Minecraft and Fractals – a wonderful pair!

Minecraft and Fractals
By: Zoe Branigan-Pipe and Beth Carey

screenshotWe are all familiar with Math Manipulatives and the power of hands-on learning. Minecraft allows students to explore, create, design and problem solve in many dynamic ways. Here is one example of using Big Ideas and Concepts in Math. These concepts, once understood, force learners to use practical math skills in an authentic way.

“Today I learned about fractals the mathematics of nature introduced by Benoct Mandelbrot. Fractals are a repeating pattern in all directions with any shape. Inspired by Ancient Egyptian architecture this fractal is made entirely of gold blocks and glass. Although it is impractical it just shows what minecraft can really do”. -Gwen, Gr. 5 Student

Big Ideas: How does the concepts of fractal geometry link to the elements of design, engineering, and invention of the past and present and guide future decisions?

Overview: Grade Five Gifted students explore the connections and implications that nature has had on Math, Science, Art and Engineering. Using Minecraft as a creative and collaborative tool, students extend their learning of daVinci to explore and create fractals.

Source: Quillan and Makenna

Source: Quillan and Makenna


Who has heard of Fractals? Can someone give an easy definition? What are other things that we know of in nature that are fractals? How have fratals impacted our world? How does understanding the science of Fractals help scientist learn about Co2 levels on the planet as a whole? Where else could this idea be used to help the world? What surprised you about Fractals?



Activity Summary:

1) Background Information: Introduce and discuss the concepts relating to Fractals focusing on the principles of S.T.E.M.
2) Knowledge/Understanding: Show and discuss parts of video: Fractals The Hidden Dimension HD 1080p / Nova Youtube:http://youtu.be/lmxJ1KDR_s0
3) Communication/Thinking: Discuss, identify and list the many math concepts discussed in the video (Geometry, Symmetry, Patterning/Algebra, Problem Solving, Number Sense).
3) Communication/Thinking:Provide examples of assortment of Images that relate to Fractals.
4) Practise: Allow students, individually and/or in partners to draw and design their Fractals on paper
5) Application/Practise: Use FLAT world on Minecraft or Minecraftedu. Have students create their Fractal design in 3D dimension
6) Thinking/Communication: Allow students time to discuss, write and describe their Fractal on Collaborative document.
7) Consolidation/Sharing: Have students take SCREENSHOTS (F2) and copy/paste their screenshots into collaborative document/virtual bulletin board for sharing.

Design Thinking, Teaching and Learning with Minecraft and Lego

Our Class Picture

This lesson was facilitated with Grade Five Gifted Students. This is an example of how to combine a variety of collaborative tools (Collaborative thinking/planning, Blog, Web2.0 Doc, Minecraft) with a hands-on approach to building and designing prototypes that focus on world problems. Minecraftedu, large amount of assorted lego, a class full of engaged students and a teacher/facilitator provided the necessary resources. 

It was incredible to witness the dialogue, creativity and critical thinking as the students explored and designed their ideas into something concrete. 


Big Idea: How do past and present inventions impact our world of today?


This is a sample lesson that can be used at a variety of ages and grades. Because this lesson is based on the concepts around Design Thinking, it is easily adapted to a variety of curriculum and standards (Writing, Oral, Research, Presentation, Media, Social Studies, Digital Citizenship).Students will engage in a workshop involving a problem solving and design process. They will connect their knowledge of inventions as well as the literature/history they are studying (in this case, DaVinci) and will plan, design and co-create inventions that focus around a real-world problems.


Students will use a variety of collaborative (face-to-face and online) tools and will be challenged to think creatively. Is this a new invention? What was the inspiration? How will this invention impact the world? Why is it needed? What are the important details that need consideration?

What is the role of collaboration and sharing when designing and creating a concept? How does creativity change when we change the mediums (talking to writing, to drawing, to designing, to building….etc.)

 1) Introduction and Group Discussion (Breaking the ice)

In Circle, have students share and discuss a favourite invention and why. Ask them to think of the problem that the invention solved. Encourage strong open ended questions and descriptive vocabulary. Introduce the “Big Idea” …and discuss.


Connect the topic “Inventions” to the overall theme of “DaVinci” (relevant in our situation). How did DaVinci get inspired? What triggered his ideas? Were they realistic? Which inventions were meant to solve a problem and why?

2) Mini-Lesson and Task Overview

IMG_0570*Discuss the terms “Concept”; “Concrete”; “Idea” and “Abstract”

*Connecting back to the DaVinci theme, show students TedX video – Robot that flies like a bird http://www.ted.com/talks/a_robot_that_flies_like_a_bird.html

  • How does this invention impact the world?
  • How does this invention impact a single human being?
  • What problem can be solved by this invention and why?

 Share and discuss (whole group, pairs…) the following information: Canadian Inventions http://www.mediatrainingtoronto.com/blog/2013/6/29/50-great-inventions-canada-gave-the-world

IMG_0450Ask students, in partners, to once again think of the above questions as it relates to each invention and then  create “Criteria” that makes a good invention (and post)

  • impact on environment
  • safety
  • medicine and healing
  • social justice
  • realistic, creative
  • positive impact on world

 3) Task, Process, and Sharing →

IMG_0565Students will collaboratively design and build their own invention using inspiration from real-world problems.

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 6.47.37 PMThey will (depending on age, post these steps for reference during work time)


  1.  in teams, first think of a concept/idea that relates to criteria
  2. draw, discuss and describe their invention
  3. use Minecraftedu – flat world to co-create a model of their invention/idea
  4. return to their drawing and description and edit, change and add as needed
  5. using their plans and model, students will build their invention using lego
  6. Access the collaborative document (in our case this was posted on blog) and add description, picture and screen
  7. Whole class sharing -* In pairs/groups students can give ‘virtual’ tours of their inventions using a shared Minecraft Server

(At some point, demonstrate how to take and retrieve screen shots from Minecraft and insert into Shared Google Presentation)

Congrats to the students who shared in the excitement of writing this collaborative book: 


* Persuasive Writing Activity

* Dragon’s Den Type presentation

* Advertisement/Media Literacy

* Science Fiction Story

* Trade Inventions…write and describe about each

* Add on to each other’s inventions

* Descriptive Writing

* Poetry