1. Bruce Segee
  2. Henry R and Grace V Butler Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
  4. University of Maine
  1. Ami Gaspar
  2. Project Manager
  4. University of Maine
  1. Benjamin Segee
  3. University of Maine

Creating a Virtual Infrastructure for Engaging Rural Youth in STEM Discipline...

NSF Awards: 1543040

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 6-8

This ITEST project is designed to be deployable across rural areas taking advantage of networking and supercomputer resources.  Students learn the basics of programming using the Minecraft world as a test bed.  Students attitudes and aspirations are assessed pre and post.  Centralized resources greatly ease the burden on local IT staff.

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Discussion from the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase (18 posts)
  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 13, 2018 | 05:04 p.m.

    Thanks for watching our project video! We are really excited about this project, and are always looking for feedback! Specifically, we'd like to ask teachers...

    1. How would you like to use this sort of technology in a classroom? 

    1.What sorts of concerns would you have about utilizing this sort of program?

    We are always looking for teacher facilitators to help us out, so if you or anybody you know is interested, feel free to contact us at mltm@maine.edu


    If you want to see the LearnToMod program in action, check out our YouTube page at https://youtu.be/lbEaLSzxnwU

    For more info, please feel free to check out our website at https://sites.google.com/maine.edu/mltm/home?


  • Icon for: Scot Osterweil

    Scot Osterweil

    Research Scientist
    May 14, 2018 | 04:40 p.m.

    This video does an excellent job of explaining the rationale for what looks potentially like a very effective product. It does leave me asking what implementation looks like, what facilities a school needs, and what degree of preparation a teacher needs.

    I'd also love to know more about where you are in the development process, what impact you hypothesize, or whether you've seen any evidence of impact so far.

  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 14, 2018 | 08:48 p.m.

    These are great questions!

    The implementation side of this project has been no small task, and is where a large portion of our efforts to date have been focused. In terms of facilities, we discovered that while most schools have access to computers, not all of them are capable of running Minecraft, either due to the technology being old, or the computers being based on the Chrome operating system (which currently cannot run Minecraft). To circumvent this, we have created a remote desktop system that will allow students to run Minecraft through any device with a web browser.


    In terms of teacher preparation, coding is by no means an easy skill, and it's comparatively recent growth means that many teachers have received little to no formal training. Minecraft is very similar in this regard, and we fully acknowledge the difficulty that comes with teaching an unfamiliar skill with an unfamiliar medium. With this in mind, we have focused heavily on making implementation as easy as possible on the teacher. We offer teachers a compensated professional development course to get them up to speed with the basics of coding as well as using Minecraft and LearnToMod. We also have an extensive curriculum that outlines daily lessons, and line by line coding instructions. The program has a built in online badge-based lesson system that allows students to explore topics and projects independently and at their own pace, and we are currently building a YouTube channel with video guides for projects. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, we are easy to reach for questions, and we have an online forum where teachers and students can get help from other users about both coding and the program.


    As for how exactly the program is implemented in a class, we are very flexible! Not every class is the same, so we created the diverse set of tools listed above to help teachers regardless of how they want to put the program in their class. Some teachers have adopted the curriculum as a regular part of their schedule, but others have opted to instead use the badge system and YouTube videos to enable independent student learning. Others have even adopted the program as a supplementary piece to other lessons like geometry.


    In terms of the development/research process, we have mostly been working in small scale beta group. As such, we don’t currently have much in terms of rigorous data. However we are now ready to begin wide scale implementation, and are currently looking for more facilitators to begin in the fall.  Our primary research question focuses on increasing student interest in STEM fields. Previous research has shown that presenting STEM in a project-based style like this can be effective at increasing student interest, especially among women (who are underrepresented in most STEM fields). Furthermore, getting students involved with STEM fields, and having fun with them, can go a long way to helping students picture themselves in future STEM careers.


    Hope this helps, please let me know if you have any further questions!

  • Icon for: Jessica Hammer

    Jessica Hammer

    Assistant Professor
    May 15, 2018 | 01:57 p.m.

    I really appreciate that you are including support for "unplugged" activities that reinforce key concepts, as well as professional development for teachers around coding. But, it seems that a big chunk of the value in this project comes from having students envision and carry out their own projects. How are you scaffolding students (and teachers!) to define and scope their own mods? What about students who aren't enthusiastic about defining and setting their own in-game goals - what supports do you have for them?

  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 15, 2018 | 07:44 p.m.

    Great question!

    Project scope is often one of the largest difficulties to overcome with beginner students. Many students will come up with an idea for a mod they would like to create long before they have gained the knowledge needed to create the mod. To help circumvent this problem, we provide each student with a “Journey Sheet” at the start of the program. You can see a Journey Sheet at…



    The sheet outlines a set lessons that must be completed before the student begins the design of their own mod as a sort of “final project.” First the student is asked to complete a number of the online “badges” (independent coding lessons that can be completed on the LearnToMod website). This provides the students with a basic proficiency in many of the coding topics they will need to create their mods. When students are feeling confident in their ability, they are given the opportunity to complete a “Challenge Card.” These are ideas for simple mods that the student must plan and design on their own. It effectively acts as an intermediary of design, helping students to organize ideas, while also working within a reasonably sized project. For their independent mod, students are asked to utilize specific aspects of code (loops, variables, etc.) in whatever they create. Prior to starting, the students must also plan their project with pseudocode, and then clear it with their teacher before beginning their construction. This helps to keep mods at a manageable level.


    As for students who are not enthusiastic about defining their own goals, these students are definitely the minority. As stated above, most students come up with their own ideas pretty quickly. However, there are some students that are not particularly self motivated. In these cases I find that doing a mod as a class demonstration is helpful for these students. Most of the mods can have small pieces adjusted to create drastically different outcomes. These are often a great way to ignite the “tinker” mindset in these students.

  • Icon for: Robert Zisk

    Robert Zisk

    Graduate Student
    May 15, 2018 | 10:52 p.m.

    I appreciate that you answered the question about project scope. As Jessica mentioned, there is a ton of value in students working out projects that they themselves created, but for beginner coders I could imagine this task would be very intimidating.

    I am interested in your outcome measures. You touched on it previously, but what do you intend your outcomes to be, and what measures have you developed or do you plan to develop?


  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 17, 2018 | 08:52 p.m.

    Thanks for your question!


    Our main research objective is to research student interest in STEM careers, and how this interest changes in response with a game-based coding curriculum. We are currently using pre and post surveys of student interest, but we hope to expand the scope of our project so we can better measure long-term interest.


    We also have access to the yearly standardized tests scores for our participants, as well as multiple metrics related to student participation in the program (things like, the number of online lessons completed, and the number and type of mods created by the student). As a secondary objective, we are hoping to use this data to see if there are any changes in student achievement in response to using the program.

  • Icon for: Kinnari Atit

    Kinnari Atit

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 16, 2018 | 12:59 p.m.


    I am interested to know if you have looked at long term outcomes for the impact of your project. Do students who engage in your game go on to selecting more coding and engineering classes in the future? Do see gender differences in the level of interest and engagement? I ask because your project is relevant to our project http://videohall.com/p/1124




  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 17, 2018 | 08:52 p.m.

    Great question! 

    Thusfar our project is still quite new, so we don’t currently have longitudinal data on student engineering classes/careers. Most of our data is in the form of student STEM interest pre and post surveys. However, we are hoping to acquire additional funding to measure the long term impacts the program may have on student interest.

  • Icon for: Katie Widmann

    Katie Widmann

    Graduate Student
    May 16, 2018 | 06:08 p.m.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE Minecraft and so do my nieces, so I am very excited to see this!  

    I am also interested in the long-term outcomes of this project, particularly as far as girls are related.  

  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 17, 2018 | 08:53 p.m.

    Glad to hear you are a fan!

    Our project is still quite new, so we don’t have any data on long-term outcomes just yet. However, the interest of women in STEM careers is one of the primary factors we are looking to explore.

  • May 17, 2018 | 04:31 p.m.

    The video does a great job at introducing your project. What is the scale of your project (as far as how many classrooms your looking to initially support)? It sounds like you're passing the beta stage now; have you had a lot of interest from participants?

  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 17, 2018 | 08:54 p.m.

    Thanks for your questions!

    You are correct that we are currently in the beta stages of our project. We are currently operating in about 6 classrooms around the state, however we are currently working on expanding and adding an additional 20+ classrooms for the fall.


    In terms of participant interest, most students are extremely excited to work with the program. Many teachers are equally excited, however some have had some apprehension of the program because they are unfamiliar with playing Minecraft. As such, we have made it a goal to make teacher implementation as easy as possible, so teachers unfamiliar with computer games can still easily use the program.

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    Benjamin Walters
  • Icon for: H Chad Lane

    H Chad Lane

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 18, 2018 | 09:23 a.m.

    Great video and great project!  I couldn't agree more with everything you said, and am having similar reactions and engagement in our Minecraft-based project (we have the only two in the showcase, actually!). Since Minecraft came out in 2009, we are now seeing college students who grew up with it - one of my students is interviewing STEM majors to try and understand the roles it may have played for them in terms of major choice. In fact, one student said it very directly - "I taught myself Java solely so I could make my own plugins and mods." Of course, I hired him immediately!  I'm so glad you are working to make modding accessible and fun for kids at younger ages, and wish you the best finding teachers!  

    I'll add a few questions just out of curiosity: what is the range of potential mods that can be made with the scratch-based language?  Can you give any examples of the coolest stuff kids have made?  Are there any limitations that you are working on overcoming?

  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 20, 2018 | 07:56 p.m.

    Thanks for your kind words! I checked out your projects as well, and they look great!


    The range of potential mods available to students is quite broad. To name a few examples, students can adjust properties of the items in the game, as well as textures, place blocks, and create events to trigger other parts of their code. Additionally, while we encourage students to use the scratch-based language (known as blockly) while first learning the software, they may also create mods with Javascipt, and translate their existing mods to Javascript if they want to learn more about coding and get more fine-tuned control over their mods. 

    Students have made some really cool and varied mods with this program. I've seen students create mods that will build custom structures for them. I've also seen students create custom items and npc's. For instance one student created a mining bow that would create a large hole wherever an arrow landed. Another decided to create a cursed rock that would negate a players ability to move when picked up. Students have created some minigames, such as a randomly generated and built maze. Many students have also built texture mods. So far my favorite one was when a student decided to make the game world rain tacos. 

    In terms of limitations, students can't add new assets into the game, and instead must modify already existing assets. We are not currently working to overcome this limitation, as asset addition is quite complex, and the sheer variety of assets available by default in the game means it not overly problematic if one or two of the more obscure items are re-purposed. 


  • May 19, 2018 | 02:27 p.m.

    Minecraft is such a great way to engage kids! It sounds like your project is still in its very early stages. Who are you targeting right now in the project? Are you targeting schools, districts, teachers, communities?  Is your goal to train teachers in these techniques and then they go back to their classrooms or are you working within classrooms?  Look forward to seeing the continued progress of your project.

  • Icon for: Benjamin Segee

    Benjamin Segee

    May 20, 2018 | 09:16 p.m.

    Thanks for the questions!


    Currently we are expanding the project, and are attempting to bring the program to more classrooms. We are focusing on bringing in individual teachers, who may sign up individually as a class, or after school program. We are setting up summer training sessions to educate teachers in all aspects of using the program, as well as how they might use it in a classroom. We continue to work with these teachers during the school year, helping them with any technical or pedagogical problems they encounter. 

  • Icon for: Michael Briscoe

    Michael Briscoe

    May 21, 2018 | 02:00 p.m.

     This is fascinating, and appears to be a great STEM outreach program. I am curious about the badges. Are they from Minecraft or are they something you developed? How do students respond to the goal of 45 badges? (Badges are something we are exploring too!)

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