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Leo’s 4th grade class had a Project Based Learning (PBL) exercise that latest several weeks. I only barely know any of the details about this assignment (because what self-respecting 4th grader would tell their dad anything?!) But as I vaguely understand it, the focus of the PBL was on animal habitats. They started out with a field trip to the Oakland zoo a few weeks before. Then each group of about 4 students was assigned two animals that usually live in a given ecosystem, and they had to design an “ethical enclosure”, and explain various aspects of it in a powerpoint presentation. There was also a tiny bit of electronics, and scratch programming involved in the project, although most groups just used the electronics to let the visitors to their booth click the powerpoint forward.

Leo’s group was assigned the Australian Spinifex hopping mouse, and some kind of mole that presumably lives in the same deserts as the hopping mouse.  Now, when I was a kid, we would make dioramas in shoeboxes. But since Leo is so into Minecraft, I suggested that they use it to create a virtual diorama. Which they did! I bought the team a “Realm”, which is basically a specialized Minecraft server, and they went at it for about five hours, and it seemed to me to have come out pretty well, although it’s a bit hard to see in the below pic.

The animals were represented by two different MC “mobs” (their name for an NPC — a monster or, as in the case, animal). They “built” (as in MC building) a clear glass enclosure that had both internal and external relevant desert features, including above and below ground. Then the visitor could freely navigate around inside or outside the inclosure (including below ground, of course) and visit the (quasi)animals in their (approximately computationally simulated) natural habitat.