In this lesson idea, I’ll show you how to use Minecraft as a platform for giving learners an appreciation for the wide-arching subject of Environmental Science and Management, though sustainability and in particular, sustainable forestry.
Sustainability is of growing interest in many walks of life, such as how products are made, how and where food is grown and the highly contentious, global fuel sources. These points are spotlighted in our news weekly, if not daily. But teaching the concept of sustainability can be a challenge. Particularly in Western education systems, where society provides almost everything we need in abundance, with more questions raised about cost than conscience. One look at http://www.worldometers.info however, and it’s easy to see how the numbers can assist in losing sight of the facts. While not entirely accurate of course, statistics such as ‘Cellular phones sold today‘, ‘Money spent on video games today‘ and ‘Cigarettes smoked today‘ offer numbers that are hard to comprehend, let alone calculate an environmental cost for. Also on the list, we do see environmental statistics including ‘hectares of forest loss this year‘. a staggering amount, but the question for has always been, how do we combat ‘70,969‘ at the time of writing this post.
The concept of sustainability is taught in some curricula. In Scotland for example it can be found threaded throughout the Science, Geography and Design and Technology curricula. Examples Include:
• Science – (Learners)… consider the relevance of these concepts to everyday life. They explore the nature and sustainability of energy sources and discuss benefits and assess possible risks to form an informed view of responsible energy use.
.• Geography – “…learners will develop an increased understanding of the environment, sustainability and the impact of global issues.” – Curriculum For Excellence – National4
• Geography – “I can discuss the sustainability of key natural resources and analyse the possible implications for human activity.” – SOC 4-08a – A Curriculum For Excellence
• Design and Technology – “…young people develop their understanding of important themes such as the impact of technology, informed attitudes to technology, sustainability.
Many schools in Scotland include external educational programmes to provide learning experiences in sustainable development education. These include:
…and many, may more from countries across the world.
Regardless of how sustainability is taught, my discussions with educators in this area confirm it is difficult to help learners effectively grasp the whole picture of sustainable forestry. From how trees grow to begin with, to the scale and management of their growth, what trees become when harvested, the environmental impacts and of course, speculation of what might happens if we run out. So when asked to create a lesson to teach the principles of sustainable forestry, I had to consider a technology that would allow me to explore all of these elements.
I turned to Minecraft. Allowing my learners to create their own world in which to simulate their own forest management. In Minecraft, trees grow as an element of the virtual world you can create. Many trees, including vast forests are already in place when your world is initially generated. Trees can then be felled for building and crafting material and grown again using ‘Saplings’. This ‘game mechanic’ forms the basis of this lesson idea.
So, how did I do it?
2-3 hours (in one go or as part of multiple lessons)
7-14 (I have carried this out successfully within this age range)
• PC(s) – I recommend one PC per group of four where possible
• Minecraft per group computer (Check out @MinecraftEDU – www.minecraftedu.com for excellent classroom solutions and cost)
• Projector and Whiteboard (where possible, otherwise just use each PC for showcasing)
• Internet access – For the research element
Lesson Aims (Teachers):
• To encourage consideration of sustainability as an important concept for human development and survival.
• To provide a platform for self-led learning in sustainability and sustainable forestry.
Learning Intentions (Pupils):
• I understand the importance of trees as a global resource for oxygen, carbon capture, water filtration and control systems, food and building materials.
• I can identify the part I have to play in helping maintain sustainable forestry.
• I can explain why replanting trees and managing forests is important.
• I understand the dangers of mismanagement of forests.
See your own curriculum for references to sustainability and forestry for specifics
Soft Skills Development:
• Communication – Talking, Listening, Questioning
• Decision Making
• Listening Skills
• Team Work
• Peer Teaching
• Peer Assessment
• Research Skills
• Presentation Skills
For this idea there are a number of ways you can manage the Minecraft element. This of course depends on how many computers you have access to, how many copies of Minecraft and of course, how many pupils:
• One large group – Using one computer with Minecraft on a white board, pupils work in a large groups and make decisions as a class. Decisions can be put to vote or taken in turns.
• Small groups – Split pupils into mixed groups of around 4-5 to a computer. Decisions are made within these groups.
• Individuals – Pupils work alone on a computer with the same learning objectives and instructions.
I recommend either the small group option or working as individuals. This latter method gave me the most effective outcomes. I will base this how-to on this experience.
Important: Before beginning this exercise and on the basis that many thousands of learners are players of Minecraft, it is better not to mention the subject of sustainable forestry in advance. Or at least, the goal of sustaining forests within the game. The learning in this lesson is best facilitated under the guise of something, anything else. I often suggest the lesson is about surviving on an island for as long as possible. An engaging competition. The reason for this is so the pupils make decisions and take actions based on their own thoughts and behaviours and not influenced by a predetermined outcome.
Note: If you are unfamiliar with using Minecraft, please do not hesitate to Contact Me and I will help you.
Step 1 - Create your world – You can do this in a ‘Single Player’ game in ‘Creative Mode’ on each computer. Create a random world and then either craft an island surrounded by water as your platform for learning or simply build a perimeter wall from the impenetrable ‘Bedrock’. Either way, the land within your border should be filled with no more than 100 trees. These can be planted using Saplings from the inventory, but an easier way would be to create your perimeter around an existing forest.
Note: Depending on how you choose to do this there will be some preparation time involved. If starting from scratch, it can take up to 30 mins to create your map. Build this into your prep time. Once built however, maps are saved and can be used over and over again.
Alternatively, download my starter map here:- Sustainable Forestry Minecraft Map (designed for one to three players).
Step 2 – Open your map up to LAN and set it to ‘Survival Mode’, so learners cannot fly, use the creative tools or the full inventory.
Step 3 – Give learners an adventurous building assignment. Ask pupils to build a village and survive the night. they must use trees as the primary building material. Ask them to build and kit out houses, food storage, a well, a town centre, defence walls and a tower, even a large ship to escape the island on (not technically possible in game but simply as part of the narrative). All made from wood. Crafting ‘Wood Planks’ is also allowed.
During this exercise pupils will fell trees, leaving the occasional ‘Sapling’. Saplings may be collected and in most cases, pupils will pick them up inadvertently while the rest will simply be dismissed. The problem arises when Saplings are ignored or discarded. In my experience, most pupils will not replant the Saplings, considering them a waste of inventory space.
If Saplings are not picked up, they will disappear after a short while with no return. In this case, the island will soon run out of trees.
Step 4 – Wait for your pupils to run out of trees as a building material.
This will happen! Even if children are replanting some of the Saplings, they take time to grow (around 30 minutes). This means that nothing short of an organised forest management system will allow for the continued development of the map. And therein lies the lesson.
Step 5 – Give pupils a final deadline to finish their builds before gathering them in for a discussion about the difficulties with finding resources.
Ask pupils questions such as:
• What would happen if every tree in the world was cut down?
• What do trees do for the world and for us? Including water filtering, carbon capture, produce oxygen, prevent soil erosion and reduce flooding
• What alternatives are there to wood as a building resource, both in the real world and in Minecraft?
• Take this opportunity to use Google Earth to explore deforestation in Brazil, on such a scale it can be seen from space. You can download a ready made view here – Deforestation Brazil (.kmz)
• Revisit www.worldometers.info and explore the numbers around ‘Deforestation’.
• Ask pupils to map their island onto graph paper and redesign their village with room for forest management area.
• Ask pupils to consider their original builds. Could they design them to use less resources yet retain functionality? Can wood from one build be used in another rather than felling more trees?
Step 6 – Restart the map and give pupils another chance to start from scratch. In this case, get them to consider a system for both recycling and repurposing the materials they use as well as a forest management system.
At this stage, it is worth noting the fabulous work of the Ellen McArthur Foundation. In particular, this video about the ‘Circular Economy’, with some important ideas about repurposing the things we make and use:
I hope this is something you wish to use and brings you some great results. Should you require any more advice please do to hesitate to Contact Me.