Twinkl Education Blog
28 Feb '17

Science Hunters - Minecraft

This is a guest post from Laura Hobbs.

Science Hunters is an outreach project based in Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University. We use Minecraft to engage children with science and help them learn about topics not usually covered in science lessons, whilst linking to curriculum-based learning objectives. 

A bee built in Minecraft

Minecraft is a hugely popular 'open world' game, which means that players can move freely around the virtual world of the game, and the basic premise is that players can create constructions by breaking and placing textured blocks. Basically, it's a bit like Lego on a computer. We use a version specially produced for educational use, which ensures children are playing in a safe environment, and operate the game in 'creative' mode so that players have unlimited blocks with which to build their creations. 

So how do we link this to science? We deliver sessions in primary and secondary schools, at community events and at our on-campus Minecraft Club which we run with the local National Autistic Society. At the start of each session, we briefly introduce a science topic, such as volcanoes, food security or insects, informed by research expertise at Lancaster University. We offer hands-on demonstrations of real-world examples relating to the topics - so things like volcanic rocks, unusual foodstuffs available in Minecraft but rarely seen in day-to-day life, and insect specimens - and then ask children to build something related in the game.

Minecraft is an excellent platform for science outreach and engagement as it is very popular with children (and adults!). Children may be hugely experienced with the game, giving them a sense of expertise and ownership, or may have never tried it before or only used it on a particular IT device, in which case we offer the opportunity to try something new. It also allows children to explore science topics by comparing what happens in the game with real-world processes. For example, the volcanic rock obsidian forms when lava cools instantly in contact with water. In Minecraft, obsidian forms when the source block of a lava flow (the hottest part of the flow, which has not had time to cool down in the air) comes into contact with water. Other parts of the lava flow solidify when touched by water, but do not form obsidian.

Twinkl Minecraft Blog

Obsidian formed on lava source block (black block near centre) under water, created in Minecraft during one of our sessions


A sample of real obsidian used in our sessions

Another example is that crop seeds need correctly prepared soil and adequate light to grow, and growth rates respond to hydration levels. These parallels with the real world help children to understand and remember the processes involved, and raises their awareness of and interest in a topic which is not usually covered until much further on in their educational careers, and then only if they choose the relevant pathway.

We work primarily with children with barriers to accessing Higher Education, and particularly those with Special Educational Needs. We're receiving feedback of really positive influences on the learning, communication skills and social confidence of children with SEN, so much so that researchers in our Psychology Department are undertaking research to investigate social-communication development of children with autism playing together at our Minecraft Club.

If you'd like to find out more about Science Hunters please see our webpage, visit us on Facebook or drop us an email.


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