Minecraft: Education Edition has made more people than ever aware that esports and video games can be used as a learning tool. At the Indian Creek Library in Olathe, Kansas, we have created a hands-on learning environment where teens can take their love of video games and translate that into real world skills such as design, coding, and interpersonal skills. This connected play and learning is particularly valuable for youth, as shown in research (opens in new tab) shared by NASEF, the non-profit North America Scholastic Esports Federation.
STEAM jobs are some of the most in demand jobs on the market currently, and by combining video games (not just Minecraft!) and STEAM activities we can give our teens the knowledge to succeed in these competitive and growing fields.
STEM Activities and Minecraft
No matter what your budget or skill level is, there are STEAM and Maker activities that can be implemented in a classroom, at home, or in an after-school program to complement what the teens are learning or doing in games. In the summer of 2021, the Indian Creek library held a weeklong Minecraft camp for teens (6th – 12th graders). One of the maker activities we did was to have the teens get into groups and build a house for a Villager out of pipe cleaners in 5 minutes. The tallest house that could stay up on its own was the winner.
Throughout the activity random events would happen, such as a Creeper invading and hurting one of them meaning they could only build with one hand or one of them turning into a villager who could only speak in the mumbling “wahs” of the villagers. Overall the teens had a lot of fun figuring out what kind of structures would be stable while still being in an environment that was engaging and related back to a subject that they were interested in. Our second project of the day required students to build strong and secure structures that would stand up to certain challenges, in our case it was which structure would hold the most books. This activity, more than anything else this week, helped the teens figure out who they worked well with and how to divvy up roles for success. The following day we talked about artistic design and showed students how to use the editor to make their own skins (opens in new tab) and translate Minecraft pixel designs into real life objects using Perler beads.
One of the more natural go-tos of a technology-based club is coding. Every day I had the students complete at least 1 hour of coding from the Minecraft section of Code.org (opens in new tab) using Minecraft: Education Edition. If you have the Minecraft Java Edition you’ll need to take an extra step to make things work and that takes the form of MCreator, a free open source software package. Our teens moved from creating their own character skins to designing their own tools or weapons in MCreator. We had a contest to see who could create the coolest item, and the teens voted on whose item would be downloaded into our personal game. MCreator also has the ability to integrate a Raspberry Pi or Arduino which would be a fun way to incorporate robotics and technology into your lesson. They have worksheets and lesson plans you can find here: https://mcreator.net/education (opens in new tab). Our makerspace does not have either of those technologies so instead we used Lego MINDSTORMS EV3s and SPIKE to give the teens a real-life example on how the code they are writing translates to movement for robots and for characters in the game. Both activities have the teens learning the back end of game design, coding, and the relation between what one types and how that affects digital objects.
Once the teens completed their design challenge they were able to bring their object to the real world through the magic of 3D printing! I had them translate some small Minecraft objects into Tinkercad (opens in new tab) that would print in about an hour. Minecraft objects are great for 3D printing because the basic block design translates easily.
Easy Makerspace Projects
One of the quickest ways to incorporate makerspaces into a program is through 3D printing. Hundreds of 3D printer designs can be found online for free at www.thingiverse.com (opens in new tab), or club members can design their own. One of the makerspace staff at our library, Brian Nomura, found, printed, and put together Rocket League ranked pins for staff that played the game and members of the esports team. We also made buttons with the team logo for club members and volunteers to denote positions using https://button-designer.com/ (opens in new tab). A makerspace can really help those club members who are wanting to go into graphic design, game design, or marketing flourish.
The one project everyone can get excited about is making team shirts. This can be done by hand tracing and cutting iron-on materials from the craft store, using a Brother Scan and Cut or Cricut, or using something more sophisticated like a wide format printer or embroidery machine. Even without a huge budget for Corel Draw or Adobe Photoshop you can provide students with design tools. Inkscape, Canva, and Krita are all free design tools that can be used to create flyers, logos, .STL files, .MP4s and more! I paired our Wacom tablet with Krita (opens in new tab) (a design and animation software) to let our teens try their hand at drawing mascots. Makerspace projects take esports to the next level, teaching teens about promotion and design.
Want to learn more about how Minecraft and Makerspaces can benefit students? Visit eduesportsexpo.com (opens in new tab) for more information and to register.
A full list of resources we’ve taken advantage of can be found below.
One hour of Code
The Button Guy’s Button Designer
Design & Animation
Perler Beads (Iron, Key chain optional)
Lego Education: Lego Mindstorms or Spike (iPad, iPhone, or computer)
Iron on Vinyl
Prusa 3D Printer
Roland Wide Format Printer
Brother Scan and Cut
Laurenjoy Graves (opens in new tab) is a teen programming librarian at the Indian Creek Library in Olathe, Kansas. She has a Master's Degree in Library Science from Emporia State University, and a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Wichita State University. Before she became a teen librarian, she worked in a Makerspace, as a writer for Dystopia Rising (A Live Action Role Play Company), and as a magician's assistant.