How to build an integrated STEM lesson using Minecraft

Teachers are expected to develop a large number of skills in their students. By looking where those skills overlap it can help teachers tick off large parts of the curriculum and develop engaging lessons.

And it all starts with searching for action verbs, write Monash’s Gillian Kidman, Roland Gesthusizen and Hazel Tan.

Looking for overlaps can find a sweet spot for teachers

Within the Australian curriculum, there are a number of specific cognitive skills that need to be developed in science, technology and maths.

After a detailed analysis, we found where these skills overlap for each discipline.  Each discipline also shares a number of higher order thinking skills outlined in Blooms Revised Taxonomy.

As a sample STEM activity, we used the same approach to examine the cognitive skills developed when students solve a problem using Minecraft to design and build a house.

The set of common skills that emerged allowed us to find a sweet spot used to form integrated STEM lessons that can be taught over a number of weeks and cover significant parts of the curriculum.

Integrating these skills can be a big time-saver for teachers, an engaging way to develop these skills in students and build an integrated STEM approach.

How to break down the curriculum

We started by hunting for verbs in the Australian curriculum. Our analysis revealed over 53 different actions that students were required to do across all three learning areas of Maths, Science and Technology. Thirteen overlapped.

We found these verbs across the sequence of content learning areas in technologies and mathematics and in the Science Inquiry Skills sequence of content for science.

There were very clear, discipline specific actions required within each of the disciplines. Sometimes, these actions were shared by two or more subjects.

The shared words that we identified across all three subjects were: apply, draw, explore, model, identify, represent, sort, collect, evaluate, plan, analyse, select and develop.

Additional cognitive skills from Blooms Revised Taxonomy

We also looked at Blooms Revised Taxonomy – a system that promotes higher forms of thinking in education – for these active words to find a similar overlap.

We found that there were 9 higher order actions shared by all three disciplines. They represent nearly a quarter of all cognitive developmental skills.

The common verbs that we identified were: analyse, apply, collect, develop, evaluate, model, identify, plan and select.

What cognitive skills students could gain from Minecraft?

Our next step was to undertake an audit of many different websites, blogs and research papers examining the use of Minecraft in the classroom to look for similar active verbs. We found 18 words that showed the skills students could develop. 13 of these aligned with higher order thinking skills.

Again, some of these words were unique to specific disciplines and some overlapped with two. There were three that were common across all the disciplines. It was interesting that all were higher order thinking skills.

The common verbs that we identified: collect, evaluate and plan.

Bringing it all together to find the overlap

These are the actions that are shared by all three disciplines of maths, science and technology.

The overlap can also be represented in a Venn diagram. Refer to this when you look at the lesson options below.

Technology Maths Science Decompose Design Examine Collect Evaluate Analyse Develop Draw Identify Compare Solve Problems Practice Describe Infer Interpret Reflect Draw Conclusions Engage Participate Summarise Respond Create Make Organise Recognise Sequence Communicate Predict Control Variables Address Ethics Assess Risks Record Propose Formulate Observe Produce Implement Visualise Investigate Extend Trial Locate Construct Measure Conduct Share Plan Select Apply Explore Model Represent Sort
Australian Curriculum
Blooms
Minecraft
Use the toggles above to turn on/off the action keywords for each source.

Designing your lesson

We developed three different approaches that hit on a number of the active verbs that we’ve uncovered.

We looked at some of the benefits of students working in a virtual world, specifically designing and building a sustainable house in the virtual world of Minecraft.

Sustainable house built by student using Minecraft
Students can develop multiple cognitive skills through designing and building a sustainable house in Minecraft.

Here are some sample outlines for lessons that could span several weeks. They draw on some action words that relate to specific areas and include as many of the common cognitive skills as practical.

Option 1: Plan a sustainable house

Action What the student does Discipline area Source of action
Plan A sustainable house All Australian Curriculum
Higher order thinking skill
Decompose Break down the problem into a small number of tasks Technology Australian Curriculum
Minecraft action
Higher order thinking skill
Measure The size and volume of objects for the building and landscape around the house Maths
Science
Australian Curriculum
Higher order thinking skill
Plan Building orientation, window size and lighting options All Australian Curriculum
Minecraft action
Higher order thinking skill
Model Movement of the sun All Australian Curriculum
Higher order thinking skill
Select Building materials, internal layout of rooms and their usage All Australian Curriculum
Higher order thinking skill

Option 2: Use design thinking to build you house

This option draws on a discipline-specific skill – design and design thinking from technology – and applies them in an integrated way.

Using this tool will help your students focus on the people they create the house for. It means empathy is put at the very beginning of the process.

You can break down what this looks like in this way.

Action What the student does Discipline area Source of action
Create A sustainable house, giving due consideration to people who will live in the house Technology
Maths
Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Collect Perspectives of people about different houses they live in All Australian Curriculum
Minecraft Cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Draw conclusions Based on their personal and cultural experiences Science Higher order thinking skill
Propose A solution Science
Maths
Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Use design-thinking To find a human-centred solution Technology Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Communicate Your solution Technology
Science
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill

Option 3: Make the house collaboratively

In this option, students are actively learning when they design and build their house. In a classroom context, it needs constant communication, feedback and reflection.

Like the tables above, these words and actions relate to higher order thinking (HOT) skills and active learning that takes place when students work in this virtual space.

Action What the student does Discipline area Source of action
Build (make) A sustainable house Technology
Science
Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Share (communicate) Your work with friends to complete the challenge Technology
Science
Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Apply What you learn from your friends to adapt your building All Australian Curriculum
Design Your house Technology Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Construct Your building and embrace the freedom the program offers Science
Mathematics
Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Adapt the design Based on team work and self reflection Technology Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill
Evaluate Different aspects of their learning process as they build their house All Australian Curriculum
Minecraft cognitive skill
Higher order thinking skill

It is tempting to focus on particular discipline-specific cognitive actions that are required of students when teaching and learning science, technology and mathematics. However, by considering the intersections and opportunities as well as the challenges, teachers can create rich interdisciplinary learning environments.