Minecraft Utopia is an eight-week course for upper-elementary-aged students which combines playing Minecraft with learning computer science while imagining and building worlds together. Minecraft Utopia is also a research project exploring how youth today navigate the many worlds in which they live. As children on the edge of adolescence, participants will soon be growing into more agency in choosing and shaping their worlds. Minecraft Utopia is an online course with one weekly meeting, another optional play session, and some parental involvement. This project is led by Chris Proctor (Assistant professor of Learning Sciences) and Dalia Muller (Associate professor of History), both at University at Buffalo, SUNY.
We will have one 75-minute synchronous meeting each week. This meeting will take place within our Minecraft world, with voice chat over Zoom. Participants will need access to the following:
- Minecraft (Any version except Education Edition) on a laptop or desktop (Windows or Mac is fine), XBox, or mobile.
- Zoom on a laptop, desktop, or mobile
- Reliable internet access
No participant will be excluded by these requirements--we can secure funding to provide this access to anyone who needs it.
This project is an adaptation of the Impossible Project, a learning experience that prepares students to take on grand challenges by fostering high-level collaboration, building collective resilience, and inspiring bold and border-defying creativity in the service of social and planetary good. Unlike many similar grand challenge programs anchored in social entrepreneurship models, the Impossible Project is rooted in inclusive and transformative education theory and in the humanities.
In modifying the goals of the Impossible Project for late-elementary children, our goals are B.E.N.D.:
The IP emphasizes true collaboration by offering students the opportunity to build not only flexible, agile and resilient teams, but also the unity of purpose, identity and dedication necessary for longer-term collaborative work. Collaboration in this model is seen less as a skill to be employed and more as a way of living, working and engaging with the world.
Grade school mod: Build student community to support SEL. Introduce students to the difference between team work and collaboration. Consider linking to “piggybacking” or building ideas together GT concepts students may be familiar with. Keep students engaged and excited about a common, co-created, project.
Learning how to communicate, plan, and work together in Minecraft.
Students who have experienced true collaborative work come to feel “stronger together.” In addition to enabling students to build stronger and more sustainable collaboration, such experiences also encourage bold exploration. The impossible project challenges students to fail together from day one. By eliminating the pressure of individual success/failure and positing collective success/failure as the central mode, students become more resilient and more daring, as do their teams.
Grade school mod: Help students become comfortable with the idea that some questions do not have easy answers and some problems may seem unsolvable (or overwhelming) but to encourage them to see the value of continuing to work together to build solutions even if we can only build solutions that address part of the problem. Build stamina for critical thinking.
Discovering connections between different worlds, particularly as children head into middle school, where school, online and family worlds sometimes diverge.
Nurturing Bold and Border-Defying Creativity
Teams that are truly collaborative and resilient are more likely to stretch their creativity in ways they may not have dared to do in other circumstances (e.g. across/beyond disciplines).
Grade school mod: Open space for free thinking and imagination as well as creative expression applied to complex problems/situations. Consider how we can use and harness that inspiration in our problem solving. Imaginative play as a way of opening new worlds.
Discovering Purpose as members of a global community
Students who learn to work together in meaningful collaboration will be brave enough to fail together. Students who can fail together may be able to truly tap into a well of bold, border-defying and generative creativity. Students who can tap into this kind of creativity can be supported in discovering what it means to find (individual and collective) purpose as members of a global community.
Grade school mod: Developing students’ capacity and love for lifetime learning and confidence in their unique individual and collective imaginations. Building from family to community to goals. Learning how to articulate imagined futures and bring them into being. The power of stories.
The workshop is organized around two tasks:
- Design a world for our families
- Interview someone in your family.
- Develop an in-game identity for self and family member.
- Share the worlds we imagine. Compromise, iterate, and build these worlds.
- Each week, a new challenge is introduced.
- Present the world to our families.
- Develop a myth
- Read creation stories about worlding and transformation
- Develop a creation story for our world.
- Design into this world.
- Perform our story, using Replay and voice-over narration. Explain what it means to us.
We will conduct interviews with a parent or guardian from each participating family. These interviews will help us plan the workshop and will contribute to the research aspect of the project. There will also be a tech setup session when participants and their families can log on and debug any access issues.
Introduction, welcome to our world. Getting to know one another, small collaborative building game. Respond to the a challenge together.
Read a creation story. Talk about possible creation stories for our Minecraft world. Who do we want to be in this world? How do we show who we are? Build and share our (temporary) houses. Respond to a challenge together.
Assignment: Interview a family member,
Share the futures we learned about from
Collaborative design challenge: Build a public space.
Consider our city's geography.
Present our world, its creation story, and its city, to our families. They will ask questions and we will discuss our decisions.
Follow-up interviews with participants and parents reflecting on the experience.