MineCraft in Education – Sustainable Eco-Friendly Homes

So this topic came up on twitter yesterday, and while we did our best to answer it at 11:30Pm, to do so with only 140 Characters only seemed to muddle the key elements.  But hey!  That’s the power of taking it now to a blog.

Anne Weaver asked: “Anyone have resources/advice to help students build eco friendly house in minecraft?”

So what are some of the ideas that can really impact Eco-friendly building and more in Minecraft?

Well lets start by situating ourselves back in the real world!  How do we test for Eco friendly in any of our architecture, city planning, and other developments?  What is it that we really want the student to be developing a thinking pattern for? And, how do we source and analyze Eco-friendly approaches in these things?

First, Eco-friendly can refer to an entire paradigm of thinking, or can only refer to materials.  Lets get more benefit for the students in this area by shifting their paradigm of thought and asking them to analyze their activities.

So what are some of the questions we can ask when planning an Eco-friendly build?

  1. How many non-renewable (Non Eco-Friendly) materials will be used up as specific building materials?
  2. What will the peripheral costs be in terms of resources?  For Example: In a city construction you would consider how many construction trucks will be traveling x distances and what is the carbon footprint of that.  Perhaps you might factor in the carbon and resource costs of making cement, making nails, distance from worksites to sourcing areas, ect.
  3. What will be the forward moving carbon footprint cost of this building – or better explained: Have we considered how we’ll power and heat the building and what that will add to carbon impact today, tomorrow and in the next decade?
  4. What is the total carbon cost of this build?

Now lets take it into Minecraft and make it a simple lesson using similar activities and questions!

I would recommend starting the students in a standard seeded survival world.  Unless you find a quality pre-made lesson world that is developed with In game characters, and good story-line that engages and adds value in a game environment. Of which I’ve seen none, yet!  Keeping the world in survival utilizes an important scarcity and cost of resources element that is built into the survival game, so I would recommend using it.  You can choose to leave monsters or day timers on or off as is your preference.

Here’s the task:

To build an Eco-Friendly community in groups or teams of X. 

The educator should find an appropriate area of the generated world where a clearing or open plains landscape abounds, but situated near enough a forest.  Within this area the Students will be asked to build a community with ZERO starting materials.  Students should be asked to track the resources they use and the Group that ultimately has the lowest carbon footprint wins a prize.  Alternatively students who are

The Teacher can set the expected size of the houses to be built and the students will be required to collect all the supplies the need for the house, including process all materials IE: Smelt Iron, Smelt Sand for Glass, ect.

A few rules to really drive the thought process of sustainability!

  1. Students must Mark the edges of the forest before they start cutting trees.
  2. Students must track either:
    1. Every Resource they’ve used (Food, Wood Logs, Leaves, Sand, Dirt Ect.
    2. Or, Students can simply Track the number of Tree’s they have deforested.
  3. Students cannot replant trees. (As we know, tree’s take years to grow back.
  4. Students cannot burn Coal for smelting or furnaces. (As we know coal is a big producer of carbon gases and pollution)  Instead students will only be able to burn Logs for smelting items.
  5. Students must build a basic community – A house for every group, and any other buildings they wish.
  6. If making Roads, students MUST only use smooth stone which requires smelting of cobblestone in a furnace.

So this is a simple basic lesson that can help drive the framework of thought.  At the end of the building exercise talk to the students about how many materials they went through, who went through the most, who the least and why the disparity between the two.

Other post lesson activities or discussion can be:

  • Look at the forest area they were taking the trees from and see how much of it they cut down.
  • What if they cut it all down to make a farm?
  • Did they build roads? If so, how much material did they have to use?
  • Did they feel that there was any wasted wood in their building activity? For example if they smelted only 3 pieces of iron in a furnace using 2 Logs to burn they would have wasted little of the furnace power generated by the log (2 Logs will smelt 3 Items – Sand, Iron,Gold,Ect).  Imagine though that a student cooked 10 Pieces of Glass instead of 9 pieces of glass, this would burn 8 Logs versus 6 Logs of wood.
  • Can they think of other more sustainable methods of smelting, or gathering materials?

The power of this method is clearly in the rules that are set, and the focus on driving the thought process behind what is sustainability.

At some point soon, I’ll be analyzing this from a Game developer standpoint to see if we here at Minegage can come up with a key curriculum Game-based lesson that really drives engagement up to that next level.

For now though, I hope that this activity can help our some fine educators out there as they make amazing headway into Minecraft as an engaging tool for education.

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