIMCraft illustrates the multi-disciplinary nature of the construction world. Players are encouraged to consider planning issues, health and safety risks, structural aspects, sustainability and costs in creating their 3D world. The effects of a weak foundation system also converge towards the feasibility of the built solution. For example, without the appropriate foundation layout, if you build too high, the stability of the structure will also become of a problem solving strategy and often require collaboration with other players. Teachers can set up project briefs and define financial aspects while players can be selected to work in teams to achieve particular results.

The game is developed to reproduce some of the key aspects of BIM, allowing players to have an idea of working in a 3D environment, adding resources to a real Common Data Environment and allocating costs to resources while considering project scheduling, sustainability and constraints related to the site.

How else can Minecraft be used at school

Children can interact with the “Number” type Minecraft blocks to solve additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions in their maths lessons or ask to solve problems in a different manner, for example: “A Building contractor needs to equip a house with some windows. The house has four walls and needs two windows on each wall. How many windows will the house be equipped with?”.

As for the geometry, the use and placement of blocks allows students to visualize the concept of perimeter, area and even anticipate the concept of volume: this activity for example can be realized trying to make the children interact with the physical and virtual world through a simple measurement of dimensions of its class (with rounding to the nearest whole number since each block in Minecraft equals one cubic meter). Once these measurements have been taken and scored, the children are asked to recreate their class in Minecraft, collaborating in pairs and after giving them exactly half the blocks necessary for both: as soon as the class is completed, they are all able to detail the concept of volume in the most simple way possible. Minecraft even extends its potential to introduce coding and programming. They can program small robotic turtles that slavishly execute instructions like placing stones, and incrementing given cycles until a pre-defined condition is met. History lessons can allow children to take virtual trips back in time projected inside a faithfully reconstructed Colosseum to see how gladiators would train before combat or simply go for walk through the streets of the Roman Empire and interact with patricians, plebeians or exchange a chat with slaves who claim to be much more intelligent than their masters because they come from various cities of ancient Greece. Among the patrician villas you can meet the emperor Gaius Julius Caesar and also a guy who goes around with a dagger in his hand claiming to have to protect the Roman Republic.

Using Minecraft as an educational tool brings the level of attention of the class to a much higher level and for a longer time. In conclusion, when the Minecraft lessons are over, children do nothing but talk about the lesson itself: they discuss and talk about what they have discovered.

This is what happens with Minecraft at school.

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