This spring, students and schools around the world took part in the 2020 Minecraft Education Challenge, engaging in local competitions to develop solutions for the world’s most pressing issues. This story comes to us from Joy Mentzing from the Xbox Germany, Austria, and Switzerland team. Read the story of how 100 students competed to build a better world amidst a global health crisis.
This May, Xbox DACH, together with the educational initiative Code Your Life, launched the Minecraft Block Heroes Challenge. The team wanted to hear from children and teenagers between the ages of 10 and 18 about how they’re addressing the challenges of the COVID-19 in everyday life and how they imagine the future world.
Aligning with the theme “Shape the World the Way You Want It to Be,” the participants were encouraged to be as creative and innovative as possible, and at the same time, create intelligent code that would program the Agent for meaningful tasks. For example, pupils had the opportunity to design the perfect transport system for the pandemic or think about how the Agent could support them in their homeschooling.
This task inspired a great deal of enthusiasm. In only two weeks, 100 participants registered individually or as teams to recreate their ideas in Minecraft: Education Edition. To help them get started, they were supported by 11 YouTube tutorials from Code Your Life, including the basics of programming, case distinctions, and algorithms. Carlos, age 16, decided to take part in the competition for two reasons: “Because I’m interested in programming and simply because I wanted to take part in a challenge.”
Julia from Code Your Life supported the participants as a trainer. She was impressed by the results, with many children thinking outside the box instead of dealing directly with the issue of COVID-19: “I thought it was great that the children and teenagers expressed so much joy, creativity, and a lot of optimism toward the issues around Coronavirus, quarantine, and homeschooling.”
On June 24, the grand finale took place via live stream on Youtube, Twitch, and Mixer, where the winners of the Minecraft Block Heroes Challenge were announced. The prize would be an Xbox One X Forza Horizon 4 LEGO® Speed Champions Bundle for each winner or member of the winning team.
The Block Heroes Finalists
The following five teams and individuals made it to the finals and demonstrated an unstoppable ability to overcome challenges. They also presented to the jury with elaborately designed videos, showcasing their talent not just for design, but also for communication.
Lukas (16) and Benjamin (13): These brothers programmed an entire mini-game about distance control, mouth and nose protection, and hand hygiene. Within their game, the player has to comply with different hygiene requirements and play through several levels to meet their friend. Along the way, the player must complete various tasks, such as crossing a labyrinth to collect wool and thread so that they can craft a protective mask.
In addition to these tasks, Lukas and Benjamin built in a little twist: with each additional level, it becomes more challenging to keep the required distance from other people.
The brothers skillfully divided their tasks to implement their ideas more efficiently. Benjamin focused on programming while Lukas took on the world-building. “We started programming some time ago, which provided a good basis for the challenge,” Benjamin reported. Lukas added: “We didn’t really get much inspiration from elsewhere. It was just a few ideas that we tried to combine, and that’s the result… And we’re happy with it!”
Carlos Enrique (16): When the refrigerator notifies you as soon as it’s empty, you know you’re living in the future! Carlos has rebuilt precisely this situation with the Agent. The robot is coded to check autonomously whether there’s anything left to snack on in the fridge. If not, the little helper goes shopping so you can remain comfortably at home.
“In our world, of course, we should be staying at home so that we can take care of others and ourselves,” explains Carlos, “but we can’t just read, play, and watch movies all day long. We have to eat, and that’s how we use up our supplies. To make sure we don’t have to go to the supermarket ourselves and possibly endanger others, I programmed the Agent to do our shopping for us.”
Carlos’ programming skills stood out in this project, since he needed to program the Agent with extensive, intelligent functions and coded very precisely, cleanly, and with clear structures. His four years of programming experience certainly helped him in taking up that challenge!
Phil (16) and Colin (15): Phil and Colin have both been playing Minecraft since elementary school for a total of eight years, and actually got to know each other through playing online. Their online friendship and shared passion for Minecraft led them to join the Minecraft Block Heroes Challenge as a team.
If you have to keep your distance, communication is difficult. The two have therefore created a language assistant who, on command, plants fields, brings in the harvest, or orders bread, so it’s no longer necessary to leave the house. Phil programmed an excellent shop system, and Colin was responsible for building the world—especially the huge, detailed house that stands on a mountain where the Agent is carved into the stone. This artistic element impressed everyone!
Phil reports on his biggest challenge: “For me, the farm system was the most time-consuming task because I tried to compress it, so it was as easy as possible for the Agent to implement. Still, it wasn’t easy because sometimes the Agent didn’t place the farm properly or didn’t plant the seeds correctly. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad it worked out in the end.”
Leni (10): For children, a school is a central place, so Leni dealt with the question of how teaching can take place again safely in the future.
In the live finale, she showed us her Minecraft world: “This is my school. You can see the class’ and the students’ names on the sign, and underneath there’s a command block. You have to stand on the pressure plate, and then you’re transported to the classroom. I thought about how I could build a school with COVID-19 measures. That’s when I got the idea to build it up in the air with the proper spacing.”
In each floating classroom, only one student can be seated. Still, all students can see each other, since the walls of the classroom are lowered. Leni built it that way intentionally. She told us that her real-world class is currently divided into two classrooms so you can’t see your friends who situated in the other space. “That’s a shame,” she emphasizes.
Leni also built a coronavirus-safe hospital, a petting zoo, and a lawn with a fireplace and picnic blankets, which are already spaced out at the right distance. If you need disinfectant, you enter the command “Park,” and the Agent teleports themself to you and hands you a bottle of disinfectant.
At only ten years old, Leni is the youngest female participant in the competition. Seeing her big sister playing Minecraft, Leni realized early on what great worlds you can build in that game. When she got her first mobile phone in the summer of this year, she was finally able to start playing herself. She made her first programming experience with Scratch when her gym class was cancelled.
Since she usually plays on her phone, playing on the laptop was a bit of a challenge: “The hardest thing for me at first was getting around. You can move better and turn around faster on the phone. But I figured out how to build the world with the laptop relatively fast. I needed the first tutorial that was provided by Code Your Life. It was different, but I got used to it quickly!”
Jesse (11): Without any previous programming skills, the youngest male participant—Jesse from the Bavarian Forest—took up the challenge with his mother and programmed solutions for zoos to protect the animals with distance regulations. The two programmed the Agent to help them build the walls for the enclosures. Jesse explained, “The reason why the wall is there is because if a visitor is sick and coughs, they don’t cough on the animals.” Jesse proudly led the jury past turtles, fish, wolves, ocelots, a petting zoo, pandas, and cats.
The Winners of the Block Heroes Challenge:
After the students’ impressive presentations, Xbox DACH honored the winning team. The award went to Lukas and Benjamin for their creative, innovative idea and the challenging code they used to accomplish their build. But the choice was very difficult for the jury. In the end, Xbox DACH announced that all participants would be named Block Heroes, and awarded each of the seven finalists with an Xbox One X Forza Horizon 4 LEGO® Speed Champions Bundle. The surprise and joy on the kids’ faces were incredible!
We were inspired by these students’ amazing work! If you’d like to practice your German while learning to code in Minecraft: Education Edition, you can find videos to help you get started on Code Your Life’s YouTube channel. If you’re new to using Minecraft: Education Edition, get started at education.minecraft.net.