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How are robotics teams utilizing Minecraft during the pandemic?

In today’s pandemic era, many robotics teams are left in limbo. After 8 months, we are still left with more questions than answers about COVID-19. Parents of children involved in extracurricular activities are not sure what is safe for their children to participate in and what is not; sometimes, that changes month to month, week to week and even day to day.

When we were looking for a way to keep our FLL robotics kids together as a team, and engaged in practicing their core values, we turned to a familiar platform.

Minecraft!

Minecraft is the best-selling video game of all time, having sold over 200M copies and still boasting over 126M active users per month. This hugely popular game is one that most every kid knows about, and many already play regularly. How cool would it be to integrate our love of robotics and FIRST FLL into a game that most team members already play and love? Team members can do a lot of what they have been learning in robotics, but still in a safe environment. The kids can work together to acquire materials in various ways. In-game mining, hunting for food, fishing, and trading with villagers are all ways for the kids to learn and interact with each other while watching each other’s back and staying safe from the monsters that lurk about when darkness falls.

As the kids gather their materials, they can build their own homes and even communities. Some kids like to build crazy automated Redstone contraptions, while others just want to settle in and chop down some trees to build houses.

But how does this relate to robotics? I’ll tell you.

The team dynamic and the core values that FIRST has instilled in these kids is obvious in nearly every aspect of the game. In order to start the game, you must collect and build what you want (much like building a robot). We have kids that really like to dig deep into the literal code of the game, to understand what makes everything tick, and those kids absolutely LOVE to automate and “program” the game to suit them. Instead of mining for iron, why not learn the actual artificial intelligence and the specific criteria of the game? Like lighting conditions for spawning monsters… zombies, line of sight vectors, and arrays. Make an iron farm that will continuously make its own iron? Instead of farming for food, why not make your own automated farm capable of providing you and your teammates unlimited food?

These kids are absolutely amazing at how quickly and completely they understand the code within the game. I’ve been programming and working in a computer environment for over 30 years, and I still feel like a “noob” around these 11 and 12-year-olds.

The kids learn to work together to accomplish their goals and learn rather quickly that we can do more together than separately.

We have opened our Minecraft server to all Wisconsin FLL students, teachers, and Alum.

It’s always amazing to me to see how these kids gravitate towards each other and use their co-operation skills that they have learned in FIRST, and apply them to another purpose. I love seeing team members from four or five teams all working together to complete a task.

I look forward to when all of us can get together again, in the spirit of friendly competition, but until then, we have Minecraft, and for those students and coaches that are not having a season this year, and we have each other.

Stay safe out there, everyone,

J Church
WI State Head Referee
(and Minecraft junkie)

I have been involved in Wisconsin FLL for about eight years. I started as a mentor the very minute that the team would let my son join, I have coached close to 20 teams and seen and refereed probably thousands of robots and competition rounds, and I still feel like a kid in a candy store every time!

After judging and refereeing for tournaments in Wisconsin and Illinois, I was offered a chance to join Jeff Bartig as a Wisconsin State head referee. It has been an absolute dream for me. I know that I will be doing some form of FLL volunteering for many years to come, probably until I can’t remember who I am, or what I’m doing anymore.