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As part of a partnership with BGSU’s Mark Stevens, Pandora-Gilboa students have been learning programming fundamentals on a BGSU MineCraftEdu server. They program the turtle, equip it with materials, then set it off!
Students houses being built by their turtles:
dallas mincraft vid Meyer_Nick Minecraft (Gage) sam_minecraft_house

Each student begins by making a blueprint of their house on graph paper, including top and side views. They are given a choice of how difficult to make their house, and out of what materials. There is no maximum size, and only a minimum size of 6(w)x6(l)x4(h).
To prepare a building area, I use the teacher menu’s “build/fill tool” to clear a flat area, and place a level of “build allow” blocks as the base, covered by a few layers of grass or dirt. The ability to place a corner block and an opposite block results in the entire area between to be filled automatically.

Programming Concepts

As an experiment, I did not force students to learn the programming concepts, and instead presented them in a “Hey, check out what I found, you can make your turtle repeat a group of steps as many times as you want!” if they didn’t discover it themselves. Even then, they didn’t HAVE to use it. Some students elected to manually move and place every block of the house with no loops in the code, resulting in a lot of unnecessary work. When it came time to “build the welcome area” for our BGSU friends, some were not complete, as they didn’t use looping functions. I pointed this out.
When teaching this next time, I will certainly keep the blueprints on graph paper, but likely have a student create a “Train the Turtle” area that has a functioning Turtle with the necessary code already applied that can be ran to see how it works, then 5 or 6 more “stations” that scaffold the necessary skills of loops, variables, for statements, etc. There are some areas like this already on “Turtle Island” in the ComputerCraft mod that we use through MineCraftEdu, but I want to break the scaffolding into even smaller, more explicit parts to not alienate anyone. I will also do some form of “pre-test” to determine who my MineCraft experts are early, and let them volunteer to be mentors to new players.

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