What happens when history and Minecraft collide? Through using this simple building tool, students at Alfriston College have gone on an exciting educational journey to recreate an event that’s helped to shape the nation, writes Mark Sutherland.
With the advice of leading academics stating that good learning takes place when the teacher taps into prior knowledge and students’ experiences, it would be silly to ignore Minecraft. Learners are already engaged and are using it in their own time.
However, how can this simple program be used to stimulate meaningful learning in areas other than Mathematics or Project Management? Marc Williams and I have been working to incorporate Minecraft into our Digital Technology curriculum at Alfriston College. Through its use as a 3D modelling tool, students have been thoroughly engaged when creating a digital media output as a NZQA assessment. Recently, that’s led to an historical focus in which our learners have embarked on an educational journey with Auckland Museum by rebuilding the WWI Gallipoli campaign in Minecraft.
Starting the project
Auckland Museum, along with Media Design School, are recreating the WWI Gallipoli campaign using Minecraft in effort to generate more student interest and create a virtual tour of the events that occurred in 1915. It’s set up the Gallipoli Minecraft server, which is open to the public so that schools can log in, take a virtual tour, and use it as an interactive historical teaching tool. The organisers are also hoping to have the work displayed as an exhibit within the Museum itself. The exhibit will cover the entirety of New Zealand’s involvement in Gallipoli, from trench warfare to the final evacuation from Anzac Cove.
Alfriston College students became involved with the project when they were noticed for a large-scale build they uploaded to YouTube. In mid-2013, they gathered together over the course of three days to reconstruct the entire school complex. With 400,000 blocks used, this Minecraft model was a major undertaking that involved 30 builders who needed to work together using Mathematics and problem-solving skills in order to complete the task. The Museum took notice of the teamwork and skills showed by those involved, then contacted the school in order to work on the project.
Alfriston College: Minecraft Movie 2013
Check out the original work that caught the eye of Auckland Museum. During just three days, thirty Year 9 and 10 students created a 400,000 block Minecraft model of Alfriston College. It’s an impressive production, with some fun moments.
Interested and involved
The idea to use Minecraft came to both Nils Pokel (Digital Strategist) and Wendy Burne (School Programmer) whilst they were brainstorming about digital educational approaches for Auckland Museum. Wendy also noticed that learners showed increased interest in Minecraft when she was teaching a lesson on volcanoes.
“In that particular lesson we had lots of volcanic material,” she explained. “One of those pieces of material was obsidian, which is one of the crafting items in Minecraft. The kids instantly became more interested and involved with the lesson.”
Four different stages
The Gallipoli campaign is being be split into four different Minecraft stages that will be completed throughout the year, with two already finished. The first was the recreation of ANZAC cove with particular focus on the dugouts and dreadnought battleships. This was completed at the Museum on 13 April during a Minecraft Camp over that weekend. The second part was the Cape Helles Bay landing and trench warfare that occurred south of the Village of Krithia. The whole project is set to be complete in time for the Gallipoli centenary in 2015.
In order to start on this project, Media Design School edited the textures in Minecraft to make them relatable to the Gallipoli campaign. Working with us, it also figured out how to import topographic height map data from the real world into Minecraft in order to get more realistic layout of the land. During the second stage, which was done at Alfriston College, I provided learners with the Minecraft EDU version and that allowed for better supervision and more advanced 3D modelling tools, such as world edit.
Interactive historical lectures
The first two Gallipoli stages started with students sitting through a series of interactive historical lectures and lessons about the campaign. From there, they were split into smaller groups to handle different tasks. Some groups worked on dreadnaught ships whilst others worked on trenches. Co-ordination was crucial and they had to learn where to accurately map their projects in order to make their work seamlessly fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. I installed a modification called Dynmaps that allowed learners to see their work from a bird’s eye view, this helped with the planning. After this phase was complete, students used old photographs and maps as a reference to build large portions of the Gallipoli campaign. Every now and then, they would have to reconstruct something they built earlier because it didn’t quite fit, but this was all part of the expected process as they got to work.
The learning outcomes
Everyone is enjoying the experience but, more importantly, are the learning outcomes. Are learners gaining anything from the building process? For this we can look at what some of they said:
“The challenge of making these things was getting it historically right and trying to co-operate with others.” Tim Hardy, Year 9
“Before we got to build in Minecraft, we had to learn about World War One and why Allied Forces were fighting in Gallipoli on the Anzac Cove. We also learned what equipment and vehicles Allied soldiers used.” Swapnil Kumar, Year 10
“We first had to research about Gallipoli and what was there … One challenge was working in groups because everyone had different ideas” Jacob Ward, Year 12
“We are going to be building some of the trenches and also areas where they slept and hopefully we will show some of the conditions they were in, in World War One.” Harrison Unsworth, Year 13.
Recognition and acceptance
The project has received praise from even the most reluctant of stakeholders. Staff and students at Auckland Museum and Alfriston College have accepted Minecraft as a valuable learning tool with other departments showing increasing interest in it. Members of the wider community have also been ringing and writing in order to help support the Gallipoli build with historical information and general enthusiasm.
Minecraft still has great potential to reach other subject areas and can be a tool used in a variety of subjects. This year will be the first that we will be using Computercraft (a Minecraft Modification) to teach and assess learners in programming using LUA as a language. The learning has been set up like the Valve’s ‘Portal’ game, in which learners have to solve programming puzzles in order to progress. They will then be able to create a basic computer program for a specified task (AS91076). Alfriston College will be one of the first schools in the world to do this.
Mark Sutherland is Digital Technology Learning Leader at Alfriston College.
Hosted by Media Design School, ‘Pick & Shovel’ is a Minecraft community that organising the Gallipoli Project. It’s teamed up with Auckland Museum to recreate the campaign during the First World War so that Kiwis of all ages can learn more about this important part of New Zealand history.
More information, including photos, videos and server access,
can be found at pickandshovel.net
Both TV One and TV3 have covered the project. You can view their reports on our website.
About Alfriston College
Opened in January 2004, Alfriston College is a secondary school in Auckland. It has a roll of 1400 students – years 9 to 13 – and was purpose-designed to “meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s learners.” Classrooms and learning spaces have ‘operable’ walls (walls that move) allowing the size of learning spaces to change.
For more information about digital technology and computing at Alfriston College go to acdigital.school.nz
MinecraftEdu is a school-ready remix of Minecraft. It provides up to 50 per cent discounts on licences to educational institutions on a custom edition of the game, with features designed specifically for use in the classroom. It’s easy to set up and lets a whole class play in an environment at the same time.
This is an interactive map generator for Minecraft that allows users to ‘paint’ landscapes. You sculpt and mould the terrain, paint program. Sculpt and mould the terrain, paint materials, trees, snow, ice, wherever you want, onto it.
WIN with Minecraft
We’re running our Minecraft competition again this year. For details click here.