Minecraft Build challenge: Change in species over time

I have found that Minecraft, as an educational tool, is very effective in helping students understand science concepts. When students are tasked with a “Minecraft Build Challenge” in my classroom, they are required to demonstrate modeling skills, solve problems, practice engineering principles, and have fun. Though the ‘fun’ part is what the students see first, they don’t realize that they are demonstrating in depth science knowledge until the very end of their build. I have had students that are turned off and unmotivated for much of my class turn around, flip a switch, and submit amazing work from a Minecraft build challenge all because of “motivation”. Minecraft can be a motivating tool for a lot of students. This series of blog posts are some science Minecraft build challenges that I have put together to deeply assess student understanding of science and to motivate and engage students in the learning process. Please feel free to use any of these ideas or resources if Minecraft Education is something you would use in your classroom.

This Minecraft Build Challenge seeks to assess students’ knowledge and understanding of how scientists use the fossil record to support their reasoning of species changing over time. Scientists might look at groups of fossils and identify a ‘common ancestor’ based on similar fossil structures. Or scientists might hypothesize how a species evolved gradually over time (known as ‘gradualism’) or how a species evolved abruptly and remained unchanging for a long period of time (known as ‘punctuated equilibrium’). Or scientists might determine how a species went extinct based on the rock layers the fossils were found in or based on other species that lived nearby. There are many fun and interesting hypotheses that arise from building a unique fossil record for someone to dig up and interpret. Here’s how this Minecraft Build Challenge works:

  1. Students choose a world to build in (preferably one that already contains layered, rocky cliffs) and a partner to work with.
  2. Both students either locate a cliff to use in their own Minecraft world or they build their own cliff to use in their Minecraft world.
  3. Both students dig out their cliffs and place ‘fossils’ inside, starting with a common ancestor fossil at the very bottom of the cliff. The fossils they build should just be groups of blocks of a predetermined color that students know not to break when digging.
  4. Both students fill their cliffs with rock layers and dirt blocks again and instruct each other what colored blocks to break and what colored blocks to not break.
  5. Both students dig into each other’s cliffs looking for the fossils they built and building their own fossil record. Once a student completely digs out their partner’s cliff and has discovered all fossils placed in their, they should start drawing conclusions about how different species changed over time based on the fossil record they just uncovered.

Please see my slideshow and video below for further details of how this engaging assessment tool works in Minecraft.

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