‘Minecraft’ explores Anishinaabe life

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While playing video games in class is usually frowned upon, the Brandon School Division recently made an exception for a special version of Minecraft being used to showcase Indigenous history and culture to students.

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This article was published 28/04/2021 (585 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While playing video games in class is usually frowned upon, the Brandon School Division recently made an exception for a special version of Minecraft being used to showcase Indigenous history and culture to students.

This initiative was highlighted during Monday’s regular meeting of the school division’s board of trustees, where education technology specialist Matteo Di Muro talked about its benefits in a recorded video.

Di Muro revealed that this special version of the wildly popular open-world game is the brainchild of the Louis Riel School Division, which collaborated with Microsoft Canada and members of Manitoba’s Anishinaabe community to make it a reality.

Grade 3-4 students from Betty Gibson School work together on March 23 to complete a variety of tasks in a special version of the video game Minecraft, which was specifically designed to help them envision what Indigenous life was like in Manitoba back before European settlers arrived. (Submitted)

“The whole game imagines what life was like before the settlers came to The Forks in Winnipeg,” Di Muro told the Sun in a followup interview on Tuesday. “So it’s a big meeting spot for a lot of Indigenous cultures. That’s where the game takes place.”

Using this virtual environment, students are asked to build birch bark canoes and take part in hunting expeditions — everyday tasks the Anishinaabe people would have had to complete at that point in history.

The game world is also populated with flora, fauna and locations unique to this region of the province and do not exist in any other Minecraft property.

Louis Riel School Division and its collaborators decided to refer to this unique version of Minecraft as “Manito Ahbee Aki,” which translates to “the place where the Creator sits” in English.

Brandon School Division officials caught wind of Manito Ahbee Aki after it debuted in Winnipeg in February, and decided to give local teachers and students access to the game starting in March.

According to Di Muro, at least five Brandon institutions have taken advantage of the program, including Betty Gibson School, Meadows School, Valleyview Centennial School, Riverview School and École Harrison.

Di Muro even got the chance to visit some of these schools in mid-March to gauge students’ reactions to this new virtual method of learning.

A Grade 7-8 student from Valleyview Centennial School plays through a special version of Minecraft back in March. This custom version of the popular open-world video game was designed to help students explore Anishinaabe history and culture in Manitoba. (Submitted)

“The kids were super engaged,” he said. “I expected to walk into the classroom and hear a lot of noise, but the students were super focused on their computers. I kind of stood there for a few minutes and started to hear them asking each other questions, like ‘Hey, did you do the bison hunt? Where do I go to start that?’”

Of course, this program probably wasn’t a hard sell to local students in the first place, since Minecraft is already an immensely popular video game with younger children, having made more than 200 million sales since its official debut in 2011.

Throughout this time, Minecraft has also become a useful tool for educators across the globe, who have harnessed its highly customizable gameplay to teach kids the basics of coding and creative problem solving.

During Monday’s presentation to Brandon School Division trustees, Di Muro pointed out that this new Anishinaabe-centric version of Minecraft has a range of classroom applications. 

“This program is suitable for grades 3 to 8 and could be used as part of a social studies class or as a springboard for writing exercises in English language arts,” he said. “Some other topics that are explored are citizenship, collaboration and critical thinking.”

As such, Di Muro encourages teachers to tap into this special version of Minecraft if they haven’t already, especially since it is a free piece of software available to anyone with a Microsoft Office 365 subscription.

Grade 7-8 students from Valleyview Centennial School use a special version of Minecraft to explore Anishinaabe history and culture back in the days before European settlers arrived in North America. This custom version of Minecraft was developed through a collaboration between the Louis Riel School Division, Microsoft Canada and members of Manitoba's Anishinaabe community. Brandon School Division officials gave local teachers and students access to this version of Minecraft back in March. (Submitted)

“The gamification of learning is something that has been developing over the last few decades,” he said. “It’s a lot more engaging than, say, a teacher just doing exposition for like 30 minutes on the topic.”

» kdarbyson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter:@KyleDarbyson

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