Summer means summer camps: it is the moment when non-formal education can finally have the chance to demonstrate its immense potential: thousands of proposals for groups of girls and boys where socializing, adventure, discovery, become the protagonists of days that many wait for months, and then remember for as many months.

This year, the distancing and anti-Covid measures have made it very difficult to deliver these activities, and more than one summer camp has been canceled because there were no conditions for the kids to meet safely.

To me, it was the right year for the experiment I wanted to do for a while: summer camps entirely delivered within the Minecraft game – in this case, with girls and boys connected from all over Italy in a video call.

When the friends of SprintLab, working inside ImpactHub Bari to promote digital creativity and the use of technologies applied to education, contacted me to discuss the possibility of doing such a thing, I had no doubts from the very beginning: of course, we have to do this!

summer camps
Group photo at the entrance of the castle with our master builders!

So two distinct groups of 10 participants (exactly as we would have done according to the Italian Covid regulation for in-presence meetings of kids that age!) participated in two week-long summer camps, all delivered inside a dedicated Minecraft server which I had set up specifically, alternating moments of explanation, presentations by some participants on topic they felt expert about, and above all a lot of work together, to build everything while trying to solve the problems that gradually arose: design, geometry and electronics problems, solved or at least downsized thanks to the collaboration and sharing of the group’s knowledge and skills – but also simpler (but no less important) classic group dynamics for all summer camps: small quarrels, difference of views, and everything that derives from not being very accustomed to discussing, planning and building together with others by their school formal education.

summer camps
Our master builders creating their multiple throne room in the castle

The participants came mainly from the area of ​​influence of ImpactHub Bari, that is Puglia, but also from Campania, Lazio, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy… power of the internet! At every online meeting, all connected together on the server that I made available, the participants worked with commitment and curiosity to solve the puzzles and challenges that I gradually proposed to the whole group.

With the younger ones (from 7 to 10 years) we concentrated above all on exploring the great potential offered by the online community around the game, which we have already discussed here many times. There was room for 3D modeling, for the first steps in the world of mods, for the discovery of new ways of playing together and above all to realize an unexplored potential in their computers.

From here we went on with the older ones, going deeper to explore mods and contents developed by the community, starting from the sensational example of Pixelmon – also talking convergence culture, which is an ongoing interest of mine that never hurts to keep on promoting 🙂

summer camps
Pokémon and Jurassic World inside our Minecraft server: thanks to the modders community!

Then we spent our time on architecture and engineering, but also electronics and design, using red stone blocks to build automatic circuits and an entire metropolitan transport system (partially underground, to decrease the impact on the landscape… what a hope, seeing these guys at work!) – and finally coding, with the historic robot turtles (in homage to the great Seymour Papert) to be programmed.

summer camps
Our master builders creating redstone automatic circuits

Honorable mention to the two girls, Vittoria and Amelie, who were not discouraged by the fact that they are the only female appearances in their respective groups, and have shown that also in this field, girls are absolutely not different from boys (indeed …).

We measured great satisfaction and engagement in all the participants, but it is even more important to reflect on what experiments like this could bring as a gift to the world of education and learning, especially at a time like this, in which face-to-face teaching is strongly questioned for the fear of a flashback of the coronavirus epidemic, and the online classes often boil down to doing exactly what would happen in the classroom, but in front of a webcam…

I still think we are sitting on a gold mine and we haven’t realized it yet, while corporations did – like Microsoft, who bought Minecraft with all the Mojang studio that created it, as we have already said, to redesign and launch an Education Edition of the game.

The use of video games as learning spaces is as close as possible to what we could try with experiential (or non-formal, as we like to call it in Erasmus+ circuits) learning activities, both regarding the use of the environments, and for the incredible potential that these environments would have, to host contents and materials specifically designed to be enjoyed there, in groups, in an active way.

Of course Minecraft would work for kids up to the end of middle school or so, and then you have to find other systems, other platforms or at least other ways … but I continue to think that this challenge is crucial and very important nowadays. My friends of Game Over Hate continue their great activity in central Europe, between Germany, Poland and Austria, but there are interesting experiments in progress in Italy too, with Animal Crossing as well as with Minecraft, obviously, while the program Bim Bum Ram by master Kenobit (retrogaming flows powerful in him … 😉 ) streaming on Twitch opens up other possible horizons … on our side, we can announce in low voice that we are running experiments for slightly more advanced age groups, using Fortnite’s creative mode 😉

Regarding our course, anyway, participants were very satisfied by their work, so we decided that the world they built on my server could be given away to the community, as they learned to do by the many mods downloaded and used together; so anyone interested can download it from here:

The castle with lighthouses – map for Minecraft 1.16.1

Beware: being a world built on a multiplayer online server, to have commands etc. you have to open the world to LAN.

What do you think about the educational use of video games? if you have interesting experiments to tell about, please write in the comments!