Today my district ditched the Science Fair. We turned it into the Science and Engineering Expo. It was a blast. It took a whole crew of people to pull off, and it was a huge success. The part I was most involved in though was what we called Top Chef: Minecraft Edition, with a tip of the hat to Jon Corippo for the Top Chef idea. The idea was kids would work in groups of three to create an environment in Minecraft that would support the fictional “Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.” Every now and then in the two-hour event a new “secret ingredient” was to be announced that teams needed to add to their environment in a meaningful way. It was a great idea, but I had no idea how to actually pull it off. I have dabbled in Minecraft, but I don’t even rate the novice level. I am a total newb.
I turned to social media, and my friend Diane Main connected me with Shane Asselstine, in Hawaii, who provided us with the perfect Minecraft world to work in. One of the tech guys in the office, Darin, built a Lynux server for the event and repurposed some old laptops. He actually knew what to do with the world that Shane provided us! On the day of the event we had 7 teams of three kids each, and a whole big cheering section of family, friends, and teachers for each team. It was a whole thing!
I started to explain the event to the crowd; what the world was and how it worked when I was interrupted.
“Each block is 1-meter square. You should not say the area is 100 blocks by 150 blocks. You should say it is 100 meters by 150 meters.”
And that is how we started our first ever Minecraft Showcase, me being schooled by a 6th grader.
I corrected myself and continued explaining how the Minecraft challenge was going to work. To be honest, I had no idea how it was going to work, I was just hoping it didn’t end in disaster. It didn’t.
The first “Secret Ingredient” was an easy one: sand. I noticed that everyone had a lot of water in their area, and figured they would put the sand along the edges of the water, but I would trip them up by asking them WHY they put the sand there. The first time I did, the kid looked at me like I was a total scientific newb, and gave me my second schooling of the day “Sand is eroded rock. That is what it is. It flows into rivers and is deposited on the banks. It’s what sand does. That is where it goes. It’s natural.”
One of the high school video crew suggested the second secret ingredient: paintings. How was a bunch of middle schoolers going to use paintings in an environment for the tree octopus in a meaningful way? No problem.
The first group put their paintings in a cave. You know cave paintings. Since the tree octopus prefers to hang out in caves, this team had a cave from “an ancient civilization whose population had mysteriously disappeared. These paintings are artifacts from that civilization” the 8th grader told me. That led to the discussion about the fallen tree that was just outside the cave. It was decomposing, providing a home for the frogs. Then they discussed the water lilies that attract the insects that the frogs eat. Because, you know, the tree octopus eats frogs. It said so right in the middle of the two solid pages of small text that I had given them explaining the tree octopus. You can’t have a tree octopus without frogs to eat, and you can’t have frogs without insects to eat. You see, they actually read the material. All of it. Then they discussed it among themselves. And made a plan.
It was awesome.