EGU General Assembly 2020
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the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Report on science classes and a workshop for teen students to learn geography and geology using Minecraft

Junko Iwahashi1, Yoshiharu Nishioka2, Daisaku Kawabata2, Akinobu Ando3, Shinsuke Okada4, and Takahisa Shiraishi1
Junko Iwahashi et al.
  • 1Geospatial Information Authority of Japan, Tsukuba, Japan
  • 2Geological Survey of Japan, AIST, Tsukuba, Japan
  • 3Miyagi University of Education
  • 4Tohoku University

In this presentation, we report science classes in which the purpose was to learn the history of local geology, and a workshop to learn the relationship between landforms and natural hazards using Minecraft. Minecraft (Mojang/Microsoft) is a sandbox computer game for exploration and crafting in 3-D virtual worlds. It is very popular among the young generation (100 million users in the world), and by using the game it is easy to construct virtual worlds and exploration mechanisms. The science classes were conducted twice for students aged 12 to 13 in a junior high school in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. Using Minecraft, we have constructed a virtual world tailored to their school, including the school buildings and paleoenvironments. In the game, students travel around the school buildings to learn and to solve basic knowledge questions based on references from their school science textbooks, then they go to the underground strata and into past worlds to learn and to solve advanced questions which refer to papers on regional geology. A questionnaire which was given to over 150 students after the first class showed that the students enjoyed the class and obtained a general understanding of geological knowledge. The second class was based on a reviced game after referring to the results of the questionnaire. In the workshop, we used a 3-D topographic model of Japanese flood plains and surrounding terraces and mountains. This example was conducted for 15 to 18-year-old students as a workshop with a small number of students, less than 10. At first, we explained to the students how landforms are associated with natural hazards such as flooding and earthquake shaking, and explained how to find and view thematic maps like hazard maps that could be observed as interactive web maps published by Japanese public agencies and institutes. Next, the students were asked where they wanted to build a house on the virtual terrain. Through their constructions, we considered the balance between playing and learning. This study was supported by JSPS KAKENHI Grant Number JP18K18548.

How to cite: Iwahashi, J., Nishioka, Y., Kawabata, D., Ando, A., Okada, S., and Shiraishi, T.: Report on science classes and a workshop for teen students to learn geography and geology using Minecraft, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-12516,, 2020


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displays version 1 – uploaded on 21 Apr 2020
  • AC1: Comment on EGU2020-12516, Junko Iwahashi, 21 Apr 2020

    We sincerely apologize that the abstract and the presentation material (poster) are partially different. The second class of Workshop 1, which we mentioned in the abstract, was scheduled to be held on March 17, and we were going to conduct a comparison experiment between classes that use Minecraft and those that don't use Minecraft, but we were unable to do it because of the school being closed due to the spread of COVID-19 infection.
    You can download the games from links of the presentation material.Please do not hesitate to tell us your feedbacks.

  • CC1: natural hazards and construction management games, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 21 Apr 2020

    Thank you for sharing this presentation.

    I worked a while in natural disasters (I am organising a session myself at the EGU since 20 years already) and had a look according to with what I've started at construction management games, because my topic was economic efficiency of seismic retrofit measures. There are couple of construction management games, and some of them like SimCity deal with natural disasters. The incipient versions are better, but I wasn't able to play well. Sometimes the evil is stronger in games. Like in a Romanian game where restorers are fighting demolishers: the later win, as speculation with high rise is more profitable. I wrote an overview in a paper to the ICAR conference in Romania in 2012. Also in the course on edX to natural disasters resilience, taught by EPFL, there is a game to simulate natural disasters and it is also from a construction management point of view. Thus I would be interested to know more on how the students built the house. Also at the EPFL game, although playing it more times, I lost. I was unable to use enough resources so the buildings resist the earthquake (which was the hazard I chose).

    Your use of Minecraft reminded me of a film I've seen in 2018 at the UrbanEye festival in Romania. The film is called "Gaming the real world" and the first games employed are Minecraft. Urban planning is simulated through it. Taking into account also what I wrote on my session, it would be a nice exchange between urban planning and natural disasters to combine both (also because I taught several years "Protection of localities against risks" at the Master Urban Design at the Faculty of Urbanism). After that film at the film festival there was also a workshop with an urban planner (Karsten Michael Drohsel) who designes games, and I was able to design a game I used in the project in my presentation at this year's session, namely how migrants are taking memories with themselves. It wasn't a computer game, it was one to play on paper and in the city.

    I hope that sharing my experience is of use for you, too.

    • AC2: Reply to CC1, Junko Iwahashi, 22 Apr 2020
      Thank you for shareing your experience!
      I could find a YouTube video of "Gaming the Real World Trailor" of UrbanEye.
      >Sometimes the evil is stronger in games.
      In a knowledge acquisition game such as Workshop 1, the challenge was how to get the children to solve the problems in turn. (In fact, there are a certain number of students who will walk away in the direction they want without solving the problem, even if it's lined up in front of them!)
      We included item collection and monster fighting for motivation. I think it was great hit for children. But it was a bit difficult to operate, so it took a lot of time, and some children got disappointed when they lose. There was a direnma.
      In a crafting game (Workshop 2),there was another problem. Students who were new to the game took the time to think through the site, whereas those who were more familiar with Minecradt tended to focus on building a great building as quickly as possible.
      Perhaps it would have been more effective if the students had taken the time to decide on a location first before getting into the game, or if there had been a device to recreate the natural disaster in the game. 
      • CC2: decision making, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 22 Apr 2020

        Very interesting.

        Yes, games are great to study how decisions are met. More importance should be given to them. For example, I was reading that it is studied how decisions are made in television games, such as was in Italy "Affari tuoi".

        I don't know Minecraft so well, but I think that yes, it would be good to be able to simulate the natural disaster in it. The game in the edX course was "Stop disasters!" I've just searched for its name. It is from UNDRR.

        Hope this helps!

        • AC3: Reply to CC2, Junko Iwahashi, 22 Apr 2020

          I just find "Stop disasters!" of UNDRR. It looks great.

          Thank you so much!

        • CC4: Reply to CC2, David Crookall, 01 May 2020

          Hello Maria

          I was v interested in your intereest in simulation/games.  Would you be intetested in writing and article for  &   ?

          In any case, please stay in touch - are you on LinkedIn?

          • CC5: Reply to CC4, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 02 May 2020

            Thank you, David.

            I will have a look. But I am rather busy now because everything switched in online and the deadline is close. Also, I do not know if there will be a call for funding of APCs this year, as many funds will be redirected to COVID 19 research.

  • CC3: Comment on EGU2020-12516, David Crookall, 01 May 2020

    Your game setup sopunds fascinating - bravo!   I have two questions:

    1.  What specific things (eg, results from questionnaires) enabled you to show a clear gain in the quality and/or quantity of learning about geo stuff?

    2.  What debriefing procedures or protocols did you use?  If none, why?

    • CC6: Reply to CC3, David Crookall, 02 May 2020

      Many thanks.  Some funding will go to covid-19, but some funds are specifically earmarked for opur kinds of areas.  It may be that funds get smaller too - depends in which.

    • AC4: Reply to CC3, Junko Iwahashi, 05 May 2020
      Thank you for your interest in our study.
      1.Regarding Workshop 1, the names of specific geological formations came up frequently in student questionnaires. Another thing is that there were many students who wanted to do it again. Unfortunately, the second comparison class was cancelled, so I can't say for sure, but I think this is something that is hard to do in an ordinary lecture.
      Regarding Workshop 2, I honestly think that we should have given the students more time to think about the ground, or devised some gimmicks.
      2. Regarding Workshop 1, Dr. Ando, an expert in education, prepared the questionnaire. It was a few dozen choice questions and an open-ended field. The questionnaires were done after the class, with time set aside for another day. As you can see on the poster, the results were analyzed by text mining. 
      Workshop 2 had only 4 pairs, so we didn't do a survey.
  • CC7: Comment on EGU2020-12516, Lisa Gallagher, 07 May 2020

    Hello Junko, I really enjoyed looking over your material and I think this is a really great idea. I've seen some Minecraft usage before, but I love that you have made this a place-based learning activity! Also, your motivation to support students who don't necessarily thrive in traditional classroom settings or activities is very insightful. I have a couple questions:

    1) The instructors that delivered these workshops--were these the students' usual instructors or were they an outside instructor for the workshop? 

    2) How did you translate the teaching requirements to the instructor(s)?

    Thank you, I look forward to more discussion during the chat!

    • AC5: Reply to CC7, Junko Iwahashi, 08 May 2020

      Thank you, Lisa!

      1) During the workshops, everyone was given a piece of paper illustrating the key operations required for the game.

      We didn't have any special instructors and had a school teacher teach Workshop 1. We were in the back of the classroom and went and helped any student who felt trapped in the operation. However, more than half of the students knew Minecraft and had few problems operating it.

      2) In Workshop 1, we asked the teacher to play the game beforehand. I didn't talk about the content specifically because it was clear that the game involved solving problems that were in line with textbooks and papers.

      In Workshop 2, as you can see on the poster, we decided not to criticize the students' work, even if it is not in line with the purpose. I didn't want it to be remembered as a negative experience. I wanted them to remember it as a memory of some pleasant experience that they would remember in the future when they were deciding where to live. However, a little more guidance might have been needed.

  • AC6: Comment on EGU2020-12516, Junko Iwahashi, 08 May 2020

    The terrain data used in the Workshop 2 was created by Nishioka's program to convert DEM (+ color map) into MineCraft data.
    Let me introduce you to his wonderful work.

    Minecraft data of Japanese geology by Yoshiharu Nishioka (AIST) (in Japanese)

  • CC8: Minecraft for children, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 28 May 2020

    Just came over this paper "Minecraft as a Tool for Engaging Children in Urban Planning: A Case Study in Tirol Town, Brasil" By Alenka Poplin, 2020, International Journal of Geo-Information, Special Issue "Gaming and Geospatial Informaiton"



    • AC7: Reply to CC8, Junko Iwahashi, 29 May 2020

      Dear Maria, 

      Thank you so much for your information!!

  • CC9: Comment on EGU2020-12516, Pariphat Promduangsri, 01 Jun 2020

    Thank you Junko, Maria, et al

    I thought that you might be interested in this

    Please spread the word.  Thanks