What Inspires Kids to Love Science May Surprise You

Yes, I made this myself within the video game Minecraft. That makes me dad of the year, right?

Kids find inspiration in the oddest places. And it never fails, the minute you think you can predict what your children will do in a given situation – they throw you a curveball.

My oldest son is a Cub Scout. A few months back his den had an outing at our local science museum. What happened that afternoon surprised me.

We bought our tickets and made our way inside. Hmm, what to see first…the giant T-rex? …the life-sized Apollo I Capsule? …the airplane cockpit? Maybe we’d start by panning for gems or digging for fossils.

No such luck…

His den leader headed straight for the mineral gallery. Yes, he was taking a group of 3rd graders to look at rocks. I thought my son would find it as exciting as our dinnertime chats about what I do at work, which last about 30 seconds before he asks to be excused from the table.

Would you believe we spent more time looking at rocks than at anything else in the museum?

“Daddy, daddy…look…I found granite!”

I watched as my boy ran from stone to stone rattling off the names of each. He knew the difference between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks too. I couldn’t believe how excited he was about…well…rocks…especially when the activity didn’t involve throwing them at someone.

A brochure by Geoscience Australia.

A brochure by Geoscience Australia.

That’s when it clicked. Not only did he learn about them in school, but his true inspiration was his favorite video game – Minecraft. When I say it’s his favorite, I mean he loves the game like a preteen girl loves One Direction. And he’s not alone. As of October 2014 – more than 60 million copies of the game had been sold. The game even won the “Most Addicting Game” category at the 2015 Kid’s Choice Awards. Please don’t ask how I know that.

This may be why they love the game:

“Players begin on any number of randomly-generated terrains — square blocks that make up deserts, mountains, prairie and even clouds. To survive the unknown world, they’ll have to create buildings and items — like say, an indestructible pickaxe or a stove to cook on — which means they’ll need to gather raw materials from the world around them.”

“Minecraft is an open-ended “sandbox” that doesn’t come with instructions, so the gameplay is confusing — but that’s what makes it irresistible. Kids are forced to explore — first in the game, then out of it.”

@2machinescom

The raw materials used to make and build things vary, but many are stones. Obsidian, cobblestone, limestone, sandstone, diamond, gold, granite, iron ore and others are my son’s Minecraft building blocks. And the entire time we were in the mineral gallery, he hunted for the real stones matching the ones he uses in the game.

We eventually saw some other things in the museum, and got soaking wet panning for gems – but rocks certainly ruled the day.

I have to say, it was a pretty neat afternoon. Who would’ve thought a video game, especially one with graphics that look only slightly better than Pong, would inspire an interest in science. I sure didn’t.

I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention that Minecraft ventures well beyond geology into other scientific areas. Biology, ecology, physics, chemistry – and even a bit of electrical engineering – are part of the game. Check out this paper by Daniel Short, which goes into much more detail.

So there you have it. An excellent reason to let your kids play video games.

…oh, did I mention this game has zombies too?


Resources:

The Geology of Minecraft (video) by Sam Baker. This video digs a bit deeper into the rocks used to construct things within the game.

How Minecraft Teaches Kids Real World Skills by @2machinescom.

Teaching Scientific Concepts Using a Virtual World – Minecraft by Daniel Short for the Australian Science Teachers Association. This article explains the “key scientific and mathematical concepts” within the game.

The Geology of Minecraft (.pdf) by @GeoscienceAus. A one-pager with details about some of the blocks and rocks within Minecraft.

Parents’ Minecraft Glossary (.pdf) by @chancetolearn – A list of all of the key terms used in the game. Because you know you’ve got no clue what your kid is talking about.

Teaching in the age of Minecraft by @alexandraossola for The Atlantic. The story of a teacher who inspired students by making Minecraft part of his curriculum.

Great Britain Geology With Minecraft. The British Geological Survey has reproduced the 2D geology of mainland Great Britain and surrounding islands within the world of Minecraft.

To Teach and Delight, Denmark Recreates Itself in Minecraft by @BelindaLanks for Bloomberg.com

Why Microsoft Bought Minecraft: To Lure Kids to Science by @markhachman for PCWorld.

The Geology of Minecraft YouTube video by Sam Baker

7 thoughts on “What Inspires Kids to Love Science May Surprise You

  1. I’m convinced that I the right types of video and electronic games have significant education potential: kids don’t know they’re learning-they’re just having fun. Games where they can learn states, counties, capitals, periodic table, etc. could potentially cause kids to learn much faster and with greater eagerness. I’m a believer in gamification; I just need educators to see the potential.

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    • Thank you Marla. This game, in particular, is truly amazing. After everyone went to bed one night, I sat up with the redstone circuitry handbook trying to build functioning devices within the game. It’s amazing what can be done within this virtual environment. A couple of the articles I cited at the bottom of the piece explore the issue of using the game in the classroom. You may find them interesting.

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  2. I love that this game actually helped a child to develop an interest in science. After many years teaching and working with teachers, I think that the more ways that we can inspire kids to learn the better. I think any method (games, outdoor investigations, making models, independent inquiry, reading, making projects, etc.) can be a key to helping kids learn science. The key is to use a wide variety of methods in order to meet the needs of every student. When only electronic media are used (whether it be games or videos or whiteboards, or document cameras) we miss students who are not inspired by any of those. But if we use those in conjunction with other methods we provide a variety of learning that doesn’t get boring. It helps keep everyone interested and challenging at some point in the program.
    SJohnson

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    • Thank you SJohnson. The games are in addition to everything else. I like the fact that they’re being creative and learning while playing though. It’s certainly not the typical ‘shoot ’em up’ style game. Watching the boys play together split screen is a hoot too. They build and destroy stuff together. …learning teamwork I suspect.

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  3. When kids make connections, it makes it so much more real to them, even if it is a connection to a virtual reality! My classroom focus is 1. relationships with the kids and 2. relevance to the real world, in geology and the other topics I teach. I get a lot of “wow, cool!” when they see the relationship to their everyday life. And *sometimes* it is the spark that gets them on the path to a science or engineering career. I am so proud to have several of my former students in engineering at Georgia Tech! And quite a few more in the hopper with engineering careers in their targets!

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    • Thank you for sharing your story Susan. You’ve got to be producing smart students if they’re being accepted to Tech. Keep up the good work! (and keep sending us your best and brightest)

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  4. We should create a sort of interest among children in knowing their own surroundings, plants, animals, water and soil. Their attention should not be diverted by electronic gadgets, e devices etc.,

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