The 1st Month of Minecraft at the Museum: Geology, Sustainability, & Dinosaurs

A few weeks ago we launched our new after school program, Minecraft at the Museum. This 25 session program for high school students is using Minecraft to teach youth about a wide range of science content, how learning experiences are constructed, and how they can develop their own science learning experiences on the Museum’s new Minecraft server.

This month the format of the sessions were fairly similar – experience science content in Minecraft, compare it with the real world (usually from visiting an exhibit in the Museum, meeting with an expert, or both), and then critiquing the design decisions made in Minecraft.

(photos from the month can be seen here)

One of the first sessions asked the youth participants to mine in Minecraft, focusing their attention on the minerals and jewels one could find, and their frequencies and locations. They then met with Jay Holmes who took them on a tour of the Hall of Planet Earth, to learn how it works in the real world, after which they discussed where representations in Minecraft of earth processes are accurate and inaccurate.

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Last week the youth were challenged to go into a unique map designed by our partners at TeacherGaming to enter a sci-fi world in which humanity has left Earth and won’t return until the environment has been cleaned up and returned to a sustainable state. In essence, this session challenged them to plant and nurture trees, to increase the planet’s oxygen levels, while burning the trees as fuel required to notify humanity it is safe to return. Could they find a balance?

Mount Everest Sustainability Activity

Mount Everest Sustainability ActivityWell, did they? It turns out they were running out of time and resources to grow enough trees so they made a decision – why follow Minecraft’s rules for growing trees. Why not build their own pretend trees out of other materials. It wasn’t like trees in Minecraft ACTUALLY produced virtual oxygen, and the space IS designed to support creativity and building. After some discussion the program facilitators figured that was a valid (and innovative) approach, and the earth was saved!

This week we moved on to dinosaurs. We actually hadn’t planned to do dinosaurs but, this past summer, when I was promoting the program, one teen said, “You have to use the dino mod!” He was quite insistent. So we checked it out and decided it would be a good activity to bring into the program, both for what it got right about dinosaurs AND for what it got wrong (as a good opportunity to critique those design decisions).

Dino Day in Minecraft at the Museum

Dino Day in Minecraft at the Museum

After the teens raised their dinosaurs they entered the Museum’s halls to find the real version of their Minecraft pet, which led to many interesting conversations about how to apply their new real world knowledge to the care and feeding of their Minecraft creatures.

Dino Day in Minecraft at the Museum

Dino Day in Minecraft at the Museum

Next month we will revisit the Museum’s Our Global Kitchen exhibit through the Minecraft version called Foodcraft, explore poison in Minecraft and its relationship with our new exhibit The Power of Poison, and much much more.

Dino Day in Minecraft at the Museum

About Barry

The Associate Director For Digital Learning, Youth Initiatives at the American Museum of Natural History.
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