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APS takes on Level Up: Minecraft Student Build Challenge

by Thomas Scott

Atlanta Public Schools students have been challenged to solve real issues for the real world by creating their own solutions in a virtual world.

APS has partnered with the city of Atlanta and the mayor’s office to bring the Level Up: Minecraft Student Build Challenge to Atlanta.

In this challenge, which is open to APS students in all grades, students will be charged with designing and constructing solutions to help reimagine, reconfigure and revitalize notable areas around metro Atlanta.

“Our students already know and love Minecraft. In fact, a lot of parents and caregivers probably get really upset that their students spend so much time on Minecraft,” APS director of Instructional Technology Dr. Natasha Rachell said. “There is a blank canvas of a world where they’re able to create and collaborate with their peers and build things you just couldn’t even imagine. To merge something like that within the curriculum is a win-win, no -brainer.”

Players will enter the game and be greeted by Minecraft versions of Atlanta mayor Andre Dickens and former Atlanta news anchor Monica Pearson at the virtual Hartsfield-Jackson airport.

In the challenge, players can visit and explore Centennial Park, the Stitch, the Beltline, Five Points, the Battery in Cobb County, and the Buford Dam in Gwinnett County. They will learn about the different locations, and then design solutions to address issues such as: mobile transportation, affordable housing, food insecurity and environmental sustainability. Contestants will then submit a two-minute video overview explaining the process behind their builds.

John Howard, a fifth-grade student at Fickett Elementary, has been playing Minecraft since he was in second grade. He’s already an experienced Minecraft player and has built houses and entire cities in the game just for fun.

Now, through the Minecraft Student Build Challenge, he can play a game he’s interested, learn about social issues facing his community and work on his project at home or in the classroom.

“I think it’s going to be stimulating to kids’ brains and cognitive thinking and get out their head and learn about more political issues and sustainability and climate change and stuff,” Howard said. “It feels good that I get to work at it during school and after school.”

Atlanta is one of a few cities worldwide that have been selected to participate in the Minecraft Student Build Challenge. While the primary goal of the contest is to engage students with a tool they’re already familiar with, there is a possibility that one of the student-created solutions could inspire real-world decision making.

“This generation of students was born with a cell phone and iPad in their hands. They know how to maneuver these things from the time that they’re able to push buttons,” Rachell said. “We do have a duty to meet them where they are to try to find innovative and creative ways to have them engage in this type of learning and figure out how we can take what they know and love and merge it with the content.”

“It is my hope that students learn not only about the city of Atlanta, but the problems that they face,” she added. “I hope that what students take from this is that they are just a piece in this large world that we live in. They have such a duty and responsibility to make sure that they leave this world better than they found it.”

The Minecraft Student Build Challenge began in September, and students have until November 30 to enter their submissions. Minecraft Education is different than the regular video game and contains a additional features such as a classroom mode and assessment tools. Visit the Minecraft Education page for installation support. Further instructions on how to participate in the challenge are available on the APS Level Up Atlanta website.

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