Engaging in hands-on work remotely creates obstacles for science students, but one creative band of St. Mark's engineers is taking a proactive approach to their subject, using the video game Minecraft.
"The St. Mark's engineering class is a project-based, hands-on approach to engineering," says teacher Rob Bauer. "Students work on engineering projects of their choosing throughout the year. Just a couple of months into 2020, the class faced its biggest engineering challenge to date: COVID-19."
The St. Mark's enterprise began as a small regular engineering project. The "Treehouse Group"—VI Formers Blake Gattuso, Nathaniel King, Aditya Mynampaty, and Will Osborne— had been building a viewing platform for the St. Mark's cross country course when COVID-19 brought their project to a complete stop. But "adversity is the mother of invention," says Mr. Bauer.
"With remote learning underway, our intrepid team of engineers decided to continue their work virtually and they built their cross country viewing platform in the world of Minecraft." Minecraft is a sandbox video game, defined as a program where participants can create and build their own environment. "As their instructor," continued Mr. Bauer, "I was so impressed, my very first words were: 'Can you build all of St. Mark's in Minecraft?' Their initial reaction to my request was overwhelming, I am happy to say they took my challenge head-on!"
Utilizing Minecraft, they students began to build a block-based procedurally generated virtual St. Mark's campus. The exterior view of the Main Building, the front of the School, the interior of Belmont Chapel, and the main Dining Hall have all been created—and work still continues.
"It is a huge undertaking," notes Bauer, "consuming many, many hours of work." It is, he points out, "a truly collaborative effort." The original Treehouse Group has been joined by V Former Tommy Flathers. "He's not a member of the class," says Bauer, "but he's working on it and is an enthusiastic part of the team."
It is still a work in progress. Click here to see a video of what has been accomplished so far.
"To my surprise," relates Mr. Bauer, "a couple of days ago, the Boston Globe ran an article praising engineering students at MIT for doing the exact same project on their campus. This is college-level stuff: I can't wait to watch our engineers' finished project!"
They are hoping to create the entire School virtually and Bauer recognizes the challenges. "It is a massive undertaking," he says, "but they love it. And if you love it, it isn't work."