Livable and Sustainable Communities Exploration Through Minecraft: A Joint Science and Geography Collaboration

Area(s) of Focus: technology, curriculum
Division(s): Intermediate, Senior
Level(s): Grade 9

A CGC 1D1 and SNC 1D1 interdisciplinary inquiry project exploring livability and sustainability in Canada. Students using Minecraft Education Edition as a platform to build virtual livable and sustainable communities.

As subject teachers, we recognized that the CGC 1D1 and SNC 1D1 courses shares some common expectations of both sustainability and livability.  Our project had select geography and science classes collaborating together to explore these common expectations through the use of Microsoft Minecraft Education Edition (M:EE). In our project, our students researched, designed, collaborated and built examples of sustainable and livable communities in Minecraft (M:EE). Through this project, we focused on increasing student engagement, design thinking and a growth mindset. It is our hope that students begin to become active learners in designing and planning future sustainable and livable communities in Canada.

Team Members

  • Heather Chalmers

    York Catholic District School Board

  • Raffaella Coletta

    York Catholic District School Board

  • Jennifer Tristram

    York Catholic District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

  • Through research and experimentation, we became more familiar and proficient with the design thinking process and framework 
  • Collaboration within our own school to achieve complimentary lessons between the science and geography teachers. This focus allowed teachers and students to delve deeper into shared curriculum expectations. As lessons and project files were created, they were shared with other teachers in our department.
  • Collaboration with other teachers in our school board and teachers outside of our board to encourage and support them in their use of Minecraft (M:EE) in their own classes and schools
  • Established connections with other educators in Ontario and outside of Ontario to learn about best practices using Minecraft (M:EE) for teaching and learning
  • Improved teacher use and proficiency in Minecraft, as well as an increased knowledge of classroom mode in M:EE. Two of our teachers have recently become Minecraft Education Trainers which will help us to further assist other teachers use this technology both in the high school and elementary classroom.
  • Using Minecraft’s Code Builder and exporting 3D Minecraft objects allowed us to help students establish a growth mindset to try new experiences and determine new applications and pathways. This also allowed us to consider other ways that this gaming platform could be used in a variety of subject areas.

Activities and Resources

  • Accessed online resources from Microsoft Minecraft Education (M:EE) to familiarize ourselves with M:EE
  • Connected with other educators outside our school community to discuss their own best practices in Minecraft. This was especially important in determining and troubleshooting technical issues and concerns.
  • Created a common calendar (with release time) to help us align curriculum similarities which allowed teachers to teach complementary geography or science material on the same day. This was an essential piece to be able to have the time to complete an inquiry project. Our meetings also allowed us to discuss the specific aspects of content we would be responsible for teaching.
  • Attended Microsoft Minecraft Education Trainer Event at Microsoft Canada. At this trainer event, two of our teachers became certified Microsoft Minecraft Education Trainers.
  • Created resources (with the release time) to help support other teachers who wished to start a similar project. This information is shared within a Team Drive on our G Suite.
  • Invited and hosted other teachers in our board who were were interested in learning more about our project. We have also assisted them in asking for and receiving funding to begin their own Minecraft projects.

Unexpected Challenges

During the course of our project, we encountered several challenges. First, it was difficult for us to find Ontario high school educators who were using Minecraft. Although we connected with a few teachers who had used the old version of Minecraft, they had not yet used the new version which had new features and network challenges. We reached out to teachers outside of Ontario through Twitter to try and find mentors to help us answer questions.

Second, although we had planned our calendar for the project, there were many school-wide events that caused us to re-adjust our schedule which impacted our Minecraft building days. We wished we had more time with our students to spend more time working on coding in Minecraft and to export their Minecraft buildings into Mixed Reality and then actually 3D print them in the future. It is a great opportunity for the future growth of our own students and of our project.

The last unexpected challenge was helping other schools to try and gain access to Minecraft in their schools. There is the dual challenge of access to technology, as well as creating a board process/infrastructure to help others scale it in their own schools.  Although this has been a challenge or a growth opportunity, we feel there are many benefits to this in the classroom and are committed to assist those teachers who would like to use it.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

  • Having a combined inquiry project between two courses allowed students to fully explore ideas, see connections between various subject areas and make broader career connections
  • A shared inquiry project also lessened student anxiety and stress levels when they realized there was one large project between two courses  
  • Students used the design thinking process on whiteboards before building their sustainable and livable communities in Minecraft. This helped the students to revise, reimagine and receive feedback from not only their teachers, but other teachers and professions.
  • One of the greatest enhancements for student learning and development came from seeing students develop soft skills. Using the design thinking process, students had to work co-operatively with each other and equally contribute to their pre-Minecraft designs. Each person in a group was given a specific role that had to be integrated into the final design. This meant students had to agree on common designs and negotiate with each other when they disagreed. From student feedback, this aspect was one of their greatest challenges. However, students told their other subject teachers that this project helped make group work and projects easier in their other courses. Student groups were also responsible for project managing the Minecraft build which taught them essential skills in prioritizing work, collaboration and accountability.
  • This project also allowed students from a variety of academic levels to feel successful and valued as group members. For example, a student who had expert Minecraft skills was teaching other students how to improve their designs and build more efficiently. The next day, we overheard the same student say, “Finally, I feel like I am smart and good at something in school.”
  • Additionally, the use of Minecraft Education has also helped some of our students who are on the autism spectrum communicate with their peer group. They were able to communicate their ideas, comfortably with their group through the chat function in Minecraft. We did see a chat post that said, “I’m not comfortable speaking face-to-face so can we talk about our ideas in this chat?” This same student was able, by the end of the project, to speak face-to-face more easily with the group members.
  • Lastly, we had the students present their projects to invited guests, teachers and experts in the field of livability and sustainability. This further extension of the project helped students to develop key presentation skills, boost self-confidence, and to see real-world connections to what they are learning and building to applications outside of the classroom.


We have been sharing our journey and resources in a variety of formats. We have been sharing our project and Microsoft Minecraft Education resources through a Google Team Drive that can be accessed by interested teachers in our board. Also, we have invited teachers who are beginning their Microsoft Minecraft Education journey (or interested in exploring it further) to come and visit our classroom and join us during our planning or training sessions. We are currently collaborating with a teacher (at a different high school) who is preparing to use Minecraft lessons in her applied level geography course next year. Since two of the teachers are now Microsoft Minecraft Trainers, we have also agreed to go into schools in June and September as they prepare for their own Minecraft projects. Additionally, when we went for the trainer sessions for Minecraft, we also shared our project story and resources with the other educators who were present and have been talking with them via email and Twitter. We feel that there is a tremendous value in using this game-based platform, and we hope to be able to share our story and experiences with more educators in the next year.

Project Evaluation

As teachers, this grant has allowed us grow our vision for the Livable and Sustainable Communities: Exploration through Minecraft. In spite of some of our challenges, there were so many benefits to student learning, engagement and student success that we feel the project was a success.  Watching students’ focus on their building and the quality of their conversations and collaborations (even when they didn’t think we were listening), we feel that the project was successful. We also conducted a post-Minecraft survey to assess the students’ experience which has provided us with great feedback, positive and constructive, to plan a future project. A true measure of success for us is if we want to continue this project next year and could we see a new iteration of our project and the answer is “absolutely.” However, there are aspects of the project we would do differently: changing our project timelines, incorporating basic Microsoft Minecraft building skills earlier into our courses so we can spend time on coding, 3D printing and using Mixed Reality. Our next steps will be:

  • Continue to meet with, train and support teachers who will be using Minecraft for the first time next school year
  • Share our learning and expertise with other teachers who are trying to determine how Microsoft Minecraft Education can be used in a high school through already established connections and PLCs via Twitter and other social networks
  • Plan out possibilities for next year’s project and work with the other teachers who will be a part of this collaboration next school year
  • Re-apply for another TLC grant to hopefully further expand our project into other schools and potentially other school boards