This week let’s have a look at how we can use Minecraft Edu to help children to develop STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I think that it is important to first explain briefly what STEM learning is and why it is important.
What is STEM Learning?
In a recent chapter that I wrote, I explained what STEM learning is and how it relates to Computer Science in detail. I would like to share a paragraph from this chapter as I think that it clearly explains the main elements of STEM education.
“STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM, STEM education and STEM learning are terms that have been used in an interchangeable manner. 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. This purposeful integration of learning cannot be merely seen as cross-curricular learning, as it requires learners to use higher order strategies to facilitate creative and critical thinking for solving real-life problems. They need to be able to deploy their cognitive resources to organize, transfer, apply and evaluate their knowledge and skills in different disciplines through integrated activities. Additionally they need to have the ability to direct their self-learning process, which can be seen as metacognitive awareness.” (Allsop, 2017).
Developing STEM Skills: Ideas in Minecraft Edu
There are 100s of fantastic Minecraft Edu lesson plans available on https://education.minecraft.net/class-resources/lessons/ for you to use in the classroom to support children developing their STEM skills. The aim is to provide children with opportunities to learn the same material in different contextual settings so that the students can draw learning points from their activities in different disciplines to construct their own understanding and learning.
Tackling Real-life problems
In Minecraft Edu, students can design solutions for real-life problems. For example children can design a dam to solve a water problem for a city or a car to reduce the pollution in their local area. They 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 skills to decide the size of the dam for the population or science & maths skills to think about wind power for their car design.
Image by Stephen Reid
Stephen Reid (@ImmersiveMind ) has really nice projects on his website exploring solutions to many real-life problems using Minecraft Edu.
It is often said that computer science is the silent “C” in STEM as it has very strong links with mathematics and science as well as design and technology. Some of the STEM skills that we share can also been seen as Computational thinking skills. In my opinion some of these skills, which have been, defined as transferrable skills for years also fit into other areas under different terminology. Minecraft Edu doesn’t only provide 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 concepts through Code Builder for Minecraft Edu.
Image by Simon Johnson.
Simon Johnson (clcsimon) has some really good activities for developing computational thinking skills using Code Builder.
Engineering with bricks
In Minecraft Edu children can experiment with levers, switches and electrical circuits just as in real life using Redstone. They can create farming systems that harvest themselves. They can explore water cycles and renewable energy. They can even design an eco system and explore ways of storing energy.
There are some brilliant engineering projects on the Minecraft Edu website:
Minecraft Edu provides 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 enable learners to test their 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 their solutions. It is important to give children the time and opportunities to discuss and explain their solutions, as this would allow them to make meaningful connections that would help them to construct their understanding. There are many activities for developing mathematical thinking on the Minecraft Edu 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. Most importantly teachers should allow learners to manage and regulate their own learning process. Minecraft Edu enables learners to build together and experiment with their ideas constantly. The interesting point is that when children break the bricks, they don’t feel as though they were destroying something or that they had failed, because they constantly create something new using those broken bricks. In this learning scene, students make decisions and monitor their own activities, which is the vital ingredient for learning to occur!
Allsop, Y (2017) Computer Science: Silent C in STEM. In: Humble, S. Creating the Coding Generation in Primary Schools. London: Routledge.
Another version of this article was first published on the following website: