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Students Engineer Solutions for Affordable Housing with Minecraft

Students Engineer Solutions for Affordable Housing with Minecraft
Tanya Olander

You may be familiar with Minecraft, the popular video game loved by millions of children around the world. But did you know that it can also be a powerful tool for teaching and learning?

In the class “Future Crafters,” grade 6 teacher Thomas Lupton is using Minecraft: Education Edition to guide students deeper into the UN Global Goals and inspire them to explore solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the future. The approach is called Game-Based Learning.

Advantages of Game-Based Learning

A member of “Games for Change,” an organization that has been empowering innovative educators and gamers to create real-world change using games and immersive media since 2004, Mr. Lupton believes that game-based learning can be an impactful way to reach students. 

“When you teach engineering one of the hardest aspects to get across to students, is the value of iteration,” says Mr. Lupton. “Building a bridge out of popsicle sticks is a common engineering challenge. Students spend hours on the design, but when it comes to testing if the bridge actually works, they may only get one chance before it breaks.”

Sharing the 6 Principles of Game-Based Learning with parents earlier this semester, Mr. Lupton explained how game-based learning gives students a risk-free environment to try their ideas. Students learn to “fail often, fail fast” as they implement and refine their learning, using the design cycle.

In Minecraft, students are constantly building, editing, removing, and changing their designs, while working through the process. The environment promotes iteration, i.e. the practice of trying something, discovering that it isn’t working quite as intended, and making changes based on new insights. And ultimately, by failing fast and failing often, students end up with a better result, and one that is better suited for the context that it is built within. 

UN Global Goal 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities

Starting with UN Global Goal 11, which relates to building sustainable cities and communities, students in Mr. Lupton’s Future Crafters class focus on providing solutions for affordable housing to the most vulnerable members of society. 

The student plots are evenly distributed among the five teams. Collaborating in virtual environments will be necessary in the future, and students are building lifelong skills in these projects.

With a case study of the settlements next to the rivers in Ho Chi Minh City students, in teams of three, identify the requirements and constraints. Working on the six plots of land they have been allotted, students base their solutions on understanding the needs of the people living in the settlements along the river while meeting the constraints of limited space and cost. 

A ground view close-up as the developments begin to take shape. 

Finding that dense housing will provide more people with homes, one solution sees the building of an apartment structure rather than houses, which will provide more people with homes using the same amount of space. 

Construction, Flexibility and Failure Dynamic

In Unit 3, students look at sustainable transport systems studying examples from around the world (London’s Underground, Singapore’s MRT, etc). They also grow to understand how cities tend to transition from private transportation to public transportation as they develop (such as the HCMC metro system). 

The monorail was one of the student groups' solutions. Others included a roadway, a train station, and a dock.

The construction, flexibility, and failure dynamic are the main reasons that Mr. Lupton has chosen to use Minecraft: Education Edition as the platform for the course. The vast array of tools available to students allows them room for creativity when they solve problems, reinforcing the idea of the flexibility dynamic. 

And as you can see, the grade 6 Future Crafters have left nothing to chance, as they’ve explored, designed, re-iterated, and finalized their projects. We can’t wait to see how they will put their new engineering skills to use moving forward. 


Middle School Teacher Thomas Lupton contributed to this article.

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