Science. Technology. Engineering. Math. These are the tools that will be used to build the future. The conversation, of late, has turned to “Who is going to wield these tools?” As manufacturing returns to North America, there’s a concern over the skills gap that exists—in many cases there are more jobs than there are qualified people to fill those jobs. The challenge is getting the next generation interested in pursuing careers in these fields.
The problem for kids is that science, technology, engineering and math can sound intimidating, or even boring. Those of us in the field know otherwise. These are the tools we use to create. And that’s the key. Watch any small child, and you’ll see them create. Whether they’re drawing their own wonderful new animal with crayons, building a castle to knock down with blocks, or explaining to you the rules of their surprisingly complex game, children love to create, and it’s our responsibility to show them how to keep that creativity going.
Enter Minecraft, a computer game. What is Minecraft? Imagine that everything that exists, from ores to animals, was made of blocks, and that you could use those blocks to create a building, or a town, or a city, or an entire world. For a quick illustration of what Minecraft is, do an internet search for images. You’ll find some pretty incredible things.
Minecraft is one of the few games that teaches skills that translate to the real world. There’s a true sense of learning where things come from, and how they’re used to create other things. You can explode a rock in order to dig. Keep digging, and you’ll make your way to minerals like iron. From there, you can take that iron to a furnace, and use that furnace to create metal axes and shovels. You can use these to chop down trees or dig soil. Kids can also make tools out of stone, but if they make them out of iron they’ll see that the iron tools last longer and work more efficiently.
And then there are the things you can create. People have constructed elaborate mazes, towering skyscrapers, ornate temples, underground cities and much, much more. For some evidence of the effectiveness of the Minecraft tools, look up the Block by Block project, a collaboration with UN Habitat that allows young people all over the world to modify their own neighborhoods and create the changes they would like to see.
Here at Harvan, we’ve seen our children collaborate with their friends to make bigger, better and more complex structures. And that’s what we need—collaboration, creativity and brand new ideas. There are a lot of things we need to fix in the world. We’re going to need some smart kids to do that. Our responsibility in promoting STEM is not to try and get kids interested in things they don’t like, but rather to show them how to continue the creativity that’s driven them since they were toddlers.