A visit to any local school these days will almost instantly reveal how the use of digital technology is inextricably linked to the teaching of any academic discipline.
Gone forever are the methods of rote learning from ‘lifeless’ books. Instead, the use for example of Microsoft’s Minecraft programme promotes learning through interaction and can branch off almost instantly into a range of academic topics from a single base project.
For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a video game, the creative and building aspects of which enable players and students to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world.
The latest use of Minecraft at St Joseph’s Boys School in Creggan has harnessed aspects of engineering, religion and history in a single swoop.
I.T. teacher at the school Cathal Hegarty told the ‘Journal’: “Emmet Thompson, pastoral and youth ministry leader in the Derry Diocese asked us to recreate St Eugene’s Cathedral. So we picked a group of Year 8s and used Minecraft to construct a virtual model of the building. We are specfically honing in on some features of interest within the Cathedral. We also are creating links from our work that will take you at once into the Derry Diocese website.”
St Joseph’s were amongst a limited number of schools that took part in a Minecraft training event as part of CultureTECH in 2014. It immediately became apparent that the school could use the programme to bolster the delivery of their curriculum and enhance learning in the classroom.
The extension of the use of Minecraft within this particular project to teaching history for example, therefore becomes a natural one. St Joseph’s other uses for the programme have also included the RE Department where students have recreated 1st Century dwellings from the Holyland. The History Department have had pupils reconstructing Norman castle’s, whilst others have embarked on projects focusing on the Plantation of Ulster.
The school has also taken a Minecraft map of the Guildhall created by a Foyle College student Jonathan Black for CultureTECH and enhanced it. This interactive tour of the heart of local government in the city takes you on a tour of the Guildhall to specially created information points where students can link to websites, videos, pictures and worksheets. This has become a vital resource for Key Stage 3 students studying local democracy, and so students cross over into another academic field-politics.
St Joseph’s history teacher, Darren Currie is sure of the almost endless permutations that the use of Minecraft has in terms of interactive education.
“Pupils are usually very willing and eager to engage in tasks if they are interactive, challenging and fun. The pupils receive a set of instructions and allowed to get on with their project. A huge bonus is that the teacher can set up various instructions before, during and after the Minecraft lesson and work can be saved at the end of a lesson and completed at another time,” he said.
Since 2014, CultureTECH have been able to secure funding for free licences for every Post Primary School in Northern Ireland and St Joseph’s Science Department will also be taking part in the Northern Ireland Science Festival on February 26. And in tandem with the UK Space Agency, CultureTECH have recreated the International Space Station (ISS) in Minecraft. At the Science Festival St Joseph’s pupils and teachers will have the opportunity to lean all about the ISS, its different components, purpose and what it is like to live on the station itself.
A further use of the overall technological facilities at St Joseph’s will come on Saturday, March 19 when under the auspices of the Past Pupils Union, there will be a TECH Day held in the school that will also encompass a family fun day.
This will be open to everyone who wishes to attend whether they be current pupils and theur families, past students and of course prosepective pupils.
All the activites undertaken by the Past Pupils Union can be found on their facebook page.
They are also always eager for past pupils to become involved in whatever way they can . And, any old photographs of students can be posted on the site at anytime.